'No Plan B': Did Mike Baird just hand Labor the campaign line it was looking for?

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Originally published: The Sydney Morning Herald, 28 February 2015.

By Sean Nicholls

We didn't really know what to expect from the first leaders' debate of the 2015 election campaign.

After all, while Mike Baird and Luke Foley have been conducting hostilities since the latter became Opposition Leader in January, the fact they are in different houses of parliament means they had yet to go head to head.

The broad consensus is that neither leader totally dominated on policy.           

But the real surprise was that the newish Opposition Leader was handed what might turn out to be Labor's most potent weapon for the duration of the campaign.

Baird's admission he has "no Plan B" for infrastructure if he is elected but cannot get his plan to partially privatise the electricity network companies through the upper house is a gift to Labor.

It does two things, neither of them advantageous to the government. 

The first is that it creates an element of doubt in the minds of voters about a re-elected Baird administration. What exactly will happen if his plan is blocked by the upper house? We are left wondering.

The second is that it keeps the issue of electricity privatisation at the centre of the campaign which, given its electoral unpopularity, is precisely where Labor wants it.

What could Baird have said instead? To be fair, he was in a difficult position.

Had he outlined an option that didn't involve electricity privatisation, he would have removed the point of difference Baird is banking on to get him re-elected as it almost certainly would mean a smaller infrastructure spend than the $20 billion he is promising.

Baird, of course, was trying to abide by the standard political rule for when you are asked a hypothetical about a negative outcome: don't enter the discussion.

This works when you're asked about losing an election or losing your seat, because nobody really cares as you'll no longer be there.

But if Baird wins the election and fails to pass legislation for his electricity sale, he will still be Premier and be expected to do something.

His answer suggests he either hasn't thought it through or has a secret plan he is refusing to tell us about - neither of which is a good look.

Originally published as: 'No Plan B': Did Mike Baird just hand Labor the campaign line it was looking for?