Excess baggage: Keneally candidacy weighed down by past

As another former NSW premier, Bob Carr, learnt when he made the leap into federal politics, you cannot run the largest n state without collecting some political baggage.

If Carr’s baggage was weighty after a decade at the helm in NSW, Kristina Keneally’s is fairly described as truly excess.

Within minutes of the announcement that she will contest the Bennelong byelection, Health Minister Greg Hunt described her as a protege of the jailed, corrupt former Labor minister Eddie Obeid.

Hunt’s shot was unsurprising and he is right: Keneally, like many other Labor MPs at the time, was taken under Obeid’s wing when he and Joe Tripodi were kingmakers in the ALP caucus.

Obeid and Tripodi’s control of the dominant “Terrigals” sub-faction – named after the location of Obeid’s beach house – delivered Keneally the numbers in the caucus ballot that saw her elected party leader and premier, toppling Nathan Rees in December 2009.

So obvious was the method of her elevation, it elicited the famous Rees line before the ballot that whoever succeeded him would be a “puppet” of the pair.

Once premier, she reinstated to cabinet Ian Macdonald, another minister who would, after leaving office, be jailed, having been found to have acted corruptly in office.

Keneally led Labor into battle at the March 2011 state election, losing spectacularly to Barry O’Farrell in a historic defeat.

She was never a chance, given the Labor government’s deep unpopularity after 16 years in power.

And despite the thrashing, she won the admiration of many because, if there’s one thing it proved, it is that Keneally is a capable and determined campaigner with enormous self-belief.

If she is to succeed in Bennelong, she’ll need all of that. Unlike Carr, who was parachuted into the Senate by the ALP, Keneally will face the people.

On Tuesday Malcolm Turnbull set the tone. “Don’t let Kristina Keneally do to Bennelong what she did to NSW,” he said.

Given the length of her stewardship, it was hardly fair, but as she was also a minister for several years the mud can be made to stick.

In his political memoirThe Fog on the Hill, former NSW planning minister Frank Sartor – a leadership rival – offered his take.

“Although almost obscenely ambitious, Keneally is a personable and intelligent woman who can deliver a brief,” he wrote. “But she was very inexperienced and weak on policy and suffered the same problem as Rees – an enhanced view of her own abilities.”

Keneally spent all of her nine years in the NSW Parliament representing the eastern Sydney seat of Heffron, and only moved to Hunters Hill in recent years. Nonetheless, she insists she has strong ties to the area.

Somewhat ironically given her “star candidate” status, Keneally’s challenge will be convincing the electorate to forget the past and accept that she has a newfound burning desire to represent their best interests.

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