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18 Comments

I do not accept corruption – do you?

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.”

“Seriously?”

“Seriously!”

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.

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18 comments on “I do not accept corruption – do you?

  1. I reckon to be a politician is not easy. You have to be prepared to be on the job 24/7 and family life suffers. You have to remember 1000 little details. If something very emotional happens within your family, you still have to continue doing your job and not show any absent mindedness. If a good ‘mate’ hands you an expensive bottle of wine as a birthday gift you have to be on the alert. You have to ask yourself, why does he give me this extraordinarily expensive bottle of wine? What is his agenda? Someone tells you to write him a ‘thank you’ note. So, politely, you oblige to write this note to your ‘good mate’. Then straight away forgetting about this bottle of wine. There are things more important occupying you at the moment, for instance some very distressful things within the family. What happened to the bottle of wine in the end? Does anyone know? Did anyone open it for him and he absent mindedly drank it with some friends or family? Is it possible he just forgot that he did actually drink such an expensive wine?
    Three years later he claims that he cannot remember anything about this bottle of wine.
    Then his ‘good mate’ produces the ‘thank you’ note. The rest is history.
    My comment: Really corrupt people often get away with it rather easily! 🙂

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    • I agree that a politician lives in a fishbowl, but that is the price of fame. That bottle of wine was delivered to his home, yet he HAND WROTE a thank you note of Premier’s stationery. Had he done the right thing at the time, as per requirements, it would not have been a problem. The real problem was not the bottle of wine – it was the adamant denial at ICAC. Also, he and his staff had been forewarned weeks before that the bottle of wine was potentially an issue. Plenty of time to check before the hearing. Even if he had said “I don’t recall, but I WILL check” at the hearing it would have been better than the flat denial.

      Personally, I wouldn’t have forgotten a $3,000 bottle of wine (which according to the wine experts is not a very drinkable year anyway), but then I’m not a Premier!

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      • “I don’t recall, but I WILL check” I would imagine he is very much aware now what would have been better. Personally I would not like to be surrounded by people who have nothing better to do than scheming my downfall. The question is whom can you trust to behave in a decent way? To me it is heaven to have a glass of wine with my meal. This glass of wine can be from a good tasting 5 Dollar bottle of wine.
        Vintage wine? I wouldn’t care about this, not at all. 🙂

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  2. […] was perturbed over the implications of the bottle of grange recently. Today I read about Kathy Jackson. Then there are issues around some $400,000 of slush […]

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  3. New South Wales: Proudly crook since the Rum Rebellion! Nice to see the old traditions being maintained.

    But seriously, BO’F’s resignation only highlights how lightly some others take these matters. Makes Sinodinos look pretty bad, doesn’t it?

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  4. I think it is important to act and behave in such a way as to ensure you do not put yourself into a position where impropriety may occur. Corruption in all of its forms, whether it is political or professional, is a stain on our society.
    That said, I am certain the last 48 hours has been very hard on Mr O’Farrell and his family. Irrespective of what he may have done I hope he and his family are getting the emotional support they need, as when people in power fall, the frenzy can have untold consequences.

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    • Very good point Paul. Thank you for raising it.

      Sadly, I think this case is a classic example of a basically good man getting caught up in the culture we seem to deem “OK” these days.

      Let us hope there are lessons learned by others from this.

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  5. Tired of politicians thinking we are all fools. Definitely didn’t, cant remember, maybe I did, thought weddings were work functions, free flights, sporting events and on it goes. It isnt about a bottle of wine. It is the wink, wink, nod nod attitude. We have had at least 20years of trying to clean up the various levels of corruption and payback. Clean it all out at every level and through every party…And Hockey is trying to convince us the age of ‘entitlement’ is over…bollocks

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  6. You are pretty spot on here with how so many journo’s seem to think this is all about degrees? Maybe it is what they are used to but it is wrong. There are already so many ‘technicalities’ that politicians can get off on 😦

    Look at Premier Newman in Qld, 5k donation to get a meeting with him when he was Mayor, yet he obviously gets wind of it coming up in ICAC, pays it back 2 weeks ago and says it was a staffers fault & he is disappointed you? Now the attitude with him AND worse, the media, nothing to see here?

    I am with you. In business the rules are very strict so there is no ‘wriggle’ room at all. As my dad used to say, if someone gets pinged for something it is rare that it was a one-off, regardless of the circumstances?

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