Women, are they being assertive or aggressive?

There is a world of difference between aggression and assertiveness. One is a negative approach; the other is positive. One incites fear and retaliation; the other encourages mutual respect.

There is a world of difference between aggression and assertiveness. One is a negative approach; the other is positive. One incites fear and retaliation; the other encourages mutual respect.

For Women’s Agenda.

Credlin’s mission to remove the Liberals’ woman problem

Peta Credlin has done the Liberals a favour by championing the rise of conservative female politicians. In the process, she’s done her own career a favour too.

It went largely unreported, but on the weekend one of the Federal Government’s most prominent women challenged the Liberal Party to do something about its woman problem.

Apparently redefining what it means to keep a low profile, the Prime Minister’s chief of staff Peta Credlin spoke from the audience of a Liberal Party forum on gender and politics, reportedly taking a shot at the gendered put-downs levelled at powerful women, and describing politics as “the toughest, most masculine, most exclusionary place”.

Credlin’s strongest criticism however was aimed at the Liberal Party itself, for entrenching inequality by neglecting to pre-select women candidates for safe seats. Echoing the PM’s justification for initially putting only one woman in cabinet, Credlin argued that without female MPs in safe seats, there is no “pipeline of women” gaining experience and credentials over time that would qualify them for cabinet:

Our women are not in the safe seats, so when we lose government, we lose our pipeline. So it was really hard to put a ministry together in 2010 when … we didn’t have a pipeline of women.

Of course, this argument doesn’t quite stack up when it comes to the well-credentialed Minister for Human Services, Marise Payne, who is a Liberal moderate and still not in cabinet despite having been in Parliament for 18 years.

Nevertheless, Credlin appears to be belatedly acknowledging that more women are needed in the Government’s top decision-making circles, and that more women are needed in the Liberal Party to make this happen. She reportedly told the forum:

Unless you have women in places where decisions are made, either on committees who are making pre-selection decisions, at state divisions as presidents and as leaders … you’re not going to get women (to) run for seats.

If you don’t get women (to) run for seats, you’re not going to get female ministers, and if you don’t get women ministers … you’re not designing popular policy for half the population. We would never get elected if we pissed off and marginalised half the electorate. We are half the electorate.

Credlin’s comments are not her first on the broader need to support Liberal women.

It’s nearly a year ago that news first began to emerge that Credlin was actively seeking ways to help women progress through the ranks of the Liberal Party.

well-placed leak to the media in July 2014 reported that Credlin had told a private gathering of female Coalition staffers she was determined to make a difference for women in conservative politics while serving as chief of staff to the Prime Minister, and asked for their ideas about how to do so.

This came not long after Clive Palmer referred to Credlin as a “top dog” and erroneously suggested that the PM was only keeping his paid parental leave policy so that Peta Credlin could benefit from it.

After gathering feedback from that first discussion, Credlin went on to establish a formal network for female Coalition staffers, reportedly to provide support for each other and maximise their exposure to other women in leadership roles. However, Credlin also told a reporter that a motivation for creating the network was the silence from feminists following the attack on her by Palmer. According to Credlin, “This solidarity that women are supposed to have just wasn’t there.”

It could also be argued that Credlin has shown little inclination to be collegiate with the female staffers who have crossed swords with her, or even with the female MPs who have done the same.

Other than the Prime Minister who launched Credlin’s network in October last year, Credlin invited not one Coalition parliamentarian to that event; not even the sole woman in cabinet (at the time) Julie Bishop, or the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Women, Michaelia Cash. While this can’t be considered a direct snub to the Foreign Minister, enough information has emerged since then to suggest that when it comes to Bishop, Credlin is not exactly a team player.

So while the intervention from one of the Government’s most senior (but unelected) women is welcome, given the problem she’s identified is real and potentially a big risk for the Liberal Party, it’s important to understand that Credlin’s motives aren’t necessarily altruistic.

Credlin is on the record confirming she has no intention of moving into politics “at this time”. However, a senior Liberal in the state division that would hypothetically pre-select Credlin said she is too “toxic” and would not win pre-selection.

If Credlin is indeed interested in moving to politics eventually, she needs to rebuild bridges and establish networks before she has any hope of neutralising her perceived toxicity. And a network of up and coming female staffers, most of whom would also be Liberal Party members, would be the perfect way to start that reputation refurbishing exercise.

It’s reported Credlin concluded her contribution to the forum on the weekend with a rallying cry to a room full of past and present female Liberal politicians. Urging the women to be “fair dinkum” in bringing others with them as they climbed the ladder, Credlin also warned them not to be “one of those women who gets somewhere and pulls the ladder up behind you, because there are a lot of women who do that”.

This is undoubtedly true, and it’s hard not to wonder whether Credlin had a particular Cabinet minister in mind when she said it. More importantly, given Credlin’s take no prisoners management style, it’s advice she should also be taking.

Ministry reshuffle built on paranoia not progress

Tony Abbott’s ministry reshuffle may appear to be a reset in preparation for 2015, but in reality it is more about the PM’s paranoia and tenuous leadership than it is about his Government’s rejuvenation.

A full 12 months earlier than it’s customary to do so, Tony Abbott has reshuffled his ministry. This is what governments usually do one year out from an election to prove they’re not stuck in a rut but capable of the regeneration that brings vigour and fresh ideas.

PM Abbott brought the activity forward a year as part of his attempt to scrape off the Government’s barnacles before Australian voters turn their attention to the beach and the barbie.

The move finally brought to an end the PM’s insistence that the ministry’s continuity was necessary to create a sense of political stability, a stubbornness demonstrated by 20 members of Abbott’s ministry having served in the last ministry of the Howard government.

The most intriguing thing about the reshuffle is not Abbott’s belated recognition of the need to do it, but his concession to the demands of critics while handing poisoned chalices to dud ministers and potential competitors.

The young guns in the Victorian Liberal MPs have essentially been rewarded for their years of agitation and complaint about having to cool their heels on the backbench. This group is responsible for a proportion of the grumbles about the PM’s chief of staff Peta Credlin, particularly her reported resistance to an early reshuffle.

While it could be argued that NSW Liberals benefited most from the reshuffle by getting another MP into Cabinet, they also lost a spot in the outer ministry with the resignation of stood-aside Assistant Treasurer Arthur Sinodinos. In fact, the Victorian young guns gained more than any other state, with two of their MPs being promoted.

Victorian MP Josh Frydenberg was elevated from parliamentary secretary to Assistant Treasurer, while his Victorian colleague Kelly O’Dwyer was brought from the backbench to the rank of parliamentary secretary. In doing so, the PM has made considerable concessions to the ambitious Victorians, even going so far as to make Frydenberg Assistant Treasurer instead of Hockey’s preferred candidate, the Queenslander Steve Ciobo.

Whether this will be enough to quell the Victorians’ noisy agitation over Credlin is yet to be seen.

Many of the other ministerial changes are better understood if viewed through the lens of Abbott’s leadership.

While the PM made no changes to the stellar Foreign Minister Julie Bishop’s portfolio, he did remove her friend and ally, the poorly performing David Johnston, from Cabinet. That leaves Bishop with only one Western Australian colleague, Mathias Cormann, at the big table.

No changes were made to Turnbull’s portfolio either, suggesting Abbott is content with leaving the former Liberal leader to disappoint his progressive fan-base with the Government’s cut-rate NBN.

And then there is Scott Morrison’s promotion from Immigration and Border Protection to a revamped Social Services portfolio, which the PM says is essentially a ministry for economic participation. Morrison is also tasked with producing a holistic families package that Abbott described as being “an important part of our political and economic agenda in the first half of next year”.

Political commentators are calling this a big win for Morrison, who is keen to broaden his experience with an economic portfolio, thereby strengthening his leadership credentials. But a closer look at the appointment does not bear out this interpretation.

Much of Morrison’s success in the Immigration portfolio was built on the Australian community’s antipathy for asylum seekers. His willingness to do whatever it took, and unwillingness to talk about it, essentially gave Australian voters permission to turn a blind eye to the human cost of border protection while giving him kudos for “solving” the asylum seeker issue.

However, Morrison will not be able to deploy the same tactics in Social Services. While asylum seekers are for most voters a distant concept, pretty much everyone knows someone who is dependent on the welfare system. As a result, the impacts of welfare reform are seen, felt and known, and there will be no glory for Morrison having “stopped the dole” in the way he “stopped the boats”.

It’s therefore likely Morrison’s promotion is a poisoned chalice, and a way for Abbott to push through one of his toughest reform agendas while also reducing the appeal of one of his competitors.

Curiously, Morrison was not the only minister to receive a dubious and potentially career-limited promotion in the reshuffle.

Kevin Andrews’ move to Defence will likely see him begging to be let go by the next election, for the Department is known for chewing up and spitting out their civilian “masters”. The future doesn’t look particularly rosy for former Health Minister Peter Dutton either. Dutton may be a retired policeman but it’s difficult to see him bring the same steely resolve that served Morrison so well in the Immigration and Border Protection portfolio.

And then there is the welcome appointment of NSW’s Sussan Ley to Cabinet, thereby doubling the number of women to two. Clearly the representation of women in the Cabinet is unacceptably low, and not due so much to a lack of merit as the arcane balance of states, factions, and parties that make up the Coalition’s ministry. Abbott at least did the right thing in appointing two more women as parliamentary secretaries, so they can become ministers-in-training.

Prime ministers usually reshuffle their ministry to provide a fresh aspect on their government while hopefully also evoking a sense of stability through the regeneration. But with one or two exceptions, like the promotion of Ley, Abbott’s reshuffle is characterised by concessions to antagonists, throwing competitors in the deep end, and leaving the deadwood to atrophy.

Abbott’s reshuffle may superficially appear to be a reset in preparation for 2015, but in reality it is more about the PM’s paranoia and tenuous leadership than it is about his Government’s rejuvenation.

Abbott’s defence of Credlin a career-limiting move?

Tony Abbott’s defence of Peta Credlin against what he says are sexist attacks from his own MPs shows a breathtaking lack of self-reflection.

In the political style the Prime Minister has managed to make his own – namely tumbling from frying pan to fire – Tony Abbott has exacerbated the hostilities simmering between his chief of staff and colleagues by accusing the MPs of sexism.

In doing so, he may have made a career-limiting move.

In the face of ongoing criticism about the operational style of his most senior adviser, Peta Credlin, Abbott made the extraordinary suggestion today that she would not be “under this kind of criticism if her name was P-E-T-E-R as opposed to P-E-T-A”, and that “people need to take a long, hard look at themselves with some of these criticisms”.

This proposition involves a lack of self-reflection that is breathtaking even for Abbott.

Not that long ago, certainly within the memory of most voters, Abbott accused the then prime minister Julia Gillard of playing the gender card when she suggested some of the criticisms levelled against her were due to sexism. Abbott denied there was any inherent sexism in the community, stressing that any and all criticisms of Gillard were based on her competency and not her gender.

By this logic, Abbott has placed himself between the rock that is Credlin’s incompetency and the hard place that is a sexist parliamentary wing. That’s sure to go down well in the party room.

Ambitious backbenchers and sidelined ministers have grumbled to the media for months about Credlin’s centralised micromanagement style. This has flared into several spot fires over past weeks as opinion polls continue to look dire for the Coalition and ministers angling for promotion (or simply to save their skin) have ratcheted up the blame game.

To an extent, such behaviour is par for the course. It’s the chief of staff’s job to support and protect the Prime Minister, and being the gatekeeper necessarily involves being the flak-catcher too. Credlin is not the first or last PM’s chief of staff to be met with resistance or agitation from the parliamentary wing.

But concerns expressed about Credlin have flared dangerously beyond what is the norm, evidenced by the astonishing story published earlier this week suggesting the Liberals’ most senior elected woman, the Foreign Minister and Deputy Leader Julie Bishop, is at loggerheads with the adviser and unwilling to continue “taking orders” from her.

This revelation comes after weeks (and, in some cases, months) of claims from conservative columnists and commentators, as well as journalists with strong Liberal or business connections, that no advice is getting to the PM other than that permitted by Credlin. Former PM John Howard and the Liberals’ campaign strategist Mark Textor have even taken to the airwaves in apparent attempts to get through.

And now to dismiss these criticisms as mere sexism, and therefore without foundation, Abbott is essentially pulling down the shutters.

Former Howard government minister Peter Reith is reported to have cautioned against this, saying it was “a bit of a mistake on Tony’s part to throw in the gender claim”, and that Abbott “would be wise to put to the side gender issues and focus on genuine concerns and worries people have had, generally on the backbench but also some ministers”.

On this occasion Reith is absolutely right. This is anything but a wise move for a party leader to do when his MPs are feeling demoralised and pessimistic about their future electoral prospects.

Abbott has rightly noted that Coalition MPs would be disinclined to change prime ministers mid-stream in light of the voter wrath brought down on Labor for doing the same. But Abbott ignores the fact that he is more unpopular than Rudd was at the time of being deposed, and by refusing to countenance any suggestion that Credlin is either incompetent, or just not managing the role effectively, Abbott is inviting dissenters to conclude that the only way to get rid of Credlin is to get rid of him.

Ultimately, the Prime Minister is responsible for the staff appointed to his office and the advice he decides to accept and act upon. By deflecting criticisms of Credlin, which are in fact de facto criticisms of him, and calling his own people sexist, Abbott is causing himself an almighty problem – he’s disregarding and provoking the very people who can remove him (and Credlin) from the Prime Minister’s office.

Chief of staff job too big for one person

It may be true, as one columnist noted on the weekend, that it was Peta Credlin who drew up Abbott’s successful strategy in opposition, and that the perception in “the prime minister’s office” right now is that a panicking party has forgotten “who put it in power”. But a great strategist in opposition does not necessarily make a competent Chief of Staff in government, or one that is able to adequately perform all of its functions.

According to last week’s political commentary, the Prime Minister’s chief of staff Peta Credlin is to blame, at least in part, for the Abbott Government’s woes.

Credlin is not always named in these articles, with the less courageous mostly referring to her euphemistically as “the Prime Minister’s office”.

So we read in the weekend wrap-ups of what was arguably this Coalition Government’s worst week that much of it was apparently Credlin’s fault. The selectively leaked and then disavowed decision to drop the Medicare co-payment was due to “a unilateral decision taken by the Prime Minister’s office”, and the Dead Man Walking Defence Minister David Johnston would remain in Cabinet only because Abbott “and his office stubbornly insist that there is no need for a reshuffle”.

Another commentator went so far as to suggest that the biggest barnacles weighing down the Coalition ship of state were Abbott’s “deep unpopularity and predilection for listening to his office’s advice rather than that of his parliamentary team”.

And that’s the nub of Credlin’s problem, which is pretty much the same as that faced by most other contemporary prime ministerial chiefs of staff: MPs resent an unelected staffer playing gatekeeper and being the Prime Minister’s principal confidante. So when their access is limited or their pearls of advice are not acted upon, disgruntled MPs whinge to the media that the “prime minister and his office don’t listen”.

That’s not to say there mightn’t be some substance to the complaint. Aside from her capacity to ruthlessly hose down the ambitious manoeuvrings of ministers and wannabe ministers, Credlin is indeed said to be resistant to seeking or taking advice from experienced parliamentarians and strategists, as well as wise heads in the business community. She’s also known to excommunicate individual journalists or whole media organisations that she’s deemed to have crossed the Government in some egregious way.

But whether Credlin can or should be held responsible for the Government’s woes is another thing altogether. One former chief of staff, or CoS, in the recent book The Gatekeepers, says attacks on the person occupying that role are proxy attacks on the leader, and that it’s a fundamental part of the CoS’s job to be the lightning rod for those complaints.

On that measure, it’s Credlin’s job to take the blame.

However, one of The Gatekeepers’ authors, Anne Tiernan, said recently that prime ministers get the staff they deserve. Tiernan was referring to the tendency of successive modern prime ministers to draw organisational functions away from the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet (PM&C), because they want these functions to be managed within their own office, but that the offices are ill-equipped for management.

Tiernan noted this mismatch has been exacerbated by the attendant tendency of prime ministers to personally appoint their CoS, instead of the role being filled from the public service, as often used to be the case.

The need for a CoS to fulfil both the traditional political support role and this additional organisational management role can lead to bottlenecks and logjams, such as that identified by a more courageous political commentator on the weekend, who named Credlin as “the chokepoint through which every decision must pass … according to the universal accounts from inside the Abbott Government”. Apparently this includes setting strategy, making appointments, and deciding policy, and extended to logistics for the recent G20 meetings.

Well, fair enough, that’s Credlin’s job, but it may be too much of a job for one person to handle.

It may be true, as one columnist noted on the weekend, that it was Credlin who drew up Abbott’s successful strategy in opposition, and that the perception in “the prime minister’s office” right now is that a panicking party has forgotten “who put it in power”. But a great strategist in opposition does not necessarily make a competent CoS or one that is able to adequately perform all of its functions.

During much of the Howard years, different aspects of the role currently being performed by Credlin were divided among a trusted few. During the time he was Howard’s CoS, Arthur Sinodinos was the political strategist and confidante who worked with the Cabinet Office on policy development, while Tony Nutt was the political enforcer. Sinodinos brought to the PMO a fundamental understanding of how government works – being a former Treasury official – while Nutt, the impeccably credentialed political fix-it man, did what he does best. Their good cop/bad cop routine maintained discipline while ensuring that everyone felt valued and consulted.

Howard’s best years were arguably when this arrangement was in place.

The arrival of Michael Thawley as the new head of the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet may signify Abbott’s recognition of the need to do something similar. Thawley is an experienced bureaucrat and diplomat, with almost a decade’s experience in the US investment industry, and as PM Howard’s former international adviser is also an experienced senior staffer.

Thawley’s arrival may see for the first time in recent history a return of some of the functions that successive prime ministers have taken from PM&C, thereby theoretically lessening the load on Credlin.

Media reports today suggest Thawley’s first task will be to get the Government’s economic strategy back on track. So, in this sense, it appears Abbott has realised he IS ultimately to blame for the Government’s misfortunes and in appointing Thawley has done something about it.

Meanwhile, ministers are already making mischief in the media, saying there are high hopes for Thawley being able set effective strategy “unless he meets an immovable object”, which apparently is the new code for Credlin.

Whether the PM intentionally or not brought in Thawley to meet a deficit in Credlin’s skill set, she will at least be partly responsible for whether her working relationship with Abbott’s new man is a harmonious one.

And if it turns out to be obstructionist or acrimonious, then at least this will be something for which Credlin most definitely should take the blame.

Conservatives also face sexism – yes, really

You only have to look so far as Tony Abbott’s foreign minister and chief of staff to see that conservative women are not immune to sexist slurs.

The emergence of former PM Julia Gillard on the book campaign trail, and related discussions of the role sexism played in her defeat, has uncovered a curiously blinkered view of sexism in Australia.

It’s as though some progressives see sexism as such an essential influence in shaping Gillard’s story that they’ve co-opted it as her burden alone and not one also borne by all other women.

This seems particularly the case when considering whether female politicians from the other side of the political divide are subjected to prejudice because of their gender, or abuse that manifests the bigotry.

Last week, I looked at the prospects of Liberal Deputy Leader Julie Bishop ever becoming PM, and argued that sexism within her own party as well as that in the broader Australian community and the media would likely prevent her from ever reaching that goal.

The column provoked considerable discussion. Many of the commenters refused to accept that Bishop, or any other woman from the ‘right’, were subjected to sexist abuse. Some readers wrote to me on Twitter, saying these women were spared from sexism because they shared the same politics as the sexists. Other commenters refused to believe that at least some of the attacks were coming from progressives and Labor supporters, because in their view progressives wouldn’t stoop to gendered abuse.

But the reality is that sexism is an equal opportunity employer: both the perpetrators and targets cross party lines. All women in politics – be they Labor, Greens or, yes, even Coalition – are subject to blind prejudice because of their gender.

That prejudice creeps within all aspects of our society – the community, the media, and political parties, including progressives and members of the Labor Party.

comment from Razget on my column last week is representative of the sexism Bishop faces from her own “kind”. Claiming that “theres nothing special about Julie Bishop that makes her more powerful than say…the immigration minister Scot Morrison” [sic], Razget goes on to declare that Bishop has probably benefited from reverse sexism:

Smells like feminism to me…lets give a woman a job because of her gender, not because of her actual performance. It doesn’t help anyone to get a quota because of race or whatever, ahead of superior competition.

Meantime, one only has to take a look at what Labor supporters and other opponents of the Abbott Government also have to say online to see that society’s dark vein of sexism flows through the “left”. The prejudice may not have the same breadth and depth as that levelled at Gillard, but it is there nonetheless. Scan the #730, #lateline or #qanda hashtags when a female Coalition MP is being interviewed to get a sense of it.

During one appearance on Lateline, Kelly O’Dwyer was variously described on Twitter as an “interrupting cow”, an “annoying rude bitch”, a “female attack dog”, one of the Liberal Party’s “hideous women”, and the product of “some sort of LNP Island of Doctor Moreau breeding [of] feral women”.

In another example, John Graham, a cartoonist for the “the journal of democracy and independent thought” Independent Australia, depicted Julie Bishop in one caricature as wearing a short, low-cut dress and boots, with legs astride as missiles fall from her nether region. Another shows Bishop in the same dress, bent over in front of Abbott as he lifts her skirt from behind saying “Hey boys I think I found one”.

The PM’s Chief of Staff gets the treatment too. Those who make witty bondage allusions with Credlin as Master and Abbott as slave don’t seem to realise the inherent sexism in this scenario, nor do those who suggest Credlin holds the position because of an alleged affair. Most offensive of all are comments that seek to diminish Credlin in the most vile terms by suggesting she’s a man.

Of course, these are the tame comments – just Google your chosen female Coalition MP plus the word “c*nt” to see a broader range of more colourful slurs, threats and epithets.

While it is true that Labor MPs generally have not engaged in the type of reprehensibly sexist language used by Coalition MPs against Gillard, there are still glimpses of gendered slagging, such as Federal MP Steve Gibbons calling Julie Bishop a “narcissistic bimbo“, NSW Labor MP Amanda Fazio describing another state MP’s partner as resembling a porn star, and another Federal MP David Feeney’s series of tweets labelled “The different emotional states of Christine Milne” (which admittedly did not target a Coalition MP).

It is due to examples like these and many more that last week’s column argued there’s nothing to suggest sexism is the sole preserve of one side of politics or the other:

“The gendered abuse currently being generated online … casts just as ugly a light on perpetrators from the left as it does on similar abuse coming from the right.

The point being made is not some type of Four Yorkshiremen attempt to claim the magnitude of sexist abuse levelled at these women is more than that endured by Gillard. It clearly is not.

But it is sexism just the same, and by any measure sexism is unacceptable.

In all cases of sexism, the holder of the prejudice believes they are superior to one, some or all women. And they believe this superiority gives them the right to verbally, psychologically or physically dominate or abuse those women.

The use of gendered terms such as “cow”, “bitch” or “c*nt”, or use of ridicule or abuse to diminish a person’s female attributes, are all sure indicators of a person’s sense of superiority over some or all women.

Some forms of prejudice may be created and driven by politics, but in the case of sexism, it is a more fundamental power differential that resides within a person’s core values.

It may be easy to dismiss gendered bigotry as a construct of the right, but there is much to suggest both men and women of the left consider themselves superior to those of the right and have let that power differential creep into the language they use to denounce the other side.

Sexism is not an acceptable way to try to balance the ledger after the appalling sexism and yes, misogyny, of the Gillard years.

Having endured sexism shouldn’t be a reason to fete a politician, nor should bigotry be a legitimate form of political attack for any side of politics.

The inequity that arises from sexism can only be addressed if prejudice is challenged wherever it appears – even when it comes from progressives who see gendered ridicule and attacks on politicians as nothing more than robust political debate.

It is unlikely that real progress will ever be made in combating sexism if progressives don’t accept they are part of the problem and do something about the need to change.

“Canny Clive” takes credibility hit

In his attack on the prime minister’s chief of staff, Clive Palmer is doubly wrong on the facts.

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.