Baird to Lead Australia’s Biggest State as O’Farrell Quits

Mike Baird, a 45-year-old former banker, was elected premier of Australia’s most-populous state, replacing Barry O’Farrell who resigned for misleading a corruption inquiry.

Baird, who’s served as New South Wales state Treasurer since 2011, was elected unopposed by Liberal party colleagues, party official Jai Rowell told reporters in Sydney today. Transport Minister Gladys Berejiklian was named deputy leader.

The new premier faces the task of maintaining the state’s AAA credit rating with this fiscal year’s budget deficit forecast to be A$2.55 billion ($2.39 billion). The Liberal-National coalition, led to victory by O’Farrell in 2011 after 16 years in opposition, has less than a year to prepare for the next state election.

“We have begun the huge task of restoring our finances,” Baird, who had an 18-year banking career that included stints at Deutsche Bank AG, HSBC Holdings Plc and National Australia Bank Ltd. in Australia, London and Hong Kong, told reporters. “We’re not just about stabilizing, we’re about transforming New South Wales.”

O’Farrell resigned yesterday after the Independent Commission Against Corruption was presented with a thank-you note he’d signed for a 1959 bottle of Penfolds Grange valued at A$3,000, a day after the premier told the investigation he had no recollection of receiving the wine.

‘Memory Fail’

O’Farrell blamed a “massive memory fail” for his inability to recall the gift from the chief executive of a Sydney-based water company at the center of the corruption probe.

Senator Arthur Sinodinos, a former chairman of the water company, last month stepped aside as Australia’s assistant treasurer after the commission heard he stood to gain as much as A$20 million from a deal involving the firm. He denies any wrong doing.

Baird, who was elected to parliament in 2007, has sought to control expenses in his three-year tenure as treasurer of the A$447 billion state economy. His bid to boost road and rail infrastructure spending through selling off state-owned ports and electricity providers hit a snag last month when the nation’s anti-trust regulator blocked his planned A$1.51 billion sale of power plants to AGL Energy Ltd.

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