Mike Baird announced he was stepping down as NSW premier today, and leaving politics, less than halfway through his first term as the state’s elected leader.
Baird, who’s been the MP for Manly for a decade, and premier for less than three years, is the state’s 44th leader after taking over from Barry O’Farrell, who resigned after three years in the wake of an ICAC investigation into illegal developer donations to political parties.
While the nation has been focused on the perceived instability of federal politics, where six prime ministers (albeit the same one, Kevin Rudd, twice) have led Australia in less than a decade since John Howard lost the December 2007 election, when NSW gets a new premier next week, the state will match that record with six leaders in a decade.
That turnover is extraordinary compared to the relative leadership stability NSW enjoyed over the previous 30 years since Neville Wran led the state for more than a decade from 1976.
Between 1976 and 2005, when Bob Carr stepped down after 10 years in power, NSW had just five premiers. If you count from Carr over the subsequent 12 years, that figure is now seven, from Morris Iemma (3 years), to Nathan Rees (1 year), Kristina Kenneally (16 months), O’Farrell (3 years) and now Baird (31 months).
Baird offered a long list of achievements during his retirement announcement today, but while he showed zeal and enthusiasm during his time as leader, seeing those projects through will now be left to his successor.
There’s now doubt Baird had a poor year, falling dramatically from his initial highs as the country’s most popular politician, but this seems a strange time to depart, seemingly halfway through his agenda.
Of course Baird demonstrated a willingness to back down when the politics demanded it, as his change of heart over the greyhound racing ban revealed, but he leaves his successor a range of unfinished business to address, from Westconnex, which still lacks a complete vision, to the multi-billion redevelopment of Sydney’s inner west harbour foreshore, council amalgamations (elections will be held in September this year), cost blowouts and delays in the city’s light rail project, the Circular Quay redevelopment, the sale of a range of public assets, James Packer’s Barangaroo casino and hotel, and the relocation of the Powerhouse museum to western Sydney, to name just a few.
Then there’s the ongoing battle over the city’s lockout laws, which combined with the Packer’s Barangaroo plan, saw critics dub the premier “Casino Mike”.
Baird had plenty of fans, but his approach has also attracted vehement community opposition.
For some his departure is way too soon, while others will rejoice in the belief that they’ve vanquished a formidable foe.
And after the drubbing the Nationals received at the Orange by-election late last year, losing the seat after 69 years to the Shooters, Fishers and Farmers Party in an unprecedented 20%-plus swing, the attention of government MPs would undoubtedly be turning towards the 2019 election and whether their leader could turn around momentum.
That job will now be left to the new leader, who has the opportunity to start with a clean slate and make changes where necessary with an eye to winning the Coalition a third term against a lacklustre yet seemingly resurgent Labor.
Baird has been blessed by a remarkably close and loving family. His daughter is getting married this year.
Today he cited the health problems of his parents among the concerns weighing on his mind. His father, Bruce, a former state and federal MP, had open heart surgery and his mother is now in 24-hour care.
“That’s very tough to watch as a son,” he said.
And the cancer his sister, ABC Drum presenter and columnist Julia Baird, was diagnosed with in 2015 has re-emerged once again.
In such moments, Mike Baird, a devout man, undoubtedly saw where the most important role in his life lay. It was not Macquarie Street’s rough and tumble or his next jocular Facebook post.
He said when elected in 2007 that he didn’t want to be a career politician. In that respect, Mike Baird’s kept his promise.
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