Mike Baird is the new premier of New South Wales with Gladys Berejiklian as deputy leader of the NSW Liberal Party, after being elected unopposed at a party meeting this afternoon.
The result was all but certain following a deal struck between Baird, formerly treasurer under Barry O'Farrell, and Berejiklian, the other favourite for the top job. A statement released after the meeting confirmed Berejiklian would not contest the leadership ballot.
Community services minister Pru Goward, from the party’s centre right faction, and fair trading minister Anthony Roberts, from the right, were considering nominating for deputy leader, but abandoned their bids in the early afternoon.
The leadership vote followed the shock resignation of Barry O'Farrell yesterday following the emergence of evidence contradicting his statement to the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) that he had not received a $3000 bottle of Grange by the chief of the company lobbying for a Sydney Water contract.
Baird paid tribute to O'Farrell, calling him “a man of integrity”.
“We are shocked and saddened by the events of the last 48 hours and as we’ve reflected on it, Barry O'Farrell has done a great job,” he said.
“His legacy is positive and it’s permanent and all of us in NSW need to reflect on where we were to where we are today.”
But he acknowledged community disquiet about revelations heard at ICAC, and foreshadowed changes to lobbying and disclosure rules.
The O'Farrell government had previously implemented earlier ICAC recommendations including banning fees for successful lobbying efforts, and implemented a cooling-off period for ministers and senior public servants entering industries they were overseeing.
Many other ICAC recommendations – outlined in a 2010 report – were not enacted.
Last year, however, the state Liberal party announced internal rules banning party officials being lobbyists. This does not affect party officials from holding positions in organisations.
Mark Rolfe, a lecturer in political science at the University of New South Wales, said political and economic relationships within political parties are well embedded.
“Given modern politics and given Sydney, as this centre of economic activity, regardless of particular individuals, you’ve got these connections between the parties and lobbyists and developers.”
“If you look at the Liberal state executive you still have lobbyists, they may not be registered as such, but only because they didn’t fall under changes that the O'Farrell government passed.”
“Those only cover professional lobbyists with firms acting on behalf of clients, but not membership of representative organisations.”
“So you’ll find the state president of the Liberal Party, Chris Downy, is also the head of the Australian Wagering Council.”
Both Baird and Berejiklian are members of the party’s left.
Michael Hogan, associate professor of government at the University of Sydney, said members of the Liberal right faction would not be happy with the leadership.
“The interesting thing is until three years ago, when O’Farrell won the election, the right was the dominant faction, and in a way it split itself over O’Farrell.
"Some were prepared to support him and others were unhappy, but he became a well-established leader and won the election, and virtually the right has kept its head down since then,” he said.
Dr Rolfe said the party was desperate to look unified and not make public factional infighting.
“There’s a strong move to not appear like Labor with Rudd and Gillard. I’m not saying that doesn’t mean there aren’t vicious tempers going on, but they just want to keep a lid on it until March next year.”
Geoffrey Hawker, associate professor of politics at Macquarie University, said it was “clever” for Baird and Berejiklian to form a joint leadership ticket, but it wouldn’t last.
“Baird is clever because ideologically he is in the right, but comes from the left family and can speak with that hue.”
“He looks cross-factional and will try to look centrist as premier but he will disappoint the right rump who will expect something back for their support,” Dr Hawker said.
“I don’t see Baird and Berejiklian happy together in the medium-term.”
But Dr Rolfe said the leadership difficulties wouldn’t necessarily be a political gift for the NSW opposition.
“Labor can’t be too cocky about this,” he said. “There will be inroads into the Liberal majority at the next election, but Labor still has problems especially in impressing upon NSW voters what they stand for and why they should be elected.”
Dr Hogan said the past few days has seen members of both parties looking for suspicious dealings. “Liberals are worrying they may need to protect themselves and other parties looking for targets,” he said.
Berejiklian will remain transport minister, and Baird is expected to announce a cabinet reshuffle in the coming weeks.
Dr Hawker said ministers could be in the firing line because backbenchers fearing a loss of seats feel others could do better.