January 19, 2017
Good riddance to former state Liberal Premier Mike "Bad" Baird who announced on January 19 that he was resigning from his position.
A year ago, Mike Baird was the most popular politician in the country. By the end of last year ose, suffering one of the biggest falls in opinion polls in Australian political history.
This is largely because he took a leading role in a ruthless neoliberal political offensive. Despite the failure of the former Abbott federal government and the current Turnbull government, Baird was nevertheless able to ram through major parts of the federal Coalition's public sector cuts and other attacks on working people's economic and social rights in NSW.
Baird led the charge on privatisation with his sell-off of the state-owned power facility Ausgrid and his push to privatise huge swathes of public land, buildings and other assets. He also rammed through the forced amalgamation of local councils in the face of widespread opposition, even within the Coalition parties.
He took a stand against the cruel greyhound racing industry, but later backflipped under pressure. He was widely criticised for his laws enforcing earlier closing hours on inner-Sydney pubs and bars. He pretended to be listening to regional and rural communities concerned about coal seam gas, while also making it clear he supported the industry.
His eviction of residents from public housing — and the sell-off of their homes — especially in Millers Point, was another cruel attack. Teachers, students and others had run a concerted campaign against the NSW Coalition's cuts to TAFE and other parts of the public education system.
Nurses and doctors in the public hospitals had also campaigned ceaselessly against the privatisation of several of the state's hospitals and other health facilities. Public transport unions had put up a fight against his plans to privatise sections of the state's rail and bus system.
Baird also came under fire for weakening the Independent Commission Against Corruption and trying to cover up the corruption being revealed within members of his own Coalition parties in NSW. His arrogance knew no bounds as he also moved to criminalise the right to protest.
But a sleeper issue, which has been growing in impact as the community protests against it increase, is the monstrous WestConnex tollway and tunnel project. This project, estimated by the government to cost $17 billion and counting, has already destroyed large numbers of heritage homes and green space in Sydney's inner west, and will lead to a massive blow-out in traffic in the city's inner suburbs.
Right now, WestConnex is destroying hundreds of trees in Sydney Park for a massive network of exit roads in St Peters.
The unpopularity of WestConnex is set to escalate as commuters from Sydney's west begin to feel the full effects of the huge road tolls they will be forced to pay.
The NSW government should invest in public transport instead of tollways and road tunnels to really solve the city's transport problems but Baird was more interested in throwing money to his corporate mates through lucrative WestConnex contracts.
As a result of this increasing community opposition to his extreme neoliberal policies, Baird has finally decided to pull the pin on his political career. There is speculation that he intends to resume his career as a merchant banker.
Whatever his stated personal reasons, Baird's resignation is a victory for people's movements in NSW. A 5000-6000-strong march on NSW Parliament last May was a clear expression of the widespread opposition to his policies. More such mobilisations are going to be necessary in the coming months as whomever becomes the next NSW premier resumes where Baird left off.
We need to get rid of the NSW Coalition government once and for all. And we should not accept a paler shade of similar policies from any future Labor government.
We want all of Baird's privatisations reversed and an end to the environmentally insane WestConnex tollway. NSW could be a leader ecologically sustainable jobs, energy and services. This will require a lot more community mobilisation and the Socialist Alliance is committed to this objective.
[Jim McIllroy is an activist in the anti-WestConnex campaign and a member of the Socialist Alliance.]