Being an enthusiast when it comes to politics, I’m one of the limited number of Australians outside of New South Wales that even knew that the Premier of that State was a man called Barry O’Farrell.
He was the most popular State Premier in Australia, had a huge 27 seat majority, and was leading his party in a state where the other side had politicians being paraded before corruption commissions and jailed for child sex offences and/or drug offences.
He came across and competent and very proper. He even wore the nickname his opponents saddled him with – combining his name and his girth to come up with the imaginative “Fatty O’Barrell”- with pride, which must have really annoyed them no end.
He was untouchable.
And in two days he went from rooster to feather duster, as the old saying goes.
Why? Well it was wine.
Wine, for those of you who have not heard of it, is grape juice. Not lovely freshly pressed grape juice, but grape juice that has basically gone off, which is then bottled and sold to the unsuspecting consumer. When people first drink it, their reaction is normally “well, that’s not nice”, but repeated exposure causes a kind of Stockholm Syndrome, sometimes turning people into willing and earnest consumers of the stuff, often at outrageous prices.
This has been happening for millennia, and to such an extent that it often turns people quite mad, as demonstrated in this fine piece on Beasts of Brewdom from a few years back.
The wine in question was a 1959 Penfold’s Grange. Yes, one of the world’s most famous wines, sells for hundreds if not thousands of dollars per bottle, and made in my home state of South Australia.
Penfolds thought it had no future, and cancelled it in 1956. However, the winemaker, the late Max Schubert, refused to follow instruction and for the next few years produced it and hid it. These so-called “hidden vintages’ are rare and expensive. Not good apparently, but rare and expensive.
Mr O’Farrell was born in 1959, and so an oily, somewhat (now) discredited lobbyist sent him a bottle of the 1959 Grange as a little present, right when a huge contract was in the wind. A few years ago.
Mt O’Farrell was asked to give evidence at the Independent Commission Against Corruption, an interesting body in NSW, which has spent millions proving that various individuals were massively corrupt without actually charging them with anything so far, whilst simultaneously managing to wreck a few careers on the sidelines.
Mr O’Farrell was asked about the gift of the wine, and informed the commission that not only did he not remember it, but on the dates he was given that he was supposed to have received it, he was away.
Then the dates were adjusted. Still didn’t remember it. Hardly knew the guy in question.
Many people have a problem with someone not remembering a gift of wine valued at $3000. Come to think of of it, many people have a problem with valuing a bottle of not-so-good wine at $3000.
Mr O’Farrell claimed to not be much of a wine aficionado. And to be fair, he probably got 200 bottles of wine a year as gifts, though not of this ascribed value.
So, having pretty well denied it all, the Commission produced a hand-written thank you note from Mr O’Farrell.
Mr O’Farrell did the decent thing and resigned. Unlike a federal politician who, with a bit of luck will be locked up for fraud shortly, but who served out his political term whilst the investigation dragged. Unlike a politician in my own state, who has been delaying and delaying a court appearance of repulsive charges for years now whilst collecting a fat salary and doing not much.
But I put it to you, what if Mr O’Farrell had been a well known tea drinker? Not a wine drinker at all?
Here’s how it might have gone.
Special Counsel Assisting The Commission: Mr O’Farrell, do you remember receiving a gift from this man?
Mr O’Farrell: Not really. I get a lot of gifts.
SCATC: Really, it commemorated your birth year?
Mr O’Farrell: Oh, you mean that copy of Tea For Two Cha Cha by the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra from 1959? Along with a packet of a superb Lord Petersham Tea?
SCATC: I put it to you, Mr O’Farrell, that the vinyl record you casually mention was worth EIGHTY-NINE American cents on Amazon.com, and the tea was worth at least TEN DOLLARS.
Mr O’Farrell: Well, I’ve drunk the tea, but you can borrow the record if you like.
SCATC: No further questions.
Mr O’Farrell: I’ll just get back to a spot of Premiering then, shall I? It’s been real, you guys.
The temperance movement over a century ago where right when they pushed the line that alcohol ruined many a great career.
It just goes to show, that we should be electing tea drinkers to high office. Sure there might be the odd scandal (“I put it to you, Mr Treasurer, that the records show that your office spent $24 last year on ‘milk for tea’, and yet you claim to be a First Flush Darjeeling expert”) but overall, it seems a lot wiser.
The twist in this tale is that the lobbyist was trying to win a contract to supply water to Sydney. If he’d been smart enough to send every politician some tea, he could have recouped some of the cost.