The Australian Medical Association (AMA) is launching a new study into Alzheimer’s disease and early onset dementia, in an attempt to arrest the disturbing increase in Australian public figures whose memories appear to be failing them.

In recent weeks Liberal Party Senator Arthur Sinodinos confessed he was unable to recall whether the company of which he was deputy chairman (AWH) donated $74,000 to the New South Wales Liberal party, of which he was treasurer. Additionally Cardinal George Pell, appearing at the royal commission into child sexual abuse, was unable to recall the details of compensation packages to church sexual abuse victims, some as recent as 2007. Finally, the now former NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell could not remember having a $3,000 bottle of Penfold’s Grange delivered to his house, nor could he remember writing a note to AWH chief executive Nick Di Goralamo to thank him for the wine.

Memory fail: former NSW Premier Barry O'Farrell
Memory fail: former NSW Premier Barry O’Farrell

AMA President Dr Steve Hambleton has cited these three recent examples as part of a growing trend of forgetfulness in Australian public figures.

  • Former Prime Minister Julia Gillard was not able to recall citing documents relating to a 1993 mortgage, allegedly partly paid for with money from a union slush fund.
  • Another former Prime Minister, John Howard, could not recall reading a diplomatic cable stating the Australian Wheat Board (AWB) were providing kickbacks to Saddam Hussein’s government.
  • At the same Cole inquiry former Foreign Minister Alexander Downer experienced severe memory loss, unable to recall almost anything about his time as Foreign Minister, specifically in relation to the AWB scandal.
Downer: 'I cannot recall'
Downer: ‘I cannot recall’
  • John Howard’s one time Communications Minister Peter McGauran once forgot he owned 70 poker machines.
  • Treasurer Joe Hockey could not recall seeing the infamous ‘Gillard menu’ on a table he was sitting at, at a Liberal Party fundraiser – this has also raised concerns about his eyesight.
  • In 2013 Father Brian Lucas of the Catholic Church could not recall whether former priest Denis McAlinden admitted to child sexual abuse during a meeting with him.
  • Prime Minister Tony Abbott cannot recall twice punching a wall after losing a university election to Barbara Ramjan.
  • In a radio interview mining magnate and politician Clive Palmer could not recall the name of his candidate in the seat of Lyon in the 2013 election.
  • Finally, former Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock was, in 2008, unable to recall writing ‘Bucklies’ on the submission for a 6 year old asylum seeker child to be released from immigration detention.
Former Immigration Minister Philip Ruddock
Former Immigration Monster Philip Ruddock

Dr Hambleton has been at pains to explain the failing memories of so many public figures, however notes a common trend, in that the memory losses often coincide with public scrutiny, parliamentary inquiries and royal commissions, researchers will use this link in their study. Dr Hambleton is also concerned that so many of these figures are still actively involved in public life, when they have displayed such serious memory failure. When quizzed on this, 71 year old Philip Ruddock stated that he was excited about the upcoming silver jubilee of Queen Elizabeth and looked forward to meeting Princess Diana, while Barry O’Farrell asked if the interviewer could please repeat the question, as he could not recall it.

Finally, in the recent trial of disgraced MP Craig Thomson, a Brisbane escort stated she could not recall whether he was a customer of hers, however psychologists have speculated that the reason could be that he was just terrible in bed.

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