SMH March 28, 2011: MIKE BAIRD, 42, is a father of three young children and the son of a former federal MP and NSW. He is also considered a potential future leader. No stranger to multibillion-dollar sums, Mr Baird said his 18 years’ banking experience – including stints in London and Hong Kong, and running the corporate and institutional banking arm of HSBC Bank Australia – put him in good stead to manage NSW’s $450 billion economy and $60 billion budget.
“I’m not going to pretend I’ve got all the answers [but] I have been preparing for this,” says Mr Baird, who two years ago completed a course in public finance at Harvard University.
He will most likely be flanked by Greg Pearce as minister for financial management.
Mr Baird nominates as his top three priorities: a whole-of-government audit of the state’s finances; conducting an inquiry into the sale of electricity assets; setting up a new body, Infrastructure NSW, to determine priority projects across roads, transport, health and other vital infrastructure.
As is tradition for incoming governments, he will be on the hunt for any “black holes” in funding that can be blamed on the previous government. Funding will be an issue, given the state’s debt levels are not too far from the trigger point for a credit rating review, but Mr Baird is confident money can be found from existing budgets to fund priority projects. Seed funding for Restart NSW, a new infrastructure fund, will come from the long-term lease of the desalination plant.
Mr Baird said maintaining the state’s AAA rating was as important as ever: ” My strong attitude is I like the controls the AAA puts around government.”
Mr Baird hopes to hand down his first budget in September, a delay of three months to enable a proper review, and nominates regaining control of runaway expenses growth as his biggest challenge.