Comment

View from the Street: It's been a sad, sad week for Arthur Sinodinos

And that wind farm witch hunt just gets huntier and witchier. Your news of the day, reduced to a snarky rant.

"Arthur he does what he pleases…"

For someone who's enjoyed a significant voice in the Liberal Party for a good long time, the last few years have been pretty lousy for Arthur Sinodinos.

An actual screengrab of Sinodinos on ABC's Insiders that was far, far too funny not to use.
An actual screengrab of Sinodinos on ABC's Insiders that was far, far too funny not to use. Photo: ABC Insiders

Once upon a time he was respected and admired as John Howard's right hand as Chief of Staff. He then made the leap from backroom to the Senate after taking over Helen Coonan's NSW seat, and his future as a political powerhouse seemed assured.

At least, until he was appointed by PM Tony Abbott as assistant treasurer under Diamond Joe Hockey.

Then, to add injury to insult, he was forced to resign from the position in 2014 while being investigated by the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption, regarding a $74,000 donation to the Liberal Party from Australian Water Holdings - a transaction about which he insisted he was utterly unaware, despite making a sweet $200k a year as AWH's Deputy Chairman at the time while also being the Treasurer of the NSW Liberal Party.

And ICAC bought his explanation, because who among us hasn't completely failed to notice making and also accepting donations of $74,000? That's just a sign of the sort of tip-top financial management and corporate governance demanded by today's corporate and political organisations!

Advertisement

And thus Art came back to Parliament, where he was one of Malcolm Turnbull's supporters for the leadership challenge to Abbott, and was given a frontbench gig as Parliamentary Secretary.

And in this important position, he was entrusted with vital jobs, like explaining why cutting taxes for big business was a great idea for the budget upon which his government was going to the election.

It's a dirty job, sure, but someone had to do it. Presumably.

"The best that you can do…"

Thus it was that on Monday Big Art found himself in the unenviable position of trying to sell the government's upcoming tax not-quite-a-plan by arguing that cutting company tax would magically send the economy into overdrive.

"It can encourage investment, it can encourage higher productivity, it can encourage more investment from overseas," he insisted, adding that it would also drive wages up because presumably all those grateful CFO's would be itching to blow such tax windfall on creating higher ongoing costs for their organisation.

Arguing that company tax cuts are the way to go has traditionally failed to inspire the hearts and minds of the electorate in the past because a) they're not personal tax cuts and therefore don't appeal to people's own sense of entitlement, b) it was an argument made just in time for even more reports about how most of our largest companies don't pay tax in any case, and c) it's not even remotely true.

Maybe that's why the electorate isn't taking to the streets demanding corporate tax cuts - indeed, a poll released on Thursday by Omnipoll indicated that a mighty groundswell of three per cent of voters are on board with tax relief for business being a budget priority, which is just another problem to plop into the already-overflowing problem-box of Treasurer Scott "yeah, the budget's totally on May 10, there's no way that the PM would move it without telling m… sorry, what?" Morrison.

But this might yet not be an issue for Arthur, since he might not be sticking around too long himself.

"If you get caught between the Moon and the Independent Commission Against Corruption…"

See, on Wednesday the Australian Election Commission announced that it would withhold a staggering $4.4 million in election funding from the NSW Liberal Party amid accusations that the party deliberately concealed the identities of illegal major donors ahead of the 2011 election.

The donations total around $700,000 and were the responsibility of the party's treasurer: a chap named "Arthur Sinodinos".

The payments were supposedly made by the "Free Enterprise Foundation", and illegally made largely by property developers, although the suggestion that developers may have continued to buy undue and illegal influence over the government may not come as the biggest possible surprise to residents of NSW.

ICAC chair Keith Mason cited the previous appearance by Sinodinos regarding that donation he knew nothing about making/receiving, and suggested that he had concerns regarding Art's "involvement". And Labor, unsurprisingly, was ready to attack.

"This is an extraordinary finding," thundered shadow Attorney General Brendan O'Connor. "Mr Turnbull should stand Arthur Sinodinos aside unless he and NSW Liberals provide the names of the anonymous donors to the NSW Electoral Commission. He should not take his place in Mr Turnbull's inner circle or cabinet until this occurs."

And this is not something that the Turnbull government really needs right now, for several reasons.

Three down…

Firstly, if Sinodinos does stand down, he'll be the fourth to resign in disgrace from the Turnbull frontbench.

He'll be joining the superstar team of Mal Brough as Special Minister of State (stood aside and then resigned pending a federal police investigation), Stuart Robert as Minister for Human Services (resigned over a perceived conflict of interest regarding a Chinese resources deal) and Jamie Briggs as Cities Minister (resigned after an incident involving a staffer during a ministerial trip to Hong Kong). That's hard for Turnbull to spin as bad luck rather than terrible judgement.

Secondly, the government is bringing back Parliament in April and heading toward an almost-certain double dissolution election based on the claim that it absolutely must reintroduce the Australian Building and Construction Commission in order to increase productivity (which the ABCC did the exact opposite of when introduced under Howard) and weasel out corruption (which isn't actually something it technically does: as this very publication reported in 2010, at the height of the ABCC's power, "…this unchecked authority is not directed at serious crime. The ABCC's mandate is instead to investigate industrial matters in the construction industry").

But in the great theatre of politics, it doesn't look good if the party declaring war on corruption is also hiding secret, illegal donations from faceless men.

Thirdly, with a likely eight-week election campaign, MPs are already wondering how they're likely to afford the cost of their campaign materials. Having the Liberals docked millions in funds in NSW just puts a greater hole in the accounts - and that's without the Coalition now having to budget for a hard-fought election campaign in what they'd have assumed was a safe seat in New England.

And there's probably no savings coming from South Australia, where the latest Roy Morgan poll suggests the Liberals are heading for some embarrassing losses, including Innovation Minister Christopher Pyne's seat of Sturt, in the wake of broken promises about submarine contracts and the closure of Holden's factories, among other manufacturing-ending things.

Man, it's going to be a long, long campaign.

So much hot air

Oh, and a bit of a callback to yesterday's V from the S, which concerned itself with the recent decision to burn a bunch of research money on a pointless witch hun… sorry, to invest $3.3 million in research health effects of wind turbines despite the science already being in.

And just in case you thought "well, at least there's no way that the government is going to attempt to use this decision as yet another stick with which to beat the already-beleagured renewable energy industry", then never lose that adorable and baseless optimism, Pollyanna.

"This research is very important as the only scientific pilot study conducted in Australia measuring the effects of vibration, low-frequency noise and infrasound has indicated that there are health problems that requires further investigation," declared Coalition senator Chris Back, as he called for all wind projects to be put on hold until this totally-not-already-settled issue is settled, again.

Fellow wind-farm-non-fan John Madigan echoed the call, insisting "We have a new industry operating infrastructure that some people say is making them sick… There is insufficient research of the type needed to determine the validity of these claims."

Actually, how do we know that solar panels aren't sucking all the heat-magic out of the sun? Maybe we need to assign some research to that for a few years too!

The cocktail hour: bilbies!

V from the S hopes you have a gloriously relaxing few days - or, if you're working on the holidays, that you relish those union-won loadings to make up for the bits of your life you're not spending with pals.

Have a magnificent Easter break, friends, and here's hoping the Easter Bilby visits you with chocolate aplenty. See you Monday, and cheers!

The top stories on smh.com.au on Thursday:

1. Pregnant Australian sentenced to 10 months' jail in Singapore for sedition
2. Brussels terrorist attacks: Police find 'will' on suspect's computer in hunt for airport, metro station bombers
3. 'Why do you keep aiming your phone at me?' The moment a woman catches the man allegedly filming up her shorts on a Sydney train 
4. Election 2016: devastating poll shows just three per cent of voters support likely budget centrepiece
5. Sydney schoolgirl, 16, accused of sending money to Islamic State refused bail

9 comments