Foreign Minister Julie Bishop says the Prime Minister may need to address any “valid” backbench concerns about his chief of staff, Peta Credlin, whom she has described as “very powerful” and “protective” of Tony Abbott.
Yesterday, party room criticism of the Prime Minister’s performance — including the influence of Ms Credlin — came to a head with a motion to spill the leadership.
The motion failed 61-39 but Mr Abbott described it as a “near-death experience” and promised his Government would be better “than we were in every respect last year”.
Ms Bishop, who had been touted as a potential contender for the leadership, said this morning that Mr Abbott was a “smart man” and would take into account the concerns about his most senior adviser.
She would not say whether she thought Ms Credlin should resign because “the specific staffing matters within the Prime Minister’s office are a matter for him”.
But she said he should make changes if they were warranted.
“The Prime Minister must respond to [backbench] concerns if they are valid concerns,” the deputy Liberal leader told the ABC’s AM program.
In December, Ms Credlin was forced to deny claims her working relationship with the Foreign Minister had broken down, amid reports Ms Bishop was refusing to take directives from Mr Abbott’s office.
“Peta Credlin is a very powerful figure in the sense that she’s strong, she has a lot of opinions and she is very protective of the Prime Minister,” Ms Bishop said.
“And she was an indispensible part of our team in opposition.
“The Prime Minister is very close to Peta, she obviously provides him with good advice and they work together as a team.”
Social Services Minister Scott Morrison also said the issue of whether Ms Credlin should resign was a matter for Mr Abbott.
“I don’t give him lectures on his staff and he doesn’t give me lectures on mine,” he said.
Finance Minister Mathias Cormann said the Prime Minister’s staffing arrangements were separate from his promise to consult more with his MPs.
“These discussions in recent days are not about staffing arrangements, this is about our country,” Senator Cormann said.
“All of us as ministers from the Prime Minister down, we are responsible for our performance, for the job we do.”
Both Senator Cormann and Ms Bishop also reject suggestions Joe Hockey may be replaced as treasurer, confirming that he retained the support of his Cabinet colleagues.
Reports at least six ministers voted for spill
Ms Bishop also refused to reveal how she voted in yesterday’s spill motion.
She said her role as deputy was to support the party’s leader but would not comment on reports that at least six ministers voted in favour of the motion.
“The fact is, this was a secret ballot and this was pure speculation because people keep their vote to themselves,” she said.
“I’m not going to announce on national TV how I voted because that would put unfair pressure on every other member and senator to be expected then to reveal how they voted and what’s the point of the secret ballot?”