Baird Quits: NSW Libs’ One Chance To Get It Right

THE RESIGNATION of NSW Premier Mike Baird today was not really unexpected; with several immediate family members gravely ill, Baird’s decision to quit to enable himself to help more is entirely in character. But NSW’s Liberal government — arguably two years from defeat until this morning’s news — now gets one chance to aright itself under a new leader. Either way, the instability that marked 16 years of ALP rule continues apace.

Yet again, the half-finished piece on the Turnbull government is being delayed on account of things that just happen, and yet again, I am going to be circumspect: not through any shortage of time for a change but because really, the political ramifications of today’s change can be well and truly picked apart over the coming few days. It is probably a little more decent, in the circumstances, to keep discussion of those to a minimum.

But the news that NSW Premier Mike Baird has decided to call time on his decade-long career in politics — including three years as Premier — was to be expected; the poor health of his mother and father has not been a secret, and the revelation his sister Julia has relapsed in her cancer battle is very sad indeed.

Whatever people think of Baird, his devotion as a family man is the stuff of legend; a deeply religious man not always comfortable with personal interactions, he has been misrepresented at times as aloof or dour (or as one newspaper piece put it today, “a dictator).

I have consistently argued in this column that MPs of every stripe, love them or loathe them, are human beings first and foremost: and whilst some have sorely tested my inclination to treat them as such, and others proved undeserving of such basic courtesies at all (Bill Shorten, please note) the fact is that bad things happen to people from all walks of life, and our elected representatives are no different.

I wish Baird the very best for a happy and healthy retirement from public life, and I hope he enjoys the extra time he has to spend with his kids (you don’t need to be in politics to have too little of that). He can walk away knowing that despite the political difficulties that have lately engulfed it, he was jointly the leader of a government that over six years has restored NSW (and Sydney in particular) to the position NSW people believe they should occupy as the drivers of Australia’s economy and the engine room of the country’s growth.

(I could say something viciously parochial as a ferociously proud Melburnian about everything that is wrong with Sydney, but I won’t. This time).

It is always upsetting when elderly relatives enter declining health, and in this sense — with parents only slightly younger than Baird’s — I both sympathise and can relate. Bruce Baird (again, agree or disagree with his political views) was, like his son, a gentleman of politics, and widely liked throughout the Liberal Party. Clearly I know nothing of Baird’s mum, but to have both parents seriously ill simultaneously is a cruel blow.

Add in his sister too, and the Bairds have had more than their fair share of grief to deal with, quite literally.

We wish their family the very best as they work through these very grave health issues.

Despite the successes the NSW Coalition is able to point to in terms of outcomes, it has also mishandled an adequate number of issues to suggest that provided the opposition Labor Party can get its…self…together, the Liberals’ second term in office might well be its last.

Council amalgamations and the ridiculous attempt to ban greyhound racing — along with stunts like the lockout laws in Kings Cross, which have merely transferred drunken and miscreant behaviour to other parts of Sydney in the wee small hours — have added up, and the Coalition now trails in reputable polling of state voting intent just six years after winning two-thirds of the two-party vote at an election.

To date, there is little to suggest the attempts to fix these mistakes has cut much ice with the NSW electorate.

And whilst the junior Coalition partner, the Nationals, has had three leaders of its own in six years (and lost one of its safest seats anywhere in the country through the Orange By-election), the selection of Baird’s replacement — almost universally anticipated to be the treasurer, Gladys Berejiklian — will signal the seventh Premier of the Premier State in just ten years.

The rotating door on the Premier’s office in Macquarie Street, which spun like crazy during the 16-year tenure of the ALP and was credited as a contributing factor to that party’s demise in 2011, is still revolving now: and it is to be hoped that whoever replaces Baird will, election results permitting, stay in the one spot for at least five to seven years to provide some sorely needed stability.

As I said, however, we will leave the politics of today’s announcement for another time; aside from this brief recap, it’s really not the time to explore these issues thoroughly.

But in closing, I think Baird’s departure buys the NSW Liberals one chance — and one chance only — to aright the ship and retrieve their standing under a new leader.

For reasons that extend well beyond the state’s borders, they had sure as hell better get it right.