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Many people just don't like Baird's vibe

By Peter West - posted Tuesday, 7 June 2016


Here in New South Wales we find ourselves with a government under Mike Baird. He came in as a virtual cleanskin. Rather like a fresh young chardonnay, really. There had been some minor scandal after Barry O'Farrell accepted an expensive bottle of Grange Hermitage and resigned in some haste. Little was known about Baird. A short election campaign was held soon after his accession to power, mainly focused on selling electrical poles and wires. The News Limited press eagerly endorsed him. Baird had a solid win and seemed like a very popular Premier who was always pictured smiling and looked for a time like a nice change after the stink of corruption that had followed Labor.

It's the vibe man

But slowly, there's been a realisation in many parts of the community that Baird all the time has had an agenda many don't like. He has made enemies with the removal of ancient trees along a corridor marked for light rail. If a group of 'Knitting Nannas' oppose coal seam gas, laws are passed to make sure they don't interfere with the construction of mines. Potentially, they will be jailed. And there are many other examples of ordinary people sidelined and private interests being favoured. In sum, a meeting outside Sydney Town Hall a week ago emphasised that the whole of 'Baird's vibe' was hostile to ordinary people and in favour of property developers and wealthy businessmen.

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The end of councils

Take local council amalgamations, for example. Some councils are –at least in part- corrupt; and some councillors have been involved in shady dealings of questionable legality. There are inefficiencies, but there wasn't much justification for sweeping all councils aside. The Baird Government seems to have decided to run local government with some 'sound' administrators ( as Sir Humphrey Appleby used to use the term in Yes, Minister). And then start again with some elections late next year. A lot of important decisions can be made quickly in the interim.

Legal challenges to these amalgamations have been mounted (for example in Woollahra). The legal challenges seem to be increasing; and the question of adequate consultation has been raised. This may have legal ramifications. And there could possibly be some negative effects for the Liberals in the Federal election.

Mock consultations

In his social media and public declarations, Baird uses many popular phrases, consultation, efficiency, progress, and so on. But too often there has been a kind of mock consultation in which the conclusions were already determined.

If a few people moan about all this, and bring the city to a standstill, the Daily Telegraph said, then clearly they are ill-advised, left-wing types and similar. The paper made front-page headlines of the woman who spat at a meeting on amalgamations. This is an old tactic – called, I think, the 'straw man' trick: pick on the most extreme view and lambast all people opposing similar views. But many of those opposed to the amalgamations seem like normally quiet, middle-aged people, and many are probably habitual Liberal voters.

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Tree-felling

Then there is the matter of the light rail. Clearly a big city like Sydney needs more public transport. The heavy rail we have is essentially the same as it was in the 1930s, plus a couple of spur lines like the one to Olympic Park and an expensive link to the airport. A good tram track might prove useful in helping people move about. But was it really necessary to clear away hundreds of ancient trees to make way for the light rail? Ah, it seems that a hotel will also be built, just handy to the racecourse. We were told a story that was only half true.

Why didn't the managers of Centennial Park protest? There lies a tale. Centennial Park is under the care of the Centennial and Moore Park Trust. That was virtually privatised a couple of years ago. There are no trade unionists, social workers, schoolteachers, or similar on the Trust. They all have business experience of one kind or another. The Trust was not apparently upset by the clearing-away of the trees, despite much noise in local papers and a number of public demonstrations. The Trust's publicity talks of consultation and community opinion and so on. But we are familiar with this trick: put out lots of spin, pretend to listen, and then do what you want.

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About the Author

Dr Peter West is a well-known social commentator and an expert on men's and boys' issues. He is the author of Fathers, Sons and Lovers: Men Talk about Their Lives from the 1930s to Today (Finch,1996). He works part-time in the Faculty of Education, Australian Catholic University, Sydney.

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