ALL POLITICAL careers end in failure, as the saying goes. Few come to a crashing halt in such spectacular fashion as the O’Farrell premiership. One moment there was Barry, master of all he surveyed, about to announce billions of dollars of airport with Tony Abbott. The next he was writhing in the Macquarie St gutter, mortally wounded by an alcohol-fuelled, one-punch assault. Oh, the irony.
In all fairness, he deserves a better exit. He was an assiduous if unspectacular premier, and a decent man. I have known him and liked him since he was a bog standard backbencher making the occasional radio appearance on my ABC702 Drive show years ago. “You taught me how to use the media,” he said to me once.
Not well enough, apparently. More than a month ago a News Corpse journalist fired off a text message to O’Farrell asking if he had indeed received this now infamous bottle of ’59 Grange after the 2011 election. That should have sounded the air raid sirens loud and clear, but evidently it did not.
Yet I cannot believe that he was dishonest. The ICAC Counsel Assisting, Geoffrey Watson, has made it plain that he doesn’t think so either. He was forgetful, calamitously so. But remember that the wine arrived on the O’Farrell family doorstep amidst all the sound and fury of forming government, and within days of the death of his father-in-law. Sure, he did make a phone call to thank the ever-generous Mr Di Girolamo, followed up by the polite note which king-hit him. But the forgetfulness is understandable, if not forgivable. But how does one forget a 1959 Penfolds Grange?
O’Farrell’s true fault was his failure to keep his promise to root out the endemic corruption of the NSW Liberals. He baulked at bold political reform. As we will see in the next ICAC trawl, the Liberal Party state machine is rotten with spivs and shonks, touts and urgers, spongers and leeches, bludgers and layabouts, shysters and shifters, corridor whisperers and sleeve-tuggers. It is infested by the buyers and sellers of power and influence. If it never plumbed the dark depths to which Edward Moses Obeid and his cronies dragged the ALP, it was still sloshing around in the same sewer.
Barry O’Farrell was plainly aware of this but unwilling – or more likely unable – to expel the moneychangers from his temple. In the end, they got him.