Mike Baird won't be able to sidestep tricky questions as Premier

COMMENT

So, what's Mike Baird actually like?

Baird has been treasurer for three years, but NSW has had limited exposure to the man who has suddenly found himself in the biggest political job in the state. The public is about to see a whole lot more of a man who is probably best described as fundamentally nice.

Baird is quick with a smile and a handshake. His personal meteorological system seems permanently set to sunny, which sits comfortably with his love of surfing, model family, strong Christianity and home in Manly.

Yet Baird has also survived - and so far thrived - in one of the toughest political arenas in the country.

You can't do that without a bit of steel inside.

He has unashamedly delivered three difficult budgets that have slashed public service jobs. He has driven painful budget cuts across the government in an unswerving determination to align government spending with revenue.

Baird has also proven himself adept on the question time stage, displaying humour and quick wit to give as good as he gets from a baying opposition front bench.

But it is outside this relatively controlled environment where he is more vulnerable. A man who prides himself on his personal integrity, if Baird has an Achilles heel it appears to be how he handles pressure, particularly when this integrity is being questioned.

It first became evident in late 2012 when the opposition took aim at his appointment of businessman Roger Massy-Greene to a three-year, $600,000 position as chairman of Networks NSW.

Massy-Greene, through a company, had donated $15,000 to Baird's election campaigns while he was in opposition.

It was the first direct hit on a man hitherto regarded as a cleanskin. The way Baird responded was revealing. Visibly unnerved, he blurted out that it was ''the premier's decision, he made the decision''.

The issue of board appointments - some of whom are linked to his time as a banker, but all of which Baird insists have been made on merit and endorsed by the cabinet - has dogged him periodically.

It is why his response to questioning about another appointee and Liberal donor, Nick Di Girolamo, at his first news conference as premier-designate on Thursday was illuminating.

Di Girolamo, of course, is under investigation by the Independent Commission Against Corruption and was the man who gave former premier Barry O'Farrell the $3000 bottle of Grange that led to his downfall.

Clearly prepared to be grilled on the matter, Baird handled the questions calmly, indicating he has learned from past clashes. He even acknowledged for the first time that the appointment should never have been made.

But the same news conference also served as a reminder of another potential minefield for Baird as Premier - his conservative social values.

Asked if he ''still believed that homosexuality is a lifestyle decision'' Baird was left visibly stunned. The question served as a reminder that attention will be drawn to Baird's conservative position on issues such as same-sex marriage and embryonic stem cell research.

He eventually responded by declining to answer the question. As Premier, he will be expected to expand on his personal values and views.

How Baird navigates this aspect of his new, very public life will be fascinating to watch.

smh.com.au

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