Premier Mike Baird backs his ‘mate’ Tony Abbott in leadership battle

“Mates”: NSW Premier Mike Baird and Prime Minister Tony Abbott. Photo: Daniel MunozNSW Premier Mike Baird has backed his “mate”, Prime Minister Tony Abbott, ahead of a potential leadership spill when the federal Liberal party room meets on Tuesday.

Mr Baird said people had criticised and underestimated Mr Abbott his entire career, including his ability to lead the Liberals, be an effective Opposition Leader and then become Prime Minister.

“All along the way he has proven his doubters wrong,” Mr Baird said. “My hope is that that’s exactly what he does. That, despite the current circumstances, he proves the doubters wrong.”

Mr Baird was speaking on Friday amid speculation about Mr Abbott’s leadership, shortly before Western Australian Liberal MP Luke Simpkins announced he would put forward a motion to spill the position at Tuesday’s party room meeting in Canberra.

Asked if he backed Mr Abbott, Mr Baird said: “Tony and I are mates. In that sort of context I obviously feel for him being in a difficult position at the moment.”

However, Mr Baird was quick to point out that despite their closeness, he and Mr Abbott had their policy differences.

“Not least of which is health funding, which is in the current state unsustainable,” he said. “The burden of health funding that has been shifted to the states in the last federal budget [is] something that needs to be rectified.”

In last year’s federal budget, Treasurer Joe Hockey announced $2 billion would be cut from funding to health and education in NSW over the next four years.

At the time NSW Treasurer Andrew Constance said the state was being asked to find an extra $1.2 billion in health funding alone.

Labor is likely to attack the NSW Coalition in the leadup to the March 28 state election over its failure to convince its federal colleagues to reverse the cuts.

Following the disastrous Queensland election result for the Liberal National Party, there has been speculation about how the plight of the Abbott government would effect the NSW poll.

Mr Baird conceded Mr Abbott’s unpopularity was “something that is obviously generating interest both in media and across the community”.

“My job is to focus on what we are managing and responsible for,” he said. “And I strongly believe that’s where the election will be fought.”

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