NOW SHE’S BILL’S GIRL
Kristina Keneally was plucked from obscurity by corrupt powerbrokers Eddie Obeid and Joe Tripodi, then led Labor to its worst defeat ever, leaving NSW wrecked. Bill Shorten says she’s a star, who might make him PM
KRISTINA Keneally has long tried to wipe clean her connections to NSW Labor’s corrupt past — and yesterday it emerged three years’ of recent candid opinions have vanished from the ex-premier’s Twitter account.
Bizarrely, the surprise ALP candidate for Bennelong, handpicked by Bill Shorten almost a decade after being installed as premier by dodgy NSW Right powerbrokers, claimed “a hard drive with all the tweets” was taken by the State Library for an archiving project. The library denies deleting any tweets, raising the prospect she has wiped history to avoid political embarrassment. During her disastrous time as premier, NSW stalled and Ms Keneally was labelled a “puppet” and “protege” of the state’s despised, corrupt MPs Eddie Obeid and Joe Tripodi.
Despite being promoted from a junior position, and unknown, Ms Keneally insisted she was no puppet, and “nobody’s girl”.
Her chance at a political resurrection highlights the absurdity of the citizenship debacle: Ms Keneally was born and raised in the US and her opponent, John Alexander, is a Sydney-born Australian tennis legend.
INSTALLED by a now-jailed corrupt powerbroker, she led NSW’s last scandal-ridden Labor government to a crushing defeat but Bill Shorten is now gambling voters have forgotten or forgiven Kristina Keneally’s tainted political past.
It took no time at all yesterday for the names Eddie Obeid, Joe Tripodi and Ian Macdonald to come back to haunt the former NSW premier as she launched her surprise candidacy to win the snap Bennelong by-election — and possibly topple the Turnbull government.
In a replay of the dying days of her last stint in politics, Ms Keneally was forced to deny she had been a puppet of Obeid (since jailed for misconduct), Tripodi (found corrupt by ICAC) and Macdonald (jailed for misconduct) — a claim her predecessor Nathan Rees made when she replaced him in 2009 after he had fallen out with the Right powerbrokers.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull quickly declared: “She’s Bill Shorten’s handpicked candidate so obviously Eddie Obeid and Bill Shorten have formed the same view about Kristina Keneally.
“Don’t let Kristina Keneally do to Bennelong what she did to NSW.” In rejecting the “smear”, Ms Keneally echoed her comments in state Parliament at the time of her elevation almost eight years ago when she declared she was “nobody’s girl”.
“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.
“If the Liberals think the best way to retake the seat is to smear Kristina Keneally, I say go for your life, and while they’re at it go read those ICAC transcripts where my actions to clean up NSW and my integrity is on display. It’s going to be a tough campaign, I am definitely starting out as the underdog but I’ve never shirked from a fight.”
Ms Keneally’s snap decision to stand followed a call on Saturday night from the Opposition Leader following the resignation that day of sitting Liberals MP and former tennis star John Alexander, caught up in the dual citizenship saga because of his British father.
Mr Alexander is recontesting the seat — which he holds by a 9.7 per cent margin — in the December 16 poll, subject to his citizenship being confirmed by close of nominations.
Mr Shorten said Ms Keneally would give voters a chance to “send a wake-up call” to the Prime Minister.
US-born Ms Keneally, who has been working as a political commentator on Sky News, released documents on Twitter last week showing she had renounced her American citizenship and quit her post yesterday at the Macquarie University Graduate School of Management to comply with rules preventing candidates from holding a public office.
But she also lives 800m outside the electorate while Mr Alexander is staying at his partner’s place in North Bondi following the sale of his house in Putney in March.
Labor is attempting to replicate the success of another celebrity candidate in Bennelong when TV presenter Maxine McKew toppled John Howard in 2007.
But it risks instead duplicating the debacle of former Queensland premier Peter Beattie’s failed attempt to return to politics in the Queensland seat of Forde at Kevin Rudd’s request in 2013.
The danger for Labor is Ms Keneally will only serve to remind voters of the horror days of Labor’s last state government — the scandals and infighting, the controversies over soaring power prices and political stunts such as trying
to shut down Parliament when it was probing her government’s electricity sell-off.
She admits she misjudged Macdonald, reinstating him in her Cabinet before dumping him three months later over travel expenses rorts.
Then she led Labor to one of its worst defeats in the state’s history, a 17 per cent swing against the government leaving the party with a rump of only 20 seats.
A Labor spokeswoman said Ms Keneally “helped put Eddie Obeid in jail” and pointed to a positive ICAC report on her conduct as premier.
Former premier Bob Carr yesterday heaped praise on Ms Keneally, saying she had always been honest and brought a real contest to Bennelong.
“The electorate accepts she is absolutely a person of integrity,” Mr Carr said.
Mr Howard predicted Mr Alexander would retain the seat for the Liberals: “The vibes I get from the electorate are that John Alexander is well-liked, hardworking, popular and his attention to local matters is very genuine.
Mr Alexander said he was simply focused on the electorate.
“I will leave the commentary on candidates to others,” Mr Alexander said.
Ms Keneally faces NSW Parliament as premier in 2009.
Bill Shorten and Kristina Keneally yesterday.