Arthur Sinodinos: Like a rabbit caught in the headlines

Arthur Sinodinos: Like a rabbit caught in the headlines

Arthur Sinodinos knows a bit about ritual political sacrifice.

He became John Howard's chief of staff in 1997 after watching Howard's trusted chief staffer and confidant of 20 years, Grahame Morris, put his own career to the sword.

The travel rorts affair had already claimed three ministers and was threatening to close in on Howard. Morris took the rap, saved his prime minister and asked for the sack.

Thus when Sinodinos, formerly the economics adviser, slipped into Morris' shoes all those years ago, he was more aware than most of the price of public office. You hold it only as long as you don't cause problems for your boss, or until your boss needs a fall guy.

Senator Arthur Sinodinos announced he would stand aside as Assistant Treasurer on Wednesday.

Senator Arthur Sinodinos announced he would stand aside as Assistant Treasurer on Wednesday.

Photo: Andrew Meares

The moment Sinodinos' name was uttered in the same sentence as the crooked name Obeid within the cauldron of the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption, his seat on Tony Abbott's frontbench was placed firmly on the endangered list.

He was Assistant Treasurer. The new government was about to repeal 9000 regulations in the hope of freeing up the economy. And it was preparing its first budget.

The Shorten opposition, having failed to claim the scalp of Assistant Health Minister Fiona Nash, was in frantic search of a new target. Labor knew what it was to be burnt to a crisp by the Obeid factor, and here were those flames licking at a Liberal minister.

The government and the PM, in short, needed its Assistant Treasurer on the witness list of an anti-corruption commission investigating Obeid and mates about as much as it needed to discover it had misplaced a zero or two in the calculation of the deficit.

When counsel for ICAC began frothing about a $20-million pay day that awaited Sinodinos if a dodgy deal had gone ahead between Sydney Water and the company of which he had once been chairman, he was more than halfway gone.

No matter that the deal hadn't gone ahead, or that he hadn't enjoyed a multimillion-dollar pay day.

No matter that he wasn't being investigated as an individual by ICAC and that he was simply being called as a witness.

No matter either, that the matter concerned events before he entered the Senate, or that he had denied knowing the Obeid family was up to its bulging wallet in the company of which he had been a director.

It was the vibe.

Worse, Sinodinos' predicament was occupying the front pages. There was a week and half of Federal Parliament to endure before he would get his day on the ICAC witness stand. He didn't need his boss, Tony Abbott, to tell him to step aside.

He needed only to cast his mind back to the day in 1997 when Grahame Morris took the long walk to save his prime minister.

Unsurprisingly, Abbott was effusive in his praise for Sinodinos' own long walk. It was ''the right and decent thing'', done for ''the good of the government'', and he looked forward to Sinodinos returning to the ministry.


Senator Sinodinos has probably seen too much now to believe in happy endings.

Tony Wright

Tony Wright is the associate editor and special writer for The Age and the Sydney Morning Herald

Most Viewed in Politics


Morning & Afternoon Newsletter

Delivered Mon–Fri.

By signing up you accept our privacy policy and conditions of use