Arthur Sinodinos' political career disintegrated at the ICAC hearings this week, but the ramifications may be far more severe for him than that, reports Sydney bureau chief Ross Jones, who in the courtroom on Thursday.
ON THURSDAY, 3 April 2014, the golden dreams of Senator Arthur Sinodinos were strewn to the four winds in a mist of green fairy dust — the colour of greed, jealousy and money.
Newspaper reports are one thing, the transcripts better, but witnessing the senator’s discomfort live was discomforting in itself. Beautiful body control, calm hands, a flash of irresistible smile, perfect manners. AO badge.
Fairfax’s Kate McClymont and News’ Andrew Clennell both noted the Senator was constantly drinking water through his day-long grilling by Geoffrey Watson SC, what they didn’t note was that, while the senator constantly lifted his glass to his mouth, most of the time the glass was practically empty, the senator rarely lifting the glass high enough for the shallow water to reach his lips. Had he been constantly drinking water he would have been squirming with bladder pressure.
But it was a tic Arthur couldn’t conceal. He even ran his finger around the inside of his collar a few times. Smooth operators on their game do not do that.
He gave every sign of being overwhelmingly tense.
ICAC is not a court. Court rules do not apply. It is an enquiry where all the players – witnesses, counsel, the commissioner – speak into mikes, the transcripts to be pored over at the commissions’ leisure. And pored over they will be, the inconsistencies explored for possible DPP referral. When I say possible, I mean really possible. Big time.
That’s why so many witnesses had apparent memory failure. There is no law against forgetting.
Arthur’s apparent loss of his upstairs facilities has been well documented and is, by now, widely known. Several times the audience guffawed into laughter in sheer disbelief; Arthur pressed on, sipping air and trying to beam at the commissioner.
Obfuscation. Denial. Memory loss.
These things go to the heart of the Liberal National Coalition.
Peta Credlin, whose political nose cannot be denied, made sure Sinodinos only cracked assistant finance minister to Mathias Cormann even though he can smile more readily, knew John Howard and is, according to Tony Abbott, an "honourable man".
But they knew this guy was off when they hired him.
He was hanging with Nick Di Girolamo and Paul Nicolaou, both former Liberal Party fundraisers. Everyone knew them and what they did for a quid. And who they doled out the quids to; the North Sydney Forum, a Liberal fundraising operation in Joe Hockey’s electorate, which accepted $33,000 from AWH before the stench became so strong they sheepishly returned the tainted funds.
Sinodinos was hired by Abbott for the same reasons AWH hired him — as a door opener. He’d been Howard’s Cardinal Richelieu and was seen as an electoral asset in the restoration of the ancien regime.
But no more.
The ordeal of Arthur will be long and mediaeval. Blackadder to Baldrick, not in one fell swoop, but exquisitely drawn out. If he was telling the truth to the commission – and let’s hope he was – then he falls a little behind the desired standard of your modern chairman, what with the diligence responsibilities and all.
So, you would think, that’s it for a serious, heavy-duty business career. Maybe a trucking company in Bargo, but Collins Street probably not.
Politics? Hard to see with the Obeid taint. Ride out his term maybe, then bye bye if worse hasn’t happened in the meantime.
Back in February 2013 Arthur made a mea culpa speech in the Senate for failing to disclose five – count them – directorships in what he described as an administrative oversight.
In the same speech, he claimed he had no knowledge of the Obeid’s involvement in AWH:
I became non-executive chairman of AWH on 3 November 2010. I was not aware that, at around this time, the CEO of the company had negotiated what has been reported as a personal loan agreement with members of the Obeid family, secured against shares in Australian Water Holdings. I believe that there should have been such a disclosure made to me.
It might have been reported as a personal loan agreement secured against shares, but in the Obeid’s accounts it was booked as a direct loan to AWH. Moses Obeid swore blind this was a ‘typo’.
Let’s hope Arthur didn’t mislead the house.
There’s an awful lot of information presented to ICAC and, frankly, I’m not sure where the reporting boundaries lie, but based on what’s happened so far you’d be shocked if criminal prosecutions with meaningful gaol time didn’t follow.
Good luck Senator, AO. Et al.
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