The NSW Electoral Commission has not merely rejected Senator Arthur Sinodinos’ demand for a retraction of its statements relating to him and the NSW Liberal Party, it’s delivered one of the snarkier slapdowns a bureaucracy has delivered a politician for some time.
After the commission announced before Easter that it was withholding more than $4 million in public funding from the NSW Liberal Party for its use of the Free Enterprise Foundation in 2010-11 to hide the identities of donors, including prohibited donors, Sinodinos, displaying high dudgeon, sicced his lawyers onto the commission. Problem was, there wasn’t much to sic them onto. The commission only mentioned the senator once in its summary of facts, saying it had relied on evidence provided to the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption by the NSW Liberal Party’s Simon McInnes, who signed off on the party’s electoral disclosures (and who resigned this week), Paul Nicolaou and then-Liberal director Mark Neeham. The commission noted: “Through them evidence was also given of the involvement of other senior Party officials constituting the party’s Finance Committee, including Mr Sinodinos the Finance Director/Treasurer …”
Given Sinodinos’ role as treasurer, and that he was copied in to emails about the disbursal of Free Enterprise Foundation donations, to say he “involved” would appear to be a statement of the obvious.
Not to the lawyers at Arnold Bloch Leibler, however. “The Commission’s Statement, together with the Summary of Facts,” the firm wrote to the commission on 24 March, “may erroneously convey to some readers that there was evidence that Senator Sinodinos was knowingly involved in the so-called scheme to disguise donations …”
(Note the “so-called” — you might think it was blatantly obvious that the FEF was used to disguise the source of donations to the Liberal Party, but that’s just you).
The lawyers pointed out Sinodinos had resigned as NSW Liberal treasurer in August 2011, and also complained of “loose language” in the “the Commissions’ [sic] publications, couched in terms such as ‘washed through'” and that the commission had failed to take into account Sinodinos’ “detailed submissions” to ICAC, which are subject to a suppression order.
“It is therefore most disappointing that Senator Sinodinos was not provided with any opportunity to dispute the Commission’s draft Summary of Facts prior to their publication …” They actually want the commission to “make a positive finding that (at least) Senator Sinodinos was diligent …”
The commission was, shall we say, underwhelmed with the Arnold Bloch Leibler letter and replied yesterday. “Your client was the Honorary Treasurer at all material times,” the Commission noted — i.e. that he resigned after the end of that financial year was irrelevant. As to the complaint that it hadn’t asked Sinodinos to comment on the draft Summary of Facts, the commission noted it was legally required to communicate through the party’s agent — until this week, Simon McInnes — and suggested Sinodinos might direct that complaint there. “Your client may wish to raise with Mr McInnes any concerns he has about how and who Mr McInnes consulted with to prepare the Party’s response to Commission correspondence.”
As for the “loose language”, the high-priced lawyers of Arnold Bloch Leibler appeared to have gotten confused. The commission never used the phrase “washed through”; it was used during ICAC hearings, not in the commission’s documents. As for Arthur’s suppressed submissions — well, they’re suppressed. “The Commission has neither seen nor taken account of what you refer to …”
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In short, Sinodinos is complaining to the wrong people, his lawyers got confused about some basics and he somehow wants the Commission to have taken account of submissions that he acknowledges are unavailable.
The commission declined, sadly, to comment on Arnold Bloch Leibler’s suggestion that it find that Sinodinos was diligent. Given Arthur was party treasurer but claimed to know nothing about how donations were being hidden via the Free Enterprise Foundation, that he was a director of Australian Water Holdings when it made a donation to the NSW Liberal Party while he was party treasurer and he knew nothing about that either, and that he said some version of “I don’t remember” 68 times in his evidence to ICAC, it’s hard to see “diligent” being at the top of any list of adjectives that the commission might use about the cabinet secretary.