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Step right up, it’s Jeff!

Posted by: Justin Smith | 1 June, 2012 - 12:47 PM
Kennett Circus

If you didn’t hear the name of Jeff Kennett, you simply weren’t listening. So, sit up straight and pay attention.

That tall person who used to lead the state – then ran a footy team, then fought to put depression on the national agenda, and then filled in the other days by becoming a class-A stirrer – was back in it this week.

Reports came in that Jeff was to be the next chairman of Sydney’s troubled gambling house – Star Casino.

The man with all the money, James Packer, had reportedly told the shareholders to get together, sack the current bloke and slide Jeff in.

And now we have ourselves a show.

All the media jumped. Anti-gambling campaigners gave him a kick – siting gambling as the key root of far too much depression. Would he resign from his role with Beyond Blue? Would he donate his board salary? Why would he want to have anything to do with Star Casino after calling it a trumped-up league’s club in 1999?

All fair questions. But, on this rare occasion, there weren’t too many answers. Because while all this was going on, Europe’s sun is getting warmer and its days getting longer. And Jeff is there. On holiday.

While we jumped, he sipped a drink and worked on getting tanned knees. Only popping up to have a chat to Neil Mitchell in his regular Thursday 10am spot …

LISTEN: Jeff Kennett speaks with Neil Mitchell on Thursday

Jeff denied going for the job of chairman, but that didn’t kill the passion in the issue. He was still going for a spot on the board.

We used to joke about Australia being the punting country – complete with beer drinkers wearing blue singlets and betting on two flies crawling up the wall. But the clichés have come true, and the betting culture rolls on into our future – from the footy and scratchies, and from the one-armed bandits to the one-click-of-the-mouse poker.

And Jeff was less than convincing when he said he might be able to help fix the problem from the “inside”.   

But while I listened to him talk to Neil, I reclined for a moment in the producers’ chair to reflect on all things Jeff.

It’s a lot harder to keep Jeff Kennett out of the news than put him in it. With the flavour of so many pies on his fingers, there’s not much in the state he hasn’t managed to be involved with.

He kicked, and he got kicked, as premier. When he got elected all those years back, it was like he started his own circus and turned to all of us saying “You, grab some juggling balls! You, tame that lion! You, dress up as a clown! You, climb up that pole and start swinging!”

And he was standing in the middle with a big red coat on; his big hair parted to the side. Scary, but a little bit fun.

There have been some leaders who climbed to the very top of their own political mountains and wondered why they did. Paul Keating was known to have been disappointed with life at The Lodge; after he fought, kicked, argued, and smoothed his way there. Like a man dreaming only of water as he crawled through the desert, getting there and realising what he really wants is a martini.

But that was not Jeff.

Far be it from me to look inside the mind under all that hair, but Jeff loved the job. He loved the attention. He loved the decisions. He loved the publicity (good and bad). And he loved the love.

In ’99, when some men would cry with relief, he left Treasury Place with tears of regret and need. He needed the job and, say many, the job needed him.

It was certainly a hell of a lot more interesting when Jeff was driving around in the government car. Everyday left like it did when Shane Warne was tossed the ball with a couple of overs just before tea – anything could happen. It was fun.

But nothing that much fun can last. Jeff had to go around and pick up all the lawn signs, kiss his staff, hand in the keys, turn at the door and give that big desk one last look. Then flick the light switch.

Now he has plenty to keep him busy and, let’s be frank, keep his name in the paper.

I have to admit to having a real soft-spot for Jeff. It’s nothing to do with his politics, or that footy team he insists on supporting. But he is interesting. He likes to throw out an idea just to see if he gets embraced or kicked. He lives on passion – his party, his team, his family … fountain pens.

A couple of weeks ago, he and I got talking about shoes. I’d just bought a pair of a well-known brand of boot and he noticed them. He then went on to tell me how long he’d owned his pair. Then he gave me a 10-minute talk on how to take care of them. Anyone hearing the conversation from another room would think he was either a raving loon with a male foot fetish or a cobbler with too much spare time. Unless they knew a bit about Jeff.

Because that’s just the way he talks. All things good are “wonderful!”, if not … he has a few other words he uses.

So, that was the week. Another one with Jeff in it.

Jeff’ big tent got pulled down a few years ago. The clowns washed off their makeup and the acrobats don’t fit into their tights anymore. We can’t go back to the days of carnival and fairy-floss, and we wouldn’t want to. But still, it’s fun to have the circus came back through town once in awhile.

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3AW Mornings with Neil Mitchell

Neil Mitchell Neil is one of Australia’s most experienced journalists with success in newspapers, radio and television. He was one of the youngest editors of a daily metropolitan newspaper, The Herald. Enter Neil's highlights page for videos. replays and news.

Blog comments Your Say

  • The weakest interview ever conducted on radio. Mitchell should take a break & let someone else take over when interviewing his Liberal mates as it is sickening to listen to. Kennett is a disgrace if he takes this position, it would be like putting Tony Mokbel on the board of Narcotics anonymous.

    Matt - proudly Un-Australian Tuesday 5 June, 2012 - 11:59 AM
  • Kennett is the man who sold Victoria for a fraction of its value. Kennett is the man who sold so many revenue producing assets of Victoria that the state will forever be dependent on finance to survive. Jeff SELL IT ALL Kennett is being a traitor to Victoria again by promoting the revenue of a facility in direct competition to a facility in Victoria. Now Jeff SELL IT ALL Kennett is selling his soul to the devil. How exquisitely appropriate.

    Traitor Monday 4 June, 2012 - 10:26 AM
  • @ The Knave.The one word you left off your list was Politician.

    jgl Melb Monday 4 June, 2012 - 10:00 AM
  • 1%

    col Monday 4 June, 2012 - 9:06 AM
  • Egocentric, misogynistic, sycophantic, servile, superficial, desperate, guileful, treacherous, lamentable, piteous, unscrupulous, unctuous, torpid, villainous, culpable, iniquitous and deleterious. How many more words are required to illustrate what Kennett represents. Can there be any more appropriate a facility other than organised crime and gambling that could possibly be more suitable for such a creature.

    The Knave Saturday 2 June, 2012 - 6:50 PM
  • This article reminds me of the Germans living in Argentina who put on their uniform once a year just to see if it fits. Don't waste nostalgia on the Kennett years. Just think of Jeff when you get your power bill. :p

    Mylene Saturday 2 June, 2012 - 5:16 PM

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