A Deer in the Headlights: ‘Bambi’ Reconsidered

The Premier of New South Wales is often referred to as “Bambi Baird” because to his wholesome appearance and voice. Years before he could have predicted it, he was promoted to the top position.

His promotion met with almost little resistance. The office came with perks including an unshakeable hold on the state legislature as well. Really, what’s the worst that might happen?

A Deer in the Headlights: ‘Bambi’ Reconsidered

A Deer in the Headlights: ‘Bambi’ Reconsidered

The risk in the 2015 NSW election is that it will be fought on emotive issues rather than hard data, which could work against the current Premier. So, that’s what’s going on.

Citizens have made it very obvious that they are fed up with the government selling off public assets, which are then taken over by private monopolies that charge monopoly rents.

More than two-thirds of voters have shown support for keeping state-owned power assets in the public sector, rather than selling them to private companies whose interests lie first and foremost with their shareholders.

Premier Mike Baird has chosen to disregard this warning in the hopes that he will win over voters with a $20 billion war chest to create new infrastructure. This has caused friction among the Liberal Party’s pro-business base.

Similarly, the National Party’s lengthy history of backing agrarian co-ops has made it a divisive issue among its constituents. This has brought the Green Party and Labor together.

Voters are constantly reminded of the poor bargain struck by the federal government when it sold Sydney Airport, which was once owned by the public but is now a price-gouging monopoly.

Those who drive across Sydney’s tollways do so with the uneasy knowledge that they are supporting a private monopoly that is profiteering off of a road the government should have built so that it could reinvest the proceeds.

We are reminded of the days when the Commonwealth Bank was the people’s bank and its earnings were redistributed to the populace in the form of government income every time we read about rogue employees of the bank in the news.

It Makes no Difference if these Grudges have any Basis in Reality.

They do exist. The people of Queensland recently demonstrated this by voting out a government that had successfully reined in spending and debt after inheriting a mess from Labor.

The people responded positively to that harsh discipline by swiftly returning Labor to office under the leadership of Annastacia Palaszczuk, a politician few had heard of and for whom the only apparent policy platform was a stance against privatisation.

The major difference between Premier Baird and his predecessor, Campbell Newman, in New South Wales is that Baird is just as affable as Newman was aggressive. Feelings, once more.

Voters now have a clear choice on a major issue thanks to Baird’s decision to sell the energy networks and make this the centrepiece of his government’s re-election campaign. The shocking outcome in Queensland has shown the dangers of this approach.

Energy delivery economics are complex and difficult to understand. It’s arguable that the government should keep the electricity assets, and it’s arguable that it should sell them. Not many individuals are going to investigate further. Voters will be influenced more by values and emotions than by cold, hard statistics.

The Baird Government Cannot Support this New Emotional Problem.

Plans for as many as 16 open-cut coal mines in the Upper Hunter Valley had apparently been languishing on the government’s desk for some time. An evaluation of the impact of these plans on the environment is under underway.

In the same way that the coal seam gas sector in Queensland sparked heated debate, so too has it done so in New South Wales. Water security, groundwater protection, agricultural land conservation, and farmers’ property rights are all threatened by this issue.

Additionally, regional independents are a potential threat to the federal government. Baird government is worse off now that federal MPs Tony Windsor and Robert Oakeshott have quit. When their constituents gave Labor the lowest House and Senate vote in the country in 2010, Windsor and Oakeshott used it as a mandate to form a Labor government, which they steadfastly defended for the duration of its term in office. This produced a well of animosity.

Since Windsor and Oakeshott have abandoned ship, the stigma that once surrounded the term “independent” has faded. Splits in the Nationals’ supporter base on issues like privatisation and coal mining could be expressed through protest ballots.

The focus of the New South Wales election has shifted from federal to state issues as a result of all this passion. Tony Abbott’s declining popularity is becoming irrelevant, as most of his detractors were never going to support the Coalition in the first place.

Everything now rests on Baird’s shoulders, and on March 28th, he will be punished for his missteps. This is not a deadly injury, but Bambi will have to take a lot of punishment if things continue as they are.