The first woman Premier for NSW, is this something to celebrate?

The media calls I am fielding start with versions of this question. My response has been, no: because it is the third time that the ALP has put a woman into the Premier’s role to clean up a mess. Carmen Lawrence inherited Brian Burke’s mess and Joan Kirner’s task was the chaos left by John Cain’s forays into finance. Both, predictably, lost the next election because they had to impossible task of minimising the inevitable losses.

Apart from Anna Bligh, who did then win the next election, the ALP has only put women into top jobs to do political housecleaning. Attempting to change the image, and usually the reality, of being run by a gang of boys together that the ALP often projects, the choice of a woman makes some sense.

The Keneally appointment is a desperate attempt by the shadowy group that runs NSW to look fresh and maybe save some of the more marginal seats in 15 months time.

What is more interesting is that the Deputy Premier is also a female. Two mothers of primary aged children in positions of power is a new look. I note Keneally refers to herself as a ‘working mother’, I do not remember Iemma ever referring to himself as a working father!

The duo will be a novelty as some indication of change. At least the boys did not decide that Carmel Tebbutt should be replaced by a male. However, it probably means that, if  the two don’t achieve a respectable swing back to the ALP, their failure will be ascribed to gender, not the impossible tasks they were given.

The fact that both are prepared to call themselves feminists is a good sign but the responses of the media suggest that sexism survives. The tag of puppet is being applied with considerable enthusiasm, and together with the label of being ‘Joe’s (Tripodi) girl’, suggests that she is weak and malleable. Despite his similar selection 15 months ago, her predecessor Rees, was not as clearly portrayed as the toy of others, though, as not even a member of the right, his appointment was more curious.

It seems that Kenneally is not being given credit for her own actions. The sexism shows in assumptions that she, as a long term member of the right faction, is not a power player in the same way as most of the right boys are. Why not give her credit for her own power plays? She is obviously ambitious and able to hold her own in debates, so why not see her as actively involved in the machinations with the rest of the backroom plotters?

Her ascension in the same week as Tony Abbott’s raises more interesting questions about the influence of the conservative wing of the Catholic church in both major parties. It must please George Pell whose influence will probably now be even more potent in areas such as fertility control and moralities.

Peter Fray

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