PM in first strike on ALP star can­di­date Ke­neally

The Australian - - FRONT PAGE - DAVID CROWE AN­DREW CLENNELL

Mal­colm Turn­bull has un­leashed an at­tack on star La­bor challenger Kristina Ke­neally over her time as NSW pre­mier, as he fights to keep his slim ma­jor­ity in fed­eral par­lia­ment and stop the Ben­ne­long by­elec­tion on De­cem­ber 16 turn­ing into a test of his lead­er­ship.

The cit­i­zen­ship cri­sis turned into a deadly threat to the Prime Min­is­ter’s con­trol of par­lia­ment af­ter Bill Shorten named Ms Ke­neally as the sur­prise La­bor can­di­date for the north­ern Syd­ney seat yes­ter­day, step­ping up pres­sure for a protest vote to de­feat Lib­eral MP John Alexan­der.

Scott Mor­ri­son yes­ter­day linked Ms Ke­neally to cor­rupt for­mer NSW min­is­ters Ed­die Obeid and Ian Mac­don­ald, who are both in jail, and Joe Tripodi, who was found by the In­de­pen­dent Com­mis­sion Against Cor­rup­tion to have en­gaged in se­ri­ous cor­rupt con­duct.

“The per­son Bill Shorten has cho­sen to rep­re­sent him in this by­elec­tion is the per­son Ed­die Obeid chose to be his pre­mier in NSW,” the fed­eral Trea­surer said. “Now Ed­die Obeid to­day is in jail.”

Mr Turn­bull used the same links to tar­get the Op­po­si­tion Leader for mak­ing Ms Ke­neally his “hand-picked can­di­date” just as Obeid did in help­ing her be­come NSW pre­mier in De­cem­ber 2009. “Don’t let Kristina Ke­neally do to Ben­ne­long what she did to NSW,” the Prime Min­is­ter said.

La­bor hit back at the at­tacks by cit­ing ICAC re­ports prais­ing Ms Ke­neally’s tes­ti­mony against cor­rupt min­is­ters and de­scrib­ing her as a “cred­i­ble and con­sci­en­tious wit­ness”.

Ms Ke­neally brushed off the at­tacks, say­ing that the coun­sel as­sist­ing ICAC, Ge­of­frey Wat­son SC, had said she was “one of the heroes” of its in­ves­ti­ga­tions. “I don’t think there’s any­one who looks back at that time and doesn’t say ‘if only I’d known’,” she told The Aus­tralian yes­ter­day.

While the govern­ment holds Ben­ne­long with a 9.7 per cent mar­gin, Ms Ke­neally shapes as a strong can­di­date with the po­ten­tial to seize the blue-rib­bon Lib­eral seat in the by-elec­tion forced by Mr Alexan­der’s con­ces­sion that he could not be sure he did not have Bri­tish cit­i­zen­ship.

Ms Ke­neally is pre­sent­ing her- self as an un­der­dog, fol­low­ing La­bor polling last week­end that had the govern­ment ahead 56-44 per cent in the seat — a swing away from Mr Alexan­der of 3.5 per cent.

In her rapid shift from Sky News pre­sen­ter to celebrity challenger, Ms Ke­neally joins for­mer La­bor star can­di­dates such as Peter Gar­rett, Max­ine McKew and Peter Beat­tie — only the first two of whom man­aged to de­feat

their Lib­eral ri­vals. The cit­i­zen­ship storm in­flicted an­other ca­su­alty yes­ter­day when in­de­pen­dent Tas­ma­nian sen­a­tor Jacqui Lam­bie quit par­lia­ment over her Scot­tish her­itage, while all other MPs face a De­cem­ber 1 dead­line to prove their sta­tus or be re­ferred to the High Court.

In a po­ten­tial up­set that could hurt La­bor, Ms Lam­bie re­served the op­tion of try­ing to re­turn to par­lia­ment in the lower house by chal­leng­ing La­bor’s Jus­tine Keay, her­self un­der a dual cit­i­zen­ship cloud, in the Tas­ma­nian seat of Brad­don. “I’d cer­tainly have a good look at it,” Ms Lam­bie told Launceston’s 89.3 LAFM.

The Coali­tion held 76 of the 150 seats in the House of Rep­re­sen­ta­tives un­til the cit­i­zen­ship ques­tions claimed Barn­aby Joyce, who is ex­pected to hold his seat of New Eng­land at a De­cem­ber 2 by-elec­tion.

Los­ing Ben­ne­long on De­cem­ber 16 would force Mr Turn­bull into mi­nor­ity govern­ment with only 75 seats in the House but only 74 on the floor of the cham­ber, given Vic­to­rian Lib­eral MP Tony Smith pre­sides as Speaker.

A vic­tory for Ms Ke­neally would give La­bor 70 seats in the cham­ber, too few to form govern­ment but enough to wreak havoc on the Coali­tion’s agenda if Mr Shorten can win sup­port from five cross­benchers.

Two cross­benchers, Re­bekha Sharkie and Cathy McGowan, have pledged to sup­port the Turn­bull govern­ment on bud­get bills and con­fi­dence mo­tions, the two cus­tom­ary trig­gers to bring down a govern­ment.

Newspoll sur­veys show a swing of about 4 per cent against the Coali­tion across NSW since last year’s elec­tion, smaller than a na­tional swing that sug­gests the govern­ment would lose more than 20 seats at a gen­eral elec­tion.

For­mer prime min­is­ter John Howard yes­ter­day pre­dicted Mr Alexan­der, who lifted his mar­gin from 7.8 to 9.7 per cent at the last elec­tion, would win Ben­ne­long but said he would not be tak­ing Ms Ke­neally’s cam­paign lightly.

“John Alexan­der is well-liked, hard­work­ing and pop­u­lar and his at­ten­tion to lo­cal mat­ters is very se­ri­ous,” said Mr Howard, who held the seat for more than 30 years.

“He won’t take it lightly, he’s a sen­si­ble bloke and it will be tough. It’s a by-elec­tion in very un­usual cir­cum­stances.”

Mr Howard laughed off a ques­tion as to whether he had thought about renom­i­nat­ing for the seat he lost to La­bor me­dia celebrity candi-

‘John Alexan­der is well-liked, hard­work­ing and pop­u­lar and his at­ten­tion to lo­cal mat­ters is very se­ri­ous’ JOHN HOWARD FOR­MER BEN­NE­LONG MP

date Max­ine McKew in the 2007 Rudd land­slide.

“I’ve had my go, I have to con­cen­trate on get­ting my golf hand­i­cap un­der 10,” he said.

Vot­ers could go to the polls in more elec­torates early next year as the govern­ment pre­pares for the De­cem­ber 1 dead­line for all MPs to de­clare their cit­i­zen­ship sta­tus in par­lia­ment, lead­ing to votes on who should be re­ferred to the High Court.

La­bor is tar­get­ing five Lib­eral MPs while the govern­ment has named four La­bor MPs, in­clud­ing Ms Keay, as vul­ner­a­ble to be­ing dis­qual­i­fied, set­ting up a tit-for-tat ar­gu­ment in par­lia­ment.

Lawyers are di­vided over some of the MPs’ claims, mak­ing a de­ci­sion by the court the only way to set­tle ar­gu­ments over who is qual­i­fied to stay in par­lia­ment.

AAP

Kristina Ke­neally with Bill Shorten in East­wood yes­ter­day

Cor­rupt ex-MPs Ed­die Obeid, Joe Tripodi, Ian Mac­don­ald

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