Arthur Sinodinos is a rarity among politicians: he has very few, if any, enemies. People speak of his openness, his honesty, his courtesy, his integrity.
In many cases these are people who might be in disagreement with him, whether in another party, faction or on another side in a policy argument. For nine of John Howard's 11-plus years as prime minister, he served as chief of staff and gatekeeper, arguably the second-most powerful political figure in the land.
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ICAC spotlight on Sinodinos
Assistant Treasurer Arthur Sinodinos has become entangled in the web of the ICAC inquiry. Nine News.
From humble beginnings in Newcastle, the son of a Greek seaman, he took an honours degree in commerce from his home town university and joined the public service as a graduate recruit in Finance and later at Treasury, where he caught the eye of then opposition leader, John Howard, joining his staff until Howard was dumped in 1989, but returning in 1995 in Howard's second incarnation as leader.
Originally senior economic adviser, he moved into the top job as chief of staff in 1997, where his unflappable demeanour, clear-headed grasp of policy and personal charm all worked to calm turbulent waters around the prime minister.
As a senior staffer remarked to me at the time of his appointment: ''No one understands Howard like he does and Howard trusts no one like he trusts Arthur; very different people, but they think exactly alike.''
After leaving Howard and embarking on a business career, Sinodinos did not stray far from the political action, taking over the demanding job of finance director for the NSW Liberal Party in 2009 and accepting the job as state president of the party two years later, presiding over what is often seen as the most factionally divided Liberal branch after South Australia.
It was a watershed year for the Liberals, returning to office after 16 years, and having a seasoned political operator and peacemaker overseeing the transition was seen as a plus.
Amid much speculation that he would seek endorsement for the blue-ribbon seat of Bradfield, Sinodinos opted instead to take a seat in the Senate when Helen Coonan resigned in late 2011, unusually retaining his state party presidency.
When the Abbott government was successful in last year's election, Sinodinos looked set to go to Finance, but had to settle for the consolation prize of Assistant Treasurer with the Finance portfolio going to West Australian senator Mathias Cormann.
At the time this was explained by the growing importance of Western Australia to the economy and the state's strong result for the Liberals. But there were muted murmurings that certain business activities of Sinodinos, then under investigation in NSW, were taken into account.
The opening in Sydney this week of yet another inquiry into the affairs of former Labor powerbroker and minister Eddie Obeid by the Independent Commission Against Corruption brought those business activities into the spotlight.
As chairman of an Obeid entity, Australian Water Holdings, evidence was given that Sinodinos stood to make many millions of dollars in what was alleged to be a dubious arrangement with the state-owned Sydney Water Corporation, and that Obeid was after influence in the Liberal Party now that Labor was on the outer.
Nowhere is it alleged that Senator Sinodinos acted improperly, dishonestly or corruptly. He will give evidence at a later hearing to explain his role, and that will be eagerly awaited. Was he cultivated by Eddie Obeid? He was certainly well remunerated, according to evidence - $200,000 for about 100 hours' work. He was given a 5 per cent shareholding in the company at no cost, with the promise of another 2.5 per cent if the NSW government approved the public private-partnership with AWH - which it subsequently did not.
For a man so highly regarded by so many, the senator is in a curious position - and one made even more controversial given his ministerial role and immediate area of responsibility in business deregulation, notably the Future of Financial Advice legislation which significantly weakens existing consumer protection, and is seen as ultra-friendly to the banks and the big end of town generally.
There is, of course, no connection between what ICAC is looking at and the FoFA issue, but there are serious issues nonetheless raised about the senator's judgment. For an experienced political operator who is said to be business savvy, why did he not do the obvious due diligence on Obeid and his empire? It would not have entailed any detailed research to tentatively conclude that there was an element of risk involved.
Closely politically connected as he is in Sydney, the machinations of the former disgraced Labor government, and the key movers and shakers involved, would surely have been known to him.
Why did he not see the danger signals? Or was the offer simply too good to refuse?
This is not the first time Sinodinos' judgment has been called into question. In 2007 when he left the prime minister's office, he took a position with the investment banker Goldman Sachs JB Were. It was a position, it would seem, ideally suited to his talents and experience. The firm was one of three financial institutions that had arranged the Howard government's share offering of Telstra not all that long before.
Dr Norman Abjorensen is a visiting fellow at the ANU's Crawford School of Public Policy. He is co-author of Australia: The State of Democracy.