NSW Premier Mike Baird just announced he’s quitting politics after just three years leading the government of Australia’s largest state.
Baird said that after reflecting on reshaping the Cabinet for the year ahead he decided he should step down as Premier and retire from Parliament.
“As I have reflected on the approaching halfway mark of our current term of government, and the opportunity it presents to refresh the Cabinet team, I have decided that this is the perfect time for me to hand the reins over to a new Premier,” Baird said.
“Serving as Premier of NSW has been a tremendous honour, but I have made clear from the beginning that I was in politics to make a difference, and then move on. After 10 years in public life, this moment for me has arrived.”
As a result of his infrastructure program, he said, “the agenda that I entered public life to establish is being implemented”.
In a Facebook post he also cited health issues within his family as a reason for resigning, and how it has pained him to not have had time to spend with them.
“That changes today,” he said.
It is a shock move from Baird, a former investment banker, who led his party to a crushing electoral victory in 2015 after replacing his predecessor, Barry O’Farrell, the previous year.
A NSW government source said today there had been “rumours, but nothing concrete” in recent weeks about Baird’s future.
Baird was once the most popular political leader in the country, with approval ratings above 80%. But last year was punishing for the Premier. He was forced to reverse a decision to ban greyhound racing across the state after a public outcry and accusations of elitism. He has also faced relentless criticism for his continued enforcement of Sydney’s restrictive alcohol licensing regime, the so-called “lockout laws” that prohibit entry to any licensed premises after 1am and, until recently, prevented take-out sales at bottle shops after 10pm.
In 2015, Baird proposed an increase in the GST from its current rate of 10% to 15%, arguing it was necessary to cover the increasing healthcare costs of state governments. A change in the tax mix long supported by economists, the proposal was reviewed by prime minister Malcolm Turnbull, but summarily dropped last January. The federal government said its modelling had shown a change to the GST would have a negligible impact in lifting economic growth.
In a wide-ranging interview with Business Insider in 2015, Baird said that his approach to politics began with a premise that “this is, by all accounts, a fleeting time”. He said:
The mindset has to be “What do we do with the opportunity if we’re given the privilege of being re-elected?”
So this is not about re-election. It’s about the opportunity, and how you use it. And, surely, everyone comes into politics with the context of saying, “What do I need to do here?” This is by all accounts, a fleeting time because if you talk to every politician when they’re finished, even those that have been there for a long time, they feel it’s flown by. So in that context every day’s got to matter, every month, every year. What do we need to do to make this state better? What do we need to do to make the country better? I think that’s really where the debate should be.
Baird, who has two young children, also talked about the toll the job was taking on his family. “It’s always the hardest part,” he said. “I’ve got to be disciplined in the diary but it comes at a cost.”
In Baird’s time in office, NSW has been the strongest economy of all Australian states, thanks to the transition in the economy that has underpinned growth in the services sector, benefiting the professional services and financial industries in Sydney.
Turnbull has thanked Baird for his leadership of New South Wales, saying: “Your state – our state – and the nation owe you a great debt.
“You’ve restored the state’s finances and you are building the infrastructure that sets New South Wales up for the 21st century economy.
“You’ve played a great innings and we thank you for it.
“You’ve opened your heart and explained why you are retiring all too soon.
“We understand that and I want to wish you, on behalf of myself and Lucy, you and Kerryn and all your family the very best and the greatest success in the years ahead.”
Here’s Baird’s full statement:
As I have reflected on the approaching halfway mark of our current term of government, and the opportunity it presents to refresh the Cabinet team, I have decided that this is the perfect time for me to hand the reins over to a new Premier.
Serving as Premier of NSW has been a tremendous honour, but I have made clear from the beginning that I was in politics to make a difference, and then move on. After 10 years in public life, this moment for me has arrived.
I am immensely proud of what Barry O’Farrell and I – together with Andrew Stoner, Troy Grant, John Barilaro and our teams – have achieved over the past six years.
We have repaired the State budget, rejuvenated the economy, created jobs in unprecedented numbers, boosted frontline services and unleashed an infrastructure boom in Sydney and the regions, which everyone can see with their own eyes.
I have always stressed that sound management of the budget and balance sheet is not done for its own sake. As well as enabling us to improve services and infrastructure, it allows us to protect the vulnerable. Among other achievements in this area, I am proud of the extra resources we have been able to direct towards our neediest schools (as the first State to sign up to the Gonski agreement); towards those with disability and their carers (as the first State to implement the NDIS); and towards vulnerable families, including through additional support for our FACS caseworkers.
The infrastructure miracle unfolding around us has been possible only because the Liberals & Nationals took a plan to the NSW public in 2015, and prevailed over a massive scare campaign mounted by Labor and the unions.
As a result, the agenda that I entered public life to establish is being implemented. What matters now is that the new Cabinet should have time to settle in and reaffirm its own agenda ahead of the election in 2019 — because only the Liberals & Nationals can be trusted to manage the continuation of the economic recovery and the infrastructure boom.
Next week there will be a Liberal party-room meeting and a spill of leadership positions. Following that meeting, I will resign from Parliament, effective immediately. It has also been an immense honour to represent the people of Manly since 2007, and my retirement from politics will enable fresh leadership for my community.
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