Former US citizen now premier

NSW has its first female premier and its fourth leader in as many years with Kristina Keneally overthrowing Nathan Rees.

In a day of high drama on Macquarie Street, the American-born Ms Keneally won the leadership ballot 47 votes to 21 at a special caucus meeting of Labor MPs.

The meeting was arranged specifically to dump Mr Rees as leader just 15 months in the job.

“I’d like to thank my colleagues for this opportunity to lead and serve the people of NSW,” the 40-year-old Ms Keneally said as she emerged victorious from the ALP party room.

Mr Rees, who replaced Morris Iemma in September 2008, was among the last to exit the caucus room, insisting he “absolutely” fought to the end.

“The party made a decision and I accept that decision,” a visibly upset Mr Rees said.

Ahead of the caucus meeting, Mr Rees declared anyone who replaced him would only be a puppet for the party’s Right faction powerbrokers Eddie Obeid and Joe Tripodi.

Ms Keneally is NSW’s third premier since Bob Carr ended his 10-year reign in August 2005. Mr Carr was succeeded by Morris Iemma, who in turn was dumped for Mr Rees.

Born and raised in Ohio by an Australian mother and US serviceman father, Ms Keneally moved to Australia in 1994 after meeting husband Ben Keneally, the son of famous Australian author Tom Keneally.

In 2003, she became the first US-born member of the NSW Parliament when she became the MP for Heffron.

Upon being re-elected in 2007, she was appointed to the front bench by Mr Iemma.

Closely aligned to Mr Tripodi and Mr Obeid, even before the caucus vote on Thursday, Ms Keneally wanted to make it clear she was her own person.

“Let me be absolutely clear on this: I am nobody’s puppet. I’m nobody’s protege. I’m nobody’s girl,” Ms Keneally told parliament on Thursday in a clear response to Mr Rees’ comments.

There was no challenge to Carmel Tebbutt’s position as deputy premier, giving Australia it’s first all-female leadership team at a state or federal level.

Rockdale MP Frank Sartor also put himself forward as a leadership candidate in a Right caucus meeting, but was defeated in a secret ballot.



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