Mike Baird has shocked Australia by announcing his resignation as Premier of New South Wales and his retirement from politics. He cited health issues in his family and the need for the government to refresh for the upcoming 2016 state election. But it is likely his poor approval ratings and a series of policy blunders were also a key influence on his decision. He is only 48 and has only been in politics for 10 years. Despite coming to the leadership as a representative of social conservatives in the Liberal Party, Mike Baird as Premier oversaw the leftward drift of the New South Wales Liberal Party both in government and in its internal party structure.
Mike Baird had voted with the conservatives on key social issues such as same sex adoption and embryonic stem cell research and had a deeply held Christian faith. So conservative politicians and commentators such as Miranda Devine thought he was a safe pair of hands after his predecessor Barry O’Farrell who was from the left of the party.
But we have to remember that his father Bruce Baird, as a backbencher in the Howard government, was a constant opponent of offshore processing of refugees and claimed that the Liberal Party had lost its soul over the issue. His sister Julia Baird was an ABC journalist and fellow left wing traveller of that media outlet. As time passed it showed the apple did not fall very far from the tree.
Like his father Mike Baird called for a greater refugee intake and bringing in more asylum seekers from our offshore detention centres. He was a supporter of multicultural issues and greater immigration putting him at odds with many conservatives. He refused to remove the Safe Schools program from New South Waves public schools.
Arguably Mike Baird’s worst policy decisions were those that represented the growth of the nanny state in New South Wales. He continued to stand by Sydney’s lockout laws despite a massive public backlash. While introduced under Barry O’Farrell, Mike Baird’s refusal to take notice of the damaging effect on Sydney’s culture and nightlife the laws had resulted in led to him being the face of the nanny state in Australia.
His nanny state image was taken to a new level when his government announced that it would ban greyhound racing in the state after the results of an inquiry into the industry triggered by an ABC Four Corners report. The proposed ban would have crippled many rural and regional areas and taken away many livelihoods. He stood by it for as long as possible but was eventually forced to back down and admit he was wrong. This still led however to the resignation of his Deputy Troy Grant and lead to the Coalition losing the seat of Orange at a by-election.
Though it was not just Mike Baird’s actions as Premier that lead to a leftward drift of the Liberal Party in New South Wales. The decision making and pre-selection process of the Liberal Party internally further fell into the control of the party’s left. Left wing power brokers continued to gain pre-selections through an undemocratic processes. Mike Baird along with Malcolm Turnbull defeated a motion at the recent New South Wales Liberal State Council for greater democratization of the party.
However Mike Baird did have some positive achievements on the economic front. The New South Wales economy was the strongest performing economy in Australia and his government achieved a budget surplus. He started much needed infrastructure projects despite some initial problems with their implementation. In times of poor economic management in Australia this was an area where Mike Baird demonstrated good leadership. However, Baird’s government spending was seen as a bit too excessive by many and he also supported an increase in the GST to support more state spending.
Overall the premiership of Mike Baird represented a further departure of the Liberal Party from its conservative values and a detachment from its core support base. Even though his resignation is welcomed by many, his likely replacement Gladys Berejiklian is even further to the left than he is and we are likely to the see the Liberal Party continue to lurch to the left. Is the New South Wales Liberal Party beyond saving?
The leftist lurch of the Liberal Party is not just a phenomenon seen in New South Wales. The Liberal Party of Australia is suffering an internal and external leftist lurch with Malcolm Turnbull as the country’s Prime Minister. If we see more of the same with future Premiers or worse, then many of its long-term supporters will continue to look somewhere else as they are already doing.