Anyone still kidding themselves that Clive Palmer is a political sophisticate merely disguised as a buffoon would have had to abandon that thought last night as Palmer launched a politically dumb attack on the Prime Minister’s chief of staff Peta Credlin.
During debate on what has been dubbed by detractors as the “millionaire mummies’ bonus”, namely Tony Abbott’s paid parental leave scheme, Palmer accused Credlin of instigating the policy for her own advantage:
“Why should Australian citizens and businesses be taxed, and working women discriminated against, just so the prime minister’s chief of staff can receive a massive benefit when she gets pregnant?”
Palmer dug the hole deeper this morning, showing a breathtaking lack of self-reflection in justifying his criticism of Credlin with the exhortation that policies should be formulated in the party room and not handed down from the leader’s office. One can only imagine the wry smiles on the faces of Palmer United Party senators-elect when they heard that pearl.
Proving to be not exactly a wily, old political operator Palmer has made a considerable misstep by combining two populist past-times – demonisation of Credlin and denigration of the PPL – to make a splash during the parliamentary debate.
For a start, Abbott’s support for paid parental leave pre-dates Credlin joining Abbott’s staff. The PM has been promoting the idea since it was mentioned in his book Battlelines in 2009. Credlin joined his office at the end of that same year.
Secondly, Credlin won’t benefit from the PPL because she’s already covered by the Australian Public Service’s maternity leave scheme. Ironically, Abbott has used the fact that such a generous scheme does not extend to non-public servants to demonstrate the equity of his scheme. It should defy even the type of logic that exists in Palmer-land to conclude that the extension of an employment benefit to women in private small and medium businesses that don’t currently have it, somehow equates to discrimination against them.
So Palmer is doubly wrong on the facts. He’s also wrong on the politics.
The general consensus in the conduct and reporting of politics is that anyone with a decision-making role, and those who influence those decision-makers, should be open to public scrutiny, criticism and accountability.
There is no question that Credlin falls into this category. But Palmer’s attack steps way past the bounds of political propriety. His comment was needlessly cruel, considering the very public knowledge that Credlin has been unsuccessful so far in having a child and has resorted to IVF (which for those who’ve participated is a trial in itself). And by attacking a prominent woman to make a political point, Palmer’s behaviour has a strong sexist undertone.
By making an overly personal attack on Credlin, Palmer may have won some brownie points with those who consider her to be the devil incarnate. Unfortunately for Palmer, those types will still be unlikely to vote for him. Meanwhile, Palmer has earned opprobrium from every corner of the political arena. And his credentials as a canny and credible politician have taken a big hit.