Cheryl Kernot

Cheryl Kernot
BA DipEd
Senator for Queensland
In office
1 July 1990  15 October 1997
Preceded by Michael Macklin
Succeeded by Andrew Bartlett
Member of the Australian Parliament
for Dickson
In office
3 October 1998  10 November 2001
Preceded by Tony Smith
Succeeded by Peter Dutton
5th Leader of the Australian Democrats
In office
23 April 1993  15 October 1997
Preceded by John Coulter
Succeeded by Meg Lees
Personal details
Born (1948-12-05) 5 December 1948
Maitland, New South Wales
Nationality Australian
Political party Democrats (199097)
Labor (19972001)
Independent (2010)
Alma mater University of Newcastle
Occupation Political activist

Cheryl Kernot (née Paton; born 5 December 1948) is an Australian politician, academic, and political activist. She was a member of the Australian Senate representing Queensland for the Australian Democrats from 1990 to 1997, and the fifth leader of the Australian Democrats from 1993 to 1997. In 1997, she resigned from the Australian Democrats, joined the Australian Labor Party, and won the seat of Dickson at the 1998 federal election. She was defeated at the 2001 federal election. Kernot later stood as an independent candidate to represent New South Wales in the Australian Senate in the 2010 federal election.[1]

Career before politics

Cheryl Kernot was born Cheryl Paton in Maitland, New South Wales on 5 December 1948. She spent twelve years as a political activist while working as a school teacher in New South Wales and Queensland.[2] She also worked as an electorate officer and freelance radio producer. In 1984, Kernot was elected Queensland Secretary of the Australian Democrats, and later in the year, Queensland State President, a position she held until 1999. Kernot served as Deputy National President of the party between 1988 until her election to the Senate in 1990.

Political career


She was first elected as a Senator for Queensland at the 1990 election,[1] taking over from the retiring Democrats Senator Michael Macklin.

Kernot surprised party members by immediately contesting the parliamentary leadership, even before taking her place in the Senate on 1 July 1990. In 1991, she then controversially acted to discredit and depose the elected leader, Janet Powell, resulting in Powell's replacement by John Coulter.[3] Kernot finally achieved her ambition to become the Democrats' Senate leader after the 1993 election.[1] Meg Lees was elected as her deputy. Inside the party, she spearheaded a drive for central control of the state-based organisations, which resulted in protest resignations of members and the temporary closure of the Western Australian Division. Externally, however, she became a popular media spokesperson, leading the party to one of its best-ever results in the 1996 election and obtaining a primary vote of over 13% for herself.


On 15 October 1997, Kernot abruptly moved to the Australian Labor Party, resigning her Senate seat and leaving the leadership of the Democrats to her deputy, Meg Lees, in what was described by Monica Attard as a "defection [that] took the country by storm".[4] In her resignation speech, Kernot did not criticise the Democrats, saying her motivation was due to a "growing sense of outrage at the damage being done to Australia by the Howard Government" and that her position leading a minor party in the Senate meant she "had a limited capacity to help minimise that damage".[5] She also stated that she was "well aware of the political risks in this course of action".[5] Some derided Kernot because of her ambition; and, according to journalist Julia Baird,[6] she "found herself at odds with the leadership of the Labor Party". Baird went on to say that "...[Kernot]...unravelled publicly under the stress, and she was portrayed in print as a has-been, a whinger and a poor performer".[6]

Kernot narrowly won the outer metropolitan Brisbane seat of Dickson for Labor at the 1998 election, before losing it at the 2001 election[1] to the Liberal Party candidate Peter Dutton. During her period as Member for Dickson, Kernot served in the Shadow Ministry, and held the roles of Shadow Minister for Regional Development, Infrastructure, Transport and Regional Services from 1998 to 1999, and Shadow Minister for Employment and Training from 1999 to 2001.[1]

Life outside politics

After retiring from politics, Kernot wrote an autobiography called Speaking for Myself, which was published in 2002. This book was focused on her political career, particularly her move from the Democrats to Labor.[7] On 3 July 2002, in his regular weekly column in The Bulletin, political journalist Laurie Oakes criticised Kernot for failing to mention an extramarital affair she had with Gareth Evans while she was leader of the Democrats.[8] Evans was deputy leader of the Labor Party and key advocate of her move to Labor. Oakes claimed that the relationship began several years before Kernot joined Labor, and ended in October 1999.[8] He made the claim based on leaked emails in his possession that proved Kernot had had a five-year relationship with Evans.[6] Initially, Kernot and Evans made themselves unavailable for comment; however, Evans subsequently confirmed the nature of their relationship.[9]

Kernot worked in the United Kingdom as Programme Director at the Skoll Centre for Social Entrepreneurs at the Said Business School at Oxford University and as the Director of Learning at the School for Social Entrepreneurs in London. Kernot is currently the Director of Social Business at the Centre for Social Impact, based at the University of New South Wales.[10] She has also expressed support for Australia becoming a republic.[11]

Return to politics

On 30 July 2010, Kernot announced that she would run as a candidate for the Australian Senate representing New South Wales as an independent on a platform of "Change politics".[12][13] She was not successful.

Other interests

Kernot was one of Australia's first fully qualified female cricket umpires. She was patron of the Australian women's cricket team from 1994 to 2000.

Kernot is on the founding committee of a UK charity which works to provide shelter and education for street children in Kampala, Uganda.

In 2014 Kernot became the first patron of the Women in Prison Advocacy Network (WIPAN). WIPAN is a grassroots community charity dedicated to advancing the prospects and wellbeing of women and female youth affected by the criminal justice system through individual mentoring and advocacy.


  1. 1 2 3 4 5 "Biography for KERNOT, Cheryl". Parliament of Australia. Retrieved 2010-07-31.
  2. McGeough, Paul (1997-12-14). "The other side of Saint Cheryl". The Sydney Morning Herald. Fairfax Media. Retrieved 2010-07-31.
  3. Paas, Hans (2002-07-05). "A cautionary tale of hypocrisy and ambition". The Age. Fairfax Media. Retrieved 2008-03-02.
  4. Attard, Monica (21 July 2002). "Cheryl Kernot: Sunday Profile". ABC. Retrieved 13 May 2015.
  5. 1 2 Kernot, Cheryl (1997-10-15). "Resignation Speech". Farnsworth, Malcolm. Retrieved 2007-04-01.
  6. 1 2 3 Baird, Julia (28 August 2004). "Baying for blood". The Sydney Morning Herald. Fairfax Media. Archived from the original on 6 July 2011. Retrieved 2010-07-31.
  7. "Kernot to break silence over affair with Evans". Sydney Morning Herald. 19 July 2002.
  8. 1 2 Seccombe, Mike; Fray, Peter (4 July 2002). "Cheryl and Gareth - the consuming passion". The Sydney Morning Herald. Fairfax Media. Retrieved 31 July 2010.
  9. Jennett, Greg (4 July 2002). "Evans admits to affair with Kernot". Lateline. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 31 July 2011.
  10. Grattan, Michelle (5 September 2008). "Kernot turns to academia". The Age. Fairfax Media.
  12. Reilly, Tom (2010-07-31). "Kernot dusts off change slogan for Senate run". The Sydney Morning Herald. Fairfax Media. Retrieved 2010-07-31.
  13. Rodgers, Emma (2010-07-30). "Kernot plans political comeback". ABC News Online. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 2010-07-30.
Party political offices
Preceded by
John Coulter
Leader of the Australian Democrats
Succeeded by
Meg Lees
Parliament of Australia
Preceded by
Tony Smith
Member for Dickson
Succeeded by
Peter Dutton
Preceded by
Michael Macklin
Senator for Queensland
Succeeded by
Andrew Bartlett
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