Review: a year in New South Wales politics

Premier Mike Baird.
Premier Mike Baird in the hot seat for another four years. Marc Stapelberg


ONCE the last fireworks ember faded over Sydney Harbour, it was back to battle stations for our politicians.

This was an election year and there were promises to make, flesh to press and photogenic babies in need of public cuddles.

Carry-over Premier Mike Baird and his Liberal-Nationals were always favourites to secure another four years at the winners' table, and they did not disappoint.

A few surprises cropped up though, not least the Greens stripping the Nationals of a seat for the first time in history.

Ballina candidate Tamara Smith earned her party another voice in parliament, beating the Nationals' Kris Beavis for the seat his retiring party-mate Don Page vacated after 27 years.

It was tooth-and-nail for Lismore as well, with the Greens' Adam Guise playing second fiddle to incumbent Nationals MP Thomas George by the closest of margins.

The failure of the newly-formed No Land Tax Party to secure any seats despite lucking out with the top "donkey vote" spot on the ballot brought its own dramas.

Hundreds of workers who manned polling booths for the party have still not been paid, and the Fair Work Ombudsman is on the case.

Labor lost the election decisively, but it was not the trouncing many expected.

Opposition Leader Luke Foley declared the "heartland has returned" during his concession speech, referring to Labor regaining seats in Western Sydney and the Central Coast.

Luke Foley
Luke Foley Photo from Facebook

But the real winners were Teflon Mike and his team, with a lower house majority and the tools to generally get the Christian Democrats on board to form a cross-party majority in the upper house.

It made passing the most controversial feature of their campaign a cinch.

Labor and the unions copped all sorts of flak for their "scaremongering" and "racist" advertisements about China controlling the state's electricity networks if the Baird government's privatisation plan went through.

All their efforts proved vain, and the winning consortium for the 99-year lease of Transgrid was announced in November with no Chinese investors making the $10.258 billion cut.

The 50.2% leases of Ausgrid and Endeavour Energy are still on the cards.

It means the government can push ahead with its $20 billion infrastructure spend over two decades, including $6 billion for the regions.

Julie Bishop received a hero's welcome when she visited the NSW Liberals' victory party, where Baird arrived amid chants of "four more years".

The fact Baird won on such an unpopular privatisation platform was testament to his personal popularity.
Election over, it was time to get back to business.

NSW Premier Mike Baird (pictured) has ruled out a shark cull for the state's North Coast. Photo Contributed
Mike Baird's personal popularity won through despite some unpopular reforms. Contributed

The government's dogged push for council amalgamations was one of the most divisive policies on its books.

A review deemed only 57 of the state's 152 councils were fit to stand alone, despite most rural and regional local governments meeting the financial criteria.

Tensions came to a head at the LGNSW annual conference in October when Local Government Minister Paul Toole thanked councillors who were about to lose their jobs through mergers.

"For those of you who are completing your last term in local government, I thank you for your service to your community," he said.

The government initially said there would be no forced mergers, but many suspect that stance has changed.

Councils across the state deemed "unfit for the future" are banding together to seek legal action against the review's findings.

NSW Local Government Minister Paul Toole gets an icy reception from protesters against forced council amalgamations at the Local Government NSW annual conference at Rosehill Gardens Racecourse in Sydney. Photo Chris Calcino
NSW Local Government Minister Paul Toole gets an icy reception from protesters against forced council amalgamations at the Local Government NSW annual conference at Rosehill Gardens Racecourse in Sydney. Photo Chris Calcino Chris Calcino

Coal seam gas was another contentious subject.

A bill to establish a five-year state-wide CSG moratorium and permanent no-go zones in the Northern Rivers and Pilliga regions failed by a hair's breadth.

Labor and the Greens managed to get Fred Nile's Christian Democrats on-side, but lost when the Shooters and Fishers threw their support behind the government.

MP Fred Nile (photo from Facebook)
MP Fred Nile (photo from Facebook)

Baird's team has however reclaimed 17 exploration licences since launching its buy-back scheme.

Most recently, Metgasco announced it would accept a $25 million offer for its licences in the Northern Rivers as long as its shareholders approved.

Responding to threats of terrorism proved another key feature in politics this year, particularly in light of last year's Martin Place siege.

Reports of schoolyard radicalisation and October's Parramatta shooting have strengthened parliament's resolve to push through tougher laws covering counter-terrorism, hate speech and illegal weapons.

As a reminder, the Sydney Opera House was lit up in spectacular blue, white and red following the Paris attacks in November.

It has been a turbulent year for NSW politics with the promise of another just around the corner.