Of the many federal election strands still being forensically examined – one at least is resolved. Former Labor high-flyer, Kristina Keneally, is a loser. In fact, Ms Keneally has perfected the art of losing. Without a moment’s hesitation, we can say she is an expert at losing.
Ms Keneally has proven this not once, not twice, but a remarkable three times during her excruciating political career.
The so-called ‘mean girls’ (Wong, Gallagher, and Keneally) are now ‘short’ one player as voters in the seat of Fowler resoundingly rejected Keneally’s grubby bid to move into the House of Representatives from the Senate by ‘bulldozing’ a high-quality local candidate. In their wisdom, the voters of the south-western Sydney seat voted for fiercely grassroots independent, Dai Le.
While undoubtedly humiliating for Keneally, who regards herself as a ‘tactical practitioner’ of high standing, it is Labor itself – and the new Prime Minister in particular – who have egg on their faces in this sordid political manoeuvre. Not that anyone is talking about it this morning as the confetti continues to be showered upon our soon-to-be new Prime Minister.
In Australian parlance, what happened in Fowler is ‘road kill’ in the overall, macro objective of installing Anthony Albanese in the Lodge.
But before dismissing it that lightly – let’s examine the Fowler result in a little more detail.
The decision to parachute Kristina into this very safe Labor seat and then to fail so spectacularly is all the more damaging in light of the likely win by political novice Andrew Charlton in the seat of Parramatta. If it worked for him – why not for Kristina? The answer to this question are as uncomfortable as the question itself.
Among the conclusions might be this…
Voters are sick and tired of being harangued by political figures whether local, state, or federal. With so many elected representatives, bureaucrats, and political advisers in Australia – it’s hard to escape giving them our attention, try as we might. Nobody, but nobody does a better harangue than Kristina. Intrusive, carping, and unrelenting are all traits Australian voters are not fond of and yet Kristina excels at all of them. How could Albo not have factored this truth?
Before I move on – we should unpack Kristina’s political losses, lest anyone thinks I’m being unfair to her. She failed as New South Wales Premier (a task which occupied her for approximately 15 months) with Labor suffering a catastrophic defeat under her stewardship in the 2011 state election.
She risibly said at the time, ‘A new leader will have my support, and, if it is any use, my counsel from the backbench.’ A statement such as this provides keen observers a hint as to the full extent of Ms Keneally’s comprehensive lack of self-awareness.
In December 2017, Kristina again flamed-out while contesting the federal seat of Bennelong. Reprising her speech of ‘defeat’ you’d reckon she’d won the seat from the Liberals. She, accompanied by two-time loser and former Labor leader Bill Shorten, gleefully exclaimed Labor was ‘on a march to federal victory’. It took until 2022 to achieve and only then with both losers – Shorten and Keneally – firmly in the shadows.
The prelude to Kristina’s final disastrous denouement (last night) was her placement in an unwinnable position on Labor’s NSW Senate ticket. It was this losing position that prompted Albo – perhaps in a now regretted moment of desperation – to drop Kristina in it (so to speak) to see if she could hoodwink the sensible voters of Fowler into believing ‘Mother Theresa’ had appeared in their midst.
Watching Ms Keneally squirm and slither her way through repeated television interviews last night was an exercise in self-flagellation which, speaking personally, I’d be happy to forgo during future election counts.
While it’s right that Labor should enjoy today and bask in the moment of taking the electorate to a significant moment of change, it is also right that Kristina Keneally should take no part in the winning celebrations.
Recognising that Kristina is roughly the electoral equivalent of Kryptonite and recognising the primary vote of both major political parties was woefully low – Labor will be asking itself some important ‘what if’ questions as part of its analysis of the election campaign.
What if Keneally hadn’t been jettisoned from the Senate? What if Labor could have found a House of Representatives seat more aligned to the middle-class, crisp couture predilections of the candidate? What if Keneally had not had a string of spectacular political losses to her name? Would Labor have been assured of governing in its own right if the party had left Fowler well alone?
The election result – so far as counting allows us to judge – is not a resounding vote of confidence in Labor or in Albo. It is, however, a significant statement from voters that they are ready to take a risk with untested independents (as evidence by the success of the so-called Teal candidates across a number of key LNP seats). It is also fair to say that voters had had enough of Scott Morrison.
The economic, financial, strategic, and policy challenges before the incoming government are immense. Time will tell, perhaps sooner rather than later, if Albo and his ministers are up to the task of facing into these challenges, recognising that another ‘successful’ Labor candidate will now occupy the Cabinet Room chair earmarked for Ms Keneally.
For those among us wondering what could possibly be next for Kristina Keneally – watch this space. Labor is masterful at ‘looking after’ their fallen soldiers and one could easily see one of the nation’s plum diplomatic posts coming her way.
John Simpson is a Company Director and former ABC news journalist.
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