NSW Premier Mike Baird’s shock resignation and his retirement from politics yesterday (Thursday) has engendered tributes from admirers and condemnation from opponents of some of his more unpopular policies, as they come forward to demand early meetings with his replacement.
Once the state’s golden boy – his approval rating famously hit 61 per cent in December 2015 – Mr Baird’s popularity had been waning of late.
Sydney’s lockout laws; the greyhound industry ban; forced council amalgamations; the West Connex motorway and watering down NSW’s environmental legislation all took the shine off his leadership of the state as some accused him of being arrogant and not listening.
President of the Save Our Councils Coalition (SOCC), Carolyn Corrigan, claimed Mr Baird resigned because he was feeling the heat over council mergers.
“The real reason for Mike Baird’s resignation as NSW Premier is the overwhelming rejection by local communities across NSW of the government’s attack on local democracy and local councils with council amalgamations a key ingredient,” Ms Corrigan said.
“Voters felt deeply betrayed by Mike Baird as he never listened to their concerns and never had a mandate for such fundamental and far reaching change.”
SOCC spokesperson Phil Jenkyn said the incoming Premier would lose the 2019 state election unless they reversed forced mergers.
Whoever is elected Premier, Mr Baird said they would “complete the work that we started”, a clear sign that the government will not back down on issues such as council mergers.
The Nature and Conservation Council of NSW said Mr Baird would be remembered as the premier who repealed some of the state’s most important conservation laws: the Native Vegetation Act and the Threatened Species Conservation Act.
NCC CEO Kate Smolski said he had weakened environmental protections and overseen the expansion of coal mines while neglecting renewables, although she praised his target of net zero carbon emissions.
“Mike Baird might hope to be remembered as a builder, but the NSW conservation movement will remember him as a great destroyer,” Ms Smolski said.
“His legacy is a system of laws that will accelerate land clearing and habitat destruction, and add extinction pressure to the state’s 1000 threatened species.
“We sincerely hope the incoming premier takes a genuine interest in the protection of the astonishing natural beauty and wildlife that is the common legacy of all people in NSW.”
Groups including Keep Sydney Open, which protested strongly against the lockout laws, and WestConnex Action Group have both indicated they will petition the new premier to hear their concerns.
Tyson Koh from Keep Sydney Open told the ABC: “If the next Premier wants to enjoy a honeymoon period, than I think they would be very wise to consult.
“Young people are passionate people and so if you overlook these issues, then I think that what we’ve seen is that it could eventually be a ticking time bomb that blows up in your face.”
Meanwhile, at his last press conference, Mr Baird listed his achievements and said he was proud of his team.
He said his party had rescued NSW from being an economic basket case and had presided over strong economic growth, job creation and low unemployment. He said there was “billions of dollars in budget surplus” and the state’s net debt had been reduced to ‘close to zero’.
He also mentioned his commitment to a major infrastructure program, developing the NSW container deposit scheme, building infrastructure such as regional roads and light rail; leasing poles and wires and being the first state to sign up to Gonski.
But Mr Baird said he had been frustrated by the lack of tax reform in Australia, such as that on negative gearing.
The 48-year-old NSW Premier, who has always made it clear he was no career politician, said that public life had come at “strong personal cost” as his family faced “very serious health challenges”.
His father has recently had open heart surgery, his mother needs round-the-clock care for muscular dystrophy and his sister, TV media commentator Julia Baird, has seen her cancer return.
He said he also wanted to spend more time with his wife, Kerryn and children Kate, Luke and Lauren and that he had only made the decision “in the last couple of weeks”.
“I wanted to go as hard as I could for as long as I could and then step aside,” Mr Baird said.
“I’ve given my best, I’ve given my all. There’s nothing left. I’ve worked as hard as I possibly could for the people of this state.”
He denied that political challenges and questions about his credibility, for example, on ICAC reform and the greyhound industry ban in 2016 had led to his decision and said he was not cutting and running on the state.
“I reflect on the entire journey. Yes, there were some tough things last year but every government goes through tough things,” he said.
“Ultimately you have to deal with what’s thrown at you but at the same time you need to make sure that you have the vision … and that’s what you fight for.”
He said he resigned to give the new Premier time to “put their mark on government” and set their agenda before the 2019 state elections.
Frontrunner for the job is NSW Treasurer Gladys Berijiklian, who had a number of successes as previous Transport Minister, with Transport Minister Andrew Constance and Planning Minister Rob Stokes also possible contenders. Whoever replaces him is expected to do a cabinet reshuffle in early February.
Mr Baird and Ms Berejiklian are close allies but Mr Baird said there was not a ‘Kirribilli-style agreement’ in place guaranteeing her succession.
Ms Berejiklian called her colleague ‘an inspiring leader and a man of enormous integrity’ and said he had left ‘an outstanding and indelible mark on the state of NSW’.
Mike’s leadership has made NSW the economic and infrastructure powerhouse of the nation. His compassion has also ensured a better quality of life for those most vulnerable.
Deputy Premier candidates are likely to include Finance Minister Dominic Perrottet and Energy Minister Anthony Roberts.
Mr Baird became Premier in April 2014. He also spent three years as NSW Treasurer.
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