When the world fell down, Arthur Sinodinos did not know why he did it. He did not know why he exposed himself to the risks that saw him in front of the Independent Commission Against Corruption.
“I think I always wanted to be liked,” he told the journalist Jane Cadzow at the time. “To be seen as helpful. Someone you could count on. Steady. Reliable. Always doing the right thing. Whatever that may be.”
But he still did not know why he allowed himself to chair a company such as Australian Water Holdings, a company that in retrospect seems so spectacularly corrupt. “It’s possible even I don’t really understand,” he told Cadzow, a half smile held on his face. “Yeah, it’s a bit of a puzzle for me, too.”
Mal Brough has given no real insight into why he acted in a way that caused the Australian Federal Police to investigate his procurement of the diary of Peter Slipper. “I will,” he said, “let others judge that.”
Craig Thomson has been unable to reason why he defrauded tens of thousands of dollars from the Health Services Union when he was its national secretary. Mostly, he denied the claims. In parliament, he offered far-fetched conspiracy theories to explain the spending. “Turning to credit cards and escorts, I have consistently from day one denied any wrongdoing in relation to these issues,” he said. “I make it clear – and I hope I have already by painting a picture – that I had many enemies in the HSU.”
Thomson was forced from the parliament. He was eventually ordered to pay $458,000 for breaching the Fair Work act. Brough has decided not to contest his seat at the next election.
What is remarkable, though, is that political parties seem unable to mount candidates who have not been involved in or perilously close to some form of corruption or illegality. Surely, the pool is not that shallow. Surely, it is not that desperate.
This week, Sinodinos has been embroiled in the NSW Electoral Commission’s decision to withhold funds from the Liberal Party after it was found to be “concealing” the identity of donors. Sinodinos was the state party’s treasurer at the time the donations were made. He denies any wrongdoing. “My lawyers on my behalf have,” he said, “invited the commission to immediately retract all references to me in the publication.”
Labor called on Sinodinos to stand down from his role as cabinet secretary. The NSW premier, Mike Baird, said: “They have done the wrong thing. It is unacceptable. The party should be beyond reproach in relation to these matters.”
This is not to say Sinodinos has done anything wrong. Nor is he likely to be found guilty of any wrongdoing in the case of Australian Water Holdings, where he stood to make $20 million if the company won a key government contract. In that instance, he has pleaded ignorance. The former assistant treasurer would have it be known that he was not closely watching the business that called him chairman, that paid him $200,000 for about 45 hours of work each year. Curious but not illegal.
And yet a bigger question must be asked here, about the standard to which we hold our politicians and the proximity to corruption in which too many of them stand. It is, as Arthur said, a bit of a puzzle.
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Mar 26, 2016 as "Original Sinodinos". Subscribe here.