The resignation of Premier Mike Baird is high risk for the Liberal-National Coalition government in New South Wales.
It unnecessarily destabilises a government which has delivered low unemployment, no state debt and embarrassing budget surpluses off the back of the property construction boom.
While Mr Baird was suffering damaging poll numbers from recent constituent backlashes over his back-flipped ban on greyhound racing, ‘wowser’ lock-out laws, council amalgamations and the axing of big shady trees along the new light rail route in Sydney, the telegenic premier was considered capable of recovery before the already scheduled March 2019 state election. NSW has fixed four-year terms.
Satirised as ‘Bambi’ because of his wide innocent-looking eyes or ‘Casino Mike’ because Sydney’s Star Casino benefited from the CBD grog lockout, Mr Baird often used social media to show he is personable and can take a joke.
Mr Baird’s Liberal leadership running mate, the Treasurer Gladys Berejiklian, 46, a moderate, is expected to become the state’s first non-Labor female premier when Mr Baird formally resigns from State Parliament next week.
The NSW Liberal Party’s moderate and right factions appear to have agreed on a unity ticket to install Ms Berejiklian as premier and Dominic Perrottet, of the religious right, currently finance minister, as deputy leader and treasurer to remove any chance of a divisive challenge. If any others want to challenge for the leadership they have to put up their hands before 10am on Monday.
Ms Berejiklian, member for the lower north shore seat of Willoughby, is a migrant success story. She is the daughter of Armenian migrants and a granddaughter of victims of the 1915 Armenian genocide.
While Mr Baird may have considered himself unre-electable following plummeting popularity, the risk, with a now consistently volatile electorate, lies in the new premier’s ability to make it look as though the government is now renewed.
Watch out: One Nation is on the prowl
With a resurgent One Nation likely to decimate the non-Labor vote in pending Queensland and West Australian state elections, the risk to the government’s survival in NSW becomes more acute. At the moment One Nation is not registered with the NSW Electoral Commission. With only 750 enrolled voters required for party eligibility, full registration is expected this year.
Then the political game will change, requiring deft political management by the new premier backed by the Liberal and National organisational wings. There are 93 lower house seats in NSW. The Liberals hold 36, the Nationals 16, Labor 34, Greens three, independents three and Shooters and Fishers one.
It is now the National Party which is the most vulnerable.
Late last year the National Party suffered a humiliating defeat in a by-election in the regional seat of Orange, where the Shooters and Fishers candidate, benefiting from Labor preferences, got across the line. Famously, National Party Education Minister Adrian Piccoli blasted Labor’s preference deal in the ‘bearpit’ pointing to ALP MPs with a gun-like finger and shouting, “Bang … bang … bang”.
The bitter fallout from that defeat has resulted in a change of National Party parliamentary leadership to John Barilaro. The Shooters and Fishers Party has been painting the NSW Nationals as the Liberal Party’s ‘weak sister’ on greyhound racing, guns, water allocations and the National Broadband Network’s deficiencies in regional areas.
Any new ‘Berejiklian-Barilaro’ government is expected to announce a halt to contentious council amalgamations under the claim of ‘learnings’ from listening more attentively to the electorate.
‘I was in pain’
Mr Baird’s emotion as he explained that health ordeals faced by his father Bruce Baird, a former state and federal MP, his mother Judy and his sister Julia, the ABC broadcaster and author, exposed one private motivation in his surprise decision to retire from state politics after 10 years as an MP, three as treasurer and three as premier.
“I’ve given my best .. given my all,” Mr Baird said. “To be honest, at times, I have been in pain at not being able to spend time with them.”
Supported by his family, the 47-year-old Premier now exits, leaving an immediate by-election for his north shore bayside seat of Manly, coincidentally held federally by his surfing friend, Tony Abbott, the former prime minister.
It has been a wild ride for Mr Baird, who became premier in 2014 after the sensational resignation of Barry O’Farrell who had been forced to acknowledge he had given untrue ICAC evidence about a bottle of Grange Hermitage wine delivered to his home from a lobbyist.
Mr Baird, an evangelical Christian, did not proselytise from his ‘bearpit’ parliamentary pulpit, saying he respected Sydney’s vocal LGBTI community.
He leaves politics with expectations that he will now pursue a high-powered corporate and boardroom career mixed with community voluntary work.
Quentin Dempster is a Walkley Award-winning journalist, author and broadcaster with decades of experience. He is a veteran of the ABC newsroom and has worked with a number of print titles including the Sydney Morning Herald.