The only way things could have got more odd in NSW politics this week would have been for Fred Nile to barge into a press conference with a ghetto blaster, put on the HR Puff n Stuff theme song, and do a slow strip tease.
Barry O’Farrell, the Liberal premier of NSW, who swept into power in 2011 mostly on the promise of cleaning out Labor graft, fell on his sword after a somewhat innocuous session in front of ICAC, the Independent Commission Against Corruption.
Earlier in the week, Barry was asked whether he’d received an almost $3,000 bottle of 1959 Grange Hermitage from Nick Di Girolamo, and he insisted he had not. Despite phone records showing a call from him to Nick on the same day, he insisted he had not. Despite a courier delivery slip showing it had been delivered to his house, he insisted he had not.
Then the following day a note to Nick Di Girolamo surfaced, in Barry’s handwriting, thanking him for the wine.
Barry still had no recollection of receiving the wine, but stepped down as premier.
This wasn’t something forced by ICAC, but it was inevitable given the breast beating conducted by the Liberals prior to the election (and seemingly on most days since) about how cleanly NSW would be run.
Since then there’s been a lot of commentators running around insisting that this is a step too far. Jeff Kennett, former Liberal premier of Victoria, apparently described it as entrapment:
Mr Kennett said it was impossible for anyone to remember events from three years prior in detail in every instance.
Patrick Hatch, The Age, April 17 2014, O’Farrell fall was entrapment, says Kennett
Kennett is right, but also using a sophist argument in what he says. I agree – it is impossible for someone to remember events from three years ago in perfect detail, but that’s the effect here, not the cause. The cause is far simpler: Barry O’Farrell was elected Premier of NSW and received a gift of a $3,000 bottle of wine. He did not declare it as he was obligated to do so. It is inconceivable to state that someone who wrote a note thanking a person for a bottle of wine did so without receiving a bottle of wine, and O’Farrell’s resignation as much confirms that regardless of whether or not he currently remembers, it must have happened.
He had just got into power on the promise of being honest in every way, he received a $3,000 bottle of wine, a gift well over the $500 amount that triggers a requirement for elected officials to declare on the pecuniary register, and he did not declare it.
There was a time Barry O’Farrell recalled getting the bottle of wine. Regardless of whether he remembers it now, even with the records of a phone call and the note in his own hand writing, there was a time he recalled getting it. And he didn’t register it.
Barry O’Farrell was no spring chicken to politics. This was not a new member of parliament and an excusable slip. Nor does there seem much merit in the claims of some Liberal supporters of “maybe he just didn’t know how much Grange is worth”.
Regardless of what flagellation of the ICAC process is conducted now over people being entitled to forget, we mustn’t forget that at some point Premier Barry O’Farrell did remember the bottle of wine.
What he did next, or rather, what he failed to do next, caused him to fall on his sword, not ICAC.