New South Wales Premier Mike Baird, known to some as “Casino Mike,” resigned unexpectedly on Tuesday after three years on the job.
Baird cited the ill-health of several family members as his reason to throw in the towel, along with the “strong personal cost” of public life.
“At times, I have been in pain at not being able to spend the time that I should [with them] … this will change today,” he said.
While Baird admitted the past year had been tough, politically and personally, he said was broadly happy with his tenure, particularly with NSW’s emergence as an economic powerhouse over the past few years.
“Remember what NSW was like,” he asked. “It was a basket case. It now has the strongest economic growth, it has the strongest jobs growth, it’s got the strongest and highest housing approvals in the nation, and the lowest unemployment rate.”
Baird began 2016 as, hands down, one of the most popular politicians in the country, with an approval rating of 63 per cent. But that dipped over the course of the year.
He earned the nickname “Casino Mike,” largely due to his controversial liquor lock-out laws, which prohibited pubs and venues in the central business district from admitting customers after 1:30 am.
The aim was to reduce alcohol-related violent crime, and it worked, according to statistics. It also remains reasonably popular, but it is also polarizing.
Opponents accused the laws of destroying Sydney’s nightlife and infringing on personal liberties, while the fact the Star City Casino was exempted from the law led to accusations of favourable treatment and of Baird cosying up to the casino industry.
That James Packer’s Crown Sydney, currently under construction in Bangagaroo, also fell outside the liquor lockout catchment area also created further suspicion.
The fact is that Baird, with his clean-living Christian surfer image, probably hated the Casino Mike moniker, but he understood the economic benefits the casinos were bringing to the state.
But his biggest gambling related gaffe this year was his sudden decision to ban greyhound racing, only to backflip on the issue several months later.
For a politician in this day and age, his honesty on the mistake was refreshing, if also slightly desperate.
“We got it wrong. I got it wrong, cabinet got it wrong, the government got it wrong,” he said.
“People will call me all types of names, they really will,” he added. “They will criticize me for getting it wrong, that’s human. I mean, I’m human. Surely no-one is infallible, no governments are infallible.”