Kristina Ke­neally said yes­ter­day that she was one of many who “looked back” at the time of cor­rup­tion by Ed­die Obeid, Joe Tripodi and Ian Mac­don­ald in her govern­ment and thought “if only we’d known”.

As the for­mer NSW pre­mier an­nounced her can­di­da­ture for Ben­ne­long in a bid by Bill Shorten to wrest the num­bers on the floor of the fed­eral par­lia­ment from Mal­colm Turn­bull, Ms Ke­neally im­me­di­ately faced a bar­rage of crit­i­cism over her as­so­ci­a­tions with the cor­rupt for­mer power­bro­kers.

Ms Ke­neally de­fended her as­so­ci­a­tions with the trio, declar­ing “the thing about peo­ple that want to act con­trary to the pub­lic in­ter­est is they” did so with se­crecy. “I don’t think there’s any­one who looks back at that time and doesn’t say ‘if only I’d known’.”

The ex­tra­or­di­nary de­ci­sion of the for­mer NSW pre­mier and Sky News pre­sen­ter to put her up hand for Ben­ne­long five years af­ter she left state par­lia­ment comes as La­bor has its back to the wall in the con­test for the seat.

La­bor polling last week­end had the govern­ment ahead 56-44 per cent in the seat — a swing away from in­cum­bent John Alexan­der of just 3.5 per cent.

“I have been of­fered safe seats in the past; I have been of­fered Se­nate va­can­cies,” Ms Ke­neally said. “That is not how I wanted to give my time and ef­fort to the fed­eral par­lia­men­tary party. If I was go­ing to make that de­ci­sion to reen­ter pol­i­tics, I wanted to do it in a place and time that would mat­ter.

“I’d be putting my pro­file and tal­ents to my best use. I see the La­bor Party has the po­ten­tial to be able to change the bal­ance of power in the par­lia­ment.

“I see the vot­ers of Ben­ne­long have that op­por­tu­nity to send a mes­sage.”

Ac­cord­ing to Ms Ke­neally, the Op­po­si­tion Leader said in his pitch to her in a phone call on Satur­day af­ter Mr Alexan­der an­nounced his res­ig­na­tion, that: “We know we’re be­hind (in Ben­ne­long), we know it’s go­ing to be a tough cam­paign, but we also know this govern­ment’s floun­der­ing and Mal­colm Turn­bull is pro­vid­ing lousy lead­er­ship to the na­tion.”

“Bill Shorten was able to con­vince me that La­bor’s go­ing to put ev­ery­thing they can into this cam­paign,” Ms Ke­neally said.

“I didn’t see my­self do­ing this three weeks ago.”

She said if the govern­ment wanted to “throw mud” at her over as­so­ci­a­tions with the likes of the jailed Obeid and cor­rupt Tripodi, who backed her into the pre­mier’s job, then they should “go for their lives”.

Ms Ke­neally was backed for the job as pre­mier by power­bro­kers Obeid, Mac­don­ald and Tri- podi. Obeid and Mac­don­ald have since been jailed.

Ms Ke­neally has given ev­i­dence to the In­de­pen­dent Com­mis­sion Against Cor­rup­tion against the power­bro­kers — in­clud­ing over the draw­ing up of a cab­i­net minute by Tripodi for for­mer plan­ning min­is­ter Tony Kelly which would have given Aus­tra- lian Wa­ter Hold­ings — a com­pany with Obeid fam­ily in­ter­ests — a $1 bil­lion con­tract with­out ten­der.

At the time she be­came pre­mier in 2009, out­go­ing pre­mier Nathan Rees said who­ever re­placed him would be a “pup­pet” of Obeid and Tripodi — a claim Ms Ke­neally an­grily de­nied at the time, declar­ing she was “no­body’s girl”.

She did ap­point Mac­don­ald to her cab­i­net but sacked him three months later over a travel ex­penses scan­dal.

Ms Ke­neally yes­ter­day at­tacked Mr Turn­bull over his com­ments in which he linked her to Obeid.

“You know what, it’s not the first time some man has tried to sug­gest I’m not my own woman and frankly I don’t care what they say. I care what they’re do­ing to the fam­i­lies of Ben­ne­long,” she said.

“I don’t even un­der­stand the Prime Min­is­ter’s com­ments on this. It’s a mish­mash of waf­fle.

“I’ve had bloke af­ter bloke in my par­lia­men­tary ca­reer try to sug­gest I wasn’t ca­pa­ble of stand- ing up and act­ing on my own. I could talk about all those Lib­eral fig­ures who went through ICAC but I’m not go­ing to do that. They can come at me how­ever they like.”

Ms Ke­neally de­scribed Mr Alexan­der as a “lovely guy and I have great ad­mi­ra­tion for what he did in his sport­ing achieve­ments (but) that’s not what this is about”. She said the Turn­bull govern­ment was “fail­ing the coun­try” on is­sues such as Medi­care cuts and power prices.

When asked by The Aus­tralian if she could not be ac­cused her­self of hav­ing led a failed govern­ment, she de­fended her legacy as pre­mier. “I’m proud of things we did in govern­ment,” Ms Ke­neally said. “I think we changed the way dis­abil­ity (ser­vices) are de­liv­ered in NSW. I left the state in good fi­nan­cial shape. I’m proud we se­cured fed­eral fund­ing for a Par­ra­matta to Ep­ping rail link (which her suc­ces­sor Barry O’Far­rell later re­fused).”

Ms Ke­neally and her fam­ily moved within 800m of the seat of Ben­ne­long two years ago. She could not say whether she would run for of­fice again if she failed in Ben­ne­long.

“That hasn’t even been dis­cussed. I’m hav­ing this par­tic­u­lar go at pol­i­tics. I’m stand­ing up for the peo­ple of Ben­ne­long and that’s all I’m do­ing.”

Kristina Ke­neally in Ryde yes­ter­day an­nounc­ing her plans to run against John Alexan­der in the Ben­ne­long by-elec­tion on De­cem­ber 16

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