Leader of Australia's most populous state quits

AP News
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Posted: Jan 18, 2017 11:28 PM

SYDNEY (AP) — The leader of Australia's most populous state resigned Thursday after his popularity plummeted over a series of decisions during 2016.

Sydney-based New South Wales Premier Mike Baird used social media to announce that the ruling Liberal Party would elect a new leader at a meeting on Tuesday. He would then quit the state parliament immediately after a 10-year career.

Treasurer Gladys Berejiklian, the party deputy, has said she will be a candidate and is widely regarded as the Baird's most likely successor.

The surprise resignation comes during a turbulent era in Australian politics when state and federal leaders' careers are often shorted lived.

Opinion polls showed the 48-year-old former banker was one on Australia's most popular politicians at the start of 2016, which he recently described as his annus horribilis, Latin for horrible year.

His popularity had plummeted by late 2016 after he outlawed greyhound racing on the grounds of cruelty, then lifted the ban in the face of a political backlash. A series of policy backflips that followed tainted him as a politician without strong convictions.

Baird told a news conference on Thursday that he was quitting now to give the next premier time to settle into the role before the next election in 2019 at the end of the current four-year term.

He said he got into politics because he was frustrated by government policy inaction.

"I said many times I didn't want to become a career politician. I wanted to go as hard as I could for as long as I could and then step aside," Baird told reporters with an emotion-filled voice. "Well, today I'm making good on that pledge."

Baird said "serious health challenges" for his family were also factors in his resignation. His father, a former state government minister and federal government lawmaker, was recovering from open heart surgery and his mother requires 24-hour care for muscular dystrophy.

His sister Julia Baird, a prominent journalist who wrote in 2015 about her battle with a rare cancer, has suffered a recurrence of that cancer and has recently returned to hospital.

Baird was thrust into power in 2014 when Premier Barry O'Farrell suddenly quit in the face of mounting evidence that he failed to declare a 3,000 Australian dollar ($2,800) bottle of wine that arrived as a gift on his Sydney doorstep.