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Kristina Keneally

Kristina Keneally
Keneally in 2021
Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate
In office
30 May 2019 – 13 April 2022
LeaderPenny Wong
Preceded byDon Farrell
Succeeded byMichaelia Cash
Senator for New South Wales
In office
14 February 2018 – 13 April 2022
Preceded bySam Dastyari
Succeeded byDavid Shoebridge
42nd Premier of New South Wales
Elections: 2011
In office
4 December 2009 – 28 March 2011
MonarchElizabeth II
GovernorMarie Bashir
DeputyCarmel Tebbutt
Preceded byNathan Rees
Succeeded byBarry O'Farrell
19th Leader of the Australian Labor Party in New South Wales
In office
3 December 2009 – 31 March 2011
DeputyCarmel Tebbutt
Preceded byNathan Rees
Succeeded byJohn Robertson
Member of the New South Wales Parliament
for Heffron
In office
22 March 2003 – 29 June 2012
Preceded byDeirdre Grusovin
Succeeded byRon Hoenig
Personal details
Kristina Marie Kerscher

(1968-12-19) 19 December 1968 (age 55)
Las Vegas, Nevada, US
NationalityAustralian (2000–present)
American (1968–2002)
Political partyLabor (2000–present)
Other political
Democratic (Before 2000, United States)
SpouseBen Keneally
Children3 (1 deceased)
EducationUniversity of Dayton (BA, MA)
Marquette University
Australian Catholic University
WebsiteAgency website
Senate Profile

Kristina Marie Kerscher Keneally (born 19 December 1968)[1] is an American-born Australian politician who served as the first female Premier of New South Wales from 2009 to 2011[2] and was later a Labor Senator for New South Wales from February 2018 until April 2022. She resigned from the Senate to contest the House of Representatives seat of Fowler, but was unsuccessful. From 2019 to 2022 she served as Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, Shadow Minister for Home Affairs, and Shadow Minister for Immigration and Citizenship.

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.[3] 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.[4]

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.[5][6][7] The Keneally Government went on to suffer a 16.5 percent two-party preferred statewide swing at the 2011 state election – the biggest swing in Australian political history.[8] She resigned as Labor Party leader on election night and was succeeded by John Robertson, who was elected unopposed, on 31 March 2011.[9] 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, achieving a swing to Labor but losing to previous member John Alexander. In February 2018 she was appointed to the Senate to fill a casual vacancy caused by Sam Dastyari's resignation.[10] 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.[11][12]

At the 2022 federal election Keneally, whose main residency is in the Northern Beaches, was parachuted into the traditionally safe Labor seat of Fowler, which has one of the highest concentrations of Vietnamese Australians in the country. As a result of community backlash against her candidacy, Labor suffered a 15.6% swing against them, and she was defeated by independent challenger Dai Le, a Vietnamese-Australian journalist and former Liberal Party candidate.

Early life

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,[13] where she attended high school at Notre Dame Academy.[14] While at Notre Dame she was twice awarded most valuable player (1985, 1986) in the Academy's soccer team.[15]

Upon graduating from Notre Dame, she undertook studies at the University of Dayton, also in Ohio. While there she became involved in student politics,[14] 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.[16][17] She graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in political science in 1991,[14][18][19] was a registered Democrat[20] and worked as an intern for the Lieutenant Governor of Ohio, Paul Leonard.[14] 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.[18][19]

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."[21]

Keneally met her future husband, a member of the Australian Labor Party, 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.[22][23] They returned to Australia two years later, 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.[24][25][26]

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.[18] She also briefly attended the Australian Catholic University in Strathfield, New South Wales.[4][27][28]

State politics

Keneally was elected to the seat of Heffron in the New South Wales Legislative Assembly in 2003,[1] following a bitter pre-election battle with Deirdre Grusovin, the sister of senior Labor politician Laurie Brereton.[29] 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.[22] 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.[21]

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."[20]

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'.[30]

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.[31]

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.[32] 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.[33]

On 17 November 2009 Keneally was appointed Minister for Infrastructure after her friend and supporter Joe Tripodi was sacked by Rees from the frontbench. It was rumoured that she was angered at the sacking, which she denied. She also said she had "always supported the Premier, Bob Carr, Morris Iemma and now Nathan Rees" and it was "time to put this ridiculous leadership speculation behind us".[34]


Keneally in December 2009, on the day she was sworn in as Premier

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.[35] 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",[36] a claim later rejected by Keneally, who stated "I am nobody's puppet, I am nobody's protege, I am nobody's girl."[37]

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.[38] 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,[39] created a new portfolio relating to the major development Barangaroo for which she took responsibility,[39] 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[40][41] and additionally for giving exemption to Barangaroo from environmental planning laws.[39] 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).[42]

Party renewal

Keneally pushed to renew the Labor Party, with 23 members of the 50 caucus members retiring.[43] Her push also included the resignation of the NSW Labor President, Bernie Riordan[44] and retirements of Labor powerbrokers, Joe Tripodi[45] and Eddie Obeid.[46]

Electricity privatisation

On 14 December 2010 her government sold the first tranche of the partial privatisation of the state's electricity assets for $5.3 billion.[47] Eight of the directors quit in protest over the sale of trading rights to the output of generators.[48] After criticism of the privatisation, her Government abandoned the second stage of its electricity privatisation plan, as no companies bid.[49]

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.[50] There were accusations that Keneally tried to halt the electricity inquiry, which later proceeded.[51]

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".[52]


Keneally in 2010

When she became Premier, she was highly popular and was the most popular Australian political leader at one stage, as the Galaxy poll showed in March 2010, her public satisfaction of her was 53 per cent.[53] However, her own personal popularity did not transfer to her party, which had been well behind the Coalition in opinion polling since 2008.

With her government's popularity declining, Keneally's personal popularity began to decline too, with her approval rating falling to 39 per cent in an August 2010 poll.[54] 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.[55]

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.[56] 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.[57]

Election defeat

Keneally led Labor into the 2011 state election. She was seeking to lead Labor to a fifth consecutive term in government, and also to become the second woman elected as a state premier in her own right, after Anna Bligh in Queensland.

But Keneally was a heavy underdog for most of the campaign. At one point polls showed Labor trailed the Barry O'Farrell-led Coalition by 26 points on the two-party vote[58] and Keneally trailed O'Farrell by 16 points as preferred premier.[59] 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 primary vote.[60] The ABC's Antony Green estimated that Labor faced being cut down to as few as 13 seats.

In the 26 March election the Labor government was heavily defeated, suffering a swing of over 16 points on a two-party basis —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.[61] Ultimately, Labor was reduced to 20 seats (down from 48 at dissolution), its worst showing in over a century.

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."[62] On 11 June 2011, Keneally was granted by the Governor retention of the title "The Honourable".[63] On 23 June 2012, Keneally announced her resignation from the New South Wales Parliament.[64]

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.[65][66][67] 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.[68]

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".[69]

Private sector

Sporting roles

In 2011 Keneally became a director of Souths Cares, the nominated charity of the South Sydney Rabbitohs[70][71][72] and Chair of the Basketball Australia board.[73] She resigned from Parliament on 29 June 2012, to commence work as the Chief Executive of Basketball Australia.[74] Keneally left Basketball Australia in April 2014 to spend more time with her family.[75] In 2016 she was named as Chairperson of Souths Cares following incumbent chairman Nicholas Pappas stepping aside after eight years.[72]

Political commentator and television host

In 2014 Keneally began a career as a media presenter. In May she spent a week filling in for Ita Buttrose on panel show Studio 10.[76] In July, 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.[77] 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.[78] Keneally was also a regular presenter of primetime programs The Cabinet[79] and Credlin & Keneally.[80] 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.[81]

Keneally regularly contributed to The Guardian Australia on a range of politico-social issues such as religion in politics, same sex marriage and asylum seeking between December 2014 and June 2019.[82]

Federal politics

Bennelong by-election, 2017

In November 2017 Keneally was preselected by federal Labor as their candidate for the Bennelong by-election on 16 December.[83] Despite picking up a five percent two-party swing, she lost to the previous incumbent and Liberal candidate John Alexander.[84]

Senator and opposition frontbencher, 2018–2022

Keneally with Anthony Albanese at the Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras in 2021

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.[85] Keneally was formally appointed to the vacancy on 14 February 2018 and was sworn in as a senator the following day.[86][87]

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.[88] 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".[89]

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.[90] On 30 May, Labor's deputy leader in the Senate 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).[91] Keneally was subsequently announced as the new Deputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, Shadow Minister for Home Affairs, and Shadow Minister for Immigration and Citizenship in the Albanese shadow cabinet.[11][12] She resigned from the senate on 13 April 2022.[92]

Fowler candidacy, 2022

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 2022 federal election.[93]

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 and her strong links to the community. The electorate of Fowler includes Sydney suburbs such as Cabramatta and Liverpool which has a population of over 50,000 Asian-Australians.[94] Though Keneally moved to the seat after winning preselection, she did not have roots within the electorate and previously resided on Scotland Island in the Northern Beaches area of Sydney.[95][96][97] The push for a white American-born woman with limited connections to a safe Labor seat primarily made up of people of Asian or Middle Eastern background, including a large proportion of recent migrants and refugees, was criticised by Labor MPs such as Anne Aly and Peter Khalil. Others, including former prime minister Paul Keating, supported Keneally, who was installed by party leadership without a pre-selection ballot.[98][99][100] Independent Dai Le, a Vietnamese refugee and former Liberal Party councillor and candidate, nominated for the seat, and defeated Keneally in one of only two Labor losses at the 2022 federal election.[101]

Personal life

Keneally is married to former Mayor of Botany Bay, Ben Keneally; together they have two sons. A daughter died at birth.[102] Her husband is the nephew of Australian writer Thomas Keneally.[23] Keneally is the patron of the Stillbirth Foundation Australia.[103]

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 Hunters Hill. Together they own a $1.8 million home on the isolated Scotland Island on the Northern Beaches of Sydney and a townhouse in Wollstonecraft purchased for $1.3 million in 2016.[104] Keneally and her family moved to Liverpool prior to contesting the local seat of Fowler at the 2022 federal election.[105]

In late 2022 Keneally was appointed as chief executive officer of the Sydney Children's Hospitals Foundation, which raises funds for children's healthcare.[106]

Keneally is a supporter of the South Sydney Rabbitohs in the NRL.

Keneally is ketogenic.[107]


  • Kerscher, Kristina Marie (1995). Folding the Jesus-Sophia metaphor: A basis for a non-androcentric Christology within a Christian feminist interpretive community (M.A. thesis). University of Dayton. OCLC 34749429. Retrieved 6 December 2009.
  • Kerscher, Kristina (November 1995). "God's first instrument of liberation". Bible Today. 33 (6). Minnesota: St Benedict: 359–363. ISSN 0006-0836.

See also


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New South Wales Legislative Assembly Preceded byDeirdre Grusovin Member for Heffron 2003–2012 Succeeded byRon Hoenig Political offices Preceded byJohn Della Bosca Minister for Ageing 2007–2008 Succeeded byPaul Lynch Minister for Disability Services 2007–2008 Preceded byFrank Sartor Minister for Redfern-Waterloo 2008–2011 Ministry abolished Minister for Planning 2008–2009 Succeeded byTony Kelly Preceded byJoe Tripodi Minister for Infrastructure 2009 Preceded byNathan Rees Premier of New South Wales 2009–2011 Succeeded byBarry O'Farrell Party political offices Preceded byNathan Rees Leader of the Australian Labor Party (NSW Branch) 2009–2011 Succeeded byJohn Robertson Parliament of Australia Preceded bySam Dastyari Senator for New South Wales 2018–2022 Succeeded byDavid Shoebridge
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Kristina Keneally
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