When Barry O’Farrell was elected in 2011, he came in declaring that NSW was to be a new state, a corruption free regime. As it turns out, his term of Premier was corked from the very start with the delivery of a bottle of wine. With that bottle of wine and subsequent note, there’s several questions to be asked – but three big ones stand out to me.
1. Why didn’t he, standing on his front doorstep, make the decision to send the very generous present back with a “thanks, no thanks” note to Nick Di Girolamo, knowing about the influence the bottle of wine was supposed to buy?
2. If he kept the wine, why didn’t he declare it?
3. If he genuinely could not remember the bottle of wine, why didn’t he say “I don’t recall”, then wait for the dust to settle and have stringent checks undertaken while his memory was repairing itself?
These are questions O’Farrell could well be asking himself right now.
The best answer would have been for O’Farrell to do No.1. A “thanks, but no thanks” is the best route for any politician wishing to start as a “cleanskin”, wanting to eliminate corruption from the state of NSW. As it turned out, O’Farrell was tainted with the brush of influence peddling from the first beginning of his term as Premier. It’s a brush that has tainted both major parties in NSW, as was quickly pointed out by the Greens’ John Kaye. Former Bob Carr referred to the same culture of a “debauched ethos of mateship… linked to fundraising.” on Sky News (though one from which he benefitted as Premier). O’Farrell should have, from day one, switched off this conduit from the mates like Di Girolamo – but he didn’t, and he is, an ex-Premier because he accepted and probably consumed what Huon Hooke called a pretty ordinary bottle of wine. His departure, however considered unfortunate and ironic, in the light of his attitude towards corruption – was proper, in the light of his misleading of ICAC.
What is next for NSW is the interesting question now. There’s continuing factional battles in NSW, with the right, centre-right and moderate “Group” enjoying an uneasy, but settled truce whilst O’Farrell was in the Premier’s Office – the nature of the pre-O’Farrell battles is outlined in this piece from 2005, which hints at a role Bill Heffernan and others played in keeping O’Farrell away from the leadership after the resignation of John Brogden. Now that battle sees Mike Baird and Gladys Berejiklian thrown up as the main candidates, even if Baird at this stage hasn’t put his hand up. There’s a couple of potential problems now with Baird – he has been asked questions during budget estimates in 2013 as to why Nick Di Girolamo was appointed to the board of the State Water Corporation. While there’s no suggestion here of any corrupt dealings by Baird, simply being associated in such a way with Di Girolamo (hence Eddie Obeid) and Australian Water Holdings may not leave the NSW Government in a hurry if he was to become Premier. That’s a question that may well be raised – and answered – in the coming week as numbers are counted. In addition, there is the matter of Baird being linked to errors made in a past state budget while he was Treasurer. The other choice, Gladys Berejiklian, does not seem as encumbered with the same issues, and has the positives related to new train line and light rail construction projects being announced under her watch as transport minister.
Update – It seems that from what the Telegraph is telling us, as well as the Herald is that Mike Baird will indeed be the new Premier. This could well be a gift for the ALP, considering the links to Di Girolamo. It will be difficult for him, and his new government, to shirk the tag of governments giving jobs to Liberal fundraisers and influence pedlars. This should mean that after the dust has settled, it will be a strange election campaign in NSW, where both major parties fight against corruption claims that have gone to the heart of both parties over the past few years.
I do hope, however, that NSW Wine take advantage of this situation with an advertising campaign that uses the tag line:
“You’ll Never Forget a Hunter Valley Shiraz”.