La­bor’s star can­di­date pro­vides links to scan­dals of the past

The Australian - - FRONT PAGE -

Any doubts about the high stakes at play in fed­eral pol­i­tics at present were dis­pelled by yes­ter­day’s an­nounce­ment of La­bor’s can­di­date for the Ben­ne­long by-elec­tion. Bill Shorten re­vealed for­mer NSW pre­mier Kristina Ke­neally as the star re­cruit in a clear demon­stra­tion La­bor is go­ing all out to win the con­test and re­move the govern­ment’s one-seat ma­jor­ity. Ms Ke­neally led La­bor to its worst elec­toral de­feat in the 2011 state elec­tion when a long­stand­ing ALP regime was pun­ished for cor­rup­tion scan­dals and lead­er­ship shenani­gans. Since then she has carved out a ca­reer as a com­men­ta­tor on Sky News (owned by News Corp Aus­tralia) and Guardian Aus­tralia, tak­ing a green­left view on is­sues such as gay mar­riage, cli­mate change and bor­der pro­tec­tion.

Ar­tic­u­late, ag­gres­sive and with strong name recog­ni­tion, Ms Ke­neally claims the Op­po­si­tion Leader has promised La­bor will throw ev­ery­thing it can into her piv­otal cam­paign. Yet there is plenty of bag­gage. She as­cended to the La­bor lead­er­ship in a fac­tional play by power­bro­kers Ed­die Obeid (now in jail over cor­rup­tion) and Joe Tripodi (de­clared cor­rupt by the NSW In­de­pen­dent Com­mis­sion Against Cor­rup­tion). She re­called Ian Mac­don­ald to the min­istry and he, too, is serv­ing time over cor­rup­tion. On the day she won the state La­bor lead­er­ship, Ms Ke­neally was forced to de­clare: “I am no­body’s pup­pet, I am no­body’s pro­tege, I am no­body’s girl.” ICAC hear­ings and the po­lit­i­cal de­bate have held that she was naive rather than com­plicit about the cor­rup­tion around her — in at least one case she stopped a sus­pect deal — but some of the odour lingers still from that ugly pe­riod. Mal­colm Turn­bull has wasted no time re­viv­ing those mem­o­ries.

It is a gam­ble by Mr Shorten to “rule a line un­der the chaos and dys­func­tion that they have seen” with a can­di­date di­rectly linked to so much con­tro­versy. La­bor in­sid­ers claim this may be a twocam­paign plan for Ms Ke­neally to close the gap in the by-elec­tion and take the seat at the next gen­eral elec­tion. Yet even with a 9.7 per cent mar­gin, sit­ting Lib­eral MP John Alexan­der, who was forced to re­sign over dual cit­i­zen­ship, can­not be com­pla­cent. He has feared an op­po­nent of this ilk and was em­bar­rassed by this news­pa­per’s rev­e­la­tion he has been liv­ing at least 20km from his north­west­ern Syd­ney elec­torate in his part­ner’s Bondi Beach home. Mr Alexan­der first must re­nounce his Bri­tish cit­i­zen­ship; Ms Ke­neally binned her US rights years ago. Po­lit­i­cal bat­tle­fields are lit­tered with the corpses of star can­di­dates. But some suc­ceed; and as a for­mer ten­nis pro­fes­sional, Davis Cup player and com­men­ta­tor, Mr Alexan­der fits the cat­e­gory. In­stead of a gru­elling fiveset­ter, he faces a five-week cam­paign.

Tas­ma­nia’s Jacqui Lam­bie is the lat­est cit­i­zen­ship ca­su­alty, quit­ting the Se­nate af­ter The Aus­tralian re­vealed her Bri­tish sta­tus. Mr Shorten says he has yet to win agree­ment from the Prime Min­is­ter on the tim­ing of dec­la­ra­tions from lower house MPs. Yet the Op­po­si­tion Leader has not forced his sus­pect MPs to re­sign or re­fer their cases to the High Court. Mr Turn­bull re­turns to Aus­tralia to­day des­per­ate to score po­lit­i­cal points against his op­po­nent in per­ilous times.

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