New South Wales premier resigns over wine scandal

Thank-you card confirms Barry O’Farrell received gift of €2,000 Penfolds bottle

New South Wales premier Barry O’Farrell:  “I’ve accepted that I’ve had a massive memory fail.” Photograph:  Greg Wood/AFP

New South Wales premier Barry O’Farrell: “I’ve accepted that I’ve had a massive memory fail.” Photograph: Greg Wood/AFP

 

The premier of New South Wales, Australia’s largest state, has announced his resignation after giving false evidence to a corruption inquiry.

Barry O’Farrell told the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) on Tuesday that he did not receive a vintage bottle of Penfolds Grange Hermitage wine worth $3,000 (€2,027) from Nick Di Girolamo, a man described by the inquiry as an “old-fashioned shyster fraudster” and a “bare-faced liar”.

“What I am certain about, if I received a 1959 bottle of Grange, I suspect if anybody received a vintage bottle of Grange, they would have memory of it and if I had received it, I would have declared it . . . I am certain it didn’t happen,” Mr O’Farrell said.

But yesterday, after Mr Di Girolamo produced a note sent by Mr O’Farrell thanking him for the wine sent three years ago, the premier announced he would resign as soon as he could arrange a meeting of Liberal Party MPs.


‘Massive memory fail’
“I’ve accepted that I’ve had a massive memory fail. I still can’t explain either the arrival of the gift I have no recollection of, or its absence, which I certainly still can’t fathom. But I accept the consequences in an orderly way. A new Liberal leader will be elected to take on the position of premier of New South Wales,” Mr O’Farrell said.

“In no way did I seek to mislead wilfully or otherwise the ICAC: that would go against everything that I am. But this has been clearly been a significant memory fail on my part, albeit within weeks of coming into office; but I accept the consequences of my actions.”

Mr Di Girolamo is being investigated for his part in alleged corruption at a company called Australian Water Holdings, which has ensnared politicians and political operatives from the Liberal and Labor parties.

When he returned to the ICAC hearing after announcing his resignation, Mr O’Farrell was asked by senior counsel Geoffrey Watson if he knew what might have become of the bottle of wine.

“No,” said Mr O’Farrell.

“It would be a very unusual bottle to open over a spag bol [spaghetti Bolognese] on a Friday night, you’d agree,” Mr Watson said.

“I cannot speculate,” Mr O’Farrell replied.

Australian prime minister Tony Abbott was so incensed when later asked about Mr O’Farrell that he lectured the media about its standards. Nicola Berkovic of the Australian newspaper asked: “Prime minister, do you trust this government, the state government, which is proving to be corrupt, to deliver your major infrastructure plans?”

Mr Abbott replied: “That, if I may say so, is an entirely unjustified smear. Let me not mince my words, madam. An entirely unjustified smear, and frankly I think you should withdraw that. There is no evidence whatsoever for that.”

After demanding Ms Berkovic provide proof of her allegation, he said: “We need to have decent standards in this country, we need to have decent standards from the media, if I may say so, as well as decent standards from politicians.”

Mr O’Farrell was due to welcome the British royal couple Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge, and their baby George, upon arrival at Sydney airport, but did not make it in the circumstances.