NSW Premier Mike Baird faces a massive credibility challenge one year out from an election. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen
The credibility of the NSW government has been hanging by a thread since the resignation of premier Barry O'Farrell last month.
O'Farrell's decision allowed cleanskin Mike Baird to step into the job in a bid to stem the bleeding that started when energy minister Chris Hartcher resigned from cabinet in December and continued when he and fellow central coast MPs Darren Webber and Chris Spence had their memberships of the parliamentary Liberal party suspended.
The resignation from cabinet of Mike Gallacher on Friday after he was accused of corrupt conduct in relation to the same alleged slush fund, Eightbyfive, that has tainted Hartcher and his colleagues risks blowing any remaining trust in the government to pieces in the mind of the public.
The message it sends is appalling. Gallacher is not only Police Minister but also Leader of the Government in the Legislative Council. In other words, he has enjoyed the position of a respected leader of the parliamentary wing of the Liberal party.
Yet he is accused of corruptly colluding with Hartcher in a "scheme" to funnel illegal political donations to the Liberal candidates on the central coast. To top it off Gallacher is a former policeman who was presiding over the attestation of 180 new officers at the academy in Goulburn around the time the corruption allegations were made against against him.
Baird's elevation to the Premier's office promised the government a fresh start, but any benefit his appointment might have delivered gets eroded with every sensational new revelation aired at the Independent Commission Against Corruption.
Public hearings at this particular ICAC have several weeks to run. On the witness list next week are two senior Liberals: Mark Neeham, who was until late last year the party's state director; and NSW Liberal finance director Simon McInnes.
Each is expected to be questioned about allegations the party knowingly solicited and used illegal donations to bankroll its 2011 state election victory.
So while the parliamentary wing of the Liberals is reeling, party head office in William Street is likely to be under siege as well.
It's hard to imagine a more difficult situation for a political organisation less than a year out from an election.