Peta Credlin, Aust. PM’s Chief Of Staff, Boldly Makes A Speech About Sexism In Politics


You know there’s a gender problem in politics when men are criticized for their policies, and women are slammed for their outfits. Yes, it’s 2015 and we STILL have this problem world wide!

Current Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott made news at the end of 2014 when he doubled the female presence in his cabinet. But don’t get excited just yet. The representation went from one woman to two, a whole 100% increase. It may not surprise most Aussies who have grown accustomed to the Prime Minister’s penchant for subtle and sometimes blatant sexism.

Within his cabinet, Julie Bishop is the Minister for Foreign Affairs, and Sussan Ley was promoted from Assistant Education Minister to Health Minister, who is also responsible for Sport.

Back in 2012 after Julia Gillard became Australia’s first female Prime Minister in 2010 by taking over leadership of the Labor Party, she gave a rousing speech decrying then-opposition leader Tony Abbott’s blatant displays of misogyny. The speech has become somewhat of a swan song, and despite the messy drama she was involved in during her time as the country’s leader, Julia is remembered for being a fearless leader who shot down Tony for his schoolboy antics.


So it comes as a bit of a surprise (albeit it a good one!) that his chief of staff Peta Credlin has now given the Liberal Party, known to be more conservative, a feminist voice that has sorely been lacking.

At a recent forum on gender and politics in the city of Melbourne, she made quite the statement by calling politics in Australia masculine and exclusionary, and said the Liberal party needs to do more.

And Peta should know because as one of a very few handful of women surrounding Tony Abbott she has gotten her fair share of heavy-handed media criticism but she isn’t shying away from the way she is portrayed as a formidable and tough woman.

“I’ve had 16 years in Canberra, and I’m pretty resilient, but it is the toughest, most masculine, most exclusionary place, and I hardly ever walk into a room where there’s more than two women. Nine times out of 10, here and overseas, I am the only woman. And people ask me to get the cup of tea, and because I’ve got a man’s name, they just assume that I’m not Peta Credlin,” she said at the forum.


It is a commonly said thing amongst female politicians around the world that men who are assertive are considered good leaders, women who are assertive are labeled “bitch” or “bossy”.

“A bloke is ‘across the detail’, a woman’s a ‘micro-manager’. You know? A woman’s ‘a b***h’, but a guy is ‘strong and determined’. And we let people get away with this,” said Peta.

And it’s not just her demeanor under scrutiny. The way she interacts with other females gets the spotlight and plenty of attention, rather than her actual work at times.

She may have her critics, but Tony Abbott is a staunch Peta Credlin supporter. He has called her “the fiercest political warrior I’ve ever worked with” in the past, yet she isn’t afraid to call out her own party for needing to do more for women.

“It was really hard to put a ministry together in 2010 when we had just come in touch (with winning government), we didn’t have a pipeline of women. Right now, we’ve got a lot of women who could be in the ministry, but they were just elected in 2013, so it’s not usual that you get in the ministry within your first term. I hope, should we win the next election, that we’re in a situation where we have a very strong pipeline of women,” she said suggesting the Liberal party structure is not conducive to women progressing up the ranks.

But it seems the opposition may be heeding the call for gender equality before her own party. The Labor party, led by Bill Shorten, is committed to affirmative action to increase the quota of women to 50% by 2020, which was championed by Emily’s List and the National Labor Women’s Network.

Over in the UK, the Labour party there is also a movement to move toward a 50/50 equal representation amongst party members as they are waiting to appoint a new leader. All four potential candidates were interviewed by the Labour Women’s Network and shared their commitment to increasing the representation of women and creating a gender balance. Both the UK and Australian Labour and Labor parties are currently opposition parties, but their focus on gender equality could mean a more invested interest in voters going forward. It’s not just a good idea on paper, it’s a necessary measure for representing all citizens.


Despite the current political landscape for women in Aussie politics, she is thankful to have a leader who lets her speak about these issues. Although we have to point out it’s kinda ironica that Tony Abbott is quick to point out that sexism is the reason for so much criticism of Peta in the media…

“For all Tony Abbott’s faults, I have never had a better male mentor who lets me speak frankly about women,” she said.

Speaking frankly is something that needs to happen more often, from both conservative and progressive parties. The fact that she is younger than most women in Parliament may have something to do with it.

We have seen in the past how Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has shied away from the female empowerment and feminism conversation, telling an audience on ABC show ‘Q and A’ that she doesn’t care for labels, women should just stop whinging and get on with the job.

She has irked women who look to literally one of the only 2 members of the cabinet to be a strong leader for them, yet she seems to have no desire to be a feminist spokesperson, choosing instead to “get on with the job”.


The problem with her statement is that it’s not as easy as getting on with the job as she may think. For men, sure, but women are already at a disadvantage that there has to be a system in place where women are supported and encouraged to pursue higher levels of policy making and not be afraid of the criticism that may come their way.

Tony Abbott may not be the most popular choice amongst women, or even seen as an ally for women, but the fact that his own chief of staff is allowed to have that public voice and perhaps even educate him in the process is worth taking note of.

Bridie Jabour at the Guardian talks about how the Peta Credlin discussion on gender in politics cannot be compared to Julia Gillard (for instance) or anyone else.

“Credlin’s position as Abbott’s chief of staff has been held up as proof she cannot be on the side of women – as if the ideal scenario would be that our male prime minister, in a predominantly male cabinet, has a male chief of staff. But isn’t her lived experience of sexism as she rose through a conservative organization interesting? Especially given the Liberal party cites “meritocracy” every time someone dares to point out how few women it appoints to positions of power. What about the likelihood Credlin, for all her faults, has something of value to contribute to this debate?”

Beyond the sexism in politics prohibiting more women from joining the ranks and proving their merit alongside the men, Peta went on to tell the Gender in Politics Forum audience that having inequality in the Parliament just just hurt the politicians, it affects the way policy is created for half the population.

“Unless you have women in places where decisions are made … 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.” she said.

To hear more of Peta’s candid comments about her experience dealing with misogyny in her political career click here.

As we see more and more women take up positions of leadership in politics in the world, and eagerly await the US to welcome it’s first female president (Hillary 2016!), let’s remember to criticize on merit and policy, not gender or appearance.





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