Meet the woman behind the man: Tony Abbott's "political warrior" Peta Credlin.

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Peta Credlin, Chief of Staff to Tony Abbott

In Tony Abbott's victory speech last Saturday night he thanked his Chief of Staff, Peta Credlin, referring to her as "the smartest and the fiercest political warrior I have ever worked with".

Marie Claire featured Peta Credlin in our Game Changers story last year, which profiled successful working women who were challenging the status quo. Though fiercely private, we had to convince her to spearhead such an amazing group of women and she didn't disappoint (in fact, if truth be told, we had a bit of a girl crush on her). Now, as one of the most powerful women in the country, we thought it would be interesting to look back on what she had to say at the time.

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Path to the top: Credlin discovered her love for public speaking and debating during a Rotary high-school exchange program in California. After graduating with a law degree, her first job was as a speechwriter for a senator, and she has stayed in “back of house” politics for much of her decade-long career. She is one of the Liberal Party’s longest-serving female chiefs of staff.

The defining moment: “I regard myself as a right-wing feminist, so when Tony asked me to be his chief of staff in 2009 I sat down and had a frank conversation with him and said, ‘There’s a perception of you on women’s issues and I want to hear it straight from you. I can’t work for you unless we’re on the same page.’ He spelt it out: he’s passionate about IVF, he’s pro-contraception and believes abortion should be safe, legal and rare. I felt comfortable I could work for him and I’ve never regretted that decision. He has been a great boss.”

Career tip: “Spin will only get you so far in my job – substance is what will make the difference.”

Toughest day on the job: “There was a grubby joke told about me at a union event attended by some Labor MPs in Canberra. I didn’t hear about it until the next day. The joke didn’t faze me – politics is tough – but on that day I had come to the office straight from hospital after my fifth failed IVF attempt. All I wanted to do was go home to bed, pull the doona over my head and cry. But if I didn’t front up, there would be a sense that the joke had got to me. So I had to sit through Question Time in the advisor’s box and have a smile on my face. It was personally tough.”

The “token female”: “Sometimes you walk into a senior business meeting and the room is full of men, and some idiot around the table may try to make you feel like a token female. But they’ll only ever get to do that once. It’s up to you: no-one can make you feel inferior unless you let them.”

On a personal note: “I took up surfing and I’m really hopeless, though I get out on the water as much as I can. The office gave me a custom-made, leopard-skin longboard for my 40th, and everyone signed it. I figured when I’m 75 and in the surf, I can look back and remember all these terrific people I used to work with.”

Why she's on our list: “Holding down the chief of staff’s job in a federal political leader’s office is still a rarity for a woman. What stands out about Peta is that she is seen by Coalition MPs as having an iron grip on what goes before Tony Abbott and what doesn’t. Until now, her approach has produced an ultra-disciplined political attack by the Opposition, which has helped tear down one prime minister and almost cost Labor government after just one term.” - Laura Tingle, political editor for The Australian Financial Review.