The voice ... Jeff Kennett to put his own spin on politics for Seven. Photo: Jim Rice
Former Victorian Premier Jeff Kennett has joined the Seven network as national political commentator.
In a press release announcing the news, Seven described the former Liberal Party heavyweight, former Hawthorn Football Club president and founding chairman of BeyondBlue, the anti-depression organisation, as "a forthright voice on the state of modern politics".
Mr Kennett first grabbed national political headlines with that forthright voice in 1987, when a call he made to former federal Liberal leader Andrew Peacock from a mobile phone in a car was intercepted and he was heard relating how he had told then Opposition leader John Howard he thought he was "a c---".
In 2008, Mr Kennett again grabbed national headlines when he became the subject of an anti-discrimination action brought about by gay rights activist Gary Burns over comments in which Kennett was alleged to have conflated homosexuality and paedophilia. The case was later dropped, reportedly because Mr Burns did not have the funds to pursue it.
In 2002, Mr Kennett put his forthright voice to use in the service of the media for the first time, briefly holding a role as a presenter on Melbourne radio station 3AK.
Having largely confined his comments to footballing matters in recent times, Mr Kennett grabbed the limelight again in February when he observed that his one-time ally Ted Baillieu was a poor media performer.
"I never get the impression he is comfortable enough with the media," Mr Kennett said on radio station 3AW. "I never get the impression that he wants to be with you."
Rightly or wrongly, those comments were seen by some as contributing to Mr Baillieu resigning as premier on March 6.
Mr Kennett's appointment at Seven owes much to the hand of Simon Pristel, director of news at Seven Melbourne and a former editor of the Herald Sun. Mr Pristel recently called on Mr Kennett to offer commentary on the turmoil in the federal Labor Party for Seven.
Insiders say his observations played well nationally, not just in his home state, convincing network director of news Rob Raschke to offer Mr Kennett a network-wide role. He will be a key commentator during the federal election campaign, and on election night in September.
In the network's media statement, Mr Raschke said: "Jeff's a genuinely national figure who
has strong views and calls it as he sees it. Whether you agree with him or not, you always know
where he stands and he’ll be a great addition to our political coverage."
The deal is believed to be open-ended, and will involve Mr Kennett appearing on breakfast show Sunrise every Tuesday and on Seven news as required.
Mr Kennett is a former soldier and established his own advertising agency before entering politics. He spent 23 years in the Victorian Parliament, including 16 years as leader of the Liberal Party.
He was Premier of Victoria from 1992 to 1999, overseeing a period of massive job cuts in the public sector, privatisation of utilities, amalgamation of councils and the closure and sell-off of schools. His time in power was both divisive and decisive, with Victoria emerging from his years at the helm in far better shape financially than prior to him being elected premier.
On his appointment, Mr Kennett said: "I look forward to the opportunity to make comment on national politics without fear or favour, in layman’s language, and on a constructive basis."