As one Sydney Morning Herald reader put it this morning; “Mike Baird appears to be a fundamentally decent man who found it difficult to compromise his principals”.
One year ago today the scene before the people of New South Wales, of a Premier besieged by tiddly controversies and polarising projects, emotionally announcing his resignation after three years in the job would have been unthinkable. But 2016 rocked the previously popular New South Wales Premier like no year before him.
2016 began off the back of a huge election victory the year before. Despite the overall state of Australia’s Liberal Party being dire, with then Prime Minister Tony Abbott discovering approval ratings so low no other predecessor had been familiar to them, Mike Baird led his state Liberals to an impressive 20 seat victory over Labor with 54.3% of the two-party-preferred vote.
Baird had won the leadership following the sudden resignation of Barry O’Farrell following that Premier’s failure to declare the donation of a $3,000 from the executive of the Australian Water Holdings (AWH) which was under investigation for corruption. The controversy resulted in a large poll drop for the state government, but Baird’s charismatic ability, strong parliamentary debating style and popular witty social media contributions ensured the party revived its support almost instantaneously.
A Christian conservative, Mike Baird’s close personal relationship with Tony Abbott didn’t dampen his support among more socially liberal members of his party and the public, with whom in his early years as Premier he remained immensely popular. He changed his position on medicinal cannabis, setting the stage for New South Wales to lead the way on cannabis reform. The compassionate Anglican, member for the affluent North Sydney bays seat of Manly also led national dialogue in support of resettling thousands of Syrian refugees in Australia. He also remained in support for an Australian republic, which all state premiers and chief ministers bar Western Australia Premier Colin Barnett voiced support for after Baird.
The 2015 election campaign messaging was simple. Mike Baird and the Liberals would “Keep NSW Working” while “Learner [State Labor leader Luke] Foley” would put the state’s recovery at risk. The recipe for continued success was simple too; the government would lease its 49% share of the state’s poles and wires and use the money to invest in major new infrastructure projects and new schools and hospitals. The plan was slammed by Labor as an outdated idea to privatise public utilities, although former Labor Prime Minister Paul Keating voiced support for the Liberal policy. During the election, despite overall success, the Liberal Party’s coalition partner, the National Party, suffered massive swings to the Green Party in its northern rural seats where the government supported coal-seam gas.
The governing term would prove far less straight-forward for the Premier. The term was not without its successes, with the state reducing its debt to zero. However, new bar lockout rules characterised Baird as an out-of-touch “wowser”, railing against Sydney’s nightlife which his government viewed as out-of-control. But the real sword to Baird’s popularity would come with his approach to greyhound racing, which he initially announced would be banned, but later reversed that decision – disappointing both sides of the debate.
Time will tell what the true legacy of New South Wales’ 44th Premier will be, but one thing will be certain – the rise and fall of a man never truly seen as a career politician was fast and unpredicted.
The reason for Baird’s resignation
Mike Baird told media on Thursday the 19th of January that he was becoming increasingly emotionally exhausted with his mother, father and sister all facing serious illness. The former investment banker said it had always been his intention to get into politics and get out as fast as possible having made all the difference he could and that he never wanted to be viewed as a career politician.
The Best of Baird:
– Bennett Morgan, Capital HardTalk.