|Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate|
|Assumed office |
30 May 2019
|Preceded by||Don Farrell|
|Shadow Minister for Home Affairs|
|Assumed office |
2 June 2019
|Preceded by||Shayne Neumann|
|Shadow Minister for Immigration and Citizenship|
|Assumed office |
2 June 2019
|Preceded by||Julie Owens|
|Senator for New South Wales|
|Assumed office |
14 February 2018
|Preceded by||Sam Dastyari|
|42nd Premier of New South Wales|
4 December 2009 – 28 March 2011
|Preceded by||Nathan Rees|
|Succeeded by||Barry O'Farrell|
|19th Leader of the Australian Labor Party in New South Wales|
3 December 2009 – 31 March 2011
|Preceded by||Nathan Rees|
|Succeeded by||John Robertson|
|Member of the New South Wales Parliament|
22 March 2003 – 29 June 2012
|Preceded by||Deirdre Grusovin|
|Succeeded by||Ron Hoenig|
Kristina Marie Kerscher
19 December 1968
Las Vegas, Nevada, US
|Political party||Labor (2000–)|
|Democratic (–2000; US)|
|Education||University of Dayton (BA, MA)|
Australian Catholic University
Kristina Marie Kerscher Keneally (born 19 December 1968) is an American-born Australian politician who has been a Senator for New South Wales since February 2018, representing the Labor Party. Since 2019, she has served as Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, Shadow Minister for Home Affairs, and Shadow Minister for Immigration and Citizenship. She previously served as Premier of New South Wales from 2009 to 2011, the first woman to hold the position.
Keneally was born in the United States to an American father and an Australian mother. She grew up in Toledo, Ohio, and is a graduate of the University of Dayton. After marrying an Australian, Ben Keneally, she settled in Australia permanently and became a naturalised citizen in 2000. 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 process. 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 was also the state government's spokeswoman 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 (who had been in office for just 15 months) in a party room ballot, winning by 47 votes to 21. The Keneally Government went on to suffer a 16.5-point swing statewide at the 2011 state election – the biggest swing in Australian political history. She was replaced as leader of the Labor Party by John Robertson, who was elected unopposed, on 31 March 2011. She resigned from Parliament in June 2012.
In 2014, Keneally joined Sky News Live as a political commentator, later becoming co-host of To The Point. She took leave in November 2017 to stand as the Labor candidate for the Bennelong by-election, which she lost to previous member John Alexander. In February 2018 she was instead appointed to the Senate to fill a casual vacancy caused by Sam Dastyari's resignation. After the 2019 leadership election, Keneally was selected as deputy Senate leader in the shadow cabinet of new Labor leader Anthony Albanese. She was also given the portfolios of Home Affairs and Immigration and Citizenship.
Keneally was born Kristina Marie Kerscher in Las Vegas to an American father and an Australian mother (born in Brisbane). 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 could not 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 in 2002, prior to standing for election.
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 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 Keneally ran instead. Before the election, Labor insiders were concerned that her strong American English accent would not 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 Watkins' 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, 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 (Carmel Tebbutt) of a state were women.
During her time as Premier Keneally was a supporter of the development of the Barangaroo headlands. 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 while 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 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 bid.
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 did not 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. Keneally moved to have Paluzzano suspended from the Labor Party, and Paluzzano resigned soon afterward. It was not enough to prevent Paluzzano's once-safe seat of Penrith from being resoundingly lost to the Liberals at the ensuing by-election. Labor suffered a swing of over 26 points—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, opinion polls and commentators had almost universally written Labor off by the time the writs were dropped. An election-eve poll showed Labor's support at a record low of 23 percent. The ABC's Antony Green estimated that Labor faced being cut down to as few as 13 seats. As a measure of how far Labor's fortunes had fallen, the party was in danger of losing seats it had held for over a century, and there were fears Labor would not be able to hold onto enough seats to form a credible shadow cabinet.
In the 26 March election, the Labor government was heavily defeated, suffering a swing of over 16 points—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 points. 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 points in her own seat of Heffron. However, she suffered a swing of over 16 points, reducing her majority to 7.1 points. 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 backbench. 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". On 23 June 2012, Keneally announced her resignation from the New South Wales Parliament.
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 Obeid, Tripodi, and McDonald had acted in a corrupt manner. Counsel assisting the inquiry, Geoffrey Watson , 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.
Political commentator and television host
In 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 1 June 2015 which airs during PVO NewsDay. Keneally was also a regular presenter of primetime programs The Cabinet and Credlin & Keneally. Upon announcing her intention to stand for Federal parliament, she took leave from Sky News on the same day as her announcement on 14 November 2017.
Bennelong by-election, 2017
In November 2017, Keneally was preselected by federal Labor as their candidate for the Bennelong by-election on 16 December. Keneally's candidacy, combined with her high profile status as a former premier, attracted accusations of being a parachute candidate as she lived 800m outside of the electorate at the time. Despite picking up a five percent two-party swing, she lost to the previous incumbent and Liberal candidate John Alexander.
Senator and opposition frontbencher, 2018–present
On 30 January 2018, the Labor Party announced that Keneally would fill the casual vacancy caused by the resignation of New South Wales senator Sam Dastyari, who resigned earlier that month. Keneally was formally appointed to the vacancy on 14 February 2018 and was sworn in as a senator the following day.
In June 2018, Keneally stated her opposition to mandatory reporting for Catholic priests who are informed of child sexual abuse in confession; she believes it is not the most effective way to prevent abuse. Keneally also attended the Rambam Israel Fellowship Program in Israel, sponsored by the Australia/Israel and Jewish Affairs Council. The lobby group funded "transport, accommodation, meals and other associated costs".
After the 2019 federal election, new leader Anthony Albanese expressed his intention to bring Keneally onto the frontbench despite opposition from the NSW Right faction. On 29 May, Ed Husic announced his resignation from the frontbench and endorsed Keneally as his replacement. On 30 May, Senate deputy leader Don Farrell announced his resignation from the position to make way for a gender-balanced leadership team (since 2013, two of the four leadership positions were held by women). . Keneally was subsequently announced as the new deputy Senate leader, Shadow Minister for Home Affairs, and Shadow Minister for Immigration and Citizenship.
Fowler candidacy, 2021
In September 2021, it was reported that Keneally would seek preselection for the Division of Fowler in the House of Representatives to succeed retiring MP Chris Hayes at the next federal election. based on the "Fowler Rule" of the NSW Labor Party.
This occurred after Tu Le, a Vietnamese-Australian lawyer was endorsed by Hayes. Le was his preferred candidate due to her ability to reflect the multiculturalism of the area. The electorate of Fowler includes Sydney suburbs such as Cabramatta and Liverpool which has a population of over 50,000 Asian-Australians. Keneally does not currently live within the electorate and resides in Scotland Island in the Northern Beaches area of Sydney. The push for a white women who has no connections to a safe Labor seat has been criticised by Labor MPs such as Anne Aly and Peter Khalil. Others, including former prime minister Paul Keating, supported Keneally.
Keneally is married to former Mayor of Botany Bay, Ben Keneally; together they have two sons. A daughter 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 and moved across Sydney to a rented home in the affluent suburb of Hunters Hill. Together they own a $1.8 million holiday home on the isolated Scotland Island on the Northern Beaches of Sydney and a townhouse in Wollstonecraft purchased for $1.3 million in 2016.
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- Keneally ministry
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