Assistant federal Treasurer Arthur Sinodinos has stood aside from his position, amid questions over alleged links to a questionable deal involving disgraced former Labor power broker Eddie Obeid.
(Transcript from World News Radio)
The Independent Commission Against Corruption is investigating the activities of Australian Water Holdings and state-owned Sydney Water between 1992 and 2012 and which was chaired by Senator Sinodinos in 2011.
Labor successfully suspended proceedings in the Senate to move a motion to force the Assistant Treasurer to make a detailed statement about his involvement with Australian Water Holdings run by Eddie Obied.
(Click on audio tab to listen to this item)
Senator Sinidinos has stepped aside until after the ICAC inquiry is completed.
Senator Sinodinos told Parliament earlier this week he would appear before ICAC as a witness and would be vindicated in relation to his involvement with Australian Water Holdings.
However, this was not good enough for the Greens and Labor.
The Senate passed a motion calling on Senator Sinodinos to make a statement to parliament by noon, or to face a further motion compelling him to do so.
Senator Sinodinos told the Senate that the issue was becoming a distraction from important issues, and therefore he would stand aside for the time being.
“I do not want this sideshow to be an unnecessary distraction from the important work of the government, which I am proud to serve. Whilst this process is underway, I will therefore be standing aside as Assistant Treasurer. I thank my colleagues for their strong support and for their ongoing faith in my integrity. The ICAC is the appropriate forum for me to answer any questions in relation to this matter. “
Labor claims there are a number of inconsistencies between what Senator Sinodinos told parliament in February 2013 and revelations at the ICAC inquiry relating to Australian Water Holdings.
In that statement, Senator Sinodinos denied any wrongdoing, and said he played no role in awarding a contract between AWH and state-run Sydney Water.
Labor Senator John Faulkner says ICAC has correspondence between the former company chairman and Sydney Water, as well as evidence of a meeting he had called to discuss the matter in 2011.
Senator Sinodinos also told parliament in 2013 that donations by AWH to political parties were handled by the company and not himself.
Senator Faulkner told the Senate he was not accusing Senator Sinodinos of corruption.
But he said the Assistant Treasurer had not said enough.
“There is now incontrovertible evidence that that statement, the only statement that Senator Sinodinos had made about this matter, that statement of more than a year ago wasn’t a complete statement. It is not an accurate statement. We know that and as a result a further statement is required.”
An angry Attorney General, Senator George Brandis responded by saying Senator Faulkner knows there is no case for the Assistant Treasurer to answer.
“We’ve had to put up with almost two hours of the smearing and the trashing and the attack by innuendo on the reputation of a great Australian before the Labor Party, through Senator Faulkner, made the concession that discloses and reveals the hollowness of their attack when Senator Faulkner said 115 minutes into this debate ‘I am not suggesting that Senator Sinodinos acted corruptly, not for a moment.'”
Prime Minister Tony Abbott says Senator Sinodinos has stood aside for the good of the government until the ICAC investigation has been resolved.
Mr Abbott has also rejected suggestions that he asked Senator Sinodinos to step aside and says he’s looking forward to his return to the ministry after the inquiry ends.
“Senator Sinodinos saw me earlier and advised me of his decision to stand aside. So he made the decision. And I have to say, Madam Speaker, it is in the best and most honourable Westminster tradition that he should do so.”
Senator Sinodinos’s duties will be temporarily assumed by Finance Minister Mathias Cormann.
The Prime Minister says the Senator will receive no parliamentary salary or entitlements for the time being.
The ICAC inquiry is expected to last thee weeks.