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Apr 16, 2014

Words that led to O'Farrell's downfall, and the words that came next

As Barnaby Joyce said, "I can't believe it". Here are the words that brought down a Premier.

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What New South Wales Premier Barry O’Farrell said at ICAC yesterday …

“It’s the Don Bradman of wine. Unforgettable,” O’Farrell’s questioner asked at the Independent Commission Against Corruption, after Australian Water Holdings chief executive Nick Di Girolamo told the commission he’d sent the Premier a $3000 bottle of wine.

“Yes. If it had been received, I don’t believe I would have forgotten it,” O’Farrell replied.

And the phone call to Di Girolamo he made, presumably to thank him for the wine? “I’ve no knowledge — I don’t know about this phone call,” O’Farrell said. “What I do know is if I had received a bottle of 1959 Penfolds Grange I would have known about it and I did not receive a bottle of Penfolds Grange.”

What O’Farrell said to the media yesterday …

“I’m glad to be here today. Corruption is a blight on our state. It’s a blight on businesses, it’s a blight on families, it’s a blight on our social fabric. Corruption is in effect an insidious hand in taxpayers’ pockets because it reduces the improvement in services and it denies proper investment in infrastructure …

“Throughout my parliamentary career I’ve been a strong supporter of the Independent Commission Against Corruption. I’ve been a supporter of raising standards ad rooting out corruption in government. I’ve argued for high standards, and we’ve given ICAC additional powers and additional resources to do the job they do …

“I want to categorically refute the claims about the 1959 bottle of Penfolds range. Let me be clear — I did not receive the bottle. I don’t know a lot about wine, but I know that if I had, I would remember if I had received a vintage of that type. If I had received a 1959 Grange, I would have declared it … Importantly, while I’m Premier of the state, my wife is the premier of my home. We’ve talked about it … and she, like me, does not remember this wine being received. As I did not receive the bottle, there was no call to thank anyone for receiving it …

“For most of Easter, I was with my family on the Gold Coast, and for most of Easter, our family home was unoccupied and unattended.”

What O’Farrell wrote to Di Girolamo …

Dear Nick & Jodie,

We wanted to thank you for your kind note & the wonderful wine. 1959 was a good year, even if it is getting further away! Thanks for all your support.

Kind regards,
[Barry] and Rosemary

What O’Farrell said to the media today …

I’ve been advised overnight that this morning at ICAC a thank-you note from me in relation to the bottle of wine will be presented. I still can’t recall the receipt of a gift of a bottle of 1959 Grange, I can’t explain what happened to that bottle of wine. But I do accept there is a thank-you note signed by me. As someone who believes in accountability, in responsibility, I accept the consequences of my action. I want to say two or three things. The evidence I gave yesterday… was evidence to the best of my knowledge. I believed it to be truthful …

“In no way did I seek to mislead, willfully or otherwise, the Independent Commission Against Corruption. But this has been clearly a significant memory fail on my part. But I accept the consequences of my actions. As soon as I can organise a meeting of the parliamentary liberal party for next week, I will be resigning the position and enabling a new Liberal leader to be elected, someone who’ll then become the premier of New South Wales. While I’m sure you have questions, I don’t think now is the time for those questions to be dealt with.

“Again, I’m seeking to support the process of the Independent Commission Against Corruption. I accept I’ve had a massive memory fail. I can’t explain the arrival of a gift … I accept the consequences.”

What Prime Minister Tony Abbott said to the media today …

“This is an honour and an integrity at a very high level. We are seeing an act of integrity, an act of honour, the like of which we have rarely seen in Australian politics. I admire him tremendously for this, although I deeply regret the necessity for it …

“He texted me that I should call him and by the time I saw the text I think he was about to go in and make his statement. We had a brief conversation and I said to him that he was acting from a high honour here and I just said how sorry I was that this wasn’t happening in three or four years time, because Barry is a man of honour …

“He is a man of integrity, he is a very decent man, I think he’s been a very capable premier over the last three years and I think he will be missed. The important thing today is to show proper appreciation of the integrity that has caused him to act in this way. As I said, it will be a long, long time since anyone in Australian public life has acted by this standard of honour and integrity and as I said, I honour him for it.”

What former NSW (Liberal) premier Nick Greiner said to ABC Radio today …

Greiner said the Premier made a “sensible political judgement”:

“I believe him … the notion that Mr O’Farrell deliberately mislead the world is ridiculous … At the end of the day his error was that he honestly told ICAC something that turned out to be clearly not the case.”

“The irony is that Labor was in power for 16 years and was clearly hopeslessly corrupt and hopelessly incompetent but [none of them] resigned on integrity grounds.”

What former (Liberal) NSW treasurer Peter Collins said to ABC News 24 today …

“He’s fallen on his sword and I think that as things eventually unfold people will look at this and say Barry O’Farrell has paid a high price for this mistake that he made. It is staggering that this has happened so quickly all in the space of 24 hours. It is momentous. This will fill the newspapers for the next couple of weeks … it will just focus more attention on the final outcome of this series of ICAC hearings.”

What Coalition frontbencher Barnaby Joyce said in Rockhampton today …

“I can’t believe it.”

Myriam Robin — Media Reporter

Myriam Robin

Media Reporter

Myriam has been Crikey’s media reporter since 2014. Before that, she was a business journalist with sister site SmartCompany, covering economics and corporate strategy.

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16 thoughts on “Words that led to O’Farrell’s downfall, and the words that came next

  1. frey


    “Who keeps a thank you note for three years, and then delivers it to the court the day after the recipient has denied receiving said gift?”

    I don’t know, maybe the person who is effectively being called a liar in a corruption hearing that will impact on the weight his evidence is given? Also, please check the history – AWH was given a much better hearing in the first 12 months of the Libs than at any other time. And Nick DG had a much closer relationship with BOF than BOF indicated at the hearing.

    There are no suggestions here that BOF was at all influenced, but that is the entire issue with Corruption/Conflict of Interest etc etc – it is the perception that taints and there are very simple things to do in order to avoid that. All the things BOF failed to do – Why did he accept the a $3000 gift in the first place? and Why did he not declare a $3000 gift? Don;t try and down play it because it was wine. In the public sector workplaces BOF was responsible for, those offences would result in resignations or sackings.

    Check back over past ICAC investigations into gifts and benefits. There is no difference in what happened to BOF as what happened to a hundred other public sector/council employees (who got done for things like $150 gift cards). The only difference was hi profile and his responsibilities.

    If he had done the honourable thing in the first place and refused the gift (i.e. sent it back) he would not have been in this position.

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