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Madonna King: Turnbull's call for crackdown looks shoddy while Sinodinos remains

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Malcolm Turnbull's feted show of strength in recalling Parliament to pass tough industrial legislation tempts fate for him in a different way.

And that is in the increasingly weak position of his Cabinet Secretary and the colleague he brought back from the cold, Senator Arthur Sinodinos.

Here's the problem: the core of what the Prime Minister wants to achieve is legislation for a tough building industry watchdog, the Australian Building and Construction Commission.

To win cross bench support, he looks like he might bow to calls for similar watchdogs to apply to other industries and to reach into federal politics in a way not seen before.

And all this is at the same time as Senator Sinodinos is facing some fresh inquiries about his role as NSW Liberal Party Treasurer during a time of fast and loose donor practice by property developers and a front company that had been set up to channel donations.

The Electoral Commission report - which followed an investigation by the Independent Commission Against Corruption in NSW - said that the Free Enterprise Foundation was used to disguise $680,000 of banned donations to the NSW Liberals before the 2011 NSW election.


The NSW Electoral Commission is withholding more than $4 million in public funding because of this. Senator Sinodinos denies wrongdoing, and has demanded the commission retract references to him. 

But he is now in the situation of being at the heart of the government which wants to crack down on rorts - and the position he has put himself in is muting that message, and providing valuable ammunition for the Opposition.

"Arthur Sinodinos is a very important member of the Cabinet," Malcolm Turnbull said earlier this week.

He may very well be. And no one doubts Senator Sinodinos, who is a close confidante of the prime minister, is politically clever, and a good strategist.

But that's not the issue here. The NSW Liberal Party was found to have breached electoral laws in its 2011 victory - at a time when Senator Sinodinos was the state division's finance director and treasurer.

And while the senator has taken issue with the NSW Electoral Commission, he is yet to provide a full and frank explanation of his role along the way.

In politics, perception is everything. And that, here, is relevant to both Senator Sinodinos and his boss, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.

So how can it be resolved? There's only one solution. And that is for Mr Turnbull to do what any premier would do if a similar situation unfolded in any state across Australia.

And that is to demand the resignation of Arthur Sinodinos.

If the prime minister doesn't do that, his message about the need for an Australian Building and Construction Commission rings hollow.

And his judgment looks shoddy.