The treasurer of the Federal Liberal Party launched a strident attack on the Prime Minister’s chief of staff, Peta Credlin, urging her removal in an explosive text message leaked to the ABC’s Four Corners program.
The confidential message from party treasurer Philip Higginson was sent to a senior Liberal figure late last year.
He refers to Ms Credlin as the “Horsewoman of the Apocalypse” and tells his Liberal colleague: “I do hope you can negotiate the removal of Credlin. That would be a huge win in itself.”
Mr Higginson was considered a good friend of Prime Minister Tony Abbott when he sent the message.
It was written during a fraught dispute with Ms Credlin’s husband, Liberal Party federal director Brian Loughnane over the party’s accounts.
Senior Liberal sources told Four Corners they believed the dispute was bound up in the crisis that rocked the Prime Minister’s leadership earlier this year.
In the text message, Mr Higginson told the senior Liberal figure: “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.”
Mr Higginson did sign the Liberal Party accounts in February this year, acknowledging their accuracy.
But he subsequently wrote a “letter of concern” to the party’s 27-member federal executive highlighting what he called the conflict of interest between the positions of Ms Credlin and Mr Loughnane.
That letter was widely leaked to the media last month.
At the time, Mr Abbott downplayed the dispute over the accounts as “a storm in a teacup”.
But Four Corners has learnt the Prime Minister and Mr Higginson had a heated meeting about the issue a week before Christmas last year.
Mr Abbott declined to comment on the meeting but it is understood he asked Mr Higginson to resign as federal treasurer.
Ten days ago, the party’s federal executive met to discuss Mr Higginson’s concerns but at the end of that meeting, party president Richard Alston told reporters there was “nothing to investigate”.
“I mean the fact that the accounts are being signed off tells you that there are no issues,” he said.
Four Corners’ episode House of Cards airs Monday at 8:30pm on ABC 1.