|Intro||Former NSW Premier, MP and current CEO of Basketball Australia|
|Is||Businessperson Politician Journalist Business executive|
|From||Australia United States of America|
|Field||Business Journalism Politics|
|Birth||19 December 1968, Las Vegas, Clark County, Nevada, U.S.A.|
|Politics||Australian Labor Party|
Kristina Kerscher Keneally (born 19 December 1968) is a journalist and former Australian politician who served as the 42nd Premier of New South Wales. She was elected leader of the Australian Labor Party in New South Wales and thus Premier in 2009, but went on to lose government to the Liberal/National Coalition at the March 2011 state election. On 29 June 2012, Keneally resigned from parliament.
Keneally was elected to the New South Wales Legislative Assembly seat of Heffron at the 2003 state election, succeeding Deirdre Grusovin after a controversial preselection. After being re-elected to parliament at the 2007 state election, she became the Minister for Ageing and Disability Services and was subsequently appointed Minister for Planning by Premier Nathan Rees in 2008. She held the position of the NSW Government's Spokesperson for World Youth Day 2008. By December 2009, Keneally had emerged as the preferred leadership candidate of the Labor right faction, and defeated incumbent Premier Nathan Rees in a party room ballot by 47 votes to 21. The Keneally Government went on to suffer a 17% swing statewide - the biggest swing in Australian political history. She was replaced as Leader by John Robertson, who was elected unopposed, on 31 March 2011.
She is currently a political commentator on Sky News Live and co-host of To The Point.
Keneally was born Kristina Marie Kerscher in Las Vegas to an American father and an Australian-born mother. She lived briefly in Colorado but grew up in Toledo, Ohio, where she attended high school at Notre Dame Academy. While at Notre Dame she was twice awarded most valuable player (1985, 1986) in the Academy's soccer team.
Upon graduating from Notre Dame, she undertook studies at the University of Dayton, also in Ohio. While there she became involved in student politics, and was involved in founding the National Association of Students at Catholic Colleges and Universities, serving as president of the group in 1990 and 1991. She graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in political science in 1991, was a registered Democrat and worked as an intern for the Lieutenant Governor of Ohio, Paul Leonard. In 1995 she graduated with a Master of Arts in religious studies. She later studied at Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. After graduating from the University of Dayton she worked for a year as a volunteer teacher in New Mexico.
For most of her life, she has identified as a staunch feminist. In 2009, she told The Daily Telegraph that when she heard her diocese's bishop was on a local talk show, she called to ask him why girls couldn't be altar servers. The bishop's "unsatisfactory answer," she said, awakened her to "how women are disadvantaged in the church and society."
Keneally met her future husband, an Australian Labor Party politician, Ben Keneally, at World Youth Day 1991 in Poland. She moved to Australia in 1994 to be with him, but they returned to the US so Ben could take up a position with the Boston Consulting Group. They married there in 1996. They returned to Australia two years after their elder son was born. She became a naturalised Australian in 2000, the same year she joined the Labor Party. She renounced U.S. citizenship prior to standing for election, as required by Australian law.
After arriving in Australia she worked for the New South Wales branch of the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul as State Youth Coordinator before leaving full-time work to care for her children. She also briefly attended the Australian Catholic University in Strathfield, New South Wales.
Keneally is represented by Wall Media management.
Keneally was elected to the New South Wales Legislative Assembly in 2003, following a bitter pre-election battle with Deirdre Grusovin, the sister of senior Labor politician Laurie Brereton. It was in fact her husband Ben who was more interested in a political career, relying on his friendship with Joe Tripodi. However, the party's affirmative action rules required a female candidate, so Kristina ran instead. Before the election, Labor insiders were concerned that her strong American English accent wouldn't play well with voters. Although she reportedly took elocution lessons to sound more Australian, to this day she speaks with a marked American accent.
In her maiden speech, she talked about her commitment to social justice, equal opportunity for women and her Roman Catholic faith. She also made light of an incident that happened during the 1999 state election. She was working in John Watkins' campaign office when she took a call from Premier Bob Carr's communications director, Walt Secord. Keneally later learned that Secord had demanded that Dawkins' campaign team "get that woman with an American accent off the telephones." She replied, "Well, I got off the phones that day, but today I have the floor."
As NSW Minister for Disability Services, Keneally undertook measures to rebuild outdated institutional residential facilities for people with disability, going back on promises made by her (non-immediate) predecessor Faye Lo Po'.
As NSW Planning Minister from August 2008, Mrs Keneally's department oversaw the local traffic diversions, and strict environmental management during construction, around the desalination pipeline works between Erskineville and Kurnell, approved by the department under the desalination pipeline project approval, granted by Frank Sartor, in November 2007.
In August 2009, Keneally was alleged to be one of the names being put forward in a challenge to wrest the leadership from NSW Premier Nathan Rees. Keneally responded to the accusations by stating: "He (Nathan Rees) has my support (as Premier)" and it was reported that she insisted she would never be Premier of New South Wales, something that was continuously disputed in the media.
In November 2009 Keneally again denied she wanted to be Premier, saying "I have always supported the Premier, Bob Carr, Morris Iemma and now Nathan Rees. Now is the time to put this ridiculous leadership speculation behind us."
Challenges for leadership
Less than a month later, however, the dominant Right faction withdrew support from Rees. On 3 December, Keneally narrowly defeated Sartor by two votes to become the Right's candidate in a leadership spill against Rees. Later that day, she defeated Rees in a party room ballot with a majority of 45–21. Prior to the vote, Rees declared "Should I not be Premier at the end of this day, let there be no doubt in the community's mind that any challenger would be a puppet of Eddie Obeid and Joe Tripodi", a claim later rejected by Keneally, who stated "I am nobody's puppet, I am nobody's protege, I am nobody's girl."
On 4 December 2009 Keneally was sworn in as the 42nd (and first female) premier of New South Wales by the State Governor, Marie Bashir. For the first time in Australian history, both the Premier and Deputy Premier of a state were women.
During her time as Premier Keneally was a supporter of the development of the Barangaroo headlands. In order to ensure the project was completed without delay, Keneally transferred various local government planning powers to the state government, created a new portfolio relating to the major development Barangaroo for which she took responsibility, and oversaw the project whilst Premier. Despite her dedication to the project she was criticised for a perceived conflict of interest in the development of Barangaroo worth over one million dollars and linked to installation of electric car infrastructure associated with the development and additionally for giving exemption to Barangaroo from environmental planning laws. In the eve of her time as premier, during investigations into corrupt dealings by former minister Ian Macdonald, Keneally refused to release a report made about him relating to misuse of taxpayer funds, though she was compelled to release the report to the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC).
Keneally pushed to renew the Labor Party, with 23 members of the 50 caucus members retiring. Her push also included the resignation of the NSW Labor President, Bernie Riordan and retirements of Labor Powerbrokers, Joe Tripodi and Eddie Obeid.
On 14 December 2010 her government sold the first tranche of the partial privatisation of the state's electricity assets (see Electricity Commission of New South Wales) for $5.3 billion. Eight of the directors quit in protest over the sale of trading rights to the output of generators. After criticism of the privatisation, her Government abandoned the second stage of its electricity privatisation plan, as no companies bidded.
On 22 December 2010 NSW Governor Marie Bashir prorogued Parliament on Keneally's request. This act normally takes place later than December prior to elections. There were accusations that Keneally tried to halt the electricity inquiry, which later proceeded.
In October 2011, the inquiry which the O'Farrell government set up reported to the NSW Liberal/National Government that the partial sale was "reasonable and appropriate".
When she became Premier, she was highly popular and was the most popular political leader at one stage, as the Galaxy poll showed in March 2010, her personal satisfaction was 53 per cent. However, her own personal popularity didn't transfer to her party, which had been well behind the Coalition in opinion polling since 2008.
Her popularity began to decline in August 2010, with her approval rating falling to 39 per cent. In October 2010, Newspoll reported that the Keneally government only had 23 per cent of the primary vote—the worst showing on record for a Labor government at the state level in Australia. The only lower result Newspoll had recorded at the time was in 1989, when the Queensland Nationals polled at 22 percent. This was a dramatic turnabout from the 2007 election; Labor would have been decimated had this figure been repeated at an election.
In May 2010, junior minister Karyn Paluzzano was forced out of politics for using public money for her 2007 reelection campaign and lying about it. The ensuing by-election in Paluzzano's once-safe seat of Penrith saw the seat resoundingly lost to the Liberals. Labor suffered a swing of over 26 percent—the largest swing against a sitting government in New South Wales history.
Keneally led Labor into the 2011 state election. She was hoping to lead Labor to a fifth term in government, and also to become the second woman elected as a state premier in her own right, after Anna Bligh in Queensland.
However, Keneally was a heavy underdog for most of the campaign. At one point, Labor trailed the Barry O'Farrell-led Coalition by 26 points on the two-party vote and Keneally trailed O'Farrell by 16 points as preferred premier. Despite Keneally's efforts to rehabilitate Labor's image, it soon became obvious that Labor would not be reelected. One estimate showed Labor being knocked down to as few as 13 seats, and an election-eve poll showed Labor's support at a record low of 23 percent. As a measure of how far Labor's fortunes had fallen, the party was in danger of losing seats where it had not been seriously threatened in decades, as well as several seats it had held for over a century.
In the 26 March election, the Labor government was heavily defeated, suffering a swing of over 16 per cent—the largest in a general election at any level in Australia since World War II. In the process, Labor lost many seats in its former western Sydney heartland, two of which fell to the Liberals on swings of 20 percent. Ultimately, Labor was cut down to 20 seats (down from 48 at dissolution), its worst showing in over a century and one of the worst defeats a sitting state government in Australia has ever suffered. Many of the survivors saw their majorities more than halved. Keneally, for instance, went into the election sitting on a comfortably safe majority of 23.7 percent in her own seat of Heffron. However, she suffered a swing of over 16 percent, reducing her majority to 7.1 percent. She was the first Labor candidate since Heffron's creation to not garner enough primary votes to win without the need for preferences.
With Labor's defeat beyond doubt, Keneally resigned as premier and state Labor leader on election night and announced she would return to the back bench. Accepting responsibility for the worst defeat of a sitting government in NSW's history, Keneally said, "The truth is the people of NSW, who entrusted us with government for 16 years, did not leave us. We left them." On 11 June 2011, Keneally was granted by the Governor retention of the title "The Honourable".
Labor Government and ICAC
After the defeat of the Labor Government, a series of investigations at the Independent Commission Against Corruption, found that Keneally ministers Eddie Obeid, Joe Tripodi, Ian McDonald had acted corruptly. Counsel assisting the inquiry, Geoffrey Watson, SC, said in 2012 of investigations into the actions taken by the men in 2010 that these inquiries were the most important investigation ever undertaken by the ICAC and that there was corruption on a scale probably unexceeded since the days of the Rum Corps.
Keneally appeared as a witness at the ICAC in March 2014 concerning investigations of her former colleagues. She said that she had had concerns about Obeid, Tripodi and Tony Kelly's lobbying and that their efforts had not influenced her. Asked if Obeid had "put her in her job" as premier, Keneally replied: "No, caucus did".
Keneally resigned from Parliament on 29 June 2012, to commence work as the Chief Executive of Basketball Australia. She was previously the Chair of the Basketball Australia board. Keneally left Basketball Australia in April 2014 to spend more time with her family. Keneally is also a director of Souths Cares, the nominated charity of the South Sydney Rabbitohs.
A by-election for the seat of Heffron resulted in the election of Labor's Ron Hoenig.
As of July 2014, Keneally joined Sky News Australia and began co-hosting panel program The Contrarians every Friday afternoon with Ross Cameron, before the pair were given their own self-titled program Keneally and Cameron. This program was axed in April 2015. Keneally joined Peter van Onselen as co-host of Sky News daytime program To The Point on June 1, 2015 which airs during PVO NewsDay. Keneally was also a regular presenter of primetime programs The Cabinet and Credlin & Keneally.
Keneally has contributed to The Guardian Australia since December 2014 on a range of politico-social issues such as religion in politics, same sex marriage and asylum seeking.
Keneally and her husband Ben have two sons, Daniel and Brendan. A daughter, Caroline, died at birth. Her husband is the nephew of Australian writer Thomas Keneally. Keneally is the patron of the Stillbirth Foundation Australia.
Keneally and her family previously lived in Pagewood, within the electorate of Heffron which she represented in state Parliament. In 2016, Keneally and her husband sold their home for $2.27 million and moved to a rented home in Hunters Hill. They also purchased an investment property in Wollstonecraft for $1.38 million, which they are renting for $1000 per week.