In defence of Barry O’Farrell: does the punishment fit the crime?

I have been watching the saga of Barry O’Farrell’s resignation from the premiership of New South Wales with bemusement. Is it just me or does the punishment that he had imposed on himself (resignation from the highest office in the state) fit the crime (a, seemingly, genuine error in memory on oath).

Before exploring that more, let me be clear here:

1. I am a staunch Labor supporter. In fact I have come back to the Labor party off the back of the policies of the current regime in power in Canberra having been lost to the party during the Julia v Kevin fiasco.

2. I would like to see nothing more than a Labor Premier in every state in the land as well as being Prime Minister.

Those things being said: I am just bothered by the natural justice, or more to the point the lack thereof, in the resignation of O’Farrell.

If one assumes that there is no nefarious purpose that sits behind the resignation and, similarly, that there is not further evidence of something nefarious to come, all that happened is a genuine lapse in memory.

O’Farrell was required to give evidence to the best of his knowledge and belief: which, originally, it would appear that he did. He just didn’t remember the receipt of the bottle of wine or the thank you note. Witnesses in any court proceeding give evidence on oath but that evidence can only be as good as their memory can’t it? In any ordinary proceeding what would have happened would have been the recall of the witness to clarify the evidence: nothing more and nothing less.

We are not talking about a case of perjury here. Similarly we are not talking about a witness intentionally misleading the Court. We are talking about evidence given on oath to the best of the knowledge and belief of the witness: nothing more and nothing less. Is the resignation then of O’Farrell not more than a bit heavy handed as a penalty, self imposed or otherwise?

I fully appreciate that this is a step that he has taken himself but that he felt that this was his only recourse is troubling. We, as citizens, all want a corruption free body politic and bodies like ICAC are there to investigate corruption and police it. Do we though, as citizens, want our politicians to feel like they have to resign because they forgot about a gift, among no doubt thousands of gifts, received 36 months ago? That is not what ICAC (or the other anti-corruption bodies) were set up for.

Now I concede that there were questions to be asked about O’Farrell’s relationship with Australian Water Holdings but nothing about the receipt of a bottle of wine or forgetting about it leads to a conclusion that O’Farrell is corrupt.

I am saddened that Barry O’Farrell felt there was no other option other than to resign. I think that that decision was plainly an overreaction, no doubt brought about by the likely response to his memory loss by the tabloid media. It does nothing to add to the confidence of the public in our public officials though because the punishment plainly does not fit the crime.

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