Labor managed to finish the day with a ministerial scalp of sorts, but not before it bungled its parliamentary strategy to bring down Arthur Sinodinos.
Senator Sinodinos started Wednesday as the government’s assistant treasurer, notwithstanding questions about his involvement in a company being investigated by the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC) in NSW.
By question time he was sitting on the coalition backbench, freed from the obligation to take questions from non-government senators.
A few minutes earlier he had told the Senate he was standing aside as a minister in the Abbott government.
Opposition senate leader Penny Wong was clearly frustrated by the announcement.
She and her colleagues had planned to use question time to quiz the minister about his involvement with Australian Water Holdings (AWH), a company associated with corrupt former NSW Labor minister Eddie Obeid and being investigated by ICAC.
Senator Wong lamented that Senator Sinodinos was not required to answer any questions.
Earlier the opposition parties failed by one minute to bring the minister to account.
When the Senate began proceedings on Wednesday morning, Labor and the Greens moved to have Senator Sinodinos front the chamber and explain “inconsistencies” between a statement he made to parliament in 2013 and evidence heard at ICAC this week.
Labor and the Greens set Senator Sinodinos a deadline of midday to explain himself.
But the motion making the call did not pass the Senate until 12.01pm. As a result, the government argued the senator could hardly be given proper notice to appear by midday.
That point was argued for another 45 minutes before the Senate’s standing orders deprived Labor of making good on its threat to move a tougher motion against the minister.
But it was only a temporary reprieve for Senator Sinodinos, who presumably was working on his stand-aside statement.
In question time Labor was forced to ask questions about what the prime minister knew about the issue and what steps he took to ensure Senator Sinodinos was a fit and proper person to be a minister.
Tony Abbott was answering those questions in the other place, also known as the House of Representatives.