The political career of outgoing prime minister John Howard is officially over, with Ms McKew on Saturday making history by claiming victory in the northern Sydney seat.
Despite leading Mr Howard from the outset, Ms McKew had been reluctant to claim victory, repeatedly saying it was too close to call.
Even at her election function last Saturday in North Ryde, as her jubilant supporters screamed for her to call it, Ms McKew held back, saying Bennelong was on a knife edge.
But on Saturday at Gladesville Public School the former ABC journalist finally called Bennelong for Labor – the first time it has been out of Liberal hands since being established in 1949.
“One week after the polls opened I can now say that in Bennelong we are 2,100 votes ahead, we have 51.25 per cent of the two party vote, so we are comfortably ahead,” Ms McKew said.
“I can formally say that Bennelong is now a Labor seat for the first time.”
Her statement made official the end of Mr Howard’s illustrious political career, which began in 1974 when he first won the seat.
It is only the second time in history that a sitting prime minister has lost his seat.
In a blot on his copybook, Mr Howard joins Stanley Melbourne Bruce, who was unceremoniously dumped in 1929.
Mr Howard has yet to officially concede the seat, however on election night last Saturday the outgoing PM admitted it was very likely he would lose his grip on Bennelong.
Ms McKew said she was not disappointed Mr Howard nor his office hadn’t formally relinquished the electorate, instead paying tribute to his 33 years in public office.
“Mr Howard and his family clearly had a huge amount to do this week,” said Ms McKew, who on Thursday was named parliamentary secretary to the prime minister and cabinet.
“I would like to acknowledge John Howard’s long years of public service – he gave 30 years to public life.”
Ms McKew said she had been swept into office by a uniform swing to Labor in Bennelong, which showed many people in the electorate had voted for the party for the first time.
“We saw swings in every single booth bar one (and) we had an overall swing of five per cent,” she said.
“To give you some idea of the scale of what the Labor Party has achieved in Bennelong, the primary vote at the 2004 election was around 28 per cent, our primary vote this time was around 44 to 45 per cent.
“That is a huge increase in Labor’s primary vote … and for me to see swings in places like Carlingford, Epping, Lyon Park and Eastwood … tells me people have voted Labor for the first time.”
Ms McKew said some voters may have felt neglected by Mr Howard in recent years, causing them to change allegiances.
“There was definitely a little bit of cynicism, I have to say, at the high level of visibility of Mr Howard in recent months,” Ms McKew said.
“People saw that as something of a contrast to what had gone before.”
She declined to comment on claims made by former treasurer Peter Costello, who on Friday night said the coalition would have performed better had Mr Howard handed over power.
“The fact is that didn’t happen and the Liberal Party are doing a lot of soul searching, but I’ll leave them to do that,” she said.
Ms McKew was “thrilled to bits” with her appointment as a parliamentary secretary, saying her swearing in on Monday would be a “spectacular honour”.
She promised the voters of Bennelong an energetic and visible member.
“As I campaigned in Bennelong (I said) I would be a strong voice for Bennelong,” Ms McKew said.
“That strong voice will be right there in the prime minister’s office.
“They have this assurance from me that I will serve them as energetically, as conscientiously as I can over the next three years.”
Comment is being sought from Mr Howard.