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Sinodinos takes the stand: if he didn’t know, it doesn’t wash

Stood-down federal government minister Arthur Sinodinos took the stand at the Independent Commission Against Corruption in Sydney this morning. So how much trouble is he in? Crikey was in the hearing.

It’s hard to win playing dumb. Despite his impeccable presentation and smiling demeanour, and regardless of whether any finding is ever made against him, there was a sinking feeling as former assistant treasurer Senator Arthur Sinodinos gave evidence this morning to the New South Wales Independent Commission Against Corruption.

Just before 11am counsel assisting ICAC Geoffrey Watson SC drew a series of significant concessions from Sinodinos: despite being deputy chairman, then chairman, of private company Australian Water Holdings, he did not know why costs billed to its sole client Sydney Water were rising — although those costs were subject to hot dispute — and he did nothing to find out, beyond participating in board discussions.

Watson is well blooded by now and ripping up politicians in the witness stand is his daily work: he does it by turns with pleasant humour, showy disrespect and singular insistence on his own line of questioning. If he needs to be combative to get what he wants, he is, using lines like: “I’ve tried three times … are you going to refuse to answer the question?” and “Will you concentrate? We’ve got to move forward, Senator”.

On the amount of work Sinodinos did for his $200,000 annual salary as a non-executive at AWH, Watson asked whether a dinner-time conversation with a Leighton executive might be included, say: “Ninety seconds over a gin and tonic?” Asking what concerns were raised at one meeting, and drawing a blank, Watson cracked: “Did you just gaze into each others’ eyes?”

After an hour of this, a tiring Sinodinos was on the back foot about why he, as a director of AWH, did so little to rein in costs at the company. Commissioner Megan Latham weighed in to help with the simple question: why were AWH costs rising, at the end of stage three of the Rouse Hill contract, even as field work was coming to an end? “I don’t have the full answer to that,” Sinodinos conceded.

Watson pressed him: “You did nothing to get information as to why the costs were rising?” “That is right,” Sinodinos agreed, “but can I elaborate?” The Senator was allowed to elaborate, and explained that he was adhering to legal advice from AWH lawyers Allens, on which costs were attributable to the Rouse Hill 3 contract.

Watson would have none of it — that might be relevant if AWH was seeking to obscure the reason for its rising costs, but had nothing to do with whether Sinodinos was fulfilling his duty to the company’s shareholders.

It was the same story all morning. Did he know Sydney Water chief Kerry Schott? “I do and I admire her,” said Sinodinos. In a meeting with her and John Brown, did the Senator recall whether she suggested the people at AWH were dishonest? “I can’t recollect whether she said it or not.” Did Sinodinos tell the board of AWH what was discussed in the meeting with Schott? “I don’t remember whether I did … I don’t believe I did. It was a private meeting and I treated it as such.” How was it private? Sinodinos answered only that he was an independent director.

In his defence, Sinodinos told the commissioner he took a “softly softly approach” as chairman of AWH and wanted to ensure, in its dealings with Sydney Water, the company did not “throw the baby out with the bathwater”. The baby — the thing that, by his own evidence this morning, excited Sinodinos and originally drew him to join AWH — was the public-private partnership the company was hoping to reach with Sydney Water, to provide infrastructure in Sydney’s North West Growth Centre, which would have seen him make up to $20 million.

That was the same PPP that attracted the family of corrupt former Labor politician Eddie Obeid to invest in AWH, and could have reaped him $100 million.

Sinodinos conceded straight up this morning the other reason that he was brought into AWH was to “find cornerstone investors”. He mentioned Credit Suisse, Lend Lease, Transfield, Tenix. He did not mention the one cornerstone  —  the Obeids  —  who did invest. It doesn’t wash.

Forgetfulness is common enough in the witness stand. For a serving senior politician, it is worse than a bad look.

CORRECTION: An original version of this story stated Arthur Sinodinos was the former finance minister; he is in fact the former assistant treasurer.

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  • 1
    Dez Paul
    Posted Thursday, 3 April 2014 at 1:13 pm | Permalink

    Mmmmm, reminds me of our newly appointed High Commissioner to London’s performance over the AWB scandal some years ago.

    Can’t see Arfur returning to the big political stage, regardless of the outcome.

  • 2
    Posted Thursday, 3 April 2014 at 1:31 pm | Permalink

    Arthur Sinodinos is playing too cutesy pie for words. Obviously the man regards himself as being smarter than anyone else, in the end hubris will have its way. ‘Bye ‘bye Arthur.

  • 3
    Electric Lardyland
    Posted Thursday, 3 April 2014 at 1:48 pm | Permalink

    Seems to be a bit of a trend doesn’t it: people who have been paid an exorbitant amount of money, supposedly for their mental acumen, displaying very limited mental skills at court appearances. Apparently, despite paying Sinodinos $200,000 for less than 40 hours work, Australian Water Holdings got someone with an extremely vague memory and who seemed to show little or no interest in the day to day running of the company. According to his testimony, he wasn’t really aware who was involved in the company, can’t recall the gist of the few meetings that he attended and he had no real idea of why the company’s costs were rising. And of course, good old Arthur, apparently has no awareness of the $70,000 donation that AWH made to the NSW Liberal party at the time, despite him also holding down the job of treasurer of the NSW Liberal party.

    Seems well worth the money, doesn’t he?

  • 4
    graybul
    Posted Thursday, 3 April 2014 at 2:43 pm | Permalink

    Incredulity . . not willing to believe something!

    Credulity . . too willing to believe!

  • 5
    rhwombat
    Posted Thursday, 3 April 2014 at 2:44 pm | Permalink

    $200,000/year buys a lot of amnesia.

  • 6
    Brian Williams
    Posted Thursday, 3 April 2014 at 2:51 pm | Permalink

    Gobsmacked is the only word I can think of to describe his testimony so far. Reminds me of another spiv with the first name of Arthur…last name Daley.

  • 7
    David Hand
    Posted Thursday, 3 April 2014 at 3:27 pm | Permalink

    This has got to be the end of Sinodinos’s political career. Back bench among the unrepresentative swill is all he should get now.

  • 8
    Bill Hilliger
    Posted Thursday, 3 April 2014 at 4:17 pm | Permalink

    Arfur using the Alex Doonut defence, all the critical bits I cant recall, I don’t remember. What a shyster!

  • 9
    Electric Lardyland
    Posted Thursday, 3 April 2014 at 4:41 pm | Permalink

    Yes, rh, but I bet that he wasn’t suffering from amnesia on pay day.

  • 10
    Djbekka
    Posted Thursday, 3 April 2014 at 5:02 pm | Permalink

    Astounding! Readers who have served on boards of community based NGOs or small incorporated organisations will have spent many hours discussing costs and income. Worrying about anything unexpected in the accounts that are tabled at each meeting. Even explaining to members at general meetings about events that ended with a financial loss of under $2000. Clearly there is a different standard when a government department will write cheques or transfer funds. Retirees, even those with financial industry experience are concerned with the demands of their responsibilities. Seems there is a different standard for well connected board members when PPPs are concerned.

  • 11
    bluepoppy
    Posted Thursday, 3 April 2014 at 5:19 pm | Permalink

    Do these type of people ever really pay for their misdeeds? There are too many ‘we know they know we know’ type scenarios and rarely is justice actually served. And so it goes on, the self-entitled continue to feather their nests and we sit back and watch the cyle perpetuate.

  • 12
    Robert Brown
    Posted Thursday, 3 April 2014 at 6:03 pm | Permalink

    Big picture: is this an example of what happens when public utilities are privatised?

    It’s hard to imagine a public servant getting paid $200k and being so ineffective, ignorant and generally poor performing.

    I thought privatisation supposedly led to greater efficiency, and there fore cheaper and/or better services?

  • 13
    Tyger Tyger
    Posted Thursday, 3 April 2014 at 7:03 pm | Permalink

    Do stuff all, forget what little you’ve done, collect 200k.
    Where do I get one of these jobs?

  • 14
    DiddyWrote
    Posted Thursday, 3 April 2014 at 7:13 pm | Permalink

    What’s that noise? Can you hear it? A slight deflatory hiss as a political career disappears without trace.

  • 15
    DiddyWrote
    Posted Thursday, 3 April 2014 at 7:34 pm | Permalink

    Moderated again. Will I renew my Crikey subscription? That decision is awaiting contemplation.

  • 16
    rhwombat
    Posted Thursday, 3 April 2014 at 9:36 pm | Permalink

    Robert Brown. If you believe that privatisation leads to efficiency, I have a Queensland Public Hospital System that you might be interested in. It come with it’s own Noddy.

  • 17
    Fair Suck of the Sav
    Posted Thursday, 3 April 2014 at 11:14 pm | Permalink

    The ‘age of entitlement’ clearly was and probably still is well and truly established at the top end of town. This comment took 1 minute around worth near $100 on Sinodinos’ former salary.

  • 18
    Ken Lambert
    Posted Thursday, 3 April 2014 at 11:34 pm | Permalink

    This man was supposed to be John Howard’s smart gatekeeper.

    He has obviously been bought for quite a tidy sum, with a super big payday for winning Govt contracts. In some countries this would be jailable corruption through influence peddling.

    Don’t insult us with the BS about being a know-nothing Arthur. Nobody gets paid a $20 million bonus unless a killing has been made - a killing out of taxpayer’s funds somewhere.

    And just think - you are Chairman of a company and you don’t know who the owners are with Eddie Obeid’s son just hanging out for no reason?? And they pay you $200,000 for 30 hours work and $20 million bonuses and you still don’t know who the Owners are?

    How did John Howard employ such an unknowing guy??

  • 19
    Paddlefoot
    Posted Friday, 4 April 2014 at 12:41 am | Permalink

    Have they just blown the dust off Andrew Fraser’s plan to defend Bond using shedloads of medication and dodgy medicos ? Privatisation - many troughs , many snouts. Oligarchs arise. Arthur’s swinging in the breeze. Over to you right-wing diehards.

  • 20
    AR
    Posted Friday, 4 April 2014 at 6:37 am | Permalink

    Arser’s actions were amoral, unethical but not illegal so, after this brief unpleasantness in the interregnum, he will begin again his rise without trace.

  • 21
    leon knight
    Posted Friday, 4 April 2014 at 9:01 am | Permalink

    There just has to be some way to nail this smart-arse for the crook he is and put him in jail, not just end his political career - I just hope the investigative journalists from the real media keep digging until they strike someone willing to spill the beans….corruption on this scale will have too many loose ends to control forever.

  • 22
    John Taylor
    Posted Friday, 4 April 2014 at 9:42 am | Permalink

    Where did he take the stand? did hee put it back when he was finished? It is called a bloody witness box and they get to sit down. Please spare us the appalling Americanism of ‘taking the stand’.

  • 23
    Honest Johnny
    Posted Friday, 4 April 2014 at 11:19 am | Permalink

    He was Treasurer of the Liberal Party as well as on the Board of AWH at the time the company made a $75,000 donation to the Liberal Party and claims he knew nothing about it! What hogwash! Every treasurer of any organisation would know where every dollar of donations came from.

  • 24
    Liamj
    Posted Friday, 4 April 2014 at 12:45 pm | Permalink

    @ Tyger Tyger - its buying the lie to say Sinodinos did stuff all, he did stuff all that he can admit to us mugs or to ICAC.

    What he really did was keep the NSW govt paying the fraudulent invoices of the AWH crooks. Thats not easy, no doubt there were some rule of law fuddy duddys trying to shake off the parasites, but Arthurs elite political skills kept the scam going. I wonder if theres any journo’s looking into precisely what business dodgy Arthur managed for the war criminal John Howard.

  • 25
    Kevin Herbert
    Posted Saturday, 5 April 2014 at 5:57 pm | Permalink

    Goodbye Arthur..you won’t be missed.

  • 26
    klewso
    Posted Sunday, 6 April 2014 at 2:08 am | Permalink

    He’s either a devious slimeball or totally incompetent - and the Coal-ition lines up to tell us how clevr he is.

  • 27
    Andrew Cochrane
    Posted Sunday, 6 April 2014 at 9:20 am | Permalink

    It is amazing that someone can get away with this in the witness box, presumably under oath.
    He is clearly either completely incompetent and an idiot, OR corrupt and failing to tell the truth.
    Either way, he is completely unsuitable to ever be a government Minister responsible for the welfare of Australians and the use of our tax money.

  • 28
    Posted Sunday, 6 April 2014 at 12:34 pm | Permalink

    Arthur Sinodinos has a rounded plumpish body shared by the majority of the inhabitants of mens’ clubs. The man’s stance, his clever avoidance of the truth, his so-called faulty memory; all of this combined with his overall sleekness makes me think of a well fed otter.

    He thought he could walk between the raindrops.

  • 29
    Jodie Elliott
    Posted Monday, 7 April 2014 at 9:55 pm | Permalink

    Much we’re yet to know about this and may never find out. Any argument for waterboarding?

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