Failed Labor candidate Kristina Keneally still refuses to take any blame for her humiliating loss, despite Anthony Albanese admitting ‘the community sent a message’.
Ms Keneally was the NSW premier who in 2011 led Labor into one of its biggest ever losses at a state election.
A decade later she turned the south-western Sydney seat of Fowler from a 28 per cent Labor majority in the 2019 election into a five per cent loss to independent Dai Le last Saturday.
But she said her being parachuted in from 70km away on the posh Scotland Island had nothing to do with losing the seat that could cost Labor majority government.
Instead, the woman Mr Albanese calls his Sam Burgess (after the former South Sydney rugby league player), for her toughness, blamed Covid lockdowns and anything but herself.
Ms Keneally also explained her resilience came from losing a child to stillbirth more than two decades ago.
A sombre looking Kristina Keneally has been spotted collecting groceries from a boat on the island she calls home after her failed bid to win a seat at the election last weekend
Kristina Keneally (left) the former NSW premier, who was beaten by independent Vietnamese-Australian Dai Le in the western Sydney seat of Fowler, was one of the most high-profile failures among those seeking a lower house seat at the election
Despite claiming she would always live in the battler seat she was parachuted into, Ms Keneally days later left apartment she rented in Liverpool in southwest Sydney during the campaign and moved back to her lush mansion on the northern beaches.
Ms Keneally blamed her loss on lockdowns and vaccine mandates, despite Labor having nothing to do with them, not being in state or federal government at the time.
‘There was an understandable sense of anger at both major parties, with people reacting with “a pox on both your houses”,’ she said in a Q&A with the Sydney Morning Herald after calling the newspaper to explain her loss.
However, Labor or the Liberals won every other western Sydney seat with no others falling to independents – unlike the inner-city where ‘teal’ independents triumphed.
The former senator also tried to blame billionaire businessman Clive Palmer’s United Australia Party and the $100 million he spent on advertising.
Dressed in a dark jacket and trousers with a red t-shirt, Kristina Keneally is pictured carrying groceries to her island home on Sydney’s northern beaches
After collecting her groceries Ms Keneally was seen chatting to an unidentified man
‘When pre-polling started, the number of people who only took the UAP how-to-vote cards seemed unnaturally high to me,’ she said.
UAP got only 1,193 more first preference votes in Fowler in 2022 than it did in 2019 – nowhere near enough to overturn Labor’s previous 23,416 vote majority.
The American born, raised, and educated Ms Keneally also blamed being up against ‘a strong independent candidate’, Ms Le.
She was selected to run by Labor’s top brass, including Mr Albanese, over another local Vietnamese-Australian, lawyer Tu Le, who was the the choice of local ALP members.
More than 15 per cent of the population of Fowler was born in Vietnam, and another 45 per cent were also born overseas, including Iraq, Cambodia, China and India.
Ms Keneally also blamed an ‘understandable sense of parochialism that the community had’, for her loss.
Ms Keneally’s groceries were brought to Scotland Island by boat and unloaded onto a jetty
Kristina Keneally (centre) is pictured campaigning in the seat of Fowler, which opponent Dai Le won with a huge swing against Labor
Fowler is one of Australia’s most multicultural communities, with 81.8 per cent of the population having one or both parents born overseas.
But Labor’s candidate was a wealthy, American-born white woman who lived an hour away before being parachuted in to run for the seat.
‘A lot of Labor voters were so angry with the fact that the Labor Party was arrogant enough to think that they can parachute somebody from the northern beaches … to represent us,’ Fowler’s new MP Dai Le, who is not related to Tu Le, said.
Former Labor senator Graham Richardson said on election night that Ms Keneally was ‘like an alien walking around the Fairfield shops in a $2,000 dress’.
Mr Albanese on Sunday admitted Labor had to accept the outcome in Fowler, but also ‘have to learn from’ it.
‘Of course, you have to learn lessons from an outcome like that. And I think the lessons are very clear that the community sent a message,’ he told Sky News.
‘Kristina Keneally is a big loss to our team. She was a valued friend. She was the deputy Senate leader and it is a loss, but you have to accept outcomes in democratic processes, but you also have to learn from them.’
Vietnamese-born lawyer Tu Le (right) was originally set to win pre-selection for Fowler. Ms Le was a former staffer of Mr Hayes and received his backing as the Labor candidate. (Pictured with Anthony Albanese)
Kristina Keneally is pictured cleaning her front balcony in an orange t-shirt, having removed her jacket
Ms Keneally said on election night, her ‘major fear… was that I would lose Fowler and that would be responsible for the ALP not winning government, so when that didn’t materialise, it helped’.
Her loss didn’t lose Labor the election, but with 75 seats and still needing one more for a majority of 76, she may have cost it the chance to rule without needing Greens or independent votes in the lower house.
Ms Keneally said though the loss of the safe Labor seat hurt, it didn’t come close to the loss of a child.
‘The greatest loss in my life was when my daughter Caroline was still-born in 1999, the single most defining moment in my life. That’s when I felt searing pain, not this…’ she said.
‘If you can survive giving birth to your dead child and burying her, you can pretty much survive anything.’
She said the day after the election, she and her husband went to the cemetery to Caroline’s grave.
The couple normally goes every month on the 18th because she was born on June 18, but she was unable to go for the past few months because of the campaign.
The senator conceded on Sunday before she congratulated Ms Le on her victory in a tweet. Several users on the platform noticed the carefully-worded tweet focused the loss of Fowler on the party rather than Ms Keneally herself
She also denied being mean to the late Labor senator, Kimberley Kitching, who died suddenly in March, aged 52.
Ms Keneally and fellow Labor senators Penny Wong and Katy Gallagher were branded as ‘mean girls’, with claims their treatment of Ms Kitching contributed to her death.
But Ms Keneally said she shed tears for Ms Kitching, who she sat next to for 18 months in the Senate.
‘I always described her as “good bad company”. It means she was great fun to be with but you always knew you were flirting with a bit of danger and intrigue… She was incredibly smart, and a wickedly clever political operator. I respected her.’
Ms Keneally was also unable to admit her loss in a stinging tweet last Sunday, instead declaring it was Labor that couldn’t claim the seat, before she congratulated Ms Le on her victory.
‘At the end of today, it seems that Labor will not claim victory in Fowler,’ she wrote.
‘I congratulate Dai Le and wish her well. Thank you to the people who voted Labor & the volunteers on our campaign.’
Ms Keneally concluded her concession tweet by congratulating newly-appointed Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, the Labor party and telling her followers a ‘better future for Australia lies ahead’.
Several users on the platform noticed the carefully-worded tweet focused on the loss of Fowler on the party, rather than Ms Keneally herself.
‘In the end, Kristina Keneally is to blame for losing the super safe heartland Labor seat of #Fowler,’ tweeted journalist Troy Bramston, who penned a piece in The Australian on the debacle.
‘But in true Keneally style, she is not to blame, only Labor is – ‘Labor will not claim victory’ …’
The political journalist later told Sky News Australia that it was ultimately a ‘terrible decision’ from Labor.
‘You can’t just parachute someone from the northern suburbs of Sydney to western Sydney,’ he said.
‘It’s a lesson for Labor too; don’t take constituencies for granted.’
Labor’s Katy Gallagher (left) and Kristina Keneally (centre) listen to Penny Wong (centre) as senators paid tribute to the late Senator Kimberley Kitching on Monday, March 28, 2022
Labor Senator Kimberley Kitching (pictured) died suddenly, aged 52, in March, just before the federal election campaign started
Ms Keneally quickly moved back to her mansion on Scotland Island after the election, a luxury enclave only accessible by boat on Sydney’s northern beaches.
She looked sombre when spotted collecting groceries from a boat on Saturday and doing some weekend cleaning on the exclusive island she calls home.
Ms Keneally was alone as she picked up a cardboard box and two full plastic shopping bags – including one from Aldi – at a jetty on Scotland Island at Pittwater on Saturday.
Dressed in a dark jacket and trousers with an orange t-shirt, Ms Keneally carried her haul of groceries back to her house, a three-storey, waterfront property surrounded by dense foliage.
Later Ms Keneally was seen chatting to an unidentified man and cleaning her front balcony in the orange shirt, having removed her jacket.
Timeline of Fowler electorate leading up to 2022 election
March 2021: Labor MP Chris Hayes, who holds the seat of Fowler, announces that he will be retiring at the 2022 federal election.
April 2021: Vietnamese-born Western Sydney lawyer Tu Le expresses interest in being nominated for pre-selection for the seat of Fowler and Mr Hayes starts touting Ms Le as his favoured successor.
September 2021: Senator Labor senator Kristina Keneally is parachuted into the safe lower house seat.
April 2022: Former Liberal politician Dai Le announced as Independent candidate for Fowler.
May 2022: Kristina Keneally loses the election to independent candidate Dai Le. Her loss came despite an 18 per cent margin – one of the biggest in Australia. It is the first time Labor has lost the seat since its creation in 1984.
She lost by 3,749 votes, with Ms Le gaining 52.45 per cent of ballots compared to Ms Keneally’s 47.55 per cent.