Jeff Kennett

Jeff Kennett

Jeffrey Gibb Kennett AC (born 25 July 1948), Australian politician, served as the Premier of Victoria from 1992 to 1999.

Early life
Kennett was born in Melbourne and educated at Scotch College. He dropped out of the Australian National University after one year of an economics degree, and worked in retailing. In 1968 he was conscripted into the Australian Army, and served in Malaysia and Singapore. He returned to civilian life and played VFL football for 3 seasons, for Hawthorn, before he went into advertising, forming his own company, KNF, in 1971. In 1972 he married Felicity Kellar, with whom he has four children. They separated for a period from January to October 1998, but have since reconciled.

Political career
Kennett was elected as a Liberal Member of the Victorian Legislative Assembly (MLA) for Burwood in 1976, and in 1981 he became Minister for Housing, Immigration and Ethnic Affairs in the government of Dick Hamer. When the Liberals were defeated in 1982 he was elected Leader of the Liberal Party, despite being the youngest member of the outgoing Cabinet. He was an aggressive Opposition Leader, and was much criticised for his "bull-in-a-china-shop" style and his populist anti-government rhetoric.

The Labor government of John Cain was easily re-elected in 1985. In 1987, in one notable incident Kennett referred to the Federal Liberal leader John Howard using colourful language in a mobile telephone conversation with Howard rival Andrew Peacock.

Toward the end of its second term the Cain government had endured some loss in support and the Liberals were considered a good chance of winning the 1988 election. When Cain was returned with a small but workable majority, Kennett was criticised within his own party, and in 1989 he was deposed as leader and replaced by Alan Brown, a little-known rural MLA. A furious Kennett described Alan Hunt, the instigator of the coup, as "a man never to be trusted"[citation needed]. He publicly pledged never to attempt a return to the Liberal leadership, but when Brown proved unable to challenge the government effectively, he allowed his supporters to stage a party-room coup and restore him to the leadership unopposed in 1991.

Kennett won the October 1992 election in a landslide as a result of the public's disillusionment with the Labor government, which was held responsible for the state's economic and budgetary crisis. The Liberals had substantial majorities in both houses of the state Victorian Parliament and were able to pass any legislation they desired.

In office Kennett immediately instituted one of the most radical budget-cutting and privatisation programs undertaken by any Victorian government in an effort to improve the State's economy[citation needed]. Some of the government functions which the Kennett government privatised in whole or in part were: prisons, gas and electricity production and supply, hospitals, ambulance services, trams, trains and buses, water supply and government laboratories. Fifty-thousand public servants were retrenched in the process. As well, 350 government schools were closed, 7,000 teaching jobs removed. At the same time, reforms were made in state education including self-management, increased use of technology and greater emphasis on literacy and numeracy skills.[citation needed]

Severe cuts were made in the community, health, education and welfare sectors. Rural rail services were cut, and police numbers were slashed, despite the Liberals' traditional support for more police. The government forced through amalgamations of local councils, and also reduced their powers. Industrial relations reforms reduced the influence of the trade unions.[citation needed]

Early legislation amending the Parliamentary Committees Act included provisions creating the Scrutiny of Acts and Regulations Committee, previously sought by progressives and parliamentary reformers.

These policies succeeded in restoring Victoria's budget to surplus, for example the multibillion dollar sale of gas and electricity assets saw Victoria's debt plummet. Victoria's credit rating was upgraded to AAA.

Investment and population growth resumed unemployment was to remain above the national average for the entirety of his premiership. Critics pointed out that the Kennett government was claiming credit for external factors such as improving national economic indicators, and that states that had not undergone similar radical reforms also saw economic improvement[citation needed]. The social cost of the Kennett reforms was considered high by many commentators, academics and those who suffered economically and provoked a campaign of demonstrations by trade unions and community groups.

The Kennett government also embarked on a series of high-profile projects, such as restoring Parliament House and building a new Melbourne Museum and a new Melbourne Exhibition Centre (commonly referred to as "Jeff's shed"). The most controversial of these was the Crown Casino, a gambling and entertainment centre on Melbourne's Southbank. While initial plans for a casino had been made under the Labor government, the tender process and construction occurred under Kennett. There were many allegations of corruption in the tendering process for the casino, but no impropriety was ever proved[citation needed].

Kennett's popularity remained high through his first term, and in 1996 he was re-elected with his majority almost intact. During his second term, however, the public began to tire of what was seen as his arrogant and confrontationist style[citation needed]. The government's sharp cuts to government services were particularly resented in country Victoria, where the Liberals and their coalition partners, National Party held almost all the seats. Kennett's legislation reducing the powers of the independent Auditor-General aroused much opposition. The Age newspaper, which had supported Kennett in 1992 and 1996, turned against him.

While Labor remained weak and leaderless, it offered little challenge to Kennett's dominance of Victorian politics. But in mid-1999 Labor replaced its leader, John Brumby, with Steve Bracks, who came from Ballarat and was popular in rural areas. Nevertheless Kennett entered the 1999 election campaign fully expecting to win, and most commentators and opinion polls agreed[citation needed]. On the morning of the election a leading political journalist, Ewen Hannan, predicted that "Labor supporters will be crying into their beers tonight."[citation needed]

1999 election loss
The Liberals lost 13 seats to Labor in the 1999 election, most of them in regional centres such as Ballarat and Bendigo, and to three Independents in rural areas. The final result in the Legislative Assembly was: Labor with 42 seats, the Liberals and Nationals with 43, and three Independents. Both parties negotiated with the three independent members: Russell Savage, Craig Ingram and Susan Davies. Labor was successful in winning their support to form a government after signing a Charter pledging to restore services to rural areas and promising Parliamentary reforms. Kennett had offered similar pledges but with Susan Davies, a long-term Labor Party member, and Savage refusing to support the Liberals while Kennett remained leader, the Labor Party took office.

The defeat of the Kennett Government was almost totally unexpected, and was regretted by those who had supported the government's policies and reforms, which had restored Victoria's fiscal credibility, stemmed the fall in its population growth rate and revived its economic growth.[citation needed] Critics argued that Kennett's radical program had damaged the social infrastructure through the reduction in government services, particularly in regional areas, and that this, added to the perception of some that Kennett was arrogant, had led to his downfall.[citation needed]

Kennett's supporters urged the Liberal Party to force a vote of "no confidence" on the floor of the Parliament in a last-ditched effort to force Savage and Ingram to support the Liberal Government[citation needed]. However with the Liberal Party divided on Kennett's future role, Kennett resigned as Leader of the Liberal Party and from Parliament, saying he wished to have no further involvement in politics[citation needed]. In the following by-election, the ALP defeated the Liberal Party in his Burwood electorate.

Rumoured returns to politics
After the Liberals' second election defeat in 2002, rumours began that Kennett was planning a comeback to politics. The issue came to a head in May 2006 after the sudden resignation of the Liberal Party leader, Robert Doyle, when Kennett announced he would contemplate standing in a by-election for the seat vacated by Doyle and offering himself as party leader. His stance was supported by Prime Minister John Howard, who rated him as the party's best hope to win the November 2006 state election. But within 24 hours Kennett announced he would withdraw from the race rather than challenge Ted Baillieu, whom Kennett had been grooming for the top post since 1999.[3][4] John Howard was reported to have been "embarrassed" by having publicly supported Kennett before his decision not to re-enter politics.

Life after politics
Kennett currently chairs beyondblue (the National Depression Initiative), a body that was largely formed by the efforts of the Victorian State Government. He has held the position since 2000, when he became beyondblue's inaugural chairman[6]. For a brief period during 2002, he was a radio presenter for Melbourne station 3AK. He also serves on the boards of Australian Seniors Finance, a reverse mortgage company, and SelecTV, a satellite television group.

In 2005 Kennett was made Vice President of his beloved Hawthorn Football Club, and in a ceremony on December 14, 2005, he officially took over the presidency from Ian Dicker.

In 2005 Kennett received Australia's highest civilian honour, when he was made a Companion of the Order of Australia (AC). He was also awarded an honorary doctorate - Hon DBus (Honoris Causa) - by The University of Ballarat.

Kennett had hip replacement surgery in December 2005.

In 2006 he was attacked while celebrating his son's birthday in a Richmond bar and received minor abrasions; the attacker is awaiting trial.

Kennett's name remains associated with one of the two largest factions in the fractious Victorian branch of the Liberal Party. The battles between the "Kennett faction" and the "Kroger/Costello faction" (associated with Michael Kroger and Peter Costello) are fierce. (Credit: Wikipedia)