As the farcical Cheryl Kernot soap opera gathers momentum, Opposition Leader Kim Beazley has an interesting problem to solve in the coming days: protect and defend the defector from the Australian Democrats, or cut her loose and risk the loss of her Queensland electorate of Dickson?
Kernot defected from the leadership of the Democrats in 1997. She was narrowly elected as the Labor member for Dickson in the October 1998 Federal election. Her election night whining about not being given a safer seat was an early sign of problems to come.
In 1999 Kernot asked to be shifted from her shadow portfolio responsibility for Regional Affairs. She swapped jobs with Martin Ferguson and became the shadow minister for Employment. In late 1999 she took sick leave, was hospitalised and gave a couple of interviews in which she took aim at the ALP’s attitude towards her.
Last weekend Kernot was spotted attending a cinema on the Gold Coast, outside her electorate. She was disguised wearing a red wig. Curiously, the film was “Being John Malkovich”.
Kernot failed to return to work yesterday. Media reports over recent days have served up a number of stories about her personal behaviour in recent times and when she was Democrats leader.
With Federal Parliament resuming on February 15, the Opposition must be dreading the potentially disastrous focusing of attention on their defective defector. Thus far, Kim Beazley has defended her, despite his own reservations about her role in ensuring Democrat preferences were directed against him in his seat of Brand in 1996. In the coming days Beazley will have to decide whether enough is enough and if she should be removed from the shadow ministry. Given Kernot’s volatility, a resignation precipitating a risky by-election in Dickson must be considered a possibility.
The episode will confirm the belief of many people on all sides of politics that you can never rely on a political “rat”.