AWU Allegations: Shorten Must Respond Now Or Resign

VACANT LABOR MINDS and others on the Left who bray for the establishment of “a federal ICAC” should be fast to concur with me today, for the Heydon Royal Commission — the nearest thing yet convened — touches federal MPs, national organisations in the unions, and issues of national importance. It has heard allegations of corrupt and criminal misconduct at the union once run by Bill Shorten who, if he refuses to respond now, must quit.

There will be some who read today’s article, and wonder whether I have taken leave of my senses, for all of us know that proper process must take its course when it comes to court proceedings or — in this case — those of a Royal Commission, which in many respects is a judicial forum in its own right.

But so — by virtue of the powers invested in it — is the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption, or ICAC: a statutory entity the federal mouthpieces of the Left gaze longingly toward from Canberra, and which since the election of the Abbott government almost two years ago has been an item near the top of their wish list.

Of course, this hankering after “a federal ICAC” has nothing to do with decency, or principle, or cleanliness of governance in the eyes of the Left; on everything from asylum seeker policy to university funding, and from health policy to the federal budget, empty-headed stooges from the ALP, the Communist Party Greens and even the unions have increasingly found ways of slipping the “need” for “a federal ICAC” into their daily lexicon and media talking points.

Today’s article aims to serve two purposes: one, to revisit the events of the past week and assess the most recent development; and two, to hold the Labor Party (and its supposed “leader” in particular) to their own standards, and to demand that Bill Shorten either immediately answer the allegations that potentially implicate him in misconduct that apparently took place during his time in charge of the Australian Workers’ Union, or — if he continues to refuse to do so — to demand his resignation as opposition “leader” and his replacement by a more credible candidate.

There is a reason for the timing of my rather unorthodox demand of Shorten; two reasons, actually. We will come back to those shortly.

But firstly, for those who haven’t seen the past couple of articles I’ve published, you can access them here and here: these articles detail, in tandem with coverage from the mainstream press that I have linked into them, revelations from the Heydon inquiry into the trade union movement last week that appear — until or unless evidence to the contrary emerges — to have shone the spotlight into practices at the AWU that might euphemistically be described as “dubious” at best, or downright rotten at worst, and it seems that where the Royal Commission was charged with identifying and rooting out corruption and lawlessness in Australian unions, it has found these things in the very union once presided over by Shorten in his past life as a union hack.

Almost exactly a year ago, I published a piece in this column arguing that Shorten — for the good of the Labor Party — must quit; that missive has proven prescient, with all of the potential electoral positives held by Shorten Labor at the time having since all but evaporated, and my warnings of the potential for the Heydon inquiry to explode in Shorten’s face might almost have been written after the event, so closely are matters playing out in this regard.

Yet the point from that article last June I most wish to emphasise again now is Shorten’s value to the ALP — he has none, of course — and as I call for him to either answer the allegations and insinuations now that have been levelled against him and the AWU at the Commission or, again, to resign, the complete worthlessness of Bill Shorten to his party (or, in any other meaningful aspect of public life and governance, to anyone or anything else) is the bottom line in a tawdry political career that never merited his knifing a Labor MP to grab his seat in the first place let alone being permitted to progress as far as it has.

One of my favourite columnists — Piers Akerman, from Sydney’s Daily Telegraph — published an article at the weekend that is more or less complementary to the case made in this column where the alleged misdeeds of the AWU and Shorten’s role in them, if any, are concerned, and there are two big take-outs I want to share knowing that not everyone who reads this particular article will also read the one Piers has penned.

One — and in a reflection of virtually every utterance Shorten has made on the AWU since it became the headline feature at the Royal Commission — Piers notes yet again that Shorten “guarantees…that (the AWU) always improved workers’ conditions, full stop” and that insofar as his own role at the AWU is concerned, he “spent every day of (his) adult life representing workers” and that his record “is there for all to see.”

And two, aside from the particularisation of an itinerary if iffy deals done with the imprimatur of the AWU that have already found their way before Heydon, it seems to have been a cause for admiration and extollation among Shorten’s colleagues — Paul Howes and Richard Marles being quoted in Piers’ piece — that on Shorten’s watch, the AWU apparently found new and creative ways to penetrate companies and industries it had never previously reached, and that not only was this a cause for celebration among Shorten’s fellow travellers, but it sounds suspiciously like it was a cause for wonder and amazement, too.

The sheer stoicism of Shorten’s insistence that he can prove himself innocent should be taken at face value, and so should the apparent awe in which his obviously unorthodox methods of what we will call “business development” were regarded by his contemporaries: these seemingly opposed, and perhaps irreconcilable positions, demand clarification without delay.

Clearly, the time for Shorten to give a satisfactory account of himself is now, not in three months’ time when the Commission is scheduled to sit again.

On that point, I do think the Heydon inquiry has committed a public disservice; that the Commission has unearthed widespread, entrenched and rampant oddities in the behaviour of unions is a surprise to nobody not embedded within or deeply sympathetic to the outdated concept of unionism as the present union movement embodies it, but to have allowed that trail to lead directly to a former union official who now “leads” one of Australia’s two major political parties — and then recess for (apparently) three months — is ridiculous.

It is not a cliff-hanger in some arcane weekly B-grade US daytime soap opera; it is a Royal Commission.

As I suggested earlier, Labor types are among the most vocal in calling for “a federal ICAC” and they want it for no better reason than to deflect the Royal Commission currently probing the filthy laundry of their puppet-master brethren at the unions back in the direction of the Liberal and National Parties.

But in truth, even this is flimsy cover for the fact that all they really want is the facility to endlessly refer conservative politicians to anti-corruption investigation agencies to flesh out more of their opportunistic and dishonest waffle that all conservatives are corrupt: the Heydon Commission, in this regard, is merely a fortuitous coincidence for the Left, and if anyone doesn’t believe it they should research the not-inconsiderable effort Labor in Queensland invested whilst in opposition to an endless array of referrals of the Newman government to that state’s Crime and Corruption Commission that led, in total, exactly nowhere.

To date, the Heydon inquiry is the closest thing to “a federal ICAC” that has been constituted; and if Labor and its thuggy mates over at the unions dislike what that Commission is doing, they would be well served to take care in what they wish for: “a federal ICAC” would be free to dig wherever it liked, and anyone who thinks there isn’t a rich seam of shit to mine in and around the ALP — even discounting the unions for a moment — is delusional, totally naive, or a bit of both.

Yet for now, Shorten has been explicitly clear that he will make no comment whatsoever on the matters raised before Heydon until the Royal Commission sits again in September, and there are two very good reasons why this isn’t good enough — and why Shorten, indeed, is a special case for whom some kind of accommodation, and an opportunity to defend himself, should be afforded to him at the earliest juncture possible.

The first comes in the form of an issue that is well known to readers and voters alike: the “original” AWU scandal, involving a slush fund and featuring involvement by another former Labor leader (and Prime Minister) in Julia Gillard; this suppurating sore festered and germinated for almost 20 years before it was finally established that whatever inferences to the contrary might have otherwise been drawn, Gillard had done nothing wrong or at least, nothing that was criminal, even if her actions did cost her her job at Slater and Gordon in 1995.

I raise that issue again now because there is no point in drawing out any process by which Shorten is required to give an account of himself; true, in Gillard’s case, she dodged and weaved and went to inordinate lengths to prevent details about the circumstances peculiar to her from becoming public knowledge when in the end, they did anyway, and whilst a lot of grief was needlessly caused as a result, it is difficult to think even Shorten would find such a wild goose chase satisfying when he knows it would only delay and prolong the inevitable.

And the second reason goes simply to Shorten’s present job, and to the needless distraction the delay would cause not just to the ALP — I’m not so concerned about them, of course — but to governance in Australia generally, as once again the risk of the entire political discourse being diverted into a legal shitfight looms large.

Of course, three months of stout and testy denials of wrongdoing, along with equally resolute refusals to explain himself, would see Shorten become cannon fodder for the Liberal Party, which would probably take the opportunity to tear him to shreds even before Heydon gets him into the witness box.

But whilst that prospect is not an unappealing one — despite my view the Coalition would be well served by keeping Shorten right where he is as a putative election opponent — I nonetheless feel Shorten’s “leadership” of the ALP is terminal anyway, irrespective of anything to do with the Royal Commission, and that he is likely to be overthrown in the next few months irrespective of whether he can distance himself from its probe into the AWU or not.

Just as Arthur Sinodinis stepped aside from the Abbott ministry whilst under investigation by ICAC last year, eventually resigning when it seemed the protracted proceedings were damaging the government, Shorten should do the same thing now; whether he is able to resume the Labor leadership at a later date if found to have no case to answer is a matter for his colleagues, but he isn’t doing anyone — his party, his union comrades, or the Australian public — any favours at all by digging in and stonewalling when there’s a three-month wait for him to put his case.

Shorten is, as of Friday, a required witness at the Heydon Commission: it is therefore safe to assert he is now under investigation by the Royal Commission, just as Sinodinis was at ICAC, and it is proper that he follow the lead Sinodinis’ actions set.

I think that Shorten should confront the accusations against him head-on now: it could be a detailed public statement, rebutting point-by-point his alleged (or insinuated) involvement in the scandals being uncovered at the AWU, with the promise of hard evidence to substantiate any claims he makes now to be produced when he takes the stand in September.

And I think it better that he do it in a forum where his remarks will be on the record, and thus subject to the laws of the land: no parliamentary privilege for this exercise in other words, should Shorten undertake it. It would be in the public interest for any statement by Shorten on these matters to be actionable, and it might even engender some confidence and respect for him among the millions of increasingly sceptical voters his political conduct to date suggests he takes for fools.

But if such a statement is just too much for Shorten and his cronies to stomach, then he must resign; in the circumstances, his position is shaky enough as it is, and for this to drag on for months, unanswered, would see Bill Shorten become the only issue in Australian politics until his interrogation by a Royal Commission and a forensic dismantling of any evidence he produces by its personnel.

This country simply can’t afford the indulgence. And even if it could, based on Shorten’s track record in politics to date, there’s no value to be gained from such an indulgence at all.

 

Sinodinis Resigns; Full Ministerial Reshuffle Must Follow

THE RESIGNATION from Tony Abbott’s ministry by Assistant Treasurer Arthur Sinodinis — sidelined since March after being implicated in an ICAC investigation — is welcome, overdue, yet warrants no acclaim; Sinodinis’ leave from ministerial duty has been badly mishandled, but his belated departure provides an opportunity for Abbott to extensively reshuffle (and fix) his sometimes misfiring frontbench. Early portents, however, are not promising.

The “simply stand firm” mentality that has characterised the Abbott government so often, and usually for the worst reasons, looks set — barring a miracle onslaught of good common sense — to hit the government between the eyes not once, but twice, in the next few days, and it remains to be seen how much collateral damage it stands to suffer if the folly Tony Abbott is rumoured to have been goaded into actually comes to pass next week.

“Simply standing firm” on principle — real principle, not the BS diatribes that pass for political discourse in Australia today — is noble, and can ultimately reap dividends.

But doing it through sheer stubbornness, or because inactivity masquerading as single-mindedness is the easy option of least resistance, is a hazardous pastime indeed.

And to be clear, there is plenty of the latter going on in Canberra at present, and laughably little of the former.

But first things first: Assistant Treasurer Arthur Sinodinis has resigned from the Abbott government ministry, fully nine (9) months since stepping aside from his official duties after being adversely named at ICAC; his absence has weakened the government, and compromised an already inadequate economic management team led by Treasurer Joe Hockey at a time when the integrity of policy and tactical and strategic nous have been sorely lacking in the face of a ridiculously populist but effective onslaught by just about everyone who doesn’t vote Liberal.

Once again, I reference the ten-point opinion poll deficit the government has faced ever since the May budget.

Sinodinis has been sidelined on full pay, whilst the government has floundered against an all-out parliamentary assault (especially in the Senate, where Sinodinis sits), and whilst its firepower has been one key gun down with him missing. It is difficult to know where to begin.

Sinodinis’ resignation certainly can’t be said to have been offered and accepted in the best interests of the Liberal Party; if it had been it would have been forthcoming in March. There is nothing quick about ICAC, and it would have been reasonable to assume from the outset that even if cleared, Sinodinis would have been subject to its processes for months.

Certainly the belated resignation announcement is welcome, and overdue, even if it is motivated by a delay of further months emanating from ICAC and the machinations surrounding it.

But nobody should be leaping out of their skins to give the Senator a round of applause; as I said, this should have happened months ago.

ICAC — as the NSW ALP knows all too well — is political poison, and whilst I do not suggest in any way that Senator Sinodinis is guilty of any wrongdoing, from a purely political perspective the mere association with ICAC is enough to tarnish anyone it touches.

In fact, Sinodinis may well end up being cleared by ICAC, and if he is then it is one of those grossly unfortunate and unfair aspects of political life that even if innocent of any impropriety, his name will have still been smeared: nine months is a long time for the broader public to engage in (often uninformed) banter and speculation, and there are those who will have already judged and sentenced the Senator nonetheless.

The end target of public distaste over this particular ICAC activity is the political standing of the Abbott government.

So much for stepping aside and “simply standing firm” — doing so has ensured the episode will damage the government even if Sinodinis is cleared. And outright resignation in the first place would have avoided much of that, and Sinodinis would have had an easier path back to the ministry at a later date.

Whomever dreamed up the strategy of Sinodinis merely stepping aside rather than resigning — and a clue lies in the fact The Australian reports his resignation was planned over a period of weeks in discussions that included the Liberals’ federal director, Brian Loughnane — has in fact done the government a great disservice. The entire issue was very poorly managed.

But — alas — poor management by people who should either know better or be nowhere to be seen is fast becoming the trademark of this government.

And it seems a second strike may be set to be inflicted on the government, as the “simply stand firm” crowd sets about goading Abbott into another monumental political miscalculation, albeit one that could exacerbate the existential political threat it faces after the botched 2014 budget and other monumental failings this year.

Since his resignation was announced yesterday afternoon (and in chatter preceding it in the past few days) talk emanating from Canberra has centred on a so-called “one in, one out” reshuffle of the Abbott ministry: unsurprisingly, the single change in this scenario would see Sinodinis’ role taken over by someone else, and one new name added to the ministry to replace his.

As the theory goes, a limited reshuffle now would be followed by a more widespread overhaul near the end of 2015, and this idiotic idea is so bad as to beggar belief that anyone masquerading as a professional political strategist could be stupid enough or incompetent enough to even countenance its execution.

It is already pretty obvious to anyone with half a clue about politics and government that the Abbott government’s first 15 months in office have revealed a number of ministers who are either liabilities in need of replacement (David Johnston, Ian Macfarlane, possibly George Brandis), good people who would better suit a different portfolio (Joe Hockey), old warhorses or unspectacular performers unlikely to feature in a second-term Abbott ministry (Warren Truss, Kevin Andrews, Bruce Billson), plus the no-show in Sinodinis that has arguably kept a bright new prospect from a well deserved opportunity to shine as a minister.

Gifted the pretext for a reshuffle by Sinodinis’ overdue resignation and bolstered by a backbench overflowing with likely ministerial talent to offset the loss of some pretty ordinary performers, why tinker at the seams? Most of the names I have mentioned are almost certain to be moved on anyway, so why not do it now?

Further, a big reshuffle in a year’s time (with an election beginning to bear down) will look like panic, especially if the government’s political standing does not recover in the meantime: and given its predicament has been brought about by the present coterie of ministers, there is little reason to believe the same group in mostly the same roles will make much of a difference.

Treasurer Joe Hockey has to be moved, preferably to Defence; his replacement (without so much as a syllable of endorsement in any leadership context) should be Malcolm Turnbull. Johnston, Macfarlane, Andrews and perhaps Brandis and Billson should all be dumped, whilst Truss (who is also the leader of the National Party and deputy Prime Minister) could relinquish his portfolio whilst retaining his other duties if his intention is to retire at the next election.

A properly managed reshuffle can be an electoral positive; renewing a government and harnessing its best people in the roles that best fit them is a powerful and obvious way to maximise its performance and in turn feed back into its electoral stocks.

But reshuffles too often or for the sake of them can have the opposite effect; sometimes they are inescapable, as anything from illness or death to unforeseen scandal or administrative oversight can force a change on a government. Viewed this way, formulating a plan to wilfully engage in multiple reshuffles within the remainder of this term of Parliament is bordering on a flirtation with political suicide.

It is refreshingly constructive that Sinodinis himself — quoted on the same issue in The Age — has encouraged the Prime Minister to select the best ministerial team possible, and that good governments “have a capacity to face up to performance issues as they arise, rather than allowing them to fester.”

That does not sound like an endorsement of the “one in, one out” strategy.

It does not sound like an endorsement of “simply standing firm” behind a team clearly in need of some of the fresh blood that is readily available, and eagerly awaiting an opportunity.

It does not sound like the utterance of a man either ignorant of the political predicament the Abbott government is in, nor of the opportunity to take a big step to try to redress it that his resignation has created.

Someone, at least, gets it. Then again, Sinodinis has always been (rightly) credited with having sound political instincts.

But if those who have the ear of the Prime Minister continue to insist on the “simply stand firm” principle — and succeed in seeing to it that relatively minimal change is made to the ministry at what is arguably a pivotal point in the government’s political fortunes — then they should perhaps take a look at themselves instead.

In the final analysis, perhaps Senator Sinodinis’ isn’t the only resignation from the government that is past due.

 

ICAC: NSW Labor’s “Dirty Duo” Charged Over Misconduct

AFTER MONTHS OF bad press for the Liberal Party in NSW — with 10 of its MPs ensnared in ICAC investigations into official misconduct — NSW Labor’s notorious “dirty duo” of powerbroker Eddie Obeid and former minister Ian MacDonald are to be prosecuted, having been charged today with corruption-related offences. It turns the focus back onto the ALP, on whose watch NSW’s business and government spheres grew rotten to their core.

Just a few general remarks from me on this subject tonight; in my mind there’s not too much room for any other opinion on official corruption than outright condemnation, and with these matters now set to go before the Courts, I don’t want to say anything that might be prejudicial to any trial that ensues.

I think I have been adequately clear with readers that when it comes to the cleanliness and integrity of government, my views are unequivocal, and aimed at recalcitrants without fear nor favour: public office is a duty and an honour, not an opportunity for self-enrichment; and where matters of official misconduct are concerned I really couldn’t care whether your political colour is red, blue, green, yellow or whatever — do the crime and frankly, you deserve to have the book thrown at you.

It seems such a fate will now befall NSW Labor’s so-called “dirty duo,” with ALP heavyweight and powerbroker Eddie Obeid and former NSW minister Ian MacDonald both charged today with misconduct in public office as the ICAC investigations that have dragged on for the past few years reach their zenith; the pair may be innocent as they claim, or they may be guilty as sin, but either way, they are finally set to have their day in Court once and for all.

Both of these gentlemen — along with former union figure John Maitland — will appear in Sydney’s Downing Centre Local Court for a mention on 18 December.

Careers — from the top down, and starting with former Premier Barry O’Farrell — have been tarnished, damaged and/or destroyed by the present round of ICAC investigations and, happily, no quarter appears to have been given, nor allowances made, for the niceties nor the sensitivities of political allegiance or for the shifting sands that underlie structures of power in NSW.

ICAC has pulled no punches, with prominent business identities from NSW and  beyond hauled into the mire of misconduct along with political figures on both sides of the chamber in Macquarie Street and the federal Assistant Treasurer in Tony Abbott’s Liberal government, who has stood aside pending the finalisation of investigations into allegations of impropriety levelled against him.

But the big-ticket item was always going to be the Labor names long mentioned openly as central to the festering edifice that sprang up during 16 years of Labor rule, with Obeid in particular said to have benefited to the tune of millions of dollars as companies owned by his family allegedly profited from a litany of favourable decisions by the then state government.

I have welcomed, in this column, the resignations of those from the Liberal Party found to have engaged in improper conduct; I do think the party in NSW has been severely damaged by the revelations that have ensnared 10 of its MPs in the web of impropriety that was supposedly going to tip the corruption muck bucket all over Labor and help keep it in opposition for at least a decade.

In fact, as a lifelong Liberal supporter and member of the party for almost 25 years, I’m disgusted by the revelations that centre on some of those in our ranks who are less than upright — and if found guilty of any offence, I’m just as adamant the punishment should be considerable, as it should be for any offence committed by those in the Labor Party.

And there are those (especially in the Left-leaning press) who will argue that the timing of the charges against Obeid and MacDonald is convenient, with a state election due in NSW in four months’ time, to which I would simply observe that if there were anything synthetic in these matters, then a Liberal Premier would not have been forced from office over a bloody bottle of wine. Anyone silly enough to suggest otherwise ought to grow up.

I will confess, however, to a certain sense of relief: having watched (predominantly) Liberal Party identities hauled through the ICAC muck for what seems an eternity, I was beginning to wonder just when (or even if) anything was ever going to come of its inquiries into the Labor figures who were allegedly on the take for years.

Now it’s happening, the circle closes: without fear or favour, those who are alleged to have done the wrong thing — and based on an adequate weight of evidence to warrant laying charges — are being held to account for it.

Far from putting people off politics, or fouling the already low reputation of politicians even further, the general public should be heartened and encouraged by these developments.

It shows that if you do the wrong thing at taxpayers’ expense, sooner or later you will be caught.

And if you’re caught, you will be humiliated, ruined, and — where appropriate — prosecuted for your trouble.

Simple common sense and reason dictates that there will always be someone who gets away with something: so it is in every walk of life, and people are entitled to be angry and frustrated by this unpleasant reality.

But for every one who is caught, the innocent and the swindled can take heart; and for every one brought before the law, the deterrent to others who might follow suit is magnified.

It doesn’t matter whether I think the “dirty duo” are guilty or not; that’s now up to a Court to ascertain.

But for all the scuttlebutt and innuendo and open secrets that have flown around NSW and beyond for many years, this pair of alleged miscreants will finally be forced to explain themselves: and for that, today has been a very, very good day in Sydney indeed.

 

Abbott Government Must Move On From Arthur Sinodinis

AN ARTICLE in the Murdoch press — reporting that sidelined Assistant Treasurer Arthur Sinodinis wants “to rejoin the Abbott team” once his duty to co-operate with an ICAC investigation into donations has ended — ignores the political reality that for now at least, the only place Sinodinis should be is on the backbench. Rightly, wrongly, fairly or otherwise, the government cannot afford to restore Sinodinis to his vacant ministerial post.

At the outset, let me be crystalline in my clarity about something: in publishing this morning’s article I seek in no way to judge Sinodinis personally; I make no accusation of guilt or misconduct; and seek to express no presumption of guilt in relation to any of the alleged misdeeds, on Sinodinis’ part, that fall within the remit of the ICAC investigation in NSW that is probing donations to the Liberal Party and which have necessitated his appearance at ICAC to answer questions about what — if anything — he knows of the matters at hand. On the contrary, my opinion of the Senator is sufficiently high that I would be both horrified and dismayed if there was so much as a shred of evidence against him.

And I certainly don’t seek to impugn his character in any way.

No, today’s piece is a purely political assessment of an environment around political donations that has grown toxic for the Liberal Party — in NSW, at least — and against that backdrop (and irrespective of any rights or wrongs, as the case may be) the Abbott government simply can’t afford to restore Sinodinis to his ministerial post when his time in ICAC’s so-called “star chamber” has concluded.

Perception is everything in politics. Remember that, folks. We’ll come back to that point.

When it comes to ICAC — the NSW anti-corruption and misconduct body set up by the Greiner government in 1989 — there are two (and two only) broad strategies for dealing with the adverse publicity and/or findings that emanate from its highly visible activities: one, to stand firm, batten down the hatches, denying everything whilst attempting to ride out the storm; and two, for those found to have done the wrong thing to resign their offices and, if the circumstances warrant doing so, to await prosecution as far away from the incessant and incendiary glare of media attention as possible.

NSW voters (and Australians generally) have already seen the end result of the first of these strategies: a Labor state government that had the living shit kicked out of it so badly at the polls in 2011 that it recorded Labor’s worst result in NSW in almost a century, defeated even more heavily than Jack Lang’s government was in 1932 following its dismissal by the Governor of the day, Sir Philip Game.

Already, we are getting a very clear picture of the other, too, courtesy of the NSW Liberals affected by ICAC’s probe into banned donations from property developers: a torrent of resignations, both from the NSW ministry and from State Parliament altogether, which has included the Premier who slew Labor at the 2011 election — Barry O’Farrell — being forced to fall on his sword over the failure to declare a bottle of wine that was gifted to him by a donor.

That picture — ominously — has reflected in opinion polling of state voting intentions in NSW, and it’s not pretty; the latest indications appear to suggest that O’Farrell’s successor as Premier, the impressive Mike Baird, will be re-elected come March, albeit narrowly; the absurdity of a government elected with almost two-thirds of the two-party vote facing the realistic possibility of defeat after a single term underscores both the revulsion of voters to wrongdoing by politicians and the scope the type of matters before ICAC possess to cripple the electoral prospects of political parties.

The fact NSW Labor is led by a man who has publicly admitted to self-adjudicating a $3 million bribe he was offered — and taking it upon himself to decide not to report it — and is nonetheless within shouting distance of overhauling the Coalition in a single leap simply amplifies the point.

People are fed up with corruption and official misconduct, be it alleged, proven at law, or a taint that attaches to individuals or parties either by implication or suggestion, and the higher up the food chain it runs, the heavier the fallout.

NSW Labor leader John Robertson should, by rights, have rendered himself unelectable by admitting he didn’t refer the bribe he was offered to ICAC, and in a less tumultuous political climate, he would have been. But the Liberals govern NSW now, not Labor; and despite its ghastly track record and the stack of ALP identities who have faced or await prosecution, it is the ALP in NSW that can now claim the outraged indignation of opposing a government being picked apart by ICAC. It is certainly reaping the political benefits that come from it, if the published polls are anything to go by.

For those who are caught out by ICAC, it seems going to the crossbenches or quitting Parliament altogether don’t cut it in the eyes of voters; as of yesterday the Liberal Party in NSW has now lost 10 of its 49 lower house MPs through these routes, with the member for Port Stephens, Craig Baumann, the latest to be forced to leave the party after admitting to ICAC that he improperly declared donations totalling $79,000 before the 2007 state election to hide the fact the monies originated from property developers.

There is no need to canvass the minutiae of all 10 of the Liberal MPs who have fallen foul of ICAC’s investigations, for even the details of what Baumann has admitted to is enough to paint the picture; the fact that 10 of these guys have effectively had their careers terminated by ICAC leaves little cause to wonder whether NSW voters are angry or not, or whether their ire is justified.

Here is where we return to Sinodinis, whose appearance at ICAC (and the article I mentioned in my leader provides some elaboration) was to answer questions around what he knew, if anything, about allegations that a fundraising arm of the Federal division of the Liberal Party, the Free Enterprise Foundation,  had been used to disburse otherwise prohibited developer donations to the NSW Liberals, thereby circumventing the ban on doing so directly.

Sinodinis is quoted in that article as saying he’s looking forward to “rejoin the Abbott team,” from which it is reasonable to infer that he means a resumption of his ministerial post.

Rightly or wrongly, it can’t happen.

The issue of developer donations to the NSW Liberals and the alleged use of the Free Enterprise Foundation to facilitate them brings the ICAC taint of the NSW Liberals directly to the federal party, and to the Abbott government: like it or not, innocent or not, people will form their own conclusions based on their own perceptions.

Already, there has been some attempt by the Communist Party Greens to drag Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s Chief of Staff, Peta Credlin, into the ICAC quagmire; to date, the best the Greens can come up with has been to focus on Ms Credlin’s role as a channel for communication throughout the government and beyond, and the inescapable fact that this role inevitably encompasses interaction and involvement with the Free Enterprise Foundation through the simple reality of its affiliation to the Liberal Party.

Just as the Greens don’t like Abbott, they really, really don’t like Credlin either.

And just as I am adamant that I seek to cast no aspersions on Senator Sinodinis, I am equally adamant that none should befall Credlin either. Yet the fact this has been raised by the government’s opponents at all clearly shows that if its political enemies have anything to do with it, the Abbott government (to use the vernacular) is going down over the ICAC fiasco that threatens to engulf the NSW division of the Liberal Party.

This is where the moronic calls for a “federal ICAC” — which are growing louder — originate from; the Greens are campaigning for such a body with great vigour, aided in no small part by the Fairfax press, and demands to the same end have emanated from the Palmer United Party, too. Some press coverage (chiefly from Fairfax, again) has claimed that the ALP seems unfazed by the idea, which is perhaps unsurprising given the likelihood of its own procession of public shame as a result of the Royal Commission into the trade union movement being imminent.

But whether Labor wants a “federal ICAC” or not is to some degree a moot point; dangerous, malevolent enemies of the Abbott government that are bent on causing it harm are prepared to fight for it, and both Palmer and the Greens have proven themselves more than capable of generating great political trouble for the federal Coalition when issues and circumstances suit them.

It hardly takes a rocket scientist to see that in the case of the Greens at least, their motives stem not so much from any over-arching commitment to probity or accountability as from their barely disguised hatred of Tony Abbott personally, the Coalition more broadly, and the fact it sits in government at all: the Greens are capable of doing anything in their mad obsession with ripping Abbott apart, and a “federal ICAC” appears to be simply another intended battering ram or sledgehammer with which the Greens seek to prosecute this objective.

And this is where it becomes untenable for Arthur Sinodinis to resume his spot as Assistant Treasurer.

It has nothing to do with innocence or guilt; as I said at the outset, perception is everything in politics.

It should not be so, but whether Sinodinis has a case to answer or not is scarcely the point when the question is evaluated on a purely political basis.

With its self-inflicted budget woes and the truly shocking inability it exhibits to either sell its positive wares or to persuasively argue the merits of its tougher measures, the Abbott government needs the taint of ICAC, the backwash of public revulsion it is generating, and the get-square prospect of a “federal ICAC” like it needs the proverbial hole in its head.

Rightly or wrongly, the restoration of Sinodinis to the ministry would be a lightning rod for the forces ranged against the government — both inside and outside Parliament — to redouble their efforts to smear it with the fallout from ICAC and to paint it as corrupt at a time when it simply can’t afford any distractions or firestorms over and above those it is already battling to extinguish.

I feel for Sinodinis; I think he’s a good man. But for the good of the government he so rightly wishes to serve, the best place for him right now remains on the Senate backbench.

It doesn’t have to be forever; and it doesn’t exclude other avenues to participate more actively, perhaps through a committee role.

But with the fires of hell raging in NSW and threatening to spread as far as Canberra, the public perception of restoring Sinodinis to the executive government is, for now, simply too politically fraught.

If anyone is to blame, it is those who actually have already prejudged his guilt when there may well be nothing for him to be guilty of; and this in turn speaks to other areas of standards of conduct in public office — the sheer lies and malicious slander that has become a standard tool of trade for Australia’s Left — that I, like millions of others who live in this country, am fed up to my back teeth with.

 

 

Expensive Beano: O’Farrell Quits Over Wine Lie

NEW SOUTH WALES Premier Barry O’Farrell has resigned this morning, caught out over incorrect testimony he gave to an ICAC corruption scandal; as others have learned before him to their detriment, ICAC plays no favourites. Whilst the high standards it enforces are responsible for O’Farrell’s demise as Premier, the NSW Liberals now have the opportunity to replace him with someone who will work more constructively with the Abbott government.

If NSW’s politicians have learned nothing else about ICAC in the 20+ years it has been operating, it is that it sets an unimpeachably high standard for that state’s public figures to adhere to; there are those who will complain that the bar is set too high, but — to be very blunt about it — that’s what it’s there for.

I was going to post on this last night, believing as I did when the story broke yesterday that Barry O’Farrell was finished as Premier of New South Wales: called to ICAC as a witness in the same Australian Water Holdings (AWH) investigation that has claimed the scalp of federal Assistant Treasurer Arthur Sinodinis — temporarily, at least — O’Farrell was confronted with what seemed incontrovertible evidence that he received an expensive gift from one of the central figures in the AWH inquiry that he failed to declare and yesterday flatly denied being given.

The $3,000 bottle of 1959 Penfolds Grange Hermitage wine — apparently selected to correspond with the year of O’Farrell’s birth — from Liberal Party donor and AWH boss Nick Di Girolamo, sent supposedly as a no-strings-attached congratulatory token after O’Farrell’s election win in 2011, is the kind of thing that contemporary politicians should treat with wariness and probity at the best of times, and not least in the climate of increasing disclosure that is required of public figures: especially in NSW.

At the very least, it should have been declared on the register of pecuniary interests that all MPs are meant to keep up to date; had O’Farrell done so, he would not be in the situation he finds himself this morning.

Instead, O’Farrell claimed to have never sighted the gift, stating that he had not received it at home and alluding to poor security at his house — apparently suggesting that had the gift been delivered, it might have been stolen whilst he and his family spent the Easter weekend on the Gold Coast. The fact this cock-and-bull defence was even attempted flew in the face of  ICAC confronting him with evidence of the purchase of the wine as well as its delivery to his (then) home in Roseville, along with evidence of subsequent telephone contact between O’Farrell and Di Girolamo.

O’Farrell’s fate was sealed when a handwritten “thank you” note, from O’Farrell to Di Girolamo, was tabled at ICAC this morning.

The thank you note from Barry O'Farrell to Nick Di Girolamo

This is a clear, incontrovertible and open-and-shut case of an elected figure caught lying to a corruption probe, and the only alternative to O’Farrell resigning voluntarily would have been for his Liberal colleagues to blast him out in a vote of a special meeting of the parliamentary party. He has at least had the decency to spare them that unpleasant task.

O’Farrell still maintains he never wilfully misled ICAC; that is for others to judge, but I would suggest that at the very least the episode shows a distinct lack of attention to detail, or to the requirements of disclosure expected of every elected figure in the country, or to even prepare adequately for an appearance at ICAC for which he must have been given some inkling as to what he would be asked about. He has exhibited dishonesty and incompetence. Resignation was the only practical course of action open to him.

This is now the second time a Liberal Premier in NSW has been brought undone by an ICAC inquiry, but — unlike Nick Greiner in 1992 — O’Farrell is unable to suggest he wasn’t warned, or that he was unaware ICAC would do anything other than uncover what Malcolm Turnbull likes to call “the unvarnished truth” of the matter.

The irony is that Greiner was forced out by political pressure just days before ICAC, ultimately, cleared him of any case to answer. The O’Farrell case, whilst less serious than the inducement allegations faced by Greiner in 1992, is straightforward by comparison.

It is a matter of record that this column unequivocally withdrew its support for O’Farrell’s tenure as Premier of New South Wales earlier this year; I stand by that assessment and I think that, on balance, history will record O’Farrell as an underperformer (despite the magnitude of his election win that any competent Liberal leader would have secured) who failed to make the most of his opportunities or, on occasions, to do very much at all.

Indeed, it often seemed his greatest interest was the pursuit of factional rivalries, a key manifestation of which has been the repeated apparent determination of his government to poke Prime Minister Tony Abbott in the eye as hard as possible over issues such as the Gillard government’s Gonski reforms and the recently approved new airport at Badgerys Creek..

This was not — and is not — in the best interests of NSW or its people.

If there is any good that can come from the events of the past couple of days, it is that the NSW Liberals elect a new leader who will get on with governing in the best interests of the state rather than indulging in and perpetuating internecine internal factional intrigues.

To this end, we suggest Treasurer Mike Baird represents the best prospect available to the Liberal Party at the present time, and offer our support should he opt to stand for election to the party’s leadership.

Whichever way you look at it, the AWH investigation, from an overall perspective, is painting an increasingly complex and widespread picture of misconduct that spans business, politics, and — apparently — both sides of politics at that; as unpleasant as these matters are, I am in full support of anything that stamps out wrongdoing in public life, and support ICAC to the hilt as it goes about its distasteful business.

I’ll keep an eye on this as it develops, and post again later if circumstances warrant it.

 

Grubby Hypocrisy, Arthur Sinodinis, And Labor Under Shorten

THE SHRILL MOCK OUTRAGE of Labor Party figures across the country — a chorus “led,” typically, by Bill Shorten — over the temporary withdrawal of Arthur Sinodinis until his appearance before ICAC has taken place is sanctimonious, pious, and filthily hypocritical; the ALP is a modern master of the tactics of the gutter, but it sits on shaky ground indeed when it seeks to point the finger at others on the spurious pretext of alleged misconduct.

Everyone knows the story; Assistant Treasurer Arthur Sinodinis has stepped aside from his ministerial duties after being implicated in an ICAC investigation, to which he will soon be called as a witness; the withdrawal was voluntary, not mandated either by the law or any code of ministerial conduct, and very properly sought to minimise the jaundiced attention focused on the government until the matters Sinodinis is to address at ICAC are concluded.

I have made the point in this column earlier in the week and will do so again now that Sinodinis isn’t accused of having done anything criminal; he isn’t even facing any direct accusations of impropriety. At this stage he has simply been called as a witness, and to my mind his swift move to absent himself from the government is a symptom of the integrity by which his reputation of doing things properly has been earned.

Make no mistake, I have always left open the prospect that Sinodinis might — might — face questions of his own to answer at some stage; nobody can foretell what the investigations that have so far involved Sinodinis in a peripheral capacity only might reveal or where they may lead.

But the man is entitled to the presumption of innocence until proven guilty, and — as at today’s date — he hasn’t even been accused of anything, let alone had need to face a judgement of innocence or guilt.

I raise this once again having read an excellent piece by a favourite of this column, Piers Akerman of Sydney’s Daily Telegraph, earlier on today; it’s a nice, surgical demolition job on any moral imperative Labor might claim to attack Sinodinis, framed by a cursory yet telling recollection of Labor’s own track record when it sat in government not so long ago.

It’s a brilliant little read in the context of these issues and I hope readers will take the time.

I have made the point recently that we now have it as a fact that the ALP provided shelter to criminals during its tenure in office; as we have discussed, and as public knowledge has long recorded (and as Piers notes) the level of alarm in then-Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s office over exactly what official action was faced by Craig Thomson, for example, was such that her minnows made direct enquiries of the heads of the government agencies pursuing him as far back as 2009.

Thomson is due to be sentenced this week — almost four years later — and it defies belief that no-one in Labor Party circles would have had no knowledge at all of the actual details of Thomson’s otherwise questionable behaviour.

Craig Thomson is one example. There are plenty of others. Most of you know who they are. There is no need to rattle the list off again.

The Akerman article scores some direct hits on this issue and again, I urge readers to take the time to read it.

And I would add that there are plenty of other ALP figures under investigation — senior Labor Party figures facing very serious inquiries over a litany of diverse questions and allegations — that no-one over at the ALP wants to talk about.

One of them, of course, is the said ex-Prime Minister, whose investigation by Victoria Police over her role in a possible fraud continues apace.

But there are others, potentially facing even more serious questions of alleged criminal misconduct.

Perhaps Labor — and its “leader,” Bill Shorten — would care to talk about appropriate courses of conduct in relation to these matters?

I didn’t think so.

 

 

Sinodinis’ Stand-down The Right Thing To Do

THE DECISION by Assistant Treasurer Arthur Sinodinis to step down from his ministerial duties ahead of an appearance before NSW anti-corruption body ICAC — as a witness in an investigation into his role with Australian Water Holdings — is right, proper, and the appropriate thing to do. It contrasts with the conduct of Labor-aligned figures during the last Parliament, and critics should be wary of putting the cart before the horse.

Just a fairly quick post this morning, as I have something of “a day of it” today, but may find time this evening to post again.

As usual, most readers by now will be familiar with the story and issues surrounding the temporary standing down of Assistant Treasurer Arthur Sinodinis from the Abbott ministry pending his appearance at an ICAC inquiry, and I think a little perspective is needed.

Unsurprisingly, the ALP and the Greens are cock-a-hoop; just six months into the life of the new Liberal government they believe they have claimed their first ministerial scalp, and whilst such celebrations are premature it isn’t difficult to understand why the heavily depleted and demoralised opposition parties would be salivating over such an event.

However, there are a few things to keep in mind.

First and foremost, Sinodinis hasn’t been charged with anything: at this time, he is simply being called before ICAC to answer questions about — and clarify — his role in connection to a company in the middle of a corruption investigation in New South Wales.

If ICAC uncovers any evidence of wrongdoing, it may lead to charges being laid; if, however, Sinodinis is found to have no case to answer in relation to the matters before ICAC, he will be free to resume his ministerial duties — and he will do so.

Since this matter broke I have privately received a good deal of communication from people I know who are connected to the Left of politics: the tenor of these discussions — put simply — is that rather than simply step aside, Sinodinis should quit altogether; that not to do so makes hypocrites out of the Liberal Party in light of its pursuit of the likes of Craig Thomson, Peter Slipper et al during the life of the Gillard government; and that any acceptance of Sinodinis’ vote on the floor of the Senate would be “tainted” and be tantamount to further evidence of the moral decrepitude of the Abbott government.

Blah blah blah.

Can I make the point that unlike Sinodinis, Thomson and (especially) Slipper didn’t step aside from anything — at least not until the political pressure on Gillard had become irresistible; Thomson, as history shows, was facing serious civil and criminal investigations whilst chairing a parliamentary committee that are likely to end with a jail sentence being handed out next week, whilst Slipper is pleading the old mental health excuse to avoid a similar fate in relation to his own episode before a court on criminal charges.

Further — and whilst the matters involving Sinodinis before ICAC are certainly not a good look, and will likely reflect poorly on him even if found faultless — the Assistant Treasurer has committed to resign from the ministry altogether if it is found he has a case to answer, which once again stands in contrast to the type of conduct we are talking about from the time of the Gillard era.

And finally, arguments about a “tainted vote” from Sinodinis are baseless, ridiculous, and petty: again, unlike others we have mentioned and their ilk, at the present time Sinodinis is not being investigated over anything criminal.

It could be seen as a fortuitous coincidence for Abbott that on account of the state of the numbers in the Senate — both before and after 1 July — a vote from Sinodinis is not pivotal to the Abbott government’s ability or otherwise to win votes on the floor of the chamber, thus sparing him the excruciating numerical considerations that led Gillard to put expediency and survival above any sense of decency or principle.

Even so, the complaint on this count from Labor and the Greens doesn’t stand up to scrutiny, and amounts to little more than an attempt to contaminate the atmospherics of the situation with a bit more muck throwing to boot.

I think that by quickly stepping aside from his ministerial duties — as he should have — Sinodinis has contained and minimised any collateral damage that these matters might otherwise inflict upon the government.

Certainly, it entitles him at the very least to now allow events to run their course without being prejudged or harangued by his political opponents.

In this sense, the protestations of Labor and the Greens are premature, and betray a hypocrisy that will yield them little favour with the voting public.

They may or may not get their ministerial scalp — nobody can foresee, definitively, what the final result of this will be.

But in the meantime, Sinodinis has acted properly and appropriately in standing down when he did, and whilst any adverse findings would spell the end of his political career, even such an outcome should not damage Abbott or his government for the simple reason that his minister has stepped aside at the commencement of this process until the truth of the matter can be established.

We’ll keep an eye on this, and as things develop come back to discuss at a later time.