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Kernot Embarrassment A Dilemma For Beazley

Cheryl Kernot, Political Dud?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”.

Cheryl Kernot’s Political Future In Doubt

Cheryl KernotThe future of the ALP’s “star” recruit, former Democrats leader Cheryl Kernot, is in doubt following her hospitalisation this week. Kernot is suffering from exhaustion.

Kernot defected from the Australian Democrats in 1997 and was narrowly elected to the Queensland electorate of Dickson in the 1998 Federal election. She ruffled some ALP feathers on election night when she criticised the ALP for not preselecting her for a safe seat.

Kernot sought and was granted an exchange of shadow portfolios with Martin Ferguson several weeks ago. She claimed she was unable to service her marginal electorate and also be the shadow minister for Transport and Regional Development. She was shifted to Education and Training.

In an interview this week, Kernot criticised her electorate office staff for not appreciating the extent of her illness. She also spoke of the difficulty of retaining Dickson, an electorate she was “trying so hard to be Liberal.”

Whilst the ALP has invested a lot in Kernot, their patience must surely be wearing thin.

Kernot Heading For Victory in Dickson

A recount of votes in the Queensland electorate of Dickson yesterday put Labor’s Cheryl Kernot over 100 votes ahead. One packet of votes from the original count was found to have been given incorrectly to the Liberal candidate.

Barring discovery of further mistakes in the count, it now appears certain that Kernot will take the seat. Assuming the ALP takes the Tasmanian seat of Bass and the Liberals win Kalgoorlie, the state of the parties in the new House of Representatives will be:

Liberal 64
National 16
ALP 67
Ind 1
Total 148

Following the provision of a Speaker, the government will then have an absolute majority of 11 votes.

Howard Shuffles Ministry; Labor Caucus Meets Next Week

John HowardPrime Minister John Howard will announce his second term ministry on Sunday.

Yesterday, the Australian Electoral Commission advised the government that it could now declare that at least 75 seats have been won by the government and Howard accordingly declared the caretaker period of government over.

Coalition members will meet in Canberra this week ahead of Howard’s weekend announcement. The ALP Caucus will meet next week to elect its shadow ministry.

There is at least one vacancy in the ministry, given the retirement of the Defence Minister, Ian McLachlan. Some newspaper reports suggest that Peter Reith may be moved to this portfolio, whilst others predict a promotion for Senator Nick Minchin. [Read more…]