Peta Credlin and Abbott, like Hitler-Bormann · 5 December 2013
A number of journalists – including Philip Dorling, Jonathan Swan, Chris Johnson and Heath Aston—have been following up on the activities of Peta Credlin. The more I read, the clearer it becomes that Credlin is much like Martin Bormann. So, this “blog” is now an update of the one initially posted on 5 December, and—as more information comes out—I will keep up-dating.
The ball really got rolling on this issue when Liberal National Party senator Ian Macdonald made a speech in parliament saying that prime minister Tony Abbott and his chief of staff, Peta Credlin, are enforcing a culture of “obsessive centralised control phobia”. According to another Coalition member: “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.”
In my view, the issue is not going to go away!
BECOMING INDESPENSIBLE (to Abbott)
The first issue to understand is the importance of Credlin to Abbott.
“Credlin has been Tony Abbott’s most trusted confidant since he took over as opposition leader in the lead up to the 2010 election. She has been widely credited for coordinating a highly effective office and media strategy. She is seen by many as the most capable political operator in the Abbott government and on election night Abbott described her as ‘the smartest and fiercest political warrior’ he has known.”
According to Abbott: “Peta Credlin and my office are largely responsible for the Coalition’s success in opposition and for winning government”.
Adolf Hitler almost equally valued Martin Bormann.
Bormann had officially succeeded Rudolf Hess when the latter flew to England in May 1941. Before his flight, Hess had increasingly been out of his depth and left many details to Bormann, his own senior lieutenant. This allowed Bormann to ingratiate himself with Hitler, as Alfred Rosenberg, a prominent Nazi, recalled:
“Hess was obviously getting on the Fuhrer’s nerves, and so Bormann took care of the queries and orders. Here is where he began to make himself indispensable. If, during our dinner conversations, some incident was mentioned, Bormann would pull out his notebook and make an entry. If the Fuhrer expressed some displeasure over some remark, some measure, some film, Bormann would take a note. If something seemed unclear, Bormann would get up and leave the room, but return almost immediately – after having given orders to his office staff to investigate forthwith, and to telephone, wire or teletype.”
Hitler admired Bormann’s efficiency, saying:
“I know that Bormann is brutal. But there is a sense in everything he does and I can absolutely rely on my orders being carried out by Bormann immediately and in spite of all obstacles. Bormann’s proposals are so precisely worked out that I have only to say yes or no. With him I deal in ten minutes with a pile of documents for which I should need hours with anyone else. If I say to him, remind me about such and such a matter in half a year’s time, I can be sure that he really will do so.”
Hitler once summed it up: “I’m glad to have a door-keeper like that, because Bormann keeps people off my back.”
POWER AND DEALING WITH OTHERS!
But Bormann had become more than a door or gate-keeper. He was starting to act independently – although only to the extent that Hitler could feel that Bormann was working for his interests. When the large expenditures on facilities at Hitler’s mountain retreat caused some is his entourage to remark on the “gold-rush town atmosphere”, Speer noted that “Hitler regretted the hub-bub but commented: ‘It’s Bormann’s doing; I don’t want to interfere.’”
Speer recalled that Bormann’s approach – which, as already noted, Hitler admired – meant that Bormann had more power than Hitler would have actually intended:
“In a few sentences he would report on the memoranda sent to him. He spoke monotonously and with seeming objectivity and would then advance his own solution. Usually Hitler merely nodded and spoke his terse, ‘Agreed’. On the basis of this one word, or even a vague comment by Hitler, which was hardly meant as a directive, Bormann would often draft lengthy instructions. In this way ten or more important decisions were sometimes made within half an hour. De facto, Bormann was conducting the internal affairs of the Reich (ie Germany).”
Credlin also seems to have accumulated much power! Abbott says that “decisions made by my chief of staff and my office have my full backing and authority. Anyone who suggests otherwise is wrong.’’
Credlin, says an insider, ‘’is way too controlling, not just of the PM’s diary and who has access to him, but of staffing appointments, their conduct and what MPs and even ministers can do or say.’’
(1) On “access”:
“On September 8, Credlin was the only other person with the newly-elected prime minister during a briefing from senior departmental secretaries.” So, Ministers were already being by-passed! Even business leaders are being afftected. ‘’We are not getting the access we should and what has really annoyed some is there have been times when people thought they were getting in to see Tony when in fact Credlin appears and says the meeting is with her,’’ one said.
Martin Bormann, according to Albert Speer, Minister for Armaments, was “little more than Hitler’s shadow” who “never dared go on any lengthy business trips, or even to allow himself a vacation, for fear that his influence might diminish”. The reality was, according to Walter Darre, the Minister of Food and Agriculture, that “Hitler was the beginning and end of (Bormann’s) work, and except for temporary alliances of convenience, he was not interested in winning support from anyone else.”
(2) On “staffing appointments”:
Apparently “at least a third of Abbott’s 19-member cabinet have had senior staffing appointments either knocked back or imposed on them” by a Credlin led “star-chamber” 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 staffing panel or had senior advisers “imposed” on their offices. Media reports suggest that “Credlin has insisted that all 420 government staff appointments right down to junior electorate officers are approved by the panel”.
‘’If Credlin doesn’t like someone, they don’t get the job even though they might be abundantly qualified and obviously the right person,’’ one minister said. It is her vetoing of ministerial staffing appointments, though, that is causing the most anger in government circles. She has quashed or stalled the appointments of people who worked at senior levels in opposition or in high positions in the Howard government. ‘’It is at a ridiculous stage,’’ one minister said.
Even Assistant Treasurer Arthur Sinodinos—a former long-time very successful chief of staff to former Prime Minister John Howard—has also had a potential chief of staff vetoed. However, it may be that Credlin “doesn’t like” Sinodinos.
(3) “Even ministers can do or say”:
Immigration Minister Scott Morrison was reportedly “chided by Credlin as they left a cabinet meeting last month. In the exchange Credlin spoke about Mr Morrison’s poor performance during a recent news conference.” Morrison then expressed frustration that he was not allowed to say much at his press appearances. Credlin shot right back at Morrison with: ‘’We will tell you what you can say and what you can’t say.’’
As will be related later, Speer recalled being told-off by Bormann “in his usual loutish fashion”.
Walter Funk, the Minister of Economics, complained that it was “incredibly hard … to have a reasonable conversation with the Fuhrer because Bormann butts in all the time. He cuts me short and constantly interrupts.”
Does the same happen with Credlin?
More generally, and apart from the above three categories, there have been numerous past instances when Abbott does not seem to have fully read documents or reports. His physical self-discipline does not seem to be matched by intellectual self-discipline. This may be letting Credlin control more than would normally be expected by a PM’s chief-of-staff——and, consequently, adversely affecting “all sorts of things”.
One recent example may be Abbott being in the dark about what exactly Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has been saying to the Indonesians regarding spying. Does Abbott communicate directly with Bishop – or, do the messages go via Credlin?
Another may be the travel cost issue. Abbott has ordered cabinet ministers and top public servants to personally approve the airfares and hotel bookings of tens of thousands of bureaucrats. All public servants’ travel costing less than $20,000 must be approved by departmental secretaries or agency heads and responsibility “should not be delegated below that level”. Coalition ministers, aides and senior public service executives have privately condemned the directive as “unworkable”, “ridiculous” and showing “a complete ignorance of the practical realities of government”. Apparently, Abbott’s directive was issued without consultation with departmental and agency heads. Coalition ministerial staff described the instructions as part of “the controlling tendencies of the Prime Minister’s office”. The order seems to have been ordered by someone who has no executive experience in a large organization. Peta again ?
Balder von Schirach, leader of the Hitler Youth, recalled: “At first we Reichsleiters (members of the executive board of the Nazi Party) had no reason to complain about Bormann. He dealt with matters needing Hitler’s attention more quickly than Hess, who was always vague and slow”. Bormann “pretended to be your friend, innocent of any self-serving, who represented the interest of the Party leaders. It took quite a while before I saw through him and realised how dangerous he was.”
Speer described Bormann’s modus operandi:
“He never worked by direct attack. …. Instead, he would weave little incidents into his conversation which were effective only in their sum. Thus, for example, in the course of teatime chatter Bormann would tell unfavourable anecdotes from Vienna in order to damage Balder von Schirach, the Hitler Youth leader. But Bormann carefully avoided agreeing with Hitler’s subsequent negative remarks. On the contrary, he though it prudent to praise Schirach afterward – the kind of praise, of course, which would leave an unpleasant aftertaste. After about a year of this sort of thing Bormann had brought Hitler to the point of disliking Schirach and often feeling outright hostility toward him.”
When, in 1942, Heinrich Himmler’s subordinate Walter Schellenberg raised with Himmler the possibility of Germany trying to negotiate peace while it still had some strength, Himmler replied: “But we could never let Bormann know about our plans. He’d wreck the whole scheme, or else he’d twist it round into a compromise with Stalin. And we must never let that happen.” In mid-1943, Himmler told Schellenberg that “the Fuhrer has become so accustomed to Bormann that it’s very difficult indeed to lessen his influence.”
It was not long before Speer began to have his own problems. Hitler refused to sign a document presented to him by Speer, saying that “only a few hours ago Bormann had warned him … that I was going to lure him into signing something” that had not been appropriately discussed with others: “Hitler cut me off with unaccustomed curtness: ‘I am glad that in Bormann at least I have a faithful soul around me’.”
Speaking of Bormann, Speer opined that “a few critical words from Hitler and all his enemies would have been at his throat”.
And, what about Credlin’s “enemies”?
TRY TO REIN-IN PETA ——- OR SUCK-UP ?
Ian Macdonald’s speech, and the numerous comments being reported, are about trying to rein in Credlin by sending messages to both her and Abbott. According to one minister, ‘’Credlin is fiercely loyal to Abbott and so he is loyal to her, but I think he will soon learn that his prime ministership is more valuable than to allow what is going on right now to continue for too much longer’’.
But Abbott is in powerful position (he has a solid majority in the House of Representatives, and after the Labor debacles no-one in his party will ever try to move against him)—- and he may not “soon learn”! If he does not “soon learn”, what can be done? Not much, so it is better for Credlin’s “enemies” to “suck-up”!
Thus, the likes of finance minister Mathias Cormann are urging unnamed colleagues to “back off” from their destructive media attacks on Credlin. Cormann said coalition MPs should be thanking Credlin for the central role she played in getting them into power, rather than resorting to cowardly anonymous attacks through the media. “Peta Credlin has done an outstanding job for us in opposition,” he said. “She’s been central to get us back into government… She obviously has a very important job at the heart of the government and she will be central to our success”. Education Minister Christopher Pyne, backed Cormann, saying that Credlin ‘’gives more freedom to the cabinet and the ministry’’ than most chiefs of staff he had seen in his 20 years in politics.
Well before the end of the war in 1945, some efforts were made by Hitler’s ministers to try and rein-in Bormann.
In February, 1943, Goebbels complained to Speer that Hitler was becoming out of touch because of his isolation at his various military headquarters and Bormann’s gate-keeping activities: “Things cannot go on this way. Here we are sitting in Berlin. Hitler does not hear what we say about the situation. I cannot influence him politically, cannot even report the most urgent measures in my area. Everything goes through Bormann. Domestic policy, Goebbels continued, has slipped entirely out of Hitler’s hands. It was being controlled by Bormann, who managed to give Hitler the feeling that he was still directing things.”
Goering, who had generally lost interest in the war effort – because it was a war he had argued against and did not believe could be won – had now been stirred up by Speer and showed interest in joining Goebbels, Speer and others in reining-in the influence of Bormann and the remainder of the “headquarters clique” which included Keitel and the Chancellery Chief-of-Staff, Lammers. Goering, knowing that these three were entirely subservient to Hitler, was even somewhat dismissive: “Bormann and Keitel are nothing but the Fuhrur’s secretaries, after all. As far as their own powers are concerned, they’re nobodies.”
Goering did, however, have some concern that “Bormann was aiming at nothing less than the succession to Hitler, and that he would stop at nothing to outmanoeuvre him” as the designated successor. Speer, Goebbels, Goering and a number of others decided to use a meeting on labour force mobilisation to begin the process of undermining Bormann, Keitel and Lammers. But, for Speer, things went wrong from the start. Goebbels didn’t turn up to the 12 April, 1943 meeting and Goering changed sides; as though he “had picked up the wrong phonograph record”.
Speer and the others had been deserted, and were nonplussed. Speer later wrote that Goebbels may have reported in “ill” because he “had an instinct for what was about to happen”. Not only had Goering changed sides, but 12 April was the day that Bormann became, officially at least, even more powerful. He was appointed “Secretary to the Fuhrer” in addition to his official Nazi Party position and authorised, according to Speer, “to act officially in any field he wished”.
While it meant little change in what Bormann actually did, the new title meant that Bormann was clearly in Hitler’s good books. Hitler said: “In order to win the war, I need Bormann. Anyone who is against Bormann is against the state.” This would have been enough for Goebbels to suck-up to Bormann.
Bormann and Goebbels now came to “an arrangement – Goebbels promising to direct reports to Hitler through Bormann, in return for Bormann’s extracting the right sort of decision from Hitler.”
Following the 20 July, 1944 assassination attempt, Hitler’s increased suspicions of the army saw him turn back to his Nazi Party stalwarts for support, which suited both Goebbels and Bormann. Goebbels finally managed to get himself appointed to a position of direct national power – Reich Plenipotentiary for Total War – even if his powers were less impressive than they actually sounded. When Speer complained to Hitler about increased Nazi Party interference in the work of various armaments factories, he got short-thrift:
“I handed Hitler my letter at headquarters. He received it without a word and looked through it. … Hitler explained that Goebbels and Bormann would decide together what to do… A few hours later Bormann asked me to his office. … Goebbels flatly declared that he would now … command me. Bormann agreed: I was under Goebbels now. For the rest, he would not stand for any further attempts on my part to influence Hitler directly.”
And, wrote Speer, “Bormann told me off in his usual loutish fashion”.
Sounds like Credlin and Morrison!
THE FUTURE ?
Peter van Onselen, a political commentator, has also written:
“Credlin’s success has helped her and the Coalition get to where it now is. The next big test is how she performs over the medium to longer term, now that the Coalition is the incumbent. Being an effective chief of staff in government is very different to opposition. Few survive the transition. Howard and Kevin Rudd were forced to change chiefs of staff soon after winning elections and Julia Gillard’s chief of staff when she was deputy PM didn’t last long once she had the top job. Only time will tell if Credlin can buck the trend and develop from a powerful opposition chief of staff into a long-term prime-ministerial chief of staff.”
In my view, time is already telling us the answer!