10 questions Mike Baird must answer

Mike Baird: set to replace Barry O'Farrell. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen
Mike Baird: set to replace Barry O'Farrell. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

Mike Baird is the state's 44th premier after the shock resignation of Barry O'Farrell over misleading the Independent Commission Against Corruption.

Here are 10 questions the new Premier needs to answer.

1. What was your precise role in the appointment of Liberal fund-raiser Nick Di Girolamo to the board of State Water Corporation in mid-2012, how many times have you met him and what gifts have you accepted from him?

Mr Di Girolamo is under investigation by the Independent Commission Against Corruption over his role as chief executive of Australian Water Holdings - a company linked to the family of corrupt former Labor powerbroker Eddie Obeid. Mr O'Farrell resigned on Wednesday after giving false evidence to the ICAC that he had not received Mr Di Girolamo's gift of a $3000 bottle of Penfolds Grange shortly after the March 2011 election. The ICAC produced a hand-written thank-you note from Mr O'Farrell to Mr Di Girolamo for the wine. In July 2012, Mr Di Girolamo was appointed by the O'Farrell government to the board of State Water Corporation. Mr Baird, as Treasurer, was shareholding minister and involved in the appointment, which he has insisted was merit-based and approved by cabinet.

2. Will you take a policy advocating the sale of the electricity poles and wires to next year's election?

Barry O'Farrell initially said he would not sell the electricity poles and wires - worth up to $30 billion by some estimates - without an electoral mandate. In recent months he indicated he would not take the policy to next year's election, despite the urging of business groups. As Treasurer, Mr Baird has been a supporter of the sale due to the funds it could unlock for infrastructure.

3. Do you believe the role and powers of the ICAC need to be revisited, as some are suggesting following Mr O'Farrell's resignation?

Senior Liberals and others are questioning the role of the ICAC after Mr O'Farrell's decision to resign. They point out that there is no suggestion he acted corruptly and was effectively collateral damage as part of a much bigger investigation. Some are calling for hearings of the ICAC - such as the one which saw Mr O'Farrell give misleading evidence over a $3000 bottle of wine he received from Mr Di Girolamo - to be held behind closed doors.

4. Given the circumstances of Mr O'Farrell's resignation, will you implement all of the ICAC's recommendations tightening the rules for lobbyists and ministers being lobbied in NSW?

Following an inquiry into political lobbying in NSW in 2010, the ICAC published a list of recommendations for the then Labor government. In government Mr O'Farrell implemented two of them: a ban on lobbyist success fees and an 18-month ban on former ministers lobbying in their most recent portfolio area. But he failed to implement other proposed changes, including that companies and associations lobbying government be listed on the lobbyist register and details of meetings with ministers be published.

5. Will you require ministers to declare not only their own pecuniary interests but also those of their spouses and immediate family?

Labor has implemented this policy in opposition after a previous ICAC hearing involving Eddie Obeid found he had not declared key financial details because they were under a family trust. Labor has promised to apply this policy when it next takes government.

6. Your former chief of staff, Stephen Galilee, now runs the Minerals Council of NSW. How will you avoid the perception the coalmining industry now has a direct line to the Premier's office?

Mr Galilee left Mr Baird's office after nine months in government to become chief executive of the NSW Minerals Council. Under the present lobbying rules, neither the Minerals Council nor Mr Galilee is required to register as lobbyists, meaning that any meetings that take place between the new Premier and his former chief of staff are not required to be publicly disclosed as he is running an industry association.

7. What is your view of the future of the coal seam gas industry in NSW?

As premier, Barry O'Farrell introduced significant restrictions on where the coal seam gas industry can explore, including a ban within two kilometres of residential areas. The moves upset the coal seam gas industry.

8. How will you set about repairing the government's relationship with the Shooters and Fishers Party, which shares the balance of power in the upper house?

Since Mr O'Farrell reneged on a deal with the Shooters and Fishers Party to allow unfettered access for hunters in national parks in excahnge for support for his electricity privatisation legislation, the relationship with the government has been poisonous. It has resulted in key government legislation being blocked in the upper house.

9. Will you do deals with minor parties in the upper house to secure the passage of important legislation?

Mr O'Farrell famously said he wouldn't do deals with the upper house that compromised his legislative agenda. But the deal with the Shooters and Fishers Party over national parks - since largely reneged upon - shows the government has been tempted go down that path to secure support for key bills.

10. How will you continue to pursue political donations reform after the High Court's decision to overturn the ban on corporate donations in NSW?

Mr O'Farrell responded to the decision in December by saying the government would "consider its options" but no action has been taken.

This story 10 questions Mike Baird must answer first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.