6000-strong march against Baird in Sydney on May 29..
“Beyond the amiable, good-bloke persona, [NSW Premier] Mike Baird is an aggressively neoliberal politician, who has quietly privatised dozens of state entities.
“At Barangaroo and Darling Harbour he has allowed gross development which has ruined the ambience of both iconic sites. The government agency Urban Growth is working hand in glove with rapacious developers against the public interest. The TAFE [Technical and Further Education] system has been gutted and National Parks staffing decimated.”
The above assessment is typical of letters published recently by the Sydney Morning Herald, following its August 27 editorial, headed: “Baird's Bubble Bursts: Once one of the nation's most popular politicians, Mike Baird is suffering a voter backlash”.
An August 27 ReachTEL poll for Fairfax Media showed Baird trailing NSW Labor opposition leader Luke Foley as preferred premier, 48.7% to 51.3%.
This compares to a poll conducted before the March 2015 state election, which the Coalition won despite a swing to Labor, in which Baird led Foley as preferred premier by a whopping 56% to 27%.
The ReachTEL poll shows Labor level with the Coalition on 50% each in two-party preferred terms — a substantial swing of 4% away from the government. An election carried out in the near future would be neck and neck.
Baird — now known as Mike “Bad” — is feeling the heat from widespread opposition to his relentless support for the controversial WestConnex tollway project; the sacking of dozens of local councils and their forced mergers with nearby councils; and the privatisation of public assets including the electricity network, state-owned properties and social services.
Most recently, Baird has been accused of covering up for former NSW Liberal MPs who have been named in an Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) report. The report, tabled in the NSW parliament on August 30, found that nine Liberal MPs can be prosecuted for “evasion” of state laws which ban electoral donations from property developers.
Foley and Greens spokesperson David Shoebridge have demanded Baird amend the campaign finance laws to permit offenders to be prosecuted. The current legislation puts a three-year limit on legal action and the alleged offences took place in 2010. Baird is resisting, saying the former MPs have already paid a “heavy price” — damage to their reputations.
Baird is also under pressure to sack health minister Jillian Skinner over a number of tragic incidents in Sydney public hospitals, including the death and serious injury to two babies over a mix-up of gas lines in neonatal wards.
Baird is under increasing fire for pushing on with Australia's biggest and most expensive privatised roadway project, WestConnex, currently estimated to cost $17 billion and growing. While a recent poll published by Fairfax showed that just 6% do not believe it will be good for Sydney and 48% believe it will, an almost equally large number — almost 46% — were undecided. This has a lot to do with the segmentation of the tollway project, with parts already underway and others still being planned, or re-planned.
Those whose homes are being forcibly acquired, after being under-valued, and those who are witnessing the destruction of trees and parks are protesting and calling for the expansion of public transport instead. The sleeper issue of rising road tolls for western suburbs commuters to pay for WestConnex is yet to have an impact.
However, the federal government's decision to block the sale of a major part of the state's power industry, Ausgrid, to potential Chinese buyers, has dealt the project another blow. It may yet help kill off WestConnex by halting, or severely reducing, the main source of funding.
Baird's decision to close down the cruel greyhound racing industry has also lost him support from supporters of the industry. Sydney's early lock-out laws, affecting pubs and clubs in the inner city, have also generated a lot of heat.
The privatisation of public housing all over NSW, and most notably in inner Sydney, is another reason for Baird's downturn in the polls. Public housing tenants have been evicted from their homes in historic and beautiful Millers Point, and nearly 400 homes have been sold. There is also a plan to demolish public housing at Waterloo to allow for the private development of expensive apartments.
Recently, unionists in Newcastle rallied against the NSW government's decision to outsource the construction of new trains to a South Korean company, with the likely loss of hundreds of jobs in the state.
Teachers and students have been campaigning for years against cuts to TAFE, and public sector unions have been protesting jobs and service cuts in NSW.
On August 30 a parliamentary inquiry heard that more than two-thirds of NSW schools are full and 180 are stretched beyond capacity. This overcrowding will only worsen as the number of school children increases without adequate planning.
All these concerns, and more, were behind the 6000-strong march against Baird in Sydney on May 29. It was one of the largest marches for some time. The various protest movements are growing and the challenge now is to unite them into a force strong enough to defeat Baird and his neoliberal agenda.
The NSW state election is not due until 2019, but a strong movement can force Baird back. The struggle against neoliberal state and federal governments is the critical challenge facing the social movements and the unions right now.