Ex NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell had a spectacular fall from grace yesterday, after first categorically denying he had ever received a $3000 bottle of wine from ICAC person of interest Nick De Girolamo, then being forced, after the revelation of a thank-you note in his own handwriting, to admit indeed there had been such a gift, but he had completely forgotten about it.
Whatever the ins and outs of the situation, and I am certain there are many and they are likely rather twisty, what stands out for me is the sense of entitlement that allows a politician to accept, and probably expect, that gifts will come his or her way, simply because the people have elected them to high office.
A $3000 bottle of wine is no small present, and not one most people are likely to forget, if we accept O’Farrell’s explanation that he did indeed lose his memory of it. How many expensive gifts does one receive before one begins to lose track of them, and why should any politician be showered with such largesse in the first place?
What is repeatedly revealed by ongoing ICAC investigations is a long line of politicians from both sides apparently steeped in a sense of entitlement that is rather difficult to understand. They are elected to do a job. They are paid for their efforts. If they manage to stay in office for a few years, they are assured of a generous life-long pension, and they don’t have to wait until they’re seventy to claim it. Depending on their position, there are generous perks. Yes, they work hard if they are any good, but so do millions of other people.
Why should politicians be permitted to accept any gifts at all? Expensive gifts are clearly offered in order to seduce politicians to particular ways of thinking and acting that will benefit the donors. How can this be justified in any circumstances ?
What O’Farrell did or didn’t do matters, of course, and there will continue to be lengthy speculation on his actions and his character. For mine, the urgent issue here is the culture of entitlement that dominates and inevitably corrupts our politics, to the degree that we now measure the worth of politicians according to their likely level of corruption. Forbidding all gifts to politicians would go some way to addressing this entitlement culture. When gifts come from those whose sole aim is to influence decisions in their favour, there is no question but that they must be declined.
By the way, if you need a good laugh, this exchange on Lateline last night between Gerard Henderson of the Sydney Institute, and journalist Kate McClymont on the O’Farrell scandal, is hilarious.