Keneally’s not good enough
On her very first day as premier of NSW, in December 2009, Kristina Keneally was damned in memorable fashion by ousted Labor leader Nathan Rees. Keneally was, Rees declared, a “puppet” of ALP factional barons Eddie Obeid and Joe Tripodi.
Keneally found that description difficult to shake in the next two years. It didn’t help her legacy that she also returned Obeid ally Ian Macdonald to cabinet.
Obeid and Macdonald are now in jail. ICAC declared Tripodi corrupt. And Keneally, who led Labor to a crushing defeat in 2011, is running for federal parliament in the seat of Bennelong.
“I have asked Kristina to once again serve, to serve the cause of the voters of Bennelong by providing a real choice at the upcoming by-election,” Labor leader Bill Shorten said during yesterday’s surprise announcement. “This by-election is a chance for the voters of Bennelong to send a wake-up call to Mr Turnbull and his government.
“This is a chance which I think a lot of people in Australia would like to have that has fallen to the people of Bennelong to send a message against the dysfunction and the chaos of the current government, the policy paralysis, the failure of leadership.”
A dysfunctional and paralysed government in chaos, ruined by a failure of leadership. That’s not a bad shorthand description of the NSW government from 2009 until 2011 — when Keneally was premier. For Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, yesterday’s news offered a rare opportunity to score some solid political points.
“She’s Bill Shorten’s handpicked candidate,” Turnbull said, “so obviously Eddie Obeid and Bill Shorten have formed the same view about Kristina Keneally.” And then he delivered a taste of the campaign to come: “Don’t let Kristina Keneally do to Bennelong what she did to NSW.”
It’s a fair warning. As personally likeable as she is, and even considering the deeply embedded Labor destructiveness that doomed her premiership from the outset, Keneally must accept responsibility for two years of disastrous state government.
As well, voters are entitled to view with some cynicism Bill Shorten’s selection of Keneally, who in recent years has rebranded herself as a warm and conversational Sky News presenter. Many may see Keneally not as a former state politician but as a television personality. In that sense, Keneally is Bennelong’s second Maxine McKew — whose single term as Labor MP was particularly ordinary.
Labor could have, and should have, done far better.