Illustration: Glen Le Lievre
Shed no tears for Arthur Sinodinos. It was greed and folly that brought him down, a lethal cocktail for politicians at his level, and all his own work.
We can safely assume it was not his expertise in sewage reticulation that hoisted him into the boardroom at Australian Water Holdings, AWH. He was there for one purpose: to leverage the influence he had amassed in his years as John Howard's hatchet man and then Liberal Party grandee in NSW. He would be a direct pipeline to and from the very top of the new O'Farrell Coalition government.
As AWH chairman, Sinodinos was paid $200,000 a year for about 100 hours' work. That's $2000 an hour, a nice li'l earner, Arfur. But the bonanza was to come if the company landed a fat contract to water the new housing estates exploding in Sydney's north-west. The Independent Commission Against Corruption was told he would then hoover up as much as $20 million, a glittering fortune for the son of a working-class Greek immigrant family.
That was the greed, the snout in the trough. The folly came with his choice of associates, witting or unwitting. The touts behind AWH, Messrs Nick Di Girolamo and John Rippon, were paying themselves seven-figure salaries, billed back to Sydney Water, the public utility. Water users - i.e. you and me - were also funding limousines, entertainment and horse racing expenses and - wait for it - hefty political donations to the Liberals. Though he was simultaneously the AWH chairman and Liberal Party state treasurer, Sinodinos would have you believe he had no idea of the money sloshing around under his nose.
And there was a cuckoo in the AWH nest in the lumpy form of Eddie Obeid jnr, who had ''worked'' for the company for three years ; although doing what remains opaque. An Obeid nephew, Dennis Jabour, was also on the payroll. By this time in Sydney - say 2011 - the mere appearance of an Obeid on the horizon should have set the alarm bells ringing. You'd run a mile. But Sinodinos claims he was unaware the Obeids held 30 per cent of the company's shares.
At best, this suggests an insouciant approach to his role as AWH chairman or naivety on an epic scale. In effect, John Howard's former consigliere had become the Obeids' conduit to the Liberals. If that water deal had been done, Fast Eddie would have trousered hundreds of millions of dollars.
There is no suggestion that Sinodinos did anything illegal or corrupt. But he was wheeling and dealing in that dark underbelly of NSW public life that politicians of all sides strive to keep hidden from the mug voters. Eventually the beast consumed him.
When he finally pulled the pin on Wednesday, Howard and Abbott sang his praises, and Soapy Brandis was on his hind legs in the Senate braying about a great Australian.
Tosh. As Assistant Treasurer, Sinodinos' sole contribution to the Abbott government was to rip away Labor's consumer protection for small investors, a handy present for his mates in the big four banking cartel. We are well off without him.
World leaders, as they like to be called, love a crisis. It relieves the boredom. They dash about, calling summits and UN Security Council emergency sessions. They issue proclamations, threats and dark warnings; they jawbone on hotlines and occasionally dispatch troops or aircraft carrier battle groups.
Hordes of diplomats follow in their slipstream, and behind them comes a circus train of media pundits and think-tank pontiffs. The sound of grinding axes makes the welkin ring. It is very exciting.
Ukraine and Crimea is the latest crisis, rich with dramatic imagery. There are the Ukrainian flags, translucent in the flames on the Maidan in Kiev. Bearded revolutionaries hurl defiance. Tanks roll. ''Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin!'' bellows a flunkey as the master of All Russia strides through a pair of towering doors into his lapdog parliament, the Duma. (Big doors are always a useful measure for despots. The bronze portals to Hitler's Reichskanzlei were almost six metres high).
Putin is clearly a thug in the grand tradition of the madder tsars, or Stalin and Brezhnev, but he has a point about Crimea. Historically, the place has always been Russian. It was only in 1954 that it was handed to Ukraine by Nikita Khrushchev, who presumably thought that it didn't matter very much because the entire show from Warsaw to Vladivostock was run from the Kremlin anyway.
But, oh, the outrage in the West and beyond. The worst land grab in Europe since the Nazi rape of Czechoslovakia! I cannot imagine how John Kerry kept a straight face when he fulminated against powerful states invading another country uninvited. He did vote for the Iraq War, remember.
Sanctions have been brought down, although their chief effect will be to keep a handful of Russian oligarchs and their pneumatic blonde mistresses from the tennis at Wimbledon this year.
After that Crimea will be forgotten. There'll be a new crisis to entertainus all.
We urgently need a Tony Abbott impersonator to continue the long and honourable tradition of mocking prime ministers.
In the 1970s there was a McMahon or Whitlam mimic at every party you went to. The incomparable Max Gillies had Bob Hawke to a tee. The best Howard was done by Josh Zepps, a brilliant young actor who worked on my old Friday News Review on 2UE and is now making his fortune on TV in New York.
Anthony Ackroyd managed a nicely oleaginous Rudd, and Amanda Bishop's Gillard was OK until she did that appalling At Home With Julia, the most excruciatingly unfunny show on ABC TV in living memory.
But we haven't got an Abbott, although he should be easy to do. The jug ears and Speedos are a gift, along with that curious habit of slowly clasping and unclasping his hands as he speaks. And there's that, um, halting, er, delivery: a slow thinker on his feet, he incessantly repeats himself in question time to give his brain a chance to catch up with his mouth. All grist to the mimic's mill.
Fame and fortune are there for whoever can pull it off. The nation waits.