March 25, 2016

SUBJECT/S: Arthur Sinodinos

BRENDAN O’CONNOR, SHADOW MINISTER FOR EMPLOYMENT AND WORKPLACE RELATIONS: Malcolm Turnbull has sought to call an election and as his centerpiece he wants to use allegations of criminality and corruption. Yet Malcolm Turnbull’s Cabinet Secretary Arthur Sinodinos has many questions to answer.

The revelations today are clear in that the NSW Liberal Party needs to make some sense of its conduct over the course of some years. Recently there have been failures by that Division to refuse to receive illegal donations. We have a situation where the Cabinet Secretary of this country when he was Finance director and Treasurer of the NSW division of the Liberal party received indirectly or directly illegal donations. As we’ve heard before ICAC he says he doesn’t remember receiving those donations.

Even as the Chair of Australian Water Holdings, he doesn’t remember making such payments to the Liberal Party. He doesn’t remember sending or receiving cheques to the Liberal Party or from Australian Water Holdings. Today, in the story by Fairfax media we’ve seen the NSW electoral commission refuse to pay the Liberal Party $4.4 million until they provide details of the donations and donors under the so called body Free Enterprise Foundation. Now the Free Enterprise Foundation clearly was an agency being used by the Liberal Party in an attempt to avoid illegality, but it was found to be acting unlawfully. As you might recall we saw the loss of the Premier, Ministers and a dozen members of parliament because of the corruption and illegality at the heart of the NSW division of the Liberal party. But what’s important today is we have a Cabinet Secretary of this nation, who sits at the right hand of the Prime Minister, sits at the most important table of the land, not answering questions about his role in this matter and he has plenty of questions that he needs to answer.

Now, Malcolm Turnbull has, it would appear, channelled Tony Abbott when it comes to his policies, and when it comes to for example, him focusing upon the ABCC and other matters, when it comes to him avoiding marriage equality and moving away from his long held position on carbon policy. And yet, the one area he probably should channel or should replicate Tony Abbott is making sure that before Arthur Sinodinos is in a position to sit at the Cabinet table, he answer these questions.

Tony Abbott, when Prime Minister, quite rightly, stood down Arthur Sinodinos before the matter was resolved. What we have seen instead is, upon the knifing of Tony Abbott, Arthur Sinodinos was brought back into the ministry and into cabinet. Indeed, Mal Brough was also appointed as Minister who of course recently left under a cloud. So, this also goes to the question of the character of Malcolm Turnbull and his judgement. He has retrieved Arthur Sinodinos from the back bench to the cabinet at a time when there was still some very significant matters unresolved in relation to corruption in the Liberal Party. Today, we’ve seen a situation where the NSW electoral commission refuses to pay that party money until details are disclosed in relation to donors. Given that what we do know is that the donors, such as property developers illegally donated money to the Liberal party. So, this is a test for Malcolm Turnbull. He should stand down the Cabinet Secretary and he should request that the Cabinet Secretary explain in full his role in establishment of the Free Enterprise Foundation, his role in dealing with the donations, and indeed the Liberal Party itself needs to disclose the details. Not just to the NSW Electoral Commission, but to the NSW public and the Australian public.

Happy to take questions.

JOURNALIST: Do you have any sense of who these donors were, were they property developers primarily?

O’CONNOR: What we do know, and what evidence was found in the ICAC proceedings some time ago was that donations were made by property developers, and there was a very crude attempt to not disclose such donations by establishing a body called Free Enterprise Foundation. Our view would be it is a reasonable conclusion to draw that it is from illegal donors, otherwise why would the Liberal Party not be disclosing these details? Why wouldn’t they be providing to the electoral commission the name of the donors and the amounts of those donations? But this can be all cleared up by Arthur Sinodinos explaining exactly what happened when he was Finance Director and Treasurer of the NSW division of the Liberal party, and if he fails to do so he must stand down.

JOURNALIST: Does the Labor party accept donations from property developers in other jurisdiction in Australia?

O’CONNOR: Of course we always seek to comply with the law. If there is ever mistakes made by a political party they should be fixed. But the idea that you would willingly establish a phoney body, an agency to avoid illegality, which of course did not avoid illegality, really points to misconduct and criminal conduct, I would argue, by those involved in seeking to money launder donors’ money in a way to avoid scrutiny. This was not to avoid criminality, this was to avoid being found out. Now, they were found out and a Premier and some ministers resigned as a result of these matters. But at that heart of this from the beginning has been the Finance Director and the Treasurer of the NSW division of the Liberal party at the time, Arthur Sinodinos, and there are questions now that these donations and details of donors have not been disclosed, and we need to hear a full disclosure by Senator Sinodinos, and if he fails to do so, he must stand down. The Prime Minister must stand him down, the same way that his predecessor, Tony Abbott stood down the Minister at the time because of this matter.

JOURNALIST: Would you go so far as to say that Senator Sinodinos has been involved in some sort of corrupt conduct here?

O’CONNOR: Well what we do know is that he was the Treasurer at the time when he received money from Australian Water Holdings. We do know while he was Treasurer of the division and indeed Finance Director there was a pretty elaborate effort to avoid scrutiny of illegal donations being made. Now of course, as you might recall – well, 'might recall' is a funny phrase – he didn’t recall too much when he was before ICAC but it clearly is of great concern to the NSW Electoral Commission when they refuse to pay a $4.4 million to the Liberal Party because they refused to disclose the details.

Now in all of this, Arthur Sinodinos was the Treasurer at the time of the election in NSW and he was the Finance Director as well. So it is impossible for him to suggest he had no role in these matters.

JOURNALIST: Sounds like the NSW Liberal Party are talking about differing court actions to try and retrieve that $4.4 million, unless I’m mistaken. Do you think that’s a sensible course of action? What do you think will result will be?

O’CONNOR: Well what they do legally is up to them. But this is in public interest. You have a very senior Cabinet Minister, someone who is in the inner circle of Malcolm Turnbull’s decision making. Someone who has been brought back to the Cabinet table after Tony Abbott stood him down, who has been implicated in these matters that go to illegality - illegal donations - donors who are not in a position to legally donate to the Liberal Party, and we have not yet been given a full and frank explanation as to his conduct. And further to that, regardless of what legal action the Liberal Party may take in these matters, I think it is incumbent upon them to tell the Australian public exactly who donated to them and rather than continue to try to cover this up by hiding behind a phoney body, the Free Enterprise Foundation.

JOURNALIST: What do you think Arthur Sinodinos has done wrong in this situation?

O’CONNOR: Well there is a clear dereliction of duty at the very least. As Treasurer he presided over unlawful conduct, illegal behaviour, which led to a resignation of a Premier, resignations of Senior Ministers of the NSW Liberal Government. As Treasurer and Finance Director at the time, it beggars belief that he has no role in this at all. It doesn’t pass the pub test to assume that somehow all of this happened and he is oblivious to all of it. But I don’t know the full details of this matter but I will know if Arthur Sinodinos gives a candid and full disclosure about his role in these matters including releasing the details of the donors who provided money to the so-called Free Enterprise Foundation that was being used to money launder, to provide money to the NSW division of the Liberal Party for that election.

JOURNALIST: You’ve given the best case scenario there, what is the worst case?

O’CONNOR: Well we know that there are obviously issues around criminality here. As I say, we’ve seen some very significant ministers have to resign as a result of their conduct in knowingly receiving money illegally. Clearly there are very serious criminal implications about these matters. As I say, it is quite extraordinary given the Prime Minister wants to use as his centrepiece, allegations of corruption and criminality – he has, his closest adviser in the Cabinet room has not answered fully his role in the illegal donations to the Liberal Party and he must do so. If he refuses to do so, he should be sacked. He should be stood down. In fact, Tony Abbott has shown a higher level of ministerial responsibility standards than Malcolm Turnbull. This is a question of judgement. It is not just Arthur Sinodinos that was brought back of course but Malcolm Turnbull also promoted Mal Brough when everyone was aware there were issues around his conduct in the James Ashby affair. So this is a test for Malcolm Turnbull. He must demand that Arthur Sinodinos explain himself fully. Or he must sack him. There is really no option for the Cabinet Secretary to remain at the heart of executive Government in these circumstances.

Any further questions? Thanks very much.