The Convenient Forgetfulness of Arthur Sinodinos
Liberal Senator Arthur Sinodinos has come under fire at ICAC for failing to investigate how a company he chaired, the Obeid-linked Australian Water Holdings, was billing exorbitant costs to the state utility Sydney Water.
Giving evidence at the commission on Thursday morning, the stood-aside Federal Assistant Treasurer said he was unaware the company paid almost $75,000 in donations to the Liberal Party.
“You deny knowing the company of which you were [then] deputy chairman was donating to the party of which you were the treasurer?” counsel assisting the inquiry, Geoffrey Watson, SC, said.
“Yes,” Senator Sinodinos replied.
The commission is investigating claims the family of corrupt former Labor minister Eddie Obeid owned a 30 per cent stake in Australian Water and stood to make up to $60 million from a partnership with the state government.
The 57-year-old senator frequently fell back onto the phrase “I don’t recall” when giving his evidence.
Dressed in a navy pin-striped suit, with his Order Of Australia medal pinned to his chest, Senator Sinodinos nervously chugged his way through several litres of water during his almost three hours in the witness box. He is yet to finish his evidence.
Senator Sinodinos also claimed to be unaware that as of September 2011, the company was in such dire financial straits that it had to go to the family of Mr Obeid for a $400,000 cash injection in order to keep the Australian Tax Office at bay. Senator Sinodinos claimed that, at the time, he was “transitioning” to the Senate. However, he agreed with Mr Watson that he was still a director and therefore owed the company and its shareholders a duty of care.
On several occasions Mr Sinodinos’s barrister, Tony Bannon, SC, stated that the current proceedings were not an “insolvency” examination nor was it an inquiry into director’s duties.
Senator Sinodinos said he could not recollect the then chief executive of Sydney Water, Kerry Schott, warning him in 2010 that he could be keeping “dishonest” company on the board of Australian Water.
“I don’t remember her using the word dishonest,” Senator Sinodinos said.
“That’s a pretty heavy word to use about people.”
The inquiry has heard the company paid $183,000 to a slush fund linked to former NSW Liberal energy minister Chris Hartcher in exchange for favourable treatment by Mr Hartcher.
Senator Sinodinos said he was unaware of the payments.
The former Liberal Party president came under pressure when asked about his workload at Australian Water, where he was paid $200,000 plus bonuses.
“It seems to be that in a year you might be spending between 26 hours and 45 hours a year on Australian Water Holdings’ work, isn’t that right?” Mr Watson asked.
“Does that include travel time? There was an opportunity cost to that time,” Senator Sinodinos replied.
He also faced heated questioning about an agreement for him to take 5 per cent of the shares in Australian Water.
He said the deal “never proceeded” but was shown a letter from his lawyers in February 2013 in which they said he had relinquished his right to the shares.
“I wanted to distance myself from the company. That is the basis of this letter being written,” Senator Sinodinos said.