Mike Baird and Gladys Berejiklian

Mike Baird and Gladys Berejiklian

New South Wales Premier Mike Baird’s resignation leaves the Coalition government in a shambles and has turned his succession into a cage fight between bitterly divided factions.

His exit probably hands the next state election, in March 2019, to Opposition Leader Luke Foley, who has been clawing back support for scandal-ridden NSW Labor.

Baird was ultimately worn down by six factors:

  • His deep unpopularity among electors, which, despite several attempts, he was unable to reverse;
  • The constant backstabbing, rancour and factional division within the Liberal Party, led by hard-line right-wing Christian forces;
  • Rabid “regime-change” journalists in the press gallery from Rupert Murdoch’s empire, Fairfax Media and the ABC who claimed they were merely reflecting “popular anger”;
  • His Premier and Cabinet Department was staffed by toadying flunkies instead of hard-headed political types. These out-of-touch ultra-loyalists might have been responsible for cheering him up, but they gave him the dumbest advice;
  • Brutally bad publicity, worsening polls and vicious social media trolling had a damaging impact on his family. In the end, they’d had enough as well and told him so; and
  • The National Party decision to oust his loyal and competent deputy premier Troy Grant last November was the last straw. Baird began to lose interest and started to focus on clearing his in-tray.

Like his father, Bruce Baird, a former NSW transport and Olympics minister, Mike Baird is a “good time” politician. He enjoys making announcements of achievement and success such as opening new buildings, tilling the first sod on infrastructure projects and wearing safety helmets on construction sites.

But if there is an accident, a bungle or a seismic stuff-up, Baird is less likely to be on hand. His minders steer him away from bad publicity with almost religious zeal.

[Foley gains on ‘Teflon’ Mike as greyhound ban splits NSW Coalition]

However, it doesn’t help. It simply makes him look weak, evasive and unaccountable, and the polls drop another couple of points.

Lining up to take over the premiership are North Shore MP and Treasurer Gladys Berejiklian, Anthony Roberts, MP for Lane Cove and a former John Howard staffer with close connections to broadcaster Alan Jones, and Dominic Perrottet, MP for Hawkesbury, an avid supporter of privatisation, small government and free markets.

Berejiklian is the most competent of the lot and the stand-out candidate. However, she won’t be supported by the party’s platoon of misogynists or the dominant right-wing faction. Pittwater MP Rob Stokes is another Liberal with major qualifications for the job, but he is branded “unsound” by Tony Abbott’s followers in the NSW division of the Liberal Party.

What you have, therefore, is a lot of candidates, many from the second or third division, backed by extra-parliamentary vested interests. Many of the aspirants want to use their remaining time in Macquarie Street to make money and friends in the CBD boardrooms.

[The ballad of Baird: how Teflon Mike became the big bad wolf]

Labor’s Luke Foley will be enthused by Baird’s exit. Although he didn’t have to raise a finger, he will be claiming Baird’s “scalp” to enhance his foggy image.

There will be other celebrations among groups opposed to the WestConnex motorway, Australia’s biggest infrastructure project, which is causing community outrage in inner-city suburbs where the ALP and Greens are competing for seats.

Their celebrations will be short lived; whoever takes over Baird’s job will pursue the project to its conclusion. And so will Luke Foley if he is elected in 2019.

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey