NSW Premier Kristina Keneally signalled she was back on deck, with bells on, in an outrageous performance yesterday in the Bear Pit of state Parliament on Sydney’s Macquarie Street.
On the first of what is expected to be the final eight sitting days of NSW Parliament this year, which closes on the December 3 anniversary of her appointment as Premier, it was more like Ringling Brothers than a Roman circus, with Keneally as equal part ringmaster and the girl on the flying trapeze.
It has been a year of diminishing returns for Keneally — in the polls and in her performances to the media. But yesterday, in a snappy black pants suit with her Starfleet hair, she was playing to a packed public gallery.
The Premier jumped, she bowed, she slapped her thigh, waved her arms around, told jokes and pointed derisively at the state opposition. She almost did the splits. The gallery tittered in appreciation.
Thumbing in a stagey display through the opposition’s Transport Plan, she derided Opposition Leader Barry O’Farrell, NSW National Party Leader, Andrew Stoner and deputy Nationals Leader Adrian Piccoli’s every attempt to lambast the government’s non delivery on train, bus and automobile policies.
Mock serious, the Premier said, “I find it extraordinary that you raise the Pacific Highway” and then pointed at her head, at Piccoli (they are long-time fellow taunters) and rolled her eyes, “has he had a bit of a brain explosion?”
The Premier’s mood was infectious. Speaker of the House Richard Torbay delivered more than a dozen warnings to his fellow MPs and broke into laughter himself, conceding he was “allowing a little latitude” on day one back in the chamber.
Coalition MPs yelled insults: “You weren’t even in the country” (when the Pacific Highway upgrade was first mooted) and frequently interjected, but it was the Premier’s show.
But the public gallery was unimpressed. Filing out at question time’s end, the gathering of school and university students and ordinary old middle-aged voters marvelled at her energy, but said they still weren’t going to vote for her.
“She’s American and she’s loud,” a woman said.
Which ties in with the late October Newspoll, which placed Keneally’s government as the most unpopular Labor administration in Australian history.
Labor’s primary support slumped to 23%, trailing the NSW coalition by a massive 63 to 37 margin, on a two-party preferred basis.
Despite the circus antics, even PT Barnum couldn’t sell this mob.
*Candace Sutton worked for the past six years as a NSW government media adviser, and for the past three months in the office of lord mayor Clover Moore.