Federal Politics

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Treasurer takes time to find fire in his belly

There was a moment in Parliament yesterday when even Mike Baird, the rookie treasurer who had just delivered the Coalition's first state budget in 16 years, looked bored.

The Health Minister, Jillian Skinner, had been granted an extra two minutes to answer a Dorothy Dixer on the benefits to the health system of the budget, and Skinner was moving through her very comprehensive answer with the pace and flamboyance of one of those coal trains that cross the Hunter Valley.

It was that sort of day. Baird's budget was what we have come to expect of Barry's government - a triumph of adequacy.

The Treasurer began his big day tired. He is battling a flu and is into his third course of antibiotics. He had worked through Friday and Saturday night and had not taken a day off in a month. He seemed nervous addressing the media locked up on the 41st floor of Governor Macquarie Tower at about 9am, even before he was interrupted by a slow and loud test of the building's emergency alarms.

At midday he took to the floor of parliament, watched by his father, the former state and federal minister Bruce Baird.

Baird spoke solidly in long fact-filled sentences. There was criticism of the former government, but no personal abuse. Opposition members listened closely and took notes, barely even bothering to heckle. It was how a child might imagine parliamentary democracy in NSW normally functions.


Even Baird's press conference was a little flat. Occasionally, when castigating the federal government or outlining the ''tough choices'' he had been forced to make, Baird's faint Leave it to Beaver air seemed to fade. In question time the opposition's attack was listless and ill-defined, and the government easily swatted away questions about the impact of public sector jobs cuts.

Finally, 21 minutes into the session Baird fired up. His voice climbed in volume, pace and pitch until he sounded like a livestock auctioneer as he launched an off-the-cuff attack.

''What are you going to do for goodness sake?'' he yelled at the opposition's withered ranks.

''They are going around circles and you can tell by their question time strategy. They don't know what they are doing . . . We've lost 80,000 jobs one minute, 25,000 jobs the next, we've got economic growth, not enough, too much. What is it? What is it? I want to know.''

It was not quite Winston Churchill. It was not even Bob Carr. But it was all there was, and enough to get the troops stomping and cheering.

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