JEFF WATERS. Authenticity sells – Albanese would be foolish to overlook Kearney.

May 27, 2019

A leader devoid of what the public regards as “authenticity” appears to have cost Labor the election. Anthony Albanese should keep this in mind when appointing his shadow cabinet and should look no further than one of his most prominent and altogether successful backbenchers – the former ACTU President, Ged Kearney.

It’s a modern mantra in this social-media-driven world that “authenticity” (noting the irony of putting this word in parentheses) sells.

This is a world where the slickest and most polished content will be buried by badly self-shot footage aired by a grandmother with an axe to grind.

One could argue that Clive Palmer’s shockingly designed and made campaign advertising – some of which seemed like a school project – was deliberately made to look and sound awful.

The “homemade” look made Palmer look real.

His campaign song was so atrocious it could have been created for a regional second-hand car dealer.

It didn’t seem the product of a billionaire, and it worked.

Scott Morrison convinced the electorate he is authentic.

His opponent did not.

Indeed, the death of Bob Hawke just before voting day seemed to underline Bill Shorten’s almost complete inability to appear genuine – a skill for which Hawke displayed great aplomb.

Now that any speculation about the Labor leadership is over, Anthony Albanese can turn to the makeup of his new shadow front bench.

He should choose wisely from what is a wide talent pool, with authenticity in his mind.

If he wants to lead an effective opposition, and one he can win government with, Anthony Albanese should be on the lookout for the most “genuine” candidates he has available.

He should look no further than the member for Cooper, Ged Kearney.

Not only did Kearney secure Cooper (then Batman) from a likely threat from The Greens in a by-election, her hard electorate work and public appeal saw her buck the national trends, with a huge 12.8 per cent swing in her, and Labor’s, favour – turning a marginal seat into a safe Labor electorate.

This was achieved not only through traditional stump methods but by the clever employment of social media with sometimes daily “chats” she self-recorded and distributed within the seat.

Kearney also had the support of the standardised political advertising that Labor rolled-out, but it was her own efforts that cut through, and shone, in the electorate.

But the thing voters seem to like most about Kearney is not her politicking.

It’s all about her history.

Yes, she was President of the ACTU, and has spent much of her life involved with the union movement.

But she’s not a machine person.

Unlike so many Labor parliamentarians and officials, who these days seem to be drawn more and more from the party machine, Ged Kearney didn’t start out trying to be Prime Minister for the sake of it.

The young Ged Kearney wasn’t sucking-up to power brokers in some suffocating and enclosed political bubble inhabited by other overly-ambitious cronies.

No, Kearney was a nurse.

She started her adult life as one of those individuals, like firefighters and paramedics, who do the hardest jobs so as to care for others when they are in most need.

She was, like all nurses, underpaid and overworked, and made great sacrifices working exhausting shifts.

This history renders her with peak authenticity in itself, but when combined with her personal charm and easy-going manner, she becomes a formidable political weapon – a fact clearly displayed by her swing of swings.

As the Shadow Health Minister, Kearney would be untouchable.

How, after all, could a reigning health minister, who has not been a nurse and has not cared for others directly, beat back criticism from someone who has actually filled such a trusted role?

Who would the public trust most?

How could a regular politician possibly compete with a woman who knows the health system – from the bottom up – more intimately than any predecessor; who has emptied bedpans herself and held the hands of the dying?

Any argument would be won before it began, and Kearney would rapidly become a stand-out performer in the shadow cabinet.

But it may be the case that Labor’s inability to, in recent times at least, embrace authenticity could see her buried under the piles of apparatchiks after all.

Those who have made their way toward the top through their branch and back-room dealings can be more adept at the numbers.

But they will never make better leaders, as was proven last Saturday.

Jeff Waters is a non-fiction author and journalist.

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