Australian premier downed by £1,700 wine gift

Barry O'Farrell had denied being given a bottle of 1959 Penfolds Grange Hermitage wine. Picture: Getty
Barry O'Farrell had denied being given a bottle of 1959 Penfolds Grange Hermitage wine. Picture: Getty
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The leader of Australia’s most populous state resigned as ­premier yesterday over a ­corruption scandal.

Barry O’Farrell stood down from his post as New South Wales premier after he was caught lying over receiving a gift of a bottle of wine worth A$3,000 (£1,700).

He had previously said he was not gifted the bottle of 1959 Penfolds Grange Hermitage in 2011 by Liberal Party donor Nick Di Girolamo.

However, documents from a courier company showed that it had been delivered to his home.

Australia’s Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC), which is investigating the finances of Australian Water, heard that Mr Di Girolamo, its former chief executive, sent the wine to congratulate Mr O’Farrell weeks after his 2011 election win.

Grange is an iconic label and is synonymous with expensive Australian wine. Grange vintages are consistently rated among Australia’s best shiraz, although 1959 was not an outstanding year, Australian wine experts said.

Mr O’Farrell, who described himself as “no wine aficionado,” was should have added such a valuable gift to a public register aimed at deterring political ­donors from buying influence.

Mr O’Farrell said he announced his resignation because he was told that a thank-you note he wrote to Mr Di Girolamo and his wife would be handed over to ICAC.

“Dear Nick and Jodie,” Mr O’Farrell wrote. “We wanted to thank you for your kind note & the wonderful wine. 1959 was a good year, even if it is getting even further away!” the note read, referring to Mr O’Farrell’s birth year as well as the vintage.

“Thanks for all your support,” Mr O’Farrell wrote. He signed the note on behalf of his wife, “Kind Regards, Barry and ­Rosemary.”

The premier accepted that he had written the note, but maintained he could not recall receiving the wine. He said he would officially resign at a meeting of his centre-right Liberal Party colleagues next week. The party will then elect a new premier.

Mr O’Farrell, who grew up on a public housing estate, developed a reputation as a politician with integrity. He has not said whether he will quit parliament altogether as a result of the scandal. He said: “I’ve accepted that I have had a massive memory fail.

“I still can’t explain either the arrival of a gift that I have no recollection of, or its absence, which I certainly still can’t ­explain.”

The politician said he did not believe he gave any ­special treatment to Mr Di Girolamo’s company.

The inquiry has been told that Mr Di Girolamo had wanted to develop a A$1 billion private-public partnership with Mr O’Farrell’s newly-elected government. The government rejected the proposal.

Yesterday, Liberal prime minister Tony Abbott said: “Barry is a man of honour. He is a man of integrity. He is a very decent man and I think he has been a very capable premier over the past three years. I think he will be missed.” 
He expressed confidence that Mr O’Farrell had inadvertently misled the ICAC.

He added: “This is the thing, if you’re in public life – you meet lots of people. From time to time people give you things.

“They might give you ties, or pens or a bottle of wine, and sure, a bottle of Grange is pretty special, no doubt about that.

“Given that premiers and other senior politicians have very crowded busy lives, I don’t think it is reasonable to expect everything from some years ago to be front of mind.”

Mr O’Farrell had been due to greet the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge yesterday at Sydney Airport and was to be 
co-host of a reception for them at Sydney Opera House. As he stepped down just hours before their arrival, his duties were taken over by his deputy, Andrew Stoner.