I asked Mike Baird about his new approach -- and he showed why he is reshaping state politics

Mike Baird. Photo: Lachlan French

Mike Baird took charge of the NSW Government after Barry O’Farrell’s resignation back in 2014. Baird subsequently led the Coalition to a crushing electoral victory, and his approval ratings make him the most popular government leader in Australia by a long margin.

The core of Baird’s campaign was the proposed sale of electricity infrastructure, or the so-called “poles and wires”, that would in turn fund other infrastructure development. He speaks about this a bit in the interview – there’s some brief background on it here.

In July, Baird did the unthinkable for Australian political leaders and proposed an enormous increase in the GST rate to 15%, something many economists and analysts have proposed as a way of addressing the long-term structural challenges in state and federal budgets. The idea has been gaining some traction in political quarters and among voters.

Baird agreed to discuss this and some of the other economic and policy challenges he sees in NSW and around the country. The following transcript has been slightly edited for clarity and length.

Paul Colgan: The day that you raised the idea of increasing the GST rate to 15%, you started off that message by saying, “If you’re anything like me, you are sick of politics in this country. Point scoring, fear, smear, and winning the daily news cycle.” I think you would have had a lot of people nodding in agreement with you and it’s a strange thing to be hearing from a politician. I wondered if you could start by elaborating on that and what some of the challenges you see are in contemporary politics.

Mike Baird: It’s one of the things I’ve learnt in the poles and wires debate, which is a debate that you’ve seen in this state for 20 years. The facts of the matter were that it’s good for prices – all the experience in South Australia and Victoria showed it put downward pressure on prices which is good for the overall economy – households, good for businesses. At the same time it provided us with the capacity to raise capital that we could put into infrastructure which makes a difference to people’s daily lives in terms of improving travel times, improving productivity, improving schools and hospitals – a whole range of things which are required. And rather than that being the debate, you knew the instant it was raised it was always scare campaigns.

I think that’s reflective of a number of the debates – notwithstanding the scare campaigns that came – you go into the hallways in Parliament, all sides of politics go well, that’s something that needs to be done, but we know the public are going to be concerned by that and we also know the effectiveness of the scare campaigns that come and I think part of my frustration, which was reflected in that message, was that as soon as you start talking about the real issues, it’s always about the political opportunities that come, rather than what needs to be done.

And as a simple approach I think what the community wants is to ask governments of all persuasions: “Why don’t you just tell us what some of the challenges are and how you’re going to deal with them, and what some of the opportunities are, and how you’re going to fund them, and we will make a judgement on that basis.” And I think that’s what people are craving for, rather than, at the moment, using the tax debate as an example, the moment anyone raised or used the three letters GST – instant hysteria, world comes to an end, this is a terrible thing. The political swords come out before you can even have a chance to discuss it, and how it might benefit our kids and future generations.

And I think that’s sad, and I think that what we need to do is take much more of the people – not just the people here in NSW, but across the country – into our confidence, and outline exactly what needs to be done, why we’re doing it, and how we’re going to do it.

Mike Baird, NSW Premier

Born Melbourne, 1968
Family Married to Kerryn with three children. Son of Bruce Baird, former state and federal MP.
Before politics Investment banking career at Deutsche Bank, NAB and HSBC.
Studied for the Anglican ministry.
Education The King’s School, Parramatta, and the University of Sydney

PC: How do you break through that familiar cycle? Because you announce something and everyone runs to the default positions, whether it’s public assets or increasing any kind of tax. So how do you try and disrupt that, and find a way through it?

MB: There has to be an understanding that there is a benefit that comes. You don’t decide to make tough decisions without a benefit for the community – whether that be in the short, medium, or long-term. Hopefully across all of those. That’s why you take these sort of decisions.

I think the way that the poles and wires – and this is another good example – because the reason it was so important was because in NSW we’ve become very used to infrastructure projects being announced – the videos, the brochures – and then you stand by the site and you see nothing for 10 years. And the reason was that the funding was never there to match it. So connecting that in terms of the funding that we need for our infrastructure, I think’s important so people understand, OK, well, we do have some concerns around the lease of the poles and wires. But if you’re telling me that on the back of that you’ve put protections in around prices – which I hear in the scare campaign – and we can also fund what’s needed in terms of the rail network – I mean Sydney Metro will come and the expansion of the motorways and hospitals and schools where we need them – if that’s going to come, well, I’m open to that. And that must be part of the reason that for 10 years we saw nothing.

It’s a similar thing in the GST debate. Everyone might not have the solution, but there’s a very clear consensus that the biggest challenge we face is in health funding, and how we actually deal with that in the medium-term, let alone the long-term, is really what I think is the biggest challenge we face here in NSW and indeed across the country.

And there is a consensus among the state leaders. So once you’ve got that, then people understand that we have this real challenge, and say well OK, we now know the problem – how are you going to fix it?

Baird then talked about how he’s trying to take a different approach to government, and even had some nice things to say about a Labor premier.

PC: Do you need to resist temptation, though, sometimes, to come out and whack people who are running to their default positions and running interference on you trying to explain an issue to the public?

MB: That’s just politics. You have to accept that. But hopefully what they’re seeing from my government is a bit of a different approach. We are trying to be up front and honest. The poles and wires – we didn’t wait for the last week of the campaign to try and sneak it in. We said, OK, this is what we want to do. And the mindset’s not “How do we get re-elected?” 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.

Yes, you will see the default position of others, but my hope is that this approach is getting some momentum. I think it was demonstrated with Jay Weatherill from South Australia, with obviously a different political badge, trying to take a similar approach and say, OK, we know the big problem we’ve got, we’re looking at this as a solution to it.

PC: Go back to that GST idea. Explain the case for increasing that consumption tax but also talk about what has been done to control spending at a state level while you’re arguing for this increase. Because, in particular in the last couple of years, we’ve seen the budget position improving, stamp duty from the property boom is playing a very large role in that, so, revenue has been doing OK. But you talked a lot about the future cost base that we’re confronting.

MB: We could sit here and say everything’s going swimmingly, and we could pretend that that long-term problem wasn’t coming. But we wouldn’t be taking our job with the responsibility we should. The responsibility of any leader, whether it be government, whether it be a charity group or whether it be business, is to understand where the risks and threats are. And ensuring that those future risks and threats, you’re taking action to mitigate them or indeed, to overcome them. And that’s what we face.

Yes, you’re right that the budget is in a much better position today than when we inherited it. Expenses were running, and have been running for the previous 10 years, over 7%, about 7.2%. We’ve contracted that all the way down to less than 4%. Unfortunately, the revenue has come down with it. So revenue growth was running at over 5%. It’s now down to around 4%. Notwithstanding the significant increase in stamp duty, and over the longer term, we know that the stamp duty will not continue at the record rate it has.

So there’s volatility there. We are taking measures to not lose that. As the windfall revenues come in we’re banking those, and putting it into the infrastructure fund, to ensure there’s something there at the end of it. So the fundamentals of the budget are pretty good. But when you’ve got revenues sort of around 4% and you’ve got expenditure under it, you’re in control.

The responsibility of any leader, whether it be government, whether it be a charity group or whether it be business, is to understand where the risks and threats are

What that doesn’t do is deal with health costs. Health costs in terms of inflation, the uplift costs – new technology is providing more opportunities and that’s adding to the cost of health. And demographics, the ageing population together with population growth, that package means that health costs over the next 15 years are going to, conservatively, run at about 6.5%, that sort of vicinity. When you’ve got revenues down at 4%, and health costs going there, well that’s a massive structural deficit that’s coming. And the modelling suggests by the time you get to 2030, it’s going to be about – the budgets combined of state, and commonwealth, is going to be about $35 billion short in terms of being able to fund health. About $45 billion overall, but predominantly health is the big driver of that.

So what do you do? How do you fund that? The modelling suggests that in order to get to that, you need a revenue stream of about $20 billion by 2020. So what can you do? Expenditure in health: when you look at how we compare across the rest of the world, the percentage of GDP on health spend, Australia’s actually got the relative lowest in terms of OECD countries. It goes from about 9.1% up to over 17%.

So we’re running it reasonably efficiently. There’s no silver bullet in terms of the way we can deliver health costs much more efficiently to deal with this massive challenge. So it does come down to additional revenue. It’s just a reality of what we must face. My sense is, if you look at the competitiveness of the country, our income tax rates are relatively high on an OECD basis. Our consumption tax, GST, is right at the bottom. There’s only about two or three OECD countries that have a lower GST than us at 10%. The average is 19.7% so just about 20%.

So in terms of the competitiveness, we can do everything together on this. That is, we can raise GST, which is a higher growth tax in terms of taxation revenue – it gets more towards aligning the health expenditure with a revenue base. The money can be quarantined to go to health and compensation or income tax cuts. And on the basis of the compensation you can actually pay it through income tax cuts. So you can actually make the country more competitive through the process, and you can look after those who are most vulnerable. One of the big criticisms is those who, obviously, have lower incomes are hit harder than those on higher incomes. So you need to quarantine those. And our proposal that we’ve put forward is quarantining those under $100,000.

So the package gets a better tax mix, it increases competitiveness, it provides income tax cuts, as well as the additional revenue for health which is the biggest expenditure burden the state and country faces. And that’s why I think it works.

PC: Let’s be very clear on one thing. Would you be willing to give up payroll taxes, stamp duties, if there was to be an increase in the GST?

MB: That’s certainly something you’d consider in the longer term. But you have to be realistic. The concept of this is over the next 15 years. I think you can deal with the health funding challenge, you’re going to deal with the competitiveness of the country, so you’re going to start to reduce income taxes which is part of the compensation – targeted as well, at those most vulnerable – so that does give you capacity to meet the challenge, improve the competitiveness. But over time, it depends on growth rates. If there is additional revenue, you can consider it in terms of reducing some of the more inefficient taxes.

And again, as part of this debate, if there are options on the table to increase the revenue take – some people have put forward a broadening of the GST, that’s not a proposal I’ve put forward – if you provided that, you’d have to put in a bit more compensation for those that have got to be looked after. But others are proposing additional tax measures.

I’m open to whatever people put forward on the basis those principles are adhered to. You’ve got to have the revenue to deal with our big fiscal challenge. You’ve got to ensure that the overall tax reform proposal enhances the competitiveness of us as a state and a nation, and if there’s additional flexibility to start to move on some of the state taxes, well, of course I’d be open to that.

PC: In a scenario where say there’s no agreement – let’s say we get through a federal election, we’re in the next parliament and there doesn’t appear to be any consensus. Are you prepared to do things like increase land taxes and payroll taxes in NSW to start addressing that structural deficit that the GST increase is designed to?

You can actually make the country more competitive… and you can look after those who are most vulnerable

Well, let’s give this proposal a shot first (laughs). I’m quite positive on where we are. If you look at the state premiers and territory leaders, we’ve got pretty much six that are certainly open to it. There’s a strong start, and I’m really optimistic on where we get to so really the focus is where we get to over the next few months.

Obviously if that doesn’t succeed, well, every state and territory, and indeed the federal government, will have to consider what we do into the longer term because bear in mind, the gap I’m talking about is the state and territory budgets and the commonwealth budget combined, at this point about $35 billion short in terms of health funding.

It’s not just an individual state and territory problem. It involves the commonwealth as well. It’s not a problem that’s going to go away. Everyone has to participate and, yes, at the moment you’re getting the usual approach in terms of some people are saying it’ll never, ever happen. We haven’t got a solution yet, and that’s what we’ve got to get to.

PC: When you sit down at COAG with the other premiers and the prime minister, what are the challenges? Obviously the premiers, particularly from the mining states where the economies are coming off a little bit, they clearly must understand that, as you say, they see the need for some kind of reform. The communique after the last COAG talked about how you agreed that there’s an agreement needed. But what are the issues around that table? Can you give us a bit of an insight into how you’re trying to work through those issues with the other premiers?

With Mike Baird in Sydney this week. Photo: Lachlan French

MB: I actually think, and you did hear this in the words, that it was very constructive, the leaders’ retreat. I think there was a desire to deal with some of the bigger challenges we’re facing and for people to put down their political badges and I think we saw people not just talking about it but actually walking the walk on that. And I think that’s very important.

Obviously there are different ways that we approach those challenges but I think there is a determination among the current set of leaders to do the right thing. Obviously being willing to be constructive and not ideological, and being determined to bring outcomes rather than score political points, that has to be the basis. And look that was in evidence as I sat down at that leaders’ retreat.

One last question on this issue. What are the next steps from here?

MB: Obviously there’s an agreement across all of the streams out of the leaders’ retreat to do a lot more work, so there’s modelling that needs to be done on the various proposals. The GST is one and how that compensation is paid and the modelling and assumptions put into that, and how that flows into income tax. The Medicare Levy proposal which Queensland and Victoria put forward, we have to run through together with the opportunities in early childhood education, in housing. The allocation of money from the commonwealth government in terms of health spending, so the consideration of the efficient price, and how that works, so all of that work needs to be done. And we’ll be getting back together. But certainly as a CAF [Council for the Australian Federation] which is the state and territory leaders, we’ll be getting together in the next couple of months, so before we all come together more formally as part of the retreat to check progress and to try and build some consensus.

But I’m optimistic. The experience I’ve had – I think it was back in 2012 where I raised the concept of the threshold in online GST. And that initially was resisted by a number of people. But we’re now in a position where it’s agreed at the leaders’ retreat, agreed by the treasurers, and it’s going to happen. So people can hold out some hope that reform can happen out of these processes.

PC: So a little bit about you. Talk to me about your morning routine. What does the start of your day look like?

MB: Yeah. Miserable (laughs). It starts early. 5am. And when my calf isn’t playing up, as it is at the moment …

PC: What happened?

MB: Well it’s called old age, apparently. I’ve had a problem with my calf over the past few years so it kind of comes to a point where it kind of gives out to me running. But you know, exercise three or four times a week, various forms. That’s a big part of the routine.

And then obviously, finding out “constructive feedback” from the media for the morning, and how that’s going to work, and what approaches we might need to take. And I’m generally on the road by quarter past six, half past six. It obviously takes a little bit of discipline but I’m naturally a morning person so that’s helpful.

Mike and Kerryn Baird. Picture: Melinda Hird.

What do you find is the most challenging part of the job?

There’s never any doubt. It’s always the family. It’s always the hardest part. I’ve got to be disciplined in the diary but it comes at a cost. I work very hard on prioritising the family as part of what I do so including things that are interesting for them. With young teenage kids — there’s not much on a daily basis — but trying to involve them in things that are interesting and keep time during the week for them – kids’ sporting events, time for family and church – is also important.

And I can’t forget my date night with my wife. I try and do that.

PC: How often?

MB: Once a week. I found that a very successful ingredient for marriage. Because you can pile up – well, Kerryn piles up the constructive feedback for me and then rather than each day, I just get it on the date night.

PC: And what do you do for date nights? Is it a walk on the beach?

MB: Well, we love going out. We love restaurants, we love walks. As a package, those two play a role.

PC: OK. Let’s talk about the transitioning economy. Probably right now the most important theme in the overall Australian economy is the importance of getting some momentum in the service sector to pick up the gap that’s going to be left behind as the mining investment activity continues to drop off, and it’s dropping off pretty quickly. So it’s great for NSW obviously, we see it through job creation, we see it through overall increased economic activity. There was some data today, from ANZ, that showed NSW is growing above trend and accelerating. So, great. But the thing is this has to be continued for a significant period of time. It can’t be a flash in the pan. So can you talk about what you’re doing to sustain in this into the medium term?

Mike Baird with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Sydney last year. Photo: Getty Images

MB: There’s probably three things. The first we’ve done which isn’t necessarily services-related but it is economically related, and that’s the infrastructure and housing. We’ve been very clear (on) that part of the response and I think it’s the main economic lever a state government has is that you build appropriate and productive infrastructure. It’s really the best thing you can do from the economy. There’s obviously significant jobs that come in the short-term, but there’s the productivity that comes in the long-term. And that has been a huge emphasis.

So procuring, if you like, the capital so that leases and the asset transactions together with getting the budget into shape has given us a huge war chest to do that and what you’ll see over the next five to seven years is almost unprecedented in terms of the infrastructure spend. So that brings its own momentum. You look at the crane index, across the country, there’s over 160 here. When we came to power they were almost non-existent. So that’s surging. The connection into the housing sector as well …. Approvals are running at around 60,000, not quite that but getting towards that, and we were just over 20-odd thousands when we came in so the housing sectors has been a critical part as well.

Being willing to be constructive and not ideological, and being determined to bring outcomes rather than score political points, that has to be the basis

And obviously, then, it comes down to, how do we facilitate the growth of our services sector. Obviously we’ve continued the project in terms of Barangaroo. Barangaroo I think is a beacon for financial services, obviously in particular. I’ve described it as the Canary Wharf of the Asia-Pacific. And you’re seeing that in terms of the financial services that come, they’re booming in the sense that they’re growing.

And as the US economy grows there’s a correlation with financial services as well. NSW has done much better on a correlation basis with the US economy than the other states -and the analysis suggests that it’s financial services. So, we’ve done things like the RMB offshore trading hub, which is a critical connection in terms of financial services into our key trading partner…

PC: They would have been busy lately…

MB: Absolutely. The global infrastructure hub is based at Barangaroo as well, out of the G20. The Japanese banks are massively expanding both in terms of resources and balance sheet – into infrastructure in the state is where their growth is coming. So you’re positive on that edge. Education continues to thrive and the falling dollar provides some competitiveness around that as well. So we’re focusing very much on that. I see a big opportunity there.

But then the third part is also the future. And this is where I think governments have gone wrong in the past. We had all of this money that was done on a reactive basis, handing out to particular companies that might want to build a manufacturing plant or potentially move an office here. What we’ve done is said, let’s pool all that money, which is close to $200 million. Let’s get a best-of-the-best board, so David Thodey has come in as the chair. And there’ll be a number of other people who’ll be announced on that. And we’ll say well, what are these people who are used to making investment decisions (doing) to grow shareholder wealth, what we want to do is to use that money to grow the jobs of the future for NSW. So how we maintain our competitive advantage in some of those service sectors, but also the growth.

And if you look at the IT development, and there’s been a bit of a surge here in NSW in particular, the startups that go with it – things like fintech, which is going to be a big part of the economy, how do we use these funds to facilitate and grow that sector of the economy?

I then asked the Premier to justify investing in startup infrastructure when there’s such a high failure rate.

PC: It’s very risky for government, though, as well, because you get a lot of startups who will do very well in the early stages but there does tend to be a very high failure rate. Sure there’s the new fintech hub, there’s Tyro, there are a couple of little independent fintech companies starting up around Sydney, and it looks very exciting, but not all of them are going to survive. So is it reasonable for the government to be pouring money into this sector? Do you see it as being a long-term, something where you get a success rate of a couple that turn into large companies, is that what you are hoping to see?

MB: Both. You just have to look. The UK economy was built on financial services. Post the global financial crisis, they’ve had to readjust. And the Cameron government has aggressively pursued fintech, going around the world and asking the best ideas to come to London, and they’re sponsoring them. So we’ve got 10 from Australia that are actually heading over there at the moment. And they want the intellectual property to reside in the UK, obviously leads to the long-term future of jobs.

Now you’re right: there’s only a certain number of those that are going to be successful, but it’s more the approach. So if we have fintech that competes with what’s going on in the UK, we can compete in terms of Asia-Pacific, why not globally?

Barangaroo… (is) the Canary Wharf of the Asia-Pacific

The expectation in terms of the next 10, 20, 30 years – how much of the IT sector in particular is going to be part of the economy? And there’s some pretty unbelievable graphs and analysis you can see on 40 to 50% of the jobs then (that) don’t exist today. So as the steward of a pretty big economy – the NSW economy is $500 billion – it’s not for us to do that, but to facilitate, to grow, to encourage, to provide the framework, is where we should be. And aggressively pursuing it. I think that’s the right thing.

Should we be investing in terms of startups? If you facilitate a space, land, incentives for the best of the world to come, well, it should take care of itself.

PC: I’d like to ask you about the property market. The RBA Governor, Glenn Stevens, has said that some of what he’s seen in the property market has been “crazy”. He’s not alone – there’s plenty of commentators who’ll say it but there’s also people like John Fraser, the federal treasury secretary, who recently said that Sydney was “unequivocally” in a bubble. So what’s your take on it? Is there a bubble?

MB: I’ll let the Reserve Bank Governor make those sort of comments. You’re right, it’s unusual for him to make those sort of comments. I think, undoubtedly prices have been rising significantly. Are we at a stage of concern? Well, I think there’s enough fundamentals that suggest that the leverage hasn’t flown as much. There’s obviously concern from the banks that the investor part of the market is probably a bit more concentrated than they would like.

But I’ve also been heartened that if you look at the most recent numbers in the past couple of weeks, it does seem to be stabilising. So I think there seems to be some normal market conditions returning. If it starts to fall, that’s a matter to wait and see but there’s no doubt that it’s certainly stabilising in the past couple of weeks.

I think that’s a good thing – gradual growth is a great thing for the property market. If it becomes unsustainable, that doesn’t really help anyone in the long term if you look at the examples around the world. I won’t make any comment other than I think I’m pleased to see that the indicators show it does appear to be stabilising.

PC: Have you done any contingency planning for what an unwinding of property prices might look like?

MB: It’s a constant part of the process. As Treasurer I obviously ran through a number of scenarios on a regular basis. When I first came in, revenue kept disappearing from beneath me. Obviously we’ve had some stability. We’ve controlled our expenditure – I think that’s the important point. While revenue has been rising upwards we haven’t sent expenditure to match. We’ve controlled our base. So I think we’re in a very good position for any sort of downturn that’s going to come. But the property market’s not going to keep going the way it is forever. That does undoubtedly mean less revenue coming to the state. So we have to be very mindful as we go forward – that obviously leads into the tax debate.

PC: Have you been surprised by some of the really spectacular prices, with small parcels of land with beat-up houses on them going for a million bucks? Surely people have been raising this with you.

MB: I don’t think it’s the gross numbers. I think what I look at is the multiple of income. And that graph has been going very significantly north. And that’s where you start to become concerned. Those examples are obviously symptomatic of a market that’s moving incredibly strongly. The question is, is that sustainable? And I think it’s not. And that’s why seeing it moderate is obviously a good thing.

PC: Clearly, inward migration and attracting people to Sydney is an important part of this. Ensuring that Sydney’s an attractive place to come and live and also for businesses to invest. So when you’re talking to people about why they should come to Sydney, when you’re overseas, what are those conversations like? What are you telling people about why they should come and live in this – admittedly fairly beautiful – city?

Mike Baird’s out-of-office autoreply message the last time he went on holidays, referring to his deputy, Treasurer Gladys Berijiklian.

What we haven’t done is sat back and I think previous governments did that. They said oh, well, look at the harbour, look at the city, everyone wants to come here, we don’t have to do much. But it’s a competitive world, and you need to make the framework for doing business competitive in terms of tax and we have made sure that we’ve focused in on making business in NSW cheaper.

And we’ve certainly taken away payroll tax for new jobs, we’ve got jobs rebates in terms of trying to take away the disincentive of employment, we’ve reformed the workers’ comp scheme which is, obviously, made a scheme sustainable so the capacity to look after individual workers but also introduced workers’ premiums. And it’s also on the move. You just have this sense now in Sydney and across NSW that there’s a momentum. There’s construction happening, there’s jobs, there’s a positive energy, there’s optimism. [It’s] not just by politicians but households and business are optimistic on the direction and the opportunity. So for anyone that’s looking to come to NSW, that is a good story.

And we’re very clear – I have prioritised going to our key trade markets as a fundamental part of my role and building those relationships, and opening the doors for businesses and industry. Likewise, accepting interest in investment and businesses that come to NSW and an “open for business” message is very important to some of our key trading partners.

We’ve run some coverage on Business Insider with international business people saying some of the feedback they’ve been getting about Australia in recent years has changed. People are asking “What’s wrong with you guys?” I think a lot of it has to do with Canberra – a lot of instability there, a succession of prime ministers, and you look at now what’s happening is that the Coalition has a bit of instability. Is that something that’s been raised with you? Do you find it a frustration?

Previous governments… said oh, well, look at the harbour, look at the city, everyone wants to come here, we don’t have to do much

There are one or two examples that I can think of but I think the mining tax, where you think of 30-year investment decisions are made and then the rules have changed. That’s something that in a sovereign risk context that is very damaging. So that was, as Treasurer I heard that pretty consistently that there was a lot of concern about that. Ripping up contracts, as well, that obviously causes concern, more broadly.

But I think it’s overall very positive. You look at the ports transaction we did here – there was a lot of economic modelling based on what’s going to happen in the economy here and it was a very strong price that was paid, which is really just a long-term confirmation that the economy is moving in the right direction. Obviously being open for foreign investment is part of that. An economy that I think where the overall message, a lot of people – across not just Asia-Pacific but the world – that are looking at NSW right now and it’s a unique time and a unique opportunity and we have to make the most of it.

So one last question. Your priorities for the rest of this term. The Prime Minister talks about being remembered as the infrastructure prime minister. What would you like people to know yourself for? The Baird Premiership – what would you like people to know about it?

MB: [Laughs] I don’t spend any time thinking about that. What I want to do is to do exactly what I said I was going to do. From a community point of view, that’s what they want. We made some promises. We said we were going to build this piece of infrastructure, well, we’ll build it and build it as quickly as we can and the best way we can, with minimising the inconvenience. And I think the package of that, when I finish whatever that is, hopefully NSW has got more belief in itself, in terms of who we are and the incredible opportunities we have in this state, and people’s quality of life is better, whether it be services we’re delivering or whether it be the infrastructure.

I was struck in the election campaign talking to an electrician out of Campbelltown and a widening of the M5, which is one of the critical arteries here, which is the first part of a massive upgrade we’re doing on the motorway network. He said that alone delivered him on a nightly basis about 30 minutes quicker travel time. So he was home 30 minutes quicker which meant he got to see his his six-month-old, his two-year-old, before they went to bed. And he was just saying that it was such an improved life for him.

And that really put a spring in my step because I thought, well, if we can do that on a citywide basis across all of this infrastructure, that’s something to be proud of. And that’s what we’re committed to do.

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