THE resignation of Barry O’Farrell has opened a gaping conceptual hole that certainly seems disproportionate.
A bottle of wine and a memory lapse leads to the guillotine.
So is there more to this story? If the events that led to his resignation are as stated, the problem appears to have been containable if O’Farrell had a good consigliere.
His diary would have been frightening due to the number of meetings, events, correspondence, debates, briefings, legislation and parliamentary duties he would be expected to be across.
Take 4000 items a year — a rough estimate — and multiply that by three years. That’s 12,000 separate items.
Given most have trouble recalling last week, it was plausible even a 1959 bottle of Penfolds’ Grange and a thank-you note could get lost.
It is possible O’Farrell was telling the truth when questioned at the Independent Commission Against Corruption, leading to the error of being unambiguous.
His crucial mistake was to not allow for inexactitude.
He could have invoked scale of detail but was perhaps wary after another prominent Liberal, Senator Arthur Sinodinos, recently poisoned the well, going into an ICAC hearing as a cleanskin and emerging as an amnesiac.
The size of O’Farrell’s diary allowed plausible deniability.
With a frank admission he was wrong, this was survivable.
Especially with a reputation as a cleanskin and otherwise not being linked to any scandal.
This is why there is speculation bubbling — on the basis of nothing — this it was not just about a bottle of expensive wine.
Such cynicism is based on the corruption that was in the DNA of the longest-serving Liberal government in NSW, run by Robert Askin from 1965 to 1975 — when every operator of an illegal off-track betting operation or illegal casino knew the best way to get things done or to stay alive was to drop a donation — off the books.
Askin, always on the hook to his bookies, always paid because there was plenty of cash in the pipeline.
A book, The Prince and the Premier, published in 1985, by a former editor of The Sun-Herald, David Hickie, was subtitled: The Story of Perce Galea, Bob Askin and the others who gave organised crime its start in Australia.
Police commissioners Norman Allan and Fred Hanson allowed the illegal operations to flourish because Askin was in on the take.
Another book, The Politics of Heroin, by Alfred McCoy, describes Askin as regularly dining with Sydney’s most notorious criminal, Abe Saffron, at the Bourbon and Beefsteak in Kings Cross.
Now that’s corruption, making this scandal very Mickey Mouse.
And what of the most corrupt premier? Sir Robert Askin won four elections, retired with a knighthood, and died wealthy.
The tax office later found a substantial part of his wealth had come from undisclosed income.
Then there’s the operations of Labor’s former NSW bagman, Sam Fiszman. He raised tens of millions of dollars for the party and laundered much of it. He was appointed to boards, grew wealthy, and was lauded by Labor.
Not only money gets laundered in Sydney, it’s reputations.
Now it’s the reverse. The ICAC, set up by a Liberal premier, Nick Greiner, has changed the game.
In June 1992, then ICAC commissioner Ian Temby found that an appearance by Greiner before the ICAC would be seen “by a notional jury as conducting himself contrary to known and recognised standards of honesty and integrity”.
That prompted the independents in the NSW Parliament, with the balance of power, to demand Greiner’s resignation. He stepped down, while pleading his innocence, and was vindicated by a court of appeal decision, which found the ICAC had exceeded its powers. By then it was too late.
O’Farrell had an even lesser blot and a thumping majority.
The irony is two NSW premiers have resigned over small ethical breaches while the real money-gougers in the NSW Liberals have grown rich and unaccountable.