NSW’s first female premier

Kristina Keneally meets the press after winning the vote for to become Premier.

Kristina Keneally: 'Let me be absolutely clear on this: I'm nobody's puppet. I am nobody's protege, I am nobody's girl.'

All due sisterhoodly congratulations to Kristina Keneally and all that, but with NSW Labor still so totally dominated by Joe Tripodi and Eddie Obeid (would there have been a leadership spill at all against Rees this month if he hadn’t sacked Tripodi from the ministry last month?) it’s hard to see it as anything more than just “meet the new boss, same as the old boss” – yet another party leader beholden to the Tripobeidi machine.

Keneally might not literally be a puppet premier, but she’s well and truly boxed in by the ongoing factional dominance of the NSW Labor Right. Nathan Rees’ rhetoric about the Tripobeidi puppeteers may not have convinced the Right caucus to disown their influence, but it’s a pretty good bet that it will resonate strongly with an already disgusted electorate.

Nathan Rees took on the leadership’s poisoned chalice 15 months ago and had his efforts to detoxify it blocked by the Right at every turn. Kristina Keneally will probably appear initially more effective, because the Tripobeidi machine will be behind her to begin with. But that will only last as long as she sticks to their script – just watch the Right turn on her if she decides to follow her own path in any way.

Will NSW voters be fooled again into voting for Tripobeidi’s Trogs at the next election by Keneally’s shiny smile? Or will we finally give them the boot while holding our nose to vote for the laughable Libs under Debnam/O’Farrell, because at least they don’t stink of shoddy deals (at the moment)? Does the grimly appalling prospect of either of the current major parties holding government mean there’s any real chance for the Greens or independents to win at least the balance of power in NSW?

Time to wait and see, I guess. The other factor of concern to feminists should be the fact that the almost inevitable failure on her part to make a genuine difference to the sorry state of NSW Labor effectiveness before the next election is going to be characterised as showing inferior capabilities of all women, not just this particular woman in these particular circumstances. That none of the recent male leaders have been able to do the job either will not be similarly used to cast aspersions on the capabilities of all men. Meet the new sexist spin, same as the old sexist spin.

Categories: parties and factions


24 replies

  1. A summation equally comprehensive, accurate and depressing.

  2. is going to be characterised as showing inferior capabilities of all women, not just this particular woman in these particular circumstances.
    The ship is sinking? Quick, put a woman in charge! Joan Kirner, Carmen Lawrence and now Kristina Kenneally. SA and TAS, step up, please! QLD, you did go one better – well done!

  3. Last paragraph are my thoughts exactly. Makes me think of that XYKD strip: “Wow, girls suck at math.”

  4. I hope the Greens do get a boost out of this. I don’t think I could preference Labor in the next election, there are just too many skeletons in this government’s closet.

  5. I think it’s important to remember that in NSW state elections, you only need to fill out three preferences — you don’t have to number every box like you do in Federal elections. So it is quite possible not to preference either Liberal or Labor, in most cases.

  6. Also important to remember, though, is that in most cases, if you don’t preference Liberals or Labor you might as well drop a blank ballot paper into the box.

  7. I live in a safe Nat seat anyway – the Coal certainly don’t need my vote. Although it has been edging towards marginality I imagine that trend has just been stopped in its tracks. On the other hand a Green got onto council in the latest election and they picked up a few percentage points in the last Federal election too so I will be happy to keep that trend going.

  8. I don’t think Keneally will get anything more than that Rees because she is from the Right. The stuff that needs to be done, fix the railways, the hospitals etc won’t get any help from the Right. They will block any meaningful action especially Tripodi.
    The Greens have a good chance in 2011 to pick up seats in the lower house. Too early to say but Balmain is a seat they will target. Which is a shame as this means Verity Frith could lose her seat. Friends who live in the area and are active in the local Labor branches speak well of her.
    I’m going to dread 2011 if the ballot sheet is like the last one in my electorate. It was The Greens, Labor, Liberals and then about 6 assorted right wing loonies.

  9. Following from what lilacsigil says above, I saw a female commenter (I didn’t catch her title: head of some association or other I think) on the tv news saying that the custom is being established to send in a woman to clean up the mess: because that’s what women do.
    [I do feel just a leetle bit sorry for Rees. I mean, I know he wasn’t necessarily the cleverest twig on the branch, but it did appear that his (seemingly) sincere attempts at establishing stability were being white-anted from the start] Anyway I hope KK does well despite the circumstances. But yeah, Lab/Lib are both shite in NSW.

  10. Why does anyone get into politics if they don’t want to fix stuff?

  11. And the motive for removing Rees wasn’t that they thought someone else would be more effective or arrest the polls slide – it was sheer revenge for removing Tripodi, so I don’t set much store by the “send a women in to clean up” explanation. More a case of “we need a place holder, a not-Rees, not-left person and it can’t be us because we need plausible deniability.”

  12. Why does anyone get into politics if they don’t want to fix stuff?
    Huh? Politics has nothing to do with fixing stuff. It’s about power. It’s about Being Important. It’s about winning votes. /sarcasm
    My dear old Mum (oh how she would love me for calling her that!) was a member of the Democrats for a while and ran for a couple of unwinnable seats. Every time she asked what the real world effects of a being-debated policy were, people stared blankly at her and went back to discussing vote-winning. And this is the Democrats! (Pre-implosion)
    The only way I can see things changing is to change the processes – to require more participation from more people. At least technology is tending towards making that more plausible from a practical stand point, but the idea that our system IS democracy and any change would be a threat to democracy is so ingrained, I don’t know if it will ever change.

  13. Yeah, people who genuinely want to fix stuff (as opposed to just saying they want to in order to obtain political power) get into social and community work/activism. They don’t get into politics.

  14. Without wanting to get into commentary about Keneally, I would take exception to the idea that people who go into politics—by which I take it you mean Parliamentary politics—are not in it to “fix things” but only for the pursuit of power. It’s a very cynical false dichotomy. Social change requires political power.
    Did John Howard, George Bush, and Tony Blair, to give the three most obvious examples, not change things?

  15. @Liam. That subtle slight of hand from “fix” to “change”? Therein lies your answer. Those men (at least JWH & GWB) changed things as a consequence of their main agenda, not as a primary objective. And I can’t think of anything much that they fixed, unless it was under duress.

    • I’m sure they thought they were fixing things, Ariane – it just wasn’t things that you or I think needed fixing. To us it looks like change for the worse, to them it looks like fixing a problem. JWH and GWB (and their contingents) both wanted to reverse what they saw as dangerous shift to the left, so the changes they effected were both a consequence of their main agenda and a primary objective, at least from where I’m sitting.
      Isn’t the very first impulse of political awareness in anybody the realisation that just because things are done one way right now, that doesn’t mean that they always have to be done that way? It’s just that it’s not always the same things that strike each of us as the things that are being done wrong right now, so we aim to fix/change different things.
      I think the impulse to power comes later than the impulse for “I could help to fix this”. It doesn’t take much to realise that one has to hold or be an influence on the reins of power in order to effect any change/fix at all. Sadly, the pursuit of power can and does become the end in itself rather than a means to an end of particular social policy goals.

  16. Ariane, I’m trying to draw out this false dichotomy: as if there were a Good politics that “we” do, and a Bad politics that “they” do. That’s a simplistic and cynical view.
    Now it’s one thing to take the anarchist position against all democratic voting per se (and I respect it) but it’s another simply to essentialise political participation and pretend that some people’s involvements are better than others. It would be wrong and ridiculous to argue for instance that activists and community workers weren’t doing real politics and change because they were unelected—it’s equally so to argue the reverse.
    Also, what Rebekka said a while ago.

  17. @tigtog Fair call, it was an excessively flippant response (done on iPhone, so oversimplified for laziness). I accept that some people go into Politics to change things, but I also think a significant number do it for career reasons, because it’s what their family does or for other reasons. I’m also prepared to accept that Howard may have gone into it to fix things, but by the time he was in power, keeping that power dominated his policy decisions. I don’t have much of a handle on GWB – too many conflicting reports to really grasp what was going no there – but in the end, the fact that he stole an election makes me conclude that the public good, no matter what vision he may have had of it, was not his primary focus.
    @Liam: It isn’t a dichotomy, you’re right, but it is a prevailing culture. And the examples you gave just highlighted how much it is a prevailing culture, as far as I can see. There certainly exist politicians that are trying to fix things – True Believers. I think Tony Abbott is one of them, and I also think Bob Brown is. No doubt there are others, but the party room doesn’t have an atmosphere that encourages that focus.
    I am also not refusing to engage with the political process, I do my best to engage with it in a way that works for me (a way that makes me actually do something). I would just like to see it evolve. I think the current situation is almost inevitable as a result of the process we have. I’d really like to see much, much more engagement with a changing political process. I’d like to see the process formally include participation from most people in a consultative, deliberative way. I will stop now, or I’ll utterly derail this.

  18. Does anyone know what her position is on abortion rights? Yesterday’s article about her in the SMH said she was anti-abortion (a ridiculous term – surely they aren’t any people who are abortion! hooray!) which I take to mean that she is anti-choice.

  19. Ariane, I think it’s worth noting that Howard’s Workchoices was possibly his biggest attempt at putting policy and his political beliefs ahead of electoral success and I don’t know many progressives who celebrated the fact. He would have been all to aware at how damaging it would be to his party’s re-election chances, but thought he’d be able to change minds.
    I’m with Liam – the whole wanting power/wanting to make things better idea is a false dichotomy.

  20. I was the commentator on clean up and stick to the view they did it because of the public image of women beiong both cleaner, and more likely to fix the mess. I am one of the [ableist language redacted] optismists who have been trying to make society more civil for about four decades! Yes, there are political thugs and careerists who flock to parties, yes, most parties are shit snd we now have four social conservatives heading up both major ones at state and federal levels. Yes there are trenchant criticisms on many blogs and political sites. But where are the alternatives? What drove us originally in the 60s was the idea that we could make it better, (and we did in some ways) but we needed some sense that there was a light on the hill though we argued ferociously about it. Where are the current proposals , debates and ideas of the futures possible? Are people so pessimistic we can only pull apart what is?
    We know markets only work in some very limited cases, or do we? We need to put the social back on agendas still driven by economics. How can we frame alternatives that move outside the current right frameworks and maybe move beyond so called progressive versions of the economy, which may just be about being nicer?
    It’s not up to me to be pushing the future stuff, I won’t be around for most of it. Making ideas is harder than pulling them apart? Any interest?

  21. Yes, it is a trueism that you cannot change things at their root from a position of powerlessness, whether your method is involvement in a nonprofit that puts a lot of effort into lobbying or to gain influence as a elected representative. On the other hand just look at the amount of keystrokes expended on the mechanics of politics, on the intraparty and interparty politics versus what Arianne pointed out, the effects of actual policies on actual people. Obviously the two are connected but my take is that there is an inordinate amount of energy put into analysing the former to the expense of the latter. Even political commentary of the best kind is infused with this obsession with the machinations of gaining and maintaining power, I think this is a fundamentally patriarchal obsession and I would like to see more of what Arianne talks about; a focus on the ramifications and consequences of decisions to those most intimately affected, a focus that doesn’t reduce those ramifications to mere fuel for intra- and inter- party head kicking.

    • So many good points, Su!
      Sadly, I think it’s a typical reaction to the news of the day, to become so fascinated by the personal conflicts of the leaders that the effects of actual policies on actual people are overlooked. I’m as guilty of it as anyone when it comes to my fascination with the internecine power plays of the Tudors and the Caesars and their ilk, but in the long run that ends up being a whole lot of elite theatre going on that isn’t the most important aspect of what decisions are being made.
      The great changes in history are made by big ideas – whether it’s by a revolutionary technological innovation that makes a staple of the economy obsolete overnight or by a revolutionary philosophical concept such as “the Pope’s rules aren’t the only path to God’s grace” or “slavery is wrong” or “women should have the same right to vote as men do”. These big ideas rarely originate from our political leaders, it’s just that some of them take hold of the flag when there’s enough other people behind it.
      Wonkish fascination with elite powerplays is the easy (and rewarded) path when it comes to politics. It’s good to be reminded that there’s more at stake than that. That’s why I’m still especially fond of this post from Pav – it looks beyond the bully-boy posturing into exactly why Abbott is anathema for feminist voters, because of the real-world consequences of the realisation of his goals and how those goals inform his policy-making.

  22. Pavlov’s Cat’s post is a perfect example, Tigtog. I hope it gains the audience it needs and deserves.

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