Labor serves up an ace with a shot
The selection of Kristina Keneally as the Labor candidate for the federal seat of Bennelong is a real boost for Bill Shorten.
The former premier of NSW had moved to within a stone’s throw of the electorate, which is 20-odd kilometres closer than the reported residence of former tennis ace John Alexander who held the seat until a constitutional clause defaulted him and he had to resign. The resultant byelection is a critical moment not just for an embattled Prime Minister but even more so perhaps for the Opposition Leader.
It is hard to see Keneally winning Bennelong because the swing required by her is 10 per cent. Given that the average swing in by-elections is 6 per cent, it seems a bridge too far. Nonetheless, with the government looking a complete mess and the PM — a leader with zero political intelligence — looking even worse, with Keneally as the standard bearer Labor may well have an outside chance of pulling off a historic victory. But before all the hands in Labor race to open up the bar for a big celebration, it is worth remembering Labor has held the seat for just a measly three years out of the past seven or eight decades.
The electorate is difficult to characterise because it includes working-class areas as well as incredibly expensive harbourside areas. Furthermore, there is a very large Chinese population who demand and usually get plenty of attention.
When John Howard was defeated as the sitting member and prime minister in 2007, the Chinese community defected en masse to Maxine McKew, the star candidate Labor produced. Those very same people in Eastwood did not feel she had given them the attention they felt they deserved and switched back to the Liberals and Alexander.
If her press conference yesterday was any indication, Keneally will be a formidable campaigner. She used a great folksy tale to show her apparent empathy for Bennelong voters. She remarked about a visit to Centrelink at Ryde, the main town centre in Bennelong. Her long wait for service was frustrating for her and all the others in her situation. When the Liberals get in they always cut services to ordinary people was the line she managed to repeat several times between the perfect teeth. Not a hair out of place, and beautifully dressed as always, she looked and sounded the part.
Her years on Sky News have sharpened her skills. She presents and argues in a much stronger way than she could when she was premier. Keneally had the misfortune to end up in a conga line of premiers as Labor changed leaders regularly in the vain, forlorn hope it could arrest its slide into chaos. Sixteen years is too long to be in government and in this case NSW Labor deserved to lose. In a form of musical chairs, Keneally was forced into a role she was probably not prepared for. That was then, but she is a different politician today. She is not afraid of a fight and in the hand-to-hand combat to come, she will give as good as she gets.
The Liberals began by attack- ing her over her links to Eddie Obeid and Joe Tripodi. Given the way the Independent Commission Against Corruption in NSW praised her for the evidence she gave, this sort of personal attack is not far short of pathetic.
For once, Malcolm Turnbull got the attack line right: “Don’t let Keneally do to Bennelong what she did to NSW”. Not entirely fair, but in politics any search for fairness will end in tears.
Labor’s NSW general secretary Kaila Murnain, who has grown quickly in the job, pulled off a major coup in persuading Keneally to run. Now win, lose or draw, Labor will be there at the finish line a short head in front or, more likely, a nose behind.