NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell has resigned in the wake of controversy over his appearance at the Independent Commission Against Corruption.
Mr O’Farrell revealed during a surprise press conference on Wednesday that a note thanking Liberal fundraiser Nick Di Girolamo for a $3,000 bottle of wine, which he had claimed he never received, would be presented to the corruption watchdog.
The outgoing premier called it a ‘massive memory fail’ but said he never wilfully misled the ICAC.
‘I accept the consequences and in an orderly way a new Liberal leader will be elected,’ he said.
A stony-faced Mr O’Farrell stressed in the ICAC witness box on Tuesday that neither he nor his wife Rosemary had any memory of receiving the gift in April 2011.
It was never declared, as required, on his register of pecuniary interests.
‘I still can’t recall the receipt of a gift of a bottle of 1959 Grange,’ Mr O’Farrell told reporters on Wednesday morning.
‘I can’t explain what happened to that bottle of wine.
‘But I do accept there is a thank you note signed by me, and as someone who believes in accountability, in responsibility, I accept the consequences of my action.’
Mr O’Farrell said he would likely remain in the job until next week, when he will hold a meeting with the parliamentary Liberal Party and the process of electing a new leader will begin.
Mr O’Farrell became NSW premier after the Liberals romped to victory in March 2011.
Prime minister Tony Abbott praised Mr O’Farrell for falling on his sword.
‘I have enormous respect and admiration for Barry O’Farrell,’ he said.
‘I have known him for two decades and he is a friend of mine.
‘He innocently, inadvertently misled ICAC yesterday and he has taken the utterly honourable decision of stepping down.’
Mr Abbott said Mr O’Farrell had done the honourable thing in resigning as premier.
‘We are seeing an act of integrity and an act of honour,’ the prime minister told reporters in Sydney.
Mr O’Farrell announced his resignation on Wednesday after appearing before a corruption inquiry on Tuesday.
‘I admire him tremendously for this, although I deeply regret the necessity for it,’ Mr Abbott said.
Mr Abbott said Mr O’Farrell was a ‘great servant’ of the Liberal Party and the NSW people.
He said he had a brief conversation with Mr O’Farrell shortly before he resigned.
[Updated 10:30am] NSW premier Barry O’Farrell has resigned at a hastily called press conference around 10am this morning after it was revealed ICAC is in possession of a thank -you note from him to AWH boss Nick Di Girolamo.
At the ICAC hearing yesterday the premier said he had no recollection of the gift of a bottle of 1959 Grange wine valued at $3000 and no knowledge of the whereabouts of the bottle.
He repeated that claim at his press conference this morning while stating, ‘I’ve clearly had a major memory fail over this.’
Mr O’Farrell was adamant he had not lied to ICAC and said he was resigning the leadership because it was ‘the right thing to do’.
MORE TO FOLLOW
[Original report – AAP]
It was a bottle of Penfolds Grange that then-Australian Water Holdings (AWH) boss Nick Di Girolamo paid $3,000 for in 2011, but now may cost NSW premier Barry O’Farrell far more.
Mr O’Farrell was grilled at the corruption watchdog on Tuesday over the vintage bottle of Penfolds Grange hermitage wine that was said to be delivered to his home three years ago, although he claims he never received it.
He also came under intense pressure over his contact with Mr Di Girolamo at a time when the Liberal fundraiser was lobbying for a lucrative public-private partnership for his company.
Counsel assisting Geoffrey Watson SC said there was evidence Mr Di Girolamo, who owned half of AWH, believed the government deal could bump the value of the infrastructure company by up to $275 million.
Mr Di Girolamo has told the Independent Commission Against Corruption that in late April 2011 he sent Mr O’Farrell an extravagant drop of wine, bottled in the year of the premier’s birth, to congratulate him on securing the state’s top job in 2011.
‘You were trying to butter Mr O’Farrell up with gifts,’ Mr Watson said on Tuesday.
‘No,’ Mr Di Girolamo replied.
Mr O’Farrell denies receiving the wine at all, saying he spent Easter 2011 on the Gold Coast, and even Oscar the cocker spaniel was away from the O’Farrell family home on Sydney’s north shore about the time the delivery is said to have been made.
The gift was never declared on the premier’s pecuniary interests register although MPs must disclose any gift worth $500 or more.
Mr O’Farrell continued to plead his innocence at a hastily-convened press conference held downstairs from the ICAC hearing room.
Asked by a reporter if he would resign if it is found he has misled the commission, he said: ‘Anyone who walks into the commission, a court of law or gives a statement to police is conscious of the need to tell the truth.’
‘I’ve told the truth today.’
But Mr Di Girolamo had told the inquiry he received a thank-you call from the premier after sending the wine.
On Tuesday afternoon, Mr O’Farrell was shown a record of a 28-second telephone call from his mobile number to Mr Di Girolamo, made about 9.30pm on April 20, 2011.
‘I’ve no knowledge, I don’t know about this phone call,’ Mr O’Farrell told the commission.
‘What I do know is if I had received a bottle of 1959 Penfolds Grange I would have known about it and I did not receive a bottle of Penfolds Grange.’
He denied that AWH’s donations to the Liberal Party prompted him to send a letter that was ‘broadly supportive’ of the AWH public-private partnership push in September 2010.
‘We can show you lots of money going into Liberal Party coffers which coincides with this letter of support. Did you know anything about that?’ Mr Watson asked.
‘No, the Liberal Party’s financial code requires members of parliament to be at arm’s length from fundraising,’ Mr O’Farrell replied.
He said he occasionally ran into Mr Di Girolamo at Liberal Party fundraisers and Wests Tigers rugby league matches and spoke to him by telephone every month or two and believed he was an ‘upright’ businessman.
Mr Di Girolamo will continue giving evidence on Wednesday, when the public inquiry is expected to conclude.