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Mar 19, 2014

No case for standing aside, but Sinodinos couldn't have done his job

There were no grounds for Arthur Sinodinos to stand aside, but with all the attention he couldn't have done his job at a crucial moment in his quest to gut FOFA.

Update: Senator Sinodinos stood aside just before 2.00pm today, saying “I do not want this sideshow to be an unnecessary distraction to the important work of the Government.”

While some are calling for Assistant Treasurer Arthur Sinodinos to stand aside while the New South Wales Independent Commission Against Corruption considers the case of Australian Water Holdings, there’s no clear case for that. No specific accusation of impropriety of any kind has been raised against him in his time as director or chairman of the company, unlike other NSW Liberal Party figures who have been identified by counsel assisting.

That’s not to say Sinodinos didn’t display poor judgement and isn’t guilty of being a little cute. To claim he was unaware of the involvement of the wider Obeid family in the company is hard to believe and suggests Sinodinos is at least guilty of remarkable naivety, particularly for a senior figure in the NSW Liberal Party. And to accept a position in which the remuneration was so strangely disproportionate to the work involved suggests a certain guilelessness, at best. Poor judgement might be a hanging offence if displayed in ministerial office, depending on the circumstances; whether it’s a hanging offence if displayed prior to entering politics isn’t at all clear. Until someone credibly raises an impropriety by Sinodinos, there’s no reason for la mort d’Arthur.

Of course, that’s before politics enters the equation. The Coalition was happy to call former PM Julia Gillard a “crook” — that was Coalition frontbencher George Brandis’ phrase, never retracted, made in Coward’s Castle — over the Australian Workers’ Union matter from the early 1990s, long before she entered politics, when at worst she was guilty of poor judgement (in a relationship as much as professionally) rather than guilty of any impropriety. Indeed, no one could ever actually find a specific impropriety to accuse her of — remember Tony Abbott claiming she had “questions to answer” and then being unable to say what the “questions” were? The Coalition was happy to try to link Labor frontbencher Bob Carr to Eddie Obeid from his days as premier of NSW, when Carr had the singular honour of having sacked Obeid. The Coalition was happy to go after then Labor MP Craig Thomson for his crimes before he entered politics. Now, Sinodinos is being protected from scrutiny in the Senate on the basis that the matters relate to the period before he entered politics. His Senate leader, Eric Abetz, also insisted today that proper processes must be followed and that politicians can’t be judge and jury.

It’s a fair call to make. It’s also rolled-gold hypocrisy.

Labor’s pursuit of Sinodinos yesterday was split between the Senate, where repeated efforts to ask him questions were rebuffed, and the House, where the matter only drew three questions. Labor figures say the purpose is to build momentum rather than go hard early, and that yesterday they got what they wanted, which was Abbott’s unconditional support for Sinodinos, which will come in handy if something does indeed come up beyond his poor judgement in mucking in with the Obeids.

As luck would have it, Sinodinos should be on the political front line this week, selling the case for the government’s gutting of the Future of Financial Advice package, which is to be introduced into Parliament today. The original Coalition strategy of sneaking this through — unveiling it two days before Christmas, sneaking the draft regulations out in January, aiming to do as much as possible by regulation rather than legislation, has come a cropper since the media started paying proper attention to how disastrous the package would be for consumers. Overnight there was another body blow to the package: the chair of the Financial Planning Association, Matthew Rowe, criticised the section of Sinodinos’ repeal provisions that in effect restored commissions for “general” financial advice, on both Lateline and in a piece published today, saying:

“In my personal opinion, this is an attempt by some product manufacturers to drive the sale of their product through integrated distribution without the obligation to investigate the needs of the consumer or provide a solution that is in the consumers best interests. In 2009, well before the FoFA reforms the FPA lead the financial planning profession by banning our members accepting these commissions. We believe now, as we did then, that commissions linked to the sale of an investment or superannuation product provides for a conflict of interest that cannot be managed so must be avoided. The FPA has written formally to the Government voicing its strong opposition to commissions being paid under what is being called the ‘general advice’ exemption. We do not believe this proposed change is in the public interest.”

The FPA has previously flagged its concerns about the restoration of commissions, but Rowe’s missive is a hardening of its position and rhetoric. That leaves only the banking cartel and AMP as enthusiastic supporters of the Sinodinos package, with a wide array of opposition stretching from unlikely financial planning opponents to the business media through to industry super and consumer groups.

Sinodinos, of course, can’t do his job and get on the front foot and deal with these issues in the media because any appearance would be swamped by questions about ICAC and his relationship with Eddie Obeid. All he can do is answer Dixers in question time and issue statements from inside his office.

That’s the real problem for Tony Abbott — a minister who can’t do his job properly at the moment when his own package of reforms is unravelling. That’s no hanging offence, either — but it might be if things don’t change.

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24 comments

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24 thoughts on “No case for standing aside, but Sinodinos couldn’t have done his job

  1. Jimmy

    I seem to recall BK making a comment a year or two ago abot Abbott continual calls for ministers to resign over the most trivial thing will set him a very high bar to meet when in govt – and now with Nash and Sinodinos it appears he is struggling to meet that bar.

    As for the FOFA repeal – this is reprehensible, to claim that removing the clause to have advisers act in their best interest will have no negative impact because there will always be the “ethical obligation” indicates Abbot has never actually met a financial planner!

  2. Dogs breakfast

    “It’s also rolled-gold hypocrisy”

    Wrong, Bernard, this is solid gold hypocrisy.

  3. MJPC

    Jimmy, there’s also Alex Somlyay and, BK, in a word its ethics and greed and how much the voters are prepared to put up with from any part of politics. ( (after all the age of entitlement is dead in some sectors of the economy).
    As an aside, I saw, and read of, Sinodinas in todays SMH, and he is not cute in any sence of the word. If being clever is ripping off the taxpayers then something is wrong in my definition of ethical behaviour.
    In keeping with these people staying on the payroll while sorry stories are told (a’la Craig Thomson) I guess the proletariat have to put up while ICAC charts the course however, I expect the opposition will ‘take no prisoners” and mercilessly prosecute the case against citizen Abbott and his hangers on over this sorry story.

  4. Wynn

    ‘Poor judgement’ seems generous, even on the currently available facts. Sinodinos was a director, then chairman. He had an obligation to make himself aware of what was going on.

  5. Jimmy

    See he has just stood aside, but still won’t make any explanation.

  6. Liamj

    Thank you Sinodinos, your greed should buy NSW a new government.

  7. sebster

    Aaaaand, he’s gone. Bye!

  8. drmick

    Justice is better when its poetic. Wynn is right. There are rights and responsibilities here and filling up the treasurers election campaign with the proceeds of crime would probably not be the first time this has happened, but the first time someone has been that arrogant and sloppy about it.

  9. shepherdmarilyn

    I am wondering when the media is going to realise that repealing provisions that are meant to ‘”save” just $1 billion from a $360 billion budget is just time wasting nonsense because they have no actual policies to put to the parliament.

  10. Hamis Hill

    “There are no grounds for AS to stand aside”,so the next article will address the fact that he did actually, groundlessly, stand aside?
    No?

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