Why Mike Baird’s Not Afraid To Rock The Boat - Hope 103.2

Why Mike Baird’s Not Afraid To Rock The Boat

NSW Premier Mike Baird's getting a reputation for taking on tough issues, like council mergers & power poles, head-on. He defends his stance & explains why.

By Andrew MorrisFriday 18 Dec 2015Guests and ArtistsReading Time: 6 minutes

Listen: Mike Baird defends his forced Council Amalgations, and explains his stance on GST, the power sell-off, refugees and more.

One thing’s for sure about NSW Premier Mike Baird: he’s not shy of tackling the unpopular issues.

He’s forcing the hand of local councils to merge. He wants the GST to increase. He heralded the sale of the state’s power poles leading into an election, yet he won that election—where others would have failed.

We were keen to know why he’s happy to rock the boat by leading the way on so many unsettling changes.

So, in an interview in Mr Baird’s office above Sydney’s Martin Place, Dwayne Jeffries asked him just that.

“I think it’s quite simple,” was the premier’s answer.

“I think the community [is saying], “Tell us what problems we’re facing. Don’t give me the spin. Just tell me what are the problems, and what you’re going to do about it. I think some of those honest discussions is what the community has craved for.”

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Defending The Forced Mergers Of Local Councils

As for the forced amalgamations announced today, which will bring the number of NSW councils down from 152 to 122, Mr Baird conceded “it’s not an easy issue”.

But he believes the change is necessary.

“We’ve got 152 councils across the state which is double Queensland and Victoria,” he said.  “You can’t have a place like Parramatta Road have 10 councils up and down it. I mean it’s just too many. We are losing $365 million dollars a year. That’s not sustainable. We need less [councils] for financial sustainability.”

In country NSW, 109 regional councils will be reduced to 87. That’s more than 40 country municipalities that will have to change the way they govern. When quizzed about the complexities of those vast regions, Mr Baird agreed they would need to be treated with care.

We are losing $365 million dollars a year. That’s not sustainable.

“There are some difficulties regionally that are very unique,” he said. “And we have to consider those.”

Regardless of the discomfort, Mr Baird insists the mergers are in ratepayers’ interest.

“Over a third of councils think that they can be sustainable in the long term by very significant rate increases,” he said. “If you can take away the need for those rate increases, so we become the rate payers’ friends, you can deliver savings.”

Lower rates aren’t guaranteed. Mr Baird said that’ll be up to the councils to decide.

“Would you want to see rates go downward or put downward pressure on the rates, with those savings—or would you rather have additional services? They’re the discussions that are up to local councils to decide, not for us to decide,” he said.

“And really that’s kind of an exciting time for communities.”

How He Sold The Idea Of A Power Network Sell-Off

The day before Hope 103.2’s interview, the Premier announced the $10 billion leasing of the TransGrid electricity network.

While that’s a spectacular result for the state’s coffers, the very idea of a 99-year-lease had to get off the ground first.

It was Baird’s up-front manner in presenting the ugly facts (like an ailing health system), and waving the flag for the benefits (such as unclogged roads), that helped the controversial sell-off to succeed.

No-one wants more taxes. But do people want governments that have the capacity to fund their health services?

“Notwithstanding the scare campaigns and the political challenges, I think if you say to the people “well this is what we’re gonna do and this is how it’ll make your life better, or the life of your children better”… I think people will be open to that,” he said of his tendency to tackle the tough issues.

“That might mean you are actually having difficult discussions. No-one wants more taxes. But do people want governments that have the capacity to fund their health services as they are for the next 10 to 15 years? And at the moment, I can tell you, it’s unfunded.

“So you have to be upfront with that…then you’ve got to start taking action.

“To me, I think that’s what the community wants and that’s what the public wants. And if you’re not doing that as a leader I don’t think you’re doing your job.”

Vision For The Future

NSW Premier Mike Baird with the Treasurer, Gladys Berejiklian in an image from Mike Baird's Facebook Page

High fives: Mike Baird and treasurer Gladys Berejiklian celebrate their economic wins. Picture: Facebook.

Thankfully it’s not all pain. Sydneysiders are seeing the payoff of the great power sell-off begin, as key roads begin to transform.

“We made no apologies for a very bold infrastructure plan across NSW,” Mr Baird said. “And I think, in the back of peoples’ minds, they’re saying, “Can they really deliver that?”

“I think what this [leasing of Transgrid] has done with the stunning result it was, was show people, “OK wow, so the money is here, which means these projects are going to happen”.

“It’s a pretty exciting time, to be in a state that’s moving”.

By 2020 Sydney will be transformed, if Mr Baird’s vision is fulfilled, with the near-completion of projects like Barangaroo, Darling Harbour’s convention centre, the North Connect, the M4 Expansion and the M5 Duplication.

Refugees: Balancing Compassion And Security

Mike Baird is a strong supporter of asylum seekers, and was an early voice in the push for Australia to take in more Syrian refugees in 2015.

On this issue, he mirrors his father Bruce—who was once chair of the Refugee Resettlement Advisory Council and still acts as a patron of the Asylum Seekers Centre.

Politically, it’s a hot potato topic, but the Premier doesn’t have a problem with balancing humanitarian responsibilities with national security.

“I don’t see it as much of a fine line,” he said.

As a part of humanity, we have a responsibility to look after those in the most desperate circumstances.

“What’s our first and primary responsibility? I think, in a humanitarian cause as devastating as we’ve seen in terms of those refugees [from the Middle East] – which has created this unprecedented displacement – as a part of humanity, we have a role and responsibility to look after those in the most desperate circumstances.

“So that’s the starting point.

“Our commitment to take 12,000 Middle Eastern refugees, which is actually more than the United States has agreed to take, goes exactly to the character of our country.

“I couldn’t be prouder. As an Australian, when I see us being generous and caring to those most in need, it’s when I think we’re at our greatest.”

At the same time he doesn’t gloss over security.

“Of course we have to be prudent and responsible in the selection of those individuals,” he said. “You can go through a whole significant comprehensive process that ensures that the risk is taken out as much as possible.

“The Federal Government has said that they’re considering taking additional time in terms of the processing, and I think that is an entirely appropriate response.”

Is NSW Ready For The New Arrivals?

Mr Baird said that while New South Wales is preparing for 4,000 to 7,000 refugees, it’s a drop in the ocean compared to the one million people coming to Sydney over the next decade.

But from what he can see, the state is preparing with open arms to care for new Syrian, Iraqi and Afghani neighbours.

“There’s been this amazing rallying call,” he said. “I’ve been inundated with a lot of people that said, “I want to play a role”.

“On the Northern Beaches there was a meeting of 200 people from churches and community groups that said “we want to play a role” – mentoring, accommodation, financial assistance, linking to services. And that is being replicated across this city and across the state.

“So I’ve been very heartened by so many people saying, “we have an obligation to look after the people most vulnerable, and there by the grace of God go I, Imagine if I was in that position”.

He challenged people to put themselves in the shoes of those fleeing the Middle East, and consider how they would like to be treated themselves.

“Put yourself in those images you’ve seen on TV, and imagine what that’s like, to grab your son and your daughter and whoever else you have and walk those steps,” he said.

“How would you like to be treated? I think that is what is striking at the heart of the many good people we have here.”

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