Nick Greiner, who has known Mr Baird since he was a boy, speaks of him glowingly.Uh-oh.
"I think he will be fantastic. His first strength ... is that he's economically and financially literate, and the state government at the end of the day is all about that," Mr Greiner said.
Mike Baird has just been sworn in as NSW Premier, and he is already doomed. Nobody will buy this asset sale recycling thing, and Baird won't be much good at selling it. Nobody believes that selling electricity assets will make consumer electricity bills cheaper, nor that selling public hospitals will improve healthcare, nor that better roads or other services will result from sell-offs.
Baird will probably not be as economic rationalist as Greiner was, and in the last two paragraphs of this he appears to back away from privatisation proposals. However, having defeated Labor, and with a party apparatus that is not above the self-defeating behaviour of its opponents, Baird needs a narrative to stay in office. That narrative is asset recycling: selling existing assets to build new and better ones.
As far as privatising hospitals goes: no, and no. Any Coalition MP who has a hospital privatised in heir area is done for next March unless they fight it tooth-and-nail, regardless of their margin in 2011.
NSW's electricity network is run down because successive governments have taken the money that should have been used for upgrades and put them into consolidated revenue, decreasing the amounts they have needed to raise from taxes and from Canberra. It operates on a nineteenth-century paradigm, where coal-fired generators far from the city transmit power to the city along high-voltage lines, such that the amount of power that actually reaches businesses and homes is far less than that actually generated at the state's ageing power stations.
The previous Labor government had a number of goes at selling the state's electricity infrastructure. Every time they tried, the price got lower and lower. Every time the sale was stymied by the relevant unions, which were influential in ALP preselections and affected policy accordingly. Now we have a government where unions play no role in its preselections; generation companies have been sold, and the distribution systems ('poles and wires') are next. Barry O'Farrell said that he would not sell them until he had a mandate, and now Baird is saying the same thing (i.e. the sale will take place next year).
They are repeating the malarkey that the sale of the distribution system means a better deal for consumers, without explaining how this is to be achieved. It's bullshit strategy and the government will embarrass itself every time it pushes this. At about the time the distribution systems are to be sold, the Federal government is expected to have demolished the carbon pricing mechanism, and go through the pantomime of acting all shocked when a) household electricity do not go down as promised, and b) whatever pissant concessions are wrung from power companies will not last long and incur no gratitude from voters.
The NSW government will be promising voters that they'll get a better deal from their power going forward, while sweetening the deal to potential purchasers which will not involve limiting what they can charge consumers. You'd need deft political skills to talk out both sides of your mouth like that, and just because you have what it takes to get the job it doesn't necessarily mean you have the skills and rat-cunning required to do the job.
NSW has a lotta roads to build: the Pacific Highway up the north coast, the spaghetti junction around Badgery's Creek, and the WestConnect proposal, not to mention rail links across Sydney that barely scratch the surface of what the city needs. There is a lot of downsides to cancelling those projects, or letting them run over time/budget, but no upside in having delivered them.
If all that means Baird takes the $30 billion privatisation of the state's electricity "poles and wires" to the election, he will face a fierce opponent in Labor leader John Robertson.Garbage. Robertson has been a joke for three years.
Three years before that, as NSW Labour Council Secretary, he overplayed the unions' hand in a prior episode of the power sale game, bringing down Morris Iemma as Premier and Michael
It's lazy analysis on the part of the state parliamentary press gallery to assume that bad news for the Coalition is good news for Labor, or vice versa.
The seats on the state's northern coast are good examples where the failure of this approach is evident: if the Coalition are going to lose those seats, they will more likely lose them to independents rather than Labor. The press gallery hear a lot about western Sydney but don't know a lot about it; wait until this government, like its federal counterpart, gets mugged in rural areas by independents.
Mike Baird will need to be a master politician to counter this drift away from his government, to stop voters taking it for granted and to stop them/us regarding him as some dessicated calculating machine. He may not be around to see the completion of the 'recycling' (those shiny shiny new fully-funded and costed assets, which politicians love to declare open). Mad politics happens between the commissioning of things and their completion. Appointing Andrew Constance, a jukebox of political cliches, as Treasurer may well help Baird reinvent his persona but it won't help the way he thinks. Baird is yet to be tested as a deft warrior in dealing with disparate groups (gunlosers, independents, Christianists); in a sense, Labor is the least of his worries.
Mere economic competence is not sufficient. Barry O'Farrell knew this, Nick Greiner still hasn't learned it. John Robertson probably understands this, but he is far from being a master politician. We are more likely to see the emergence of masterful practitioners of politics at the micro level, who will come together and work out what the macro system needs. This presages a new politics, tentative and ramshackle but agile. This new politics will occur over the dead body of the traditional media (of which the press gallery, and its absurdly exalted role within traditional media organisations, is part), and I'm cool with that.