You know when you're really excited about a date, you're all dressed up and getting ready to leave, and the bastard decides to just text you that he's not going to make it? Like, not even a phone call? Well Tony Abbott knows what it's like. He was getting ready to have a big jovial press conference about a second airport for Sydney with the Premier of NSW, Barry O'Farrell, when BOF texted him to say that not only was he not coming, he was quitting.
The NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) has been looking into a company called Australian Water Holdings, which has infiltrated the murky depths of both the NSW Labor and Liberal Parties. Today it was revealed that BOF had accepted a 1959 bottle of Grange from Nick di Girolamo, a Liberal Party fundraiser and Chief Executive of AWH. Guidelines are very clear for politicians – you can't accept gifts like that. But then again, 1959 Grange? It was probably very good. The Prime Minister wouldn't know—he's never “drunk a bottle of wine from (his) birth year”.
AWH was one of the biggest donors to the NSW Liberal Party just before the state election that saw BOF elected Premier. Documentation shows that Eddie Obeid's family owned a pretty big stake in the company, although Eddie Junior, Obeid's son, has told the ICAC that they never actually purchased the shares. Regardless, having the Obeid name attached doesn't really help anyone's cause. AWH was after a public-private partnership with Sydney Water which would have earned the company $60 million. Arthur Sinodinos, the Liberal Party Senator and former Chief of Staff to John Howard, was a Board member of AWH, and he would have earned up to $20 million if the deal went through. He was already earning $200,000 a year just to attend board meetings from time to time.
The media and anyone nerdy enough to be watching live press conferences got a glimpse today of what Tony Abbott is like when he has to front the media without preparation. As he's shown so often before, when he's put under the pump, his immediate reaction is to attack. The first journalist to ask a question copped it, the steely eyes and forced grin of our noble leader bearing down upon her as he scolded her for saying BOF's government was corrupt. “I ask that you withdraw and apologise for that statement!” She didn't seem very scared.
It's interesting to see the difference between the two parties when dealing with matters of corruption. When Labor politicians are called before ICAC, it's routine for the Premier to say something like “if xxx is found to have done something wrong, I will take action to deal with it.” But when it's a Liberal, whether BOF or Arthur Sinodinos, the Prime Minister repeatedly refers to how honourable they are. “He is acting from high honour,” the Prime Minister said. “The important thing is to show appreciation for his integrity, this standard of honour and integrity.” He even went on to say that he wished that this had happened in three or four years time, so that BOF could continue his excellent, if slightly corrupt, governance of the state.
It seems a bit weird.
It's reasonable to think that accepting a bottle of wine isn't quite corrupt. There's no evidence so far that the Grange influenced BOF's decisions (although he is back in the ICAC at noon today). But then again, look at how much coverage there's been of politicians like Joe Tripodi, who has not been found guilty of anything in the ICAC but is consistently on the front page of the daily papers whenever there's a corruption issue. There are guidelines for politicians, and one is that you can't accept expensive gifts, and the other is that when you do receive a gift you have to declare it on the parliament's records. BOF did neither—he said he forgot that he got the wine.
NSW is now abuzz with speculation about who will take over as Premier, and whether they'll be able to withstand the forces of darkness that have claimed every Premier since Bob Carr. In the meantime, Tony Abbott is probably going to be punching a few walls because today should have been about more important things like the Royal Visit.