The fallout from yesterday’s resignation of New South Wales premier Barry O’Farrell must settle on the issue of lobbying in Australian politics.
Tony Abbott’s extraordinary defence yesterday of O’Farrell’s character – “we are seeing an act of integrity, an act of honour, the like of which we have rarely seen in Australian politics” – entirely airbrushed the fact that an incoming NSW premier received a $3,000 bottle of wine from a lobbyist.
The disturbing thing is that so many in the political class, including journalists, appear to accept that this is such an ordinary part of doing political business that it’s entirely plausible that a premier could forget about a single bottle of 1959 Grange. Of course it’s not plausible, even to O’Farrell himself. Under questioning he had told ICAC: “I’m certain I would remember receiving a bottle of Penfolds, particularly one that was my birth year.”
There is rarely any direct proof that this bottle of wine or that fully-paid overseas junket has bought influence. To get such proof requires climbing inside the decision-maker’s head. That’s why reformers aim to limit the perception of influence-peddling. Yet the vast bulk of corporate lobbying of Australian politicians remains off-record, because only professional lobbyists (and not company chairmen doing their own lobbying directly, for instance) are required to be registered.
We know two things about extravagant gifts to public officials. Most people can’t give them. And they wouldn’t be given at all if they didn’t occasionally buy something valuable.
Russell Marks Politicoz Editor
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