We should be holding our public figures to account. Today Barry O’Farrell resigned as Premier of NSW over a bottle of Grange. A $3,000 bottle, to be precise.
Let me put this into a commercial context. A few years ago I worked for an international company. Acceptance of gifts of any value over about $20 was strictly verboten on the grounds we were at all times to be, and be seen as, strictly professional and ethical. We must have integrity.
The company I work for now is exactly the same.
Paul Sheehan has written he thinks this is all OK, because after all some previous NSW premier was worse – much worse. I agree that is the case, Askin was much worse. However do I consider a murderer not as bad because he only murders one person instead of twenty? A murderer is still a murderer, serial or otherwise.
A corrupt public official is a corrupt public official. Just as there is no such thing as being a little bit pregnant, there is no such thing as being a little bit corrupt. I acknowledge O’Farrell may not have been intentionally corrupt. He has a reputation as a cleanskin. Is this more a function of our society changing? If so, we need to stop it. Now.
In some countries around the world, corruption is part of the economy and the political system. You can’t get out of Nigeria on a virgin passport without paying a bribe. You can be “charged” to drive down a street. In some countries in Europe $50 will see you easily avoid a speeding fine.
In Australia over recent years we have had for too much evidence of corruption. Some of that evidence has been circumstantial, a great deal has been factual. Union officials, politicians, businesses. You pat my back and I’ll pat yours.
Maya Angelou, an African American poet, wrote:
The needs of a society determine its ethics, and in the Black American ghettos the hero is that man who is offered only the crumbs from his country’s table but by ingenuity and courage is able to take for himself a Lucullan feast. Hence the janitor who lives in one room but sports a robin’s-egg-blue Cadillac is not laughed at but admired, and the domestic who buys forty-dollar shoes is not criticized but is appreciated. We know that they have put to use their full mental and physical powers. Each single gain feeds into the gains of the body collective. Source: Dictionary.com
What, I have to ask, is happening to Australian society that we need corruption to become acceptable? That those involved in corruption see no lack of integrity in their behaviour?
Paul Sheehan suggested that with such a full diary, it would be easy for Barry to simply forget he ever got that bottle of Grange. I suggest if he forgot it would be because he received many such “gifts”. Or should I use the word “inducements”? I really don’t know. Had O’Farrell had integrity, he would have, for example, donated the bottle to be raffled off for a charitable cause. In such a situation, his memory lapse would have been completely understandable and he would have been able to prove he did not profit personally from the gift. Even a thank you note would have been acceptable as it would likely have included a comment to the effect the bottle would be donated for a worthy cause.
Once we excuse a $3,000 bottle of wine, where do we draw the line? A $5,000 plane ticket? A $10,000 revamp of the patio? A $70,000 car?
A nineteen year-old is working casual in our office at the moment (and learning about real life). At 4:30 pm she complained she was tired. I said, “That’s fine, we will just not pay you for the 30 minutes to 5 pm.”
She went and found something to do quick smart.
If I hold my own daughter to account, I expect so much more from our adults. It is called integrity.
Edit: The following reports make interesting reading and came to light after I published this article. The first is the Lateline transcript. Highlights the evidence O’Farrell gave about what he WOULD have done with the bottle of wine IF he had received it before it was proven he had handwritten a thank you note.
The second is PM Abbott’s response to a question by reporter Nicola Berkovic. What I find interesting here is Abbott’s rant about others’ “standards” when one of his own just fell on his sword. I accept that Nicola’s question was presumptive when she used the word “proven” (or was it “proving”), however Abbott’s handling of the question was not at all sensible and certainly not a professional response.