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Menzies moment? Former premier Barry O'Farrell on downfall and redemption at book launch

Date

Sean Nicholls

"Most people learn from their mistakes": Barry O'Farrell with author Anne Henderson.

"Most people learn from their mistakes": Barry O'Farrell with author Anne Henderson. Photo: Dominic Lorimer

Barry O'Farrell used his first public speech since dramatically quitting as NSW premier to launch an intriguing story: that of a politician who resigned from high office, only to regroup and enjoy a second, successful political career.

Menzies at War, by Anne Henderson, recounts the first term in office of Australia's longest-serving prime minister, Robert Menzies - which ended with his resignation in August 1941 after he lost the confidence of his cabinet.

Studied response: Mr O'Farrell would not be drawn on any future political ambitions.

Studied response: Mr O'Farrell would not be drawn on any future political ambitions. Photo: Dominic Lorimer

But despite having teased the audience with his reflections on a tale about downfall and redemption, Mr O'Farrell was less than keen to elaborate on his own circumstances.

After his address he was asked if he, too, would like a second chance.

"I have no aspiration to be premier of the state again," he shot back.

But notably, a question about a possible federal political career was met with the same studied response: "I have no aspirations to be the premier of the state again."

Earlier, Mr O'Farrell had told the assembled Liberal Party faithful at a Sydney Institute function at Circular Quay that "most people learn from their mistakes, their failures, their defeats - even politicians. Sometimes you get a second chance to show that you’ve learned those lessons."

Recounting how Menzies went on to help create the Liberal Party and reclaim the prime ministership at the 1949 election, Mr O'Farrell declared it a book "about rejection, assessment and recovery".

"It tells the story of Menzies' resignation as prime minister and the personal and public blow to ego and pride that accompanies such a decision," he noted.

"But it also describes how, after a couple of months of self-doubt and uncertainty, Menzies picked himself up and started on the second, more successful stage of his federal career."

The parallels with Mr O'Farrell's resignation as premier in April after giving false evidence to the Independent Commission Against Corruption were not lost on the executive publisher of NewSouth Publishing, Phillipa McGuinness.

She noted Mr O'Farrell was "clearly a very insightful and sympathetic reader of Menzies at War. And as I sat here listening I thought that has to come from his own personal experiences of the difficulties, the challenges, the vagaries ... of leadership."

Later, Mr O'Farrell was also quizzed about how he was he coping with the "public blow to ego and pride" that accompanies such a resignation.

"I’m about to head to the jungle," came the cryptic reply.

As it happens, Mr O'Farrell - who has yet to declare whether he will recontest his seat of Ku-ring-gai at next year's state election - sets off to walk the Kokoda Track next week.

An ideal time, perhaps, to ponder the future.

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