“THERE’S one word that describes what happened to the Liberal Party at the weekend: disaster.”
If you needed more than a single word, a ropeable Ray Hadley, from Sydney radio station 2GB, had three more on Monday morning to discuss NSW Premier Mike Baird’s decision to shut down the greyhound racing industry.
“A monumental blunder.”
In Western Sydney, the Liberal Party is “almost facing oblivion,” he said, placing the blame of Saturday’s NSW local elections squarely at Mr Baird’s action to axe the ‘dishlickers’.
Policies such as the ban on greyhound racing have turned the suburbs against the Liberals, Hadley said. It’s claims denied by Mr Baird who said the election was fought on local issues.
It’s an epic turnaround for a Premier who, at one point, had approval ratings at 60 per cent, double that of Opposition Leader Luke Foley, and was known nationwide for his amusingly bad social media posts about the Bachelor and Taylor Swift.
Last March, Mr Baird’s popularity was so high he was more popular than any leader in the previous three state or Federal elections.
Yet, last month a poll put Labor and the Liberals tying at 50-50 on a two party preferred basis. Worse, Mr Foley, once labelled Labor’s “invisible man” was now more popular than the Premier.
This weekend would have been uncomfortable for Mr Baird.
In the City of Sydney independent Clover Moore claimed a fourth term and was re-elected with an increased majority despite high hopes the Liberals would make inroads into the CBD.
But it was the result in western Sydney that really smarted as Liberal councillor after liberal councillor was toppled.
Labor claimed large swings towards it in the local government areas of Liverpool, Penrith, the Blue Mountains, Blacktown, Campbelltown and Camden.
Mr Foley said the voters had delivered a “stinging rebuff” to the Premier.
“The people of western Sydney and across NSW have sent a message to (Premier) Mike Baird,” he said.
“They’ve had enough of his highhanded, arrogant behaviour.”
How did the golden child of the Liberal party turn into such a liability so quickly?
Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce agreed with Hadley, on Sunday saying the culling of the entire greyhound racing industry had turned voters against Baird.
“I just think that the greyhound decision has not been accepted in many areas.
“It’s probably good that the local government election is out of the way; it’s a cathartic mechanism to deal with it in some form.”
Although images of cruelty to greyhounds was shocking, to some equally shocking is the loss of thousands of jobs and the death of a traditional pastime without, as they see it, the industry being given time to get its house in order.
Mr Baird rejects this and has said greyhound racing has had ample opportunity to prove it could act responsibly.
Dr Bligh Grant, a senior lecturer at UTS’ Institute for Public Policy and Governance, told news.com.au the results in Sydney were “very, very interesting” and the forced council mergers across the state were another hot button issue.
“It’s (caused a) ruction, it’s made the whole notion of local government, some would say, very controversial but other people would say very toxic,” saying that it led some voters to reject the Coalition.
And the Pandora’s box of policies doesn’t end there. The pub lockout laws, although centred on central Sydney, have spread their tentacles far beyond with bottle shops now forced to close by 10pm across NSW angering voters in traditional blue seats.
Then there’s the failed sale of the state’s electricity assets to a Chinese led consortium and the recent health scandal that saw a baby die because of shoddy hospital maintenance.
Dr Stewart Jackson, a politics lecturer at the University of Sydney told news.com.au the Liberal party was split between two wings confusing voters as to what they stood for.
“Part of this is that the old debate (in the Liberals) of do you let people get on with their lives and a social conservatism which is where Mike Baird comes in where things have be banned or stopped.”
But Dr Jackson said the Premier’s one-time high popularity meant he was due for a fall.
“In the Federal Election and the state election we also saw that swing back to Labor in Western Sydney”.
Talking on Monday Mr Baird agreed with that theory and denied the results had anything to do with greyhounds, lockouts, council mergers or anything else emanating from Macquarie St.
“In any election there’s a range of issues that play out and I strongly believe the community is very well able to determine what are local, state and federal government issues,” he said.
The Government is banking on a massive program of infrastructure, from new railways and roads to hospitals, to bring to voters around.
And it might just work, said Dr Jackson.
“Parties have their ups and downs there’s nothing to stop (the electorate) going up and down again too,” he said.
“The say (governments) do all the stuff that will make people unhappy in the first couple of years and you do nice things in the run up to the elections. So it’s better to do that stuff now and not going into the next state election in 2019.
“By then voters will see tracks on the ground, and new trains and trams running, and the worst of it will be over.”
By then we’ll also now if the banning of dishlickers was just momentary pause in Mr Baird’s popularity or if it was the moment the turnaround against a Premier really began.