Senate debates

Thursday, 20 March 2014

Questions without Notice: Take Note of Answers

Sinodinos, Senator Arthur

3:03 pm

Photo of Penny WongPenny Wong (SA, Australian Labor Party, Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) Share this | Hansard source

I move:

That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Minister for Employment (Senator Abetz) to a question without notice asked by Senator Wong today relating to Senator Sinodinos.

Senator Abetz today continued what has now become a well-worn tradition—insofar as a government that has been in place for six months can have a well-worn tradition—of not being up-front with the Australian people. They have not been up-front with the public about what the Prime Minister knew about the details that Senator Sinodinos had in relation to Australian Water Holdings.

There are two bases on which Senator Abetz refused to answer or ducked the question. First, he asserted that Senator Sinodinos's conduct was not being investigated and his behaviour was not being examined; he was simply a witness. I simply refer Senator Abetz to some of the explosive evidence we have heard in the Independent Commission Against Corruption today and previously. I refer him to the opening submission of the counsel assisting, where, in part, he said that Mr Sinodinos would have enjoyed a $10 million or $20 million payday. He said:

It is presently difficult to offer observations on the conduct of Mr Sinodinos. He has other involvements which will come under scrutiny in Operation Spicer.

He went on to say more. So I again say that there are serious questions that Senator Abetz should have answered in relation to the Prime Minister's knowledge of certain matters, and also in relation to this particular issue.

In my first question I asked whether or not Senator Sinodinos would be stood down until both the anti-corruption investigations examining his behaviour—Operation Credo and Operation Spicer—are concluded. That was not answered.

In my second question I asked when the Prime Minister became aware that Senator Sinodinos's conduct was the subject of two investigations by the Independent Commission Against Corruption, and whether it was before or after the Prime Minister appointed him to the Treasury portfolio. One would think, given the controversy of this issue and the focus on this issue, that it is incumbent on Senator Abetz to provide that answer. It is inconceivable that the Prime Minister would not know about these matters, given what has occurred. I think it is relevant to the Australian people to know, when their Prime Minister appointed Senator Sinodinos to the position of Assistant Treasurer, what the Prime Minister knew about these two separate Independent Commission Against Corruption investigations.

The fact is that we have seen this week a Prime Minister that is not up-front with the Australian people. We have seen a Prime Minister that presides over a government which is secretive and arrogant and which refuses to account to the public for its actions. We have seen, in this chamber, the Assistant Health Minister, who took down the health-star-rating system web site after a phone call from a food industry lobby group. We have seen her mislead the Senate and refuse to answer legitimate questions about this affair.

Then we had Senator Sinodinos, who refused, prior to standing down, to make an explanation to the Senate about his involvement in Australian Water Holdings and to explain how it was that his statement could sit alongside the evidence that has been given to the Independent Commission Against Corruption—including, for example, what he knew about the Obeid family investment in AWH, and what he knew about donations to the Liberal Party being made while he was an office holder, both of the Liberal Party and Australian Water Holdings.

The facts are these: Senator Sinodinos has failed to explain his inconsistencies and he has failed to explain how his statement to the Senate can sit with the evidence that has been led or referenced at the Independent Commission against Corruption. This Prime Minister is a prime minister who promised an accountable and transparent government. Instead, what the public have got is arrogance. They were promised accountability; instead they have got arrogance. In this last period, what we have seen from the Abbott government is this: one minister gone, another minister censured and a chief of staff who has quit over a conflict of interest. What is clear is that Prime Minister Abbott is not leading the sort of government he told people he would; instead, he is leading a secretive, slipshod and arrogant government. We saw more of that on display in question time today with Senator Abetz refusing to answer straightforward questions about what the Prime Minister knew. (Time expired)


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