New NSW Premier Mike Baird has vowed to take action on lobbyists, political fundraising and influence peddlers in the light of the Independent Commission Against Corruption inquiry which brought down Barry O’Farrell.
In his first press conference after being elected Liberal leader, Mr Baird said he would announce additional measures to return confidence in government in NSW.
Mr Baird secured NSW’s top job after a 7am meeting with his rival Gladys Berejiklian, who withdrew early this morning.
Ms Berejiklian was unopposed as deputy leader, after a day of political manoeuvring in which possible rivals Andrew Constance, Pru Goward and Anthony Roberts all withdrew or decided not to stand.
Mr Baird said he was shocked and saddened by the events of the past 48 hours.
“There’s no other way to describe it,” Mr Baird said.
“As we have reflected on it, I think there’s one clear thing that comes through: Barry O’Farrell has done a great job.
“His legacy is positive and it’s permanent.”
He said NSW was leading the nation in economic growth and was starting to fix the state’s finances while putting $30 billion in infrastructure projects on line.
“Much has been said in recent days about integrity in government and I say this: Barry O’Farrell is a man of integrity.
“But the public has spoken, they do have concerns, and in the days and weeks (to come) we will have more to say about additional measures to bring that confidence back in government.”
Mr Baird said he had spent three years stabilising NSW after the Labor era. “We have paid a great foundation. I don’t want just want to stabilise NSW. I want to transform it.”
He said he did not want people to vote for him next year simply because he wasn’t the Labor Party.
“You will be voting for us because of what we are going to do for NSW,” he said.
The 45-year-old dodged specific policy questions, refusing to talk about his opposition to same-sex marriages, laughing that it was the one question he wasn’t expecting.
He vowed to continue the work of his predecessor Mr O’Farrell, pledging a continuation of big spending capitals works and the sale of ports and power stations to fund them.
But he was less clear about the most obvious way to fund them, by selling the remaining publicly owned parts of the electricity industry – the transmission and distribution businesses, otherwise known as the poles and wires.
Mr Baird said the sale – which could yield the state upwards of $10 billion - would require a fresh mandate, leaving open the possibilities that he will go to next year’s election with that policy.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott congratulated Mr Baird, saying he would be “a fine leader for NSW”.
The Prime Minister, who also hails from NSW, said he had known Mr Baird for many years.
“I know he will discharge his responsibilities with integrity and honour,” Mr Abbott said.
“There is no greater honour than to serve the people you are elected to represent at the very highest level, and Mike will be a fine leader for NSW.”
Mr Abbott praised Mr Baird for keeping “a firm hand on the NSW finances” as treasurer.
The PM also congratulated Gladys Berejiklian on becoming deputy Liberal leader.
“Gladys has been a champion of better transport for Sydney residents in both Government and Opposition,” he said.
Mr Abbott repeated his praise for Barry O’Farrell, whose shock resignation yesterday triggered the changes.
“Barry returned order and good government to NSW after many turbulent years. He has served the constituents of NSW well; restoring integrity to the Budget, reducing the debt burden and investing in the infrastructure and services needed to get the state moving.” Mr Abbott said.
“Barry has acted with great honour. I wish Barry, his wife Rosemary and their family all the very best for what lies ahead.”
Ms Berejiklian will continue as Transport Minister, continuing projects such as the $8 billion North West rail link she has been working on since 2011.
Mr Baird suggested that he might retain the Treasury portfolio, at least until the state budget in June.
Mr O’Farrell resigned on Wednesday after the Independent Commission Against Corruption found a thank you note he wrote in 2011 for a $3000 bottle of wine he had denied receiving.
It was a gift from Nick Di Girolamo, the head of Australian Water Holdings, a company which was lobbying to get a contract with the incoming government
Mr Baird is the son of former deputy NSW Liberal leader Bruce Baird. He is a committed Christian who has been an MP since 2007, and previously worked in the banking industry.
His first task will be to form a new ministry, expected to be announced early next week.
The Liberal deputy’s position is largely a ceremonial role, as the Deputy Premier will remain the National leader Andrew Stoner. It does, however, attract an extra salary of $18,000 per year.
Mr Stoner welcomed Mr Baird’s elevation.
“The Nationals fully support the incoming Premier and, together with the Liberals, are committed to providing strong, stable and responsible government for NSW,’’ Mr Stoner said.
He praised Mr Baird’s term as treasurer, saying he delivered on $13 billion for regional infrastructure.
“Since being elected in March 2011, the NSW Liberals and Nationals have worked tirelessly to turn this state around with NSW now creating more new jobs than any other state and new roads, rail lines and hospitals under construction,’’ he said.
The Liberal party had sought to avoid a messy battle over who should replace Mr O’Farrell.
Speaking earlier this morning, Mr Baird said the new Liberal leader and premier must be able to ensure the unity of the party as it heads toward a state election next year.
He has been the government’s star performer, both in the parliament and in selling government assets to fund the ambitious infrastructure.
Although he has been careful to be loyal to his leader, it’s believed he is in favour of selling the remaining “poles and wires’’ of the electricity industry, which could give the state another $10 billion to spend.
Mr Baird’s star rose when he sold Port Kembla and Port Botany for a net $4bn, as well as unwinding the disastrous hybrid privatisations of the power generators attempted by the Labor Party, which left the state with potentially big liabilities.
But he is largely untested in a crisis and is presiding over a $2.5 billion budget deficit, which isn’t expected to return to surplus until 2016-17.
He will also have to confront the fact he appointed Nick Di Girolamo _ the man at the centre of the ICAC investigation, and who gave Mr O’Farrell the now notorious bottle of wine _ to a board position on the government-owned State Water Corporation.
Additional reporting: Phillip Hudson