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Tony Abbott dismisses 'obsessive' slur on chief of staff Peta Credlin

05 Dec, 2013 03:00 AM
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Control: Peta Credlin and Tony Abbott.
Control: Peta Credlin and Tony Abbott.

The tight circle that surrounds Prime Minister Tony Abbott has shrugged it off as a verbal hand grenade tossed by an embittered member overlooked for promotion.

But Senator Ian Macdonald's public accusation on Wednesday in the Senate that Mr Abbott's office, led by senior aide Peta Credlin, has instilled a culture of ''obsessive centralised control'' in the government has struck a chord among sections of the Coalition.

Rumblings of discontent have been growing since the election win in September.

The strict media control of ministers by the Prime Minister's office has been reported, but a bigger irritant for Coalition members and staffers has been a tight grip on appointments by Ms Credlin and the so-called ''star chamber'' staff appointments panel she heads.

A Coalition member said: ''The level of control is far in excess of the Howard government at its peak. It's Peta Credlin who is the problem, she's a control freak and this is feeding into all sorts of things.''

The selection of government members for committees is now being done from ''on high'' whereas, in the past, MPs and senators had been given a level of freedom to sort out appointments themselves.

Some ministers have been bruised by dealings with the star chamber, which is made up of Ms Credlin, Liberal ministers Michael Ronaldson and Kevin Andrews, Ms Credlin's deputy Andrew Hirst and David Whitrow, the chief of staff to Deputy Prime Minister Warren Truss.

Unofficial members are Liberal Party director Brian Loughnane - Ms Credlin's husband - and John Howard's former chief of staff Tony Nutt, who was hired to oversee the transition to government.

At least a third of Mr Abbott's 19-member cabinet have had senior staffing appointments either knocked back or imposed by the panel.

Finance Minister Mathias Cormann, Senate leader Eric Abetz, Treasurer Joe Hockey, Communications Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Agriculture Minister Barnaby Joyce have all been overruled by the panel or had senior advisers ''imposed'' on their offices.

Assistant Treasurer Arthur Sinodinos has also had a potential chief of staff vetoed.

In a fiery speech in Parliament, Senator Macdonald outlined his disappointment in dealing with his leader.

A spokesman for Mr Abbott declined to comment.

SMH

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