A comment by an ISG Member on the Change of Premiers

I am sure that I was as surprised as many other Greens when the former Premier Mike Baird announced his resignation just a few weeks ago.

“So soon?” I thought. These Tories don’t have the staying power of their rusted-on forebears, the Bolte’s and Askins who after decades had to be either dragged kicking and screaming from office, or else got carried out feet first.

“But why him? And why now?” was my next thought and I am sure that of a lot of others too. The last time a Premier just decided it was time with no real prior indication to the public was when Bob Carr retired, and although he seemed to be cruising along, his unfortunate Labor successors seemed to show he had ‘sniffed the wind’ just in time. Was this just another impressive example of the predator’s sixth sense for danger and instinct for self-preservation?

Or was this just another case of a Liberal leader, who wasn’t necessarily an instinctive right wing maniac, finally getting sick and tired of having to resist both the opposition and the Siren Songs of the right’s suicide bombers in order to preserve a moderate policy position?

It does seem rather exhausting judging from Turnbull’s public countenance and Baird’s rapid demoralisation. But when you began to consider Baird’s time in office, and many of his ‘achievements’, it begins to seem as if the former Premier’s proboscis may have served him very well. His alleged moderation needs to be carefully re-examined.

For someone who always came over as moderate, mild and friendly, his track record and its impact on the public life of NSW in retrospect seems anything but!

Let us consider the year leading up to his political demise. We have seen

  • The gutting of ICAC and the effective removal of the Independent Commissioner as an act of revenge for forcing the resignation of multiple Coalition Ministers as electoral funding cheats. The announcement of her resignation was greeted by crowing ex-Ministers on camera on the day of the laws passing, celebrating the Commissioner’s downfall and their triumph over law and order;
  • The on-again off-again Greyhound ban, which started with Baird drawing the correct (indeed inescapable), conclusion that this industry had burned all its realistic chances at self-regulation after multiple failures and many second chances and simply could not be trusted with the welfare of animals. However, before long he was forced to back down by a few rancid radio ranters and rabid rural rubes in his coalition partner the Nationals;
  • The funding of Westconnex to the tune of tens of billions of dollars with no publicly transparent planning process, no proper federal assessment, no public business case or clear reasoning why this project was favoured over many less destructive or expensive ones with the potential to make much bigger impacts on congestion, (particularly through enhancing public transport), as well as many incidental atrocities like the felling of stands of huge fig trees and even the clearing of critically endangered Cooks River Castlereagh Ironbark Forest habitat just for the sake of a temporary Westconnex worksite;
  • The changes to laws relating to protests so that it is much harder and fraught with a lot more legal risk to protest against government decisions, particularly those relating to environmental issues, massively increasing the fines an creating new offences of hindering traffic or interfering with a mine or illegally entering enclosed lands, while potential fines for illegal mining by resource companies were reconfigured so they could go down from a potential $1.1 million to maybe $5000;
  • Council amalgamations which were conducted in a fashion antithetical in every way to grass roots democracy or the empowerment of the public;
  • The changes to land clearing laws to allow an open slather to habitat destruction across NSW on private and public lands.

The changes to land clearing laws are worthy of a special note. They were made by a Coalition terrified of some rural Trump/One Nation inspired backlash in regional areas, but also after one of the most violent and disgusting murders of a public officer in years because the murderer was a farmer who didn’t like land clearing regulations and was prepared to kill an innocent public servant who challenged his flagrantly illegal behaviour, to preserve his imaginary right to ignore the law and to destroy our shared environment. An octogenarian farmer took 45 minutes to shoot a public servant Glen Turner to death (after wounding him with his first shot and having to chase him around and around the 4 wheel drive to complete the crime for ¾ of an hour). All because he had the temerity to go onto his property to enforce the law of New South Wales when it came to protecting rare animals like Koalas and endangered habitats like the trees they live in. So much for the Coalition commitment to law and order! This was a bit worse than a unionist walking off an unsafe worksite I would think.

The ‘man’ who pulled the trigger may have got 35 years, but the Baird government, who took this horrible crime as some kind of electoral warning, insisted on changing the laws to satisfy his imagined right to destroy our country! It was cowardly and disgraceful for even a Coalition government to seek to uphold the farmer’s rights to destroy our land and to butcher anyone who interfered! An intolerable insult to the memory of the courageous public servant, Glen Turner, who gave his life for the law. Such cowardice and constitutes the opposite of leadership. Not nice Mike’s finest hour.

This is just one of a few of moderate, baby-faced Baird’s atrocities. I know it is wrong to only look at the bad and he was less awful in some ways than many other Liberals or Liberal leaders around the country. Only in some ways he was not. In some ways, he was the text book case.

Much as we used to think of Malcolm Turnbull, it was once thought that Baird was a genuine moderate and he would provide the leadership which would allow the Liberal Party to find a path to the 21st Century. But Baird, like Turnbull, did not and could not actually impose a more moderate policy upon the Liberal party. The Environment Office did not get promoted back to being a Ministry and the NSW and Australian governments are still ‘Missing In Action’ on action on climate change. In fact we are going backwards.

If we examine the performance of the Coalition state government under Baird in NSW, and the Commonwealth government under Turnbull, we see that that what ever they may have said or we may have thought, the performance has been very hard line right wing policy agenda. It has resulted in a very familiar degrading of many public goods, cutting of budgets, reduction of ambition, invariably for the sake of benefitting the usual suspects; the industrial, financial, developer, religious or agricultural allies of capital and the Coalition.

Baird was just another example of a pretty white boy being given far too much credit for gently and plausibly pursuing a right wing grab bag of nasties; while those whose ugliness cannot be concealed got away with implementing their policy agenda, chuckling and rubbing their hands with glee in the back ground, just out of camera shot.

At first we thought it was because of the factional issues within the party that tied the moderates hands, but the consistency of the hard right approach is telling. The lack of support for even beginning consideration of sounder or more equitable approaches to the problems of the state and the nation, within their own parties or within the general community, must lead us to consider that it was our initial judgement of Baird and Turnbull which were mistaken.

They are just relatively attractive sales people for deeply unattractive policies, but policies they actually support.

Their ‘show’ of reluctance sometimes was just that, all show. The reluctance (if any) was about the consequences for their vote, not because of the injustice or short sightedness of these policies.

If that is so, then all Greens must be grateful that Baird has blown through.

We can only hope that his successor, Gladys Berejiklian, the state’s first female Premier, will show more character and quality than her male colleagues have done to date. (The Coalition’s women often do).

Let’s hope so for all our sakes!