Power Couples

Brian Loughnane and Peta Credlin

When it comes to wielding influence in the Liberal Party, Brian Loughnane and Peta Credlin put many well-known members of Tony Abbott's shadow cabinet to shame. The husband and wife are two of the opposition leader's most trusted advisers on strategy and policy, and both can take credit for the Libs' soaring popularity in the polls.

Abbott meets with Credlin and Loughnane – as well as an inner circle of senior MPs – each morning parliament sits to plan the day ahead. Both are also reported to have played a role in Abbott's decision to switch support from Peter Reith to Alan Stockdale in the battle for the Liberal Party's presidency.

"Credlin, [press secretary Andrew] Hirst and Loughnane are the three people Abbott listens to most," a Liberal insider tells The Power Index.

Credlin is Abbott's chief of staff – a role she also played under Brendan Nelson and Malcolm Turnbull. Six foot tall, with a long face and a shock of brown hair, she's an imposing figure with an imposing personality.

"She's tough, she's a player, she makes demands, she gives directions, she bawls people out," a respected Liberal powerbroker, who rates her as more powerful than Nick Minchin or Christopher Pyne, told The Power Index earlier this year.

Credlin travels everywhere with Abbott, organises his diary, hires and fires staffers, and oversees his media appearances. She's the one who's kept Abbott, once regarded as something of a loose cannon, so ruthlessly on message throughout the year. The Queen of No, as she calls herself, has also cracked down on non-media staffers fraternising with the press gallery.

She's got a lot of admirers – but also a heap of enemies. Backbenchers who have been on the receiving end of one of Credlin's savage text messages find her overly abrasive. Party elders, meanwhile, worry she's obsessed with short-term political gains at the expense of strong policies.

Credlin's husband Brian Loughnane, is the less colourful and less combative of the two. Grey-haired and bespectacled, he's one of the true stayers of Australian politics. The Liberal Party's federal director since 2003, Loughnane is cemented in the job despite leading the party to one victory and two defeats.

"A year before the election, people were expecting a Liberal wipeout," says a former top Liberal staffer. "To get so close to victory is an extraordinary feather in Abbott's hat and in Loughnane's hat ... He's the best guy going around."

Loughnane's credited with coining the ''L-plate'' tag that worked a treat against Labor leader Mark Latham in 2004 and is skilled at building a strong campaigning team. He's not loved – or even admired – by his conservative comrades but he is trusted and respected.

John Howard has previously described him as a ''straight-shooter, very dependable, and administratively good''.

The story of Loughnane and Credlin's courtship, recounted by The Australian's Kate Legge last month, sounds like something out of a Richard Curtis rom com.

In 2000, Credlin's mentor, former Liberal Party Senator Kay Patterson, read an article about Loughnane describing him as a man "consumed by politics" whose only hobbies, apart from horse racing, were US politics and political paraphernalia. It also explained that he had grown up in Victoria's western district, not far from Credlin's hometown of Colac. Patterson stuck the article on Credlin's computer and said, "You need to marry this man".

Patterson then engineered a role for Credlin at Victorian headquarters during the November 2001 federal campaign where she and Loughnane, 13 years her elder, worked closely together. They were married in December 2002.

Some in the Liberal Party grumble about a husband and wife holding such power, arguing it is limiting Abbott's strategic options. How can a pollie go to Loghnane during an election campaign, for example, and complain about Credlin's performance?

It's not an argument Victorian Liberal Party grandee Michael Kroger accepts.

"I think the evidence is it works tremendously effectively," he tells The Power Index. "You just need to look at Tony Abbott's performance and the party's performance federally. It's not an accident."

And they're only just getting started. If Abbott sweeps to victory at the next election, as the polls suggest he will, Credlin and Loughnane could well become the most powerful political couple this country's ever seen.

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