Matt Kean
NSW Environment Minister Matt Kean (Image: AAP/Joel Carrett)

The prime minister might not know who Matt Kean is, but he should.

The NSW environment minister found himself in Scott Morrison’s crosshairs after he told Sky News that prominent conservatives on the Coalition front bench wanted stronger action on climate change.

“Most of the federal cabinet wouldn’t even know who Matt Kean was,” Scott Morrison told ABC radio yesterday morning.

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But the environment minister has become increasingly hard to ignore. Late last year, with swathes of the east coast burning, and Sydney blanketed under a cloud of ash, Kean made the seemingly obvious connection between climate change and the bushfire crisis. He’s been getting media attention at home and abroad ever since.

Any federal MP paying attention should know who he is. But for those who aren’t, Crikey has a brief rundown.

The perfect CV

Kean, leader of the moderate faction in NSW, has the CV typical of a Liberal rising star.

Raised in Sydney’s leafy upper north shore, he was educated at St Ignatius Riverview, the exclusive Sydney Jesuit school that counts Tony Abbott and Barnaby Joyce among its alums. Kean’s teenage political awakening came during a campaign against over-development in his local suburb of Hornsby.

Despite being wooed by the ALP, Kean was allegedly pushed toward the Liberals by Wendy Quinn, now his fiancee. 

What followed for Kean was a breezy ride along a well-trodden conveyor belt — student politics at University of Technology Sydney, a stint as an adviser for opposition leader John Brogden, management consulting at PricewaterhouseCoopers, and vice-presidency of the NSW Young Liberals.

In 2011, a 30-year-old Kean was elected member for Hornsby, becoming the Legislative Assembly’s youngest member. 

Unsurprisingly, “ambitious” is an adjective often thrown around when discussing Kean. It was used liberally by party insiders in a Sydney Morning Herald profile published late last year, in which federal Liberal president Nick Greiner touted Kean as a future premier.

Less friendly sources called him “reckless” and “immature”. References were made to an incident in 2018, when Keane’s (now ex) girlfriend caught him sending sexually explicit texts to another MP, and accused him of “predatory behaviour”.

But the revelations have done little to halt Kean’s momentum. By then, he’d taken over as joint head of the NSW moderates, after his mentor, long-term powerbroker Michael Photios, passed over the torch. And all the attention over the last few months may well have dialled up the “future premier” buzz even further.

Friends in cabinet

Even without the bushfire crisis, there are plenty in the federal cabinet, especially among the moderates, who know Kean.

After Morrison’s comments, Trade Minister Simon Birmingham told Sky News he knows Kean. Presumably Foreign Minister Marise Payne is acquainted with Kean too — he gave her a special shout-out in his maiden speech. Kean’s electorate overlaps with that of Communications Minister Paul Fletcher, also a NSW moderate, and the two have been photographed together several times. Perennially embattled Energy Minister Angus Taylor must know Kean, given the two cut a deal before the COAG energy council meeting late last year. Kean has been at exclusive factional dinners with Social Services Minister Anne Ruston. Minister for International Development Alex Hawke and Kean crossed paths during their younger years, when Hawke beat him for presidency of the Young Liberals.

The PM’s claims that most cabinet ministers don’t know Kean looks increasingly hollow. Still, 12 months ago, those ministers could perhaps be forgiven for their ignorance. But the bushfire crisis has put Kean front and centre.

In December, Kean called for urgent action to lower emissions, saying the links between climate change and the bushfires were undeniable. Those comments put a target on Kean’s back — within days, the Daily Telegraph called him a “hose poser” for not personally fighting any fires.

Meanwhile, Kean started getting overseas attention, with his footage of food drops for animals picked up by foreign outlets such as CNN and Reuters.

Kean is clearly a man on the rise, with plenty of ambition to match. Federal MPs can’t afford to ignore him much longer.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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