As a staunch Roman Catholic, Tony Abbott campaigned on traditional family values.
But with his wife Margie barely in evidence throughout his time as Prime Minister, at the same time as his chief of staff Peta Credlin was constantly at his side, traditional family roles were not what the rumour mill of Canberra suspected was being played out inside the PM’s office.
News of the widespread but previously unpublished perception that Mr Abbott and Ms Credlin were having an affair has been headline news in Australia for days. Both parties have denied it.
“I’m not in the business of raking over old coals nor am I in the business of responding to scurrilous gossip and smear,” Mr Abbott said on Monday.
In The Road To Ruin, author Niki Savva claims Mrs Abbott was denied any of the normal assistance a Prime Minister’s wife can expect.
“The edicts on Margie’s isolation, such as making her sit well away from others in the office when she was there for a social engagement, made staff uncomfortable, especially those who had worked in other offices for either leaders or senior ministers. Staff struggled for explanations for Margie’s exclusion.”
During the election campaign, Liberal Party apparatchiks recognised what the Labor Party already knew, that Mr Abbott had an image problem with women. He was seen constantly in the company of his wife and three daughters.
The day after his election win, they became virtually invisible. The excising of Mrs Abbott began early.
At a celebration dinner party the evening after Mr Abbott’s election victory, businessman Alf Moufarrige hosted a celebration at his plush Hunters Hill home in Sydney. Arriving guests saw place settings for the entire Abbott family arranged on one table. When they next looked, the settings for Margie and the girls, which had included specially created laminated placemats, featuring photos of the Abbott women, were gone.
Disappointed Abbott staff, there with their own partners, who had been looking forward to congratulating Margie and the girls for their efforts during the campaign – as well as hoping that Margie would become a regular fixture in the PM’s schedule – asked what had happened. The response: an edict from Mr Abbott’s chief of staff.
The treatment of Mrs Abbott not only disturbed staffers and supporters; many believe it was a principal factor in the PM’s downfall.
Support staff were not permitted to inform the Prime Minister’s wife, or family, about any invitations until Ms Credlin had sifted through them. Former staff confirmed that a request from Margie for diary details was denied.
According to one former adviser: “Margie was kept in the dark.” According to another: “Peta did not want Margie to have access to staff, despite staff wanting to go to events with her.”
Mr Abbott’s behaviour has continued after the Malcolm Turnbull coup.
Ms Savva records: “His private behaviour continued to puzzle colleagues, while his public behaviour infuriated or disappointed them.”
Before he flew out to the Margaret Thatcher lecture in October last year, an excited Mr Abbott told a friend: “I am being taken to the south of France. I don’t know where – it’s a surprise.”
The books reveals details of the trip.
“News broke that a villa had been rented. He was going to spend time there with Credlin and a couple of other former staff. His wife, Margie, who had accompanied him to London … flew back home on her own. He flew to Paris. He spent his 58th birthday in France with Credlin … For many of his colleagues, the whole thing was as bizarre as some of the events they had witnessed during the Abbott–Credlin tenure. It sent the rumour mill into overdrive.”
But while accused of running unsourced scuttlebutt and innuendo, Ms Savva defended her work. A number of high-profile figures went on the record, and as one of the nation’s most respected journalists, few doubt the veracity of her sources.
“It is important for people to know what happened, and how the peculiar dynamic between the Prime Minister and his chief of staff, and her level of control, affected every aspect of his life – usually, to his detriment,” Ms Savva writes.
“Credlin exercised an unprecedented level of control over the activities of the Prime Minister’s wife.”