ABC’s Four Corners has published a text message sent by Liberal Party treasurer Phil Higginson describing Peta Credlin as the “horsewoman of the apocalypse”.
The text message, sent to a senior Liberal Party colleague late last year, expresses Higginson’s desire to see the prime minister’s Chief of Staff out of a job.
“I do hope you can negotiate the removal of Credlin. That would be a huge win in itself,” he wrote.
“I’m refusing to sign the 2013/14 accounts … it has brought … the Horsewoman of the Apocalypse out of her den as you can image [sic]. Black robes flowing. Stay tuned for the hatchet job on me … it’s hurting me just mainly watching the party suicide.”
The text was obtained by the ABC as part of its Four Corners program to be aired tonight, titled House of Cards. The program details the events that led to the attempted Liberal Party leadership spill that occurred on February 9.
In the lead up to the spill, criticism of Credlin was widespread. Whispers emerged about her being too “controlling”, and media mogul Rupert Murdoch famously advised that Abbott remove her. Newscorp columnist Miranda Devine offered the same advice, referring to Credlin as the “sacrificial lamb”.
These criticisms of Credlin surfaced as concerns about Abbott’s leadership were heightening, the idea being that removing the prime minister’s Chief of Staff could signal a change in direction for the government while avoiding a leadership spill.
Higginson himself joined in the criticism, penning a letter complaining about Credlin that was later leaked to the media.
In his letter, Higginson suggested it was inappropriate that Credlin could serve as Chief of Staff to the PM’s office while her husband, Brian Loughnane, served as federal director of the party.
“A managing director would never allow his executive assistant to be the wife of the chairman,” he wrote in the leaked letter, implying the husband and wife team have too much power at the senior levels of the party.
Likening Credlin to an executive assistant was in itself telling.
Queensland LNP Senator Ian Macdonald called Credlin “obsessive” in 2013, saying she has “centralised control phobia” over Abbott’s office. Macdonald made headlines again more recently, when he chaired the Senate estimates hearing that launched unprecedented attacks on Human Rights Commission president Gillian Triggs.
Foreign Minister and deputy Liberal leader Julie Bishop, who has reportedly had problems with Credlin’s behaviour, has publicly defended her against Higginson’s “horsewoman of the apocalypse” comment.
Bishop said the comment is “deeply unfortunate”.
“It’s very colourful language. It is deeply unfortunate that it has been made public,” she said on Sky News earlier today.
“I just hope everybody focuses on the fact that we are in government to act in the interests of the Australian people.”
“But the less we think about ourselves and the internal workings of the Liberal Party the better off for everyone.”
Social Services Minister Scott Morrison failed to do the same when asked about the comment, simply saying he did not want to discuss other politicians’ private communications.
“I don’t make anything of it, I don’t go around reading everybody’s text messages and emails,” he said to reporters in Canberra.