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