New Premier Mike Baird has foreshadowed changes to the way lobbyists operate in NSW, declaring people are ‘‘incredibly disappointed and shocked’’ at what has unfolded before the Independent Commission Against Corruption in recent weeks.
An hour after being elected unopposed by Liberal MPs on Thursday, following the dramatic resignation of Barry O’Farrell the day before, Mr Baird conceded there were community concerns about lobbyists, fund-raising and political donations. ‘‘We will in coming days and weeks have more to say about additional measures to bring that confidence back in government,’’ he said.
Mr O’Farrell resigned after giving misleading evidence under oath to the ICAC about the gift of a $3000 bottle of Penfolds Grange from Liberal fund-raiser and former lobbyist Nick Di Girolamo shortly after the 2011 election.
Mike Baird has been elected NSW Liberal leader, while Gladys Berejiklian has become deputy leader following Barry O'Farrell's shock resignation on Wednesday. Photo: Marco Del Grande
The commission is investigating Mr Di Girolamo’s role in an infrastructure company Australian Water Holdings, which has links to the family of corrupt former Labor powerbroker Eddie Obeid.
The inquiry has heard Mr Di Girolamo lobbied Mr O’Farrell both in opposition and in government in an ultimately unsuccessful bid to secure support for a lucrative public private partnership.
ICAC has previously recommended a tightening of the rules around lobbyists in NSW, including a requirement for companies and associates lobbying ministers to be registered and for details of the meetings to be made public.
Out and about: NSW Premier Mike Baird in Manly on Friday morning. Photo: Kate Geraghty
Mr O’Farrell resigned despite not being accused of corrupt conduct, prompting criticism of ICAC’s role his downfall.
While expressing his disappointment at Mr O’Farrell’s fate, Mr Baird strongly defended ICAC and its processes. ‘‘ICAC is doing exactly what is should be doing,’’ he said.
During his first news conference after assuming the leadership, Mr Baird was asked about a range of policy directions, including the potential sale of the state’s electricity distribution network – the poles and wires – but he repeatedly declared ‘‘today is not about policy’’.
He was also challenged on how well he knows Mr Di Girolamo, given he was involved as shareholding minister in his appointment to the board of State Water Corporation in mid-2012. Mr Baird said he was not a friend of Mr Di Girolamo’s, but declined to elaborate. ‘‘Appointments are signed up to by the full cabinet,’’ he said. ‘‘In hindsight, should that have been done? No.’’
Animation: Rocco Fazzari
Flanked by his wife Kerryn and three children, Mr Baird outlined the type of premier he hoped to be.
‘‘I’m someone that believes in consultation, I’m someone that believes in merit, I am someone that is in this game to make a difference for the people of NSW,’’ he said.
‘‘My hope is by the time I’m done that’s exactly what they’ve seen.’’
Mr Baird was also joined by the newly elected deputy leader of the Liberal Party, Gladys Berejiklian, who was also elected unopposed.
Despite speculation Ms Berejiklian might seek the job of treasurer, she confirmed Mr Baird had agreed with her decision to remain as Transport Minister. Mr Baird indicated he could remain Treasurer to see through the budget on June 17. Passing the responsibility to a new treasurer would be ‘‘a difficult affair. It would pretty much be a classic hospital pass’’.
Asked if he expected to undertake a significant cabinet reshuffle, he said: ‘‘Stability is important, experience is important, but clearly there will be some changes’’.
Mr Baird said he had spoken to Mr O’Farrell, who was ‘‘in incredible spirits despite events’’ and indicated he wished to stay in parliament. ‘‘We are shocked and saddened at events in the last 48 hours,’’ he said.
One question appeared to stun Mr Baird, a committed Christian who is socially conservative on many issues. ‘‘Do you still believe homosexuality is a lifestyle decision?’’ he was asked. After a pause he responded: ‘‘That’s not a question I expected at this press conference. Listen, that’s not something I’m going to get into here’’.
Opposition Leader John Robertson said Mr Baird was ‘‘part of the cultural problem in the Liberal Party and its close relationship with donors and lobbyists.’’
‘‘As treasurer Mike Baird appointed Liberal Party donors, including Nick Di Girolamo, to lucrative taxpayer-funded positions on government boards.’’