Australia has lost one of its most paternalistic politicians, with New South Wales (NSW) Liberal Party premier Mike Baird announcing his retirement on Thursday. Baird cited family reasons for his decision — his father, former MP Bruce Baird, has recently had heart surgery, and his sister, the journalist Julia Baird, is currently undergoing cancer treatment.
Baird’s shock departure mirrors his rapid rise in NSW politics. Just four years after being elected as an MP in 2007, Baird became the state’s treasurer. He then became premier in April 2014, after an alarmingly trivial corruption scandal forced his predecessor to resign (premier Barry O’Farrell had mistakenly lied about receiving a bottle of wine as a gift). Baird’s charisma and down-to-earth demeanour made him popular among the electorate, so much so that his government’s re-election campaign in 2015 used the slogan ‘Back Baird’ (unusually presidential by the standards of Australian state politics).
But his popularity wasn’t to last. His highly paternalistic leadership style quickly proved divisive. Now, after less than three years as premier, he leaves with a mixed legacy, at best.
On the one hand, Baird’s government finally began infrastructure projects that previous governments continually announced, but failed to deliver. He also leaves his state in a strong economic position, with the stockbroking firm CommSec’s State of the States report rating NSW as Australia’s best-performing economy last October. The state is also debt-free for the first time in 20 years.
But for many, Baird will be remembered for putting the final nail in the coffin of Sydney’s reputation as a global city.