19 March 2014

The rise and fall of Arthur Sinodinos

Arthur Sinodinos was a well-regarded Treasury official who went to work for John Howard when nobody in Canberra wanted to know him. When Howard's luck changed, so did Sinodinos'. He spent the early part of Howard's Prime Ministership with his eyes on policy while fixers and spivs frittered away the third-biggest electoral margin in history.

When people like Grahame Morris fell away, Sinodinos stepped up. Being a backroom fixer is a step up from being a policy wonk and, if you've seen the blowhards and tryhards who call themselves fixers up close, you can be forgiven for thinking it isn't that hard. For a decade Sinodinos met with people who itched where only a Prime Minister could scratch. Almost all of them were people who earned more than he did.

When he resigned from the PM's office, Howard could've made him an Ambassador,  like Keating did Don Russell and Hawke did Garnaut. Instead, Howard sent him into the world with a rare but strong recommendation: Arthur solves problems. He solved problems at NAB. He solved problems at AWH. He solved problems in the NSW Liberals. He had never run for anything, but so what? Politics is about solving problems. Arthur solves problems.

Had Sinodinos run for something before entering top-level politics, he'd have met shonks and spivs and done one of two things: learned to spot them and stayed right away, or become tarnished early and been filtered out by a once healthy political organisation. He never met people like that at Treasury. People like that tended to be filtered out of Howard's office before they could even get to someone so senior as Sinodinos.

Obeid caused the NSW ALP more grief than the NSW Liberals could manage for most of its last term in state government.  The smarter Liberals resisted Obeid's entreaties; Sinodinos saw a Labor donor looking to switch. If there's one thing Liberals love more than apolitical politicians, it's prodigal sons; Sinodinos saw no harm in arranging a few meetings and making a buck along the way: Arthur solves problems.

Remember when Abbott was all about reprising the Howard government? Sinodinos should be in Cabinet. Nobody knows more about how top-level government works than Sinodinos, not Abbott (even now), not Credlin or Hockey. Sinodinos has forgotten more about how to run this country than Turnbull or Morrison or both Bishops put together.

Sinodinos has no real power base. He could've been Finance Minister, but with the PM and Treasurer from NSW the other states do get their noses out of joint. Had he been Finance Minister, Cormann would have to put his own proposals on financial planner regulation up; proposals that might fairly be regarded as dead and ripe for quiet burial.

The reason why Sinodinos is not in Cabinet is Abbott's weaselly hope that he won't taint his government, in much the same way that you can do a reasonable summary of the Howard government that doesn't dwell too much on, say, Jim Short. The trouble is that it's too late for that decency-veneer; a government born in Donny Randall's rorts and George Brandis' extravagances should have nowhere to go but up. With Sinodinos gone this government has lost one of its most substantial operators; someone to whom Liberals look up, someone whose loss frightens them.

Sinodinos was shadowed by the clever and decent Andrew Leigh, another relatively inexperienced politician. A standard political response to Sinodinos would have been to conflate his personal business arrangements with the worst-case scenarios of lax financial planner regulation, and blast Sinodinos as Dodgy Arthur. Leigh seems to have achieved the same effect without going in so hard.

Arthur Sinodinos is finished, make no mistake: he would only get a second chance at the expense of a more promising MP's first. He'll complain about being quoted out of context, about how it wasn't like that at all: things other politicians learn on the way up. He would've stayed to tough it out if that had solved the problem and he would have quit politics altogether if that had. 'Standing aside' doesn't give Labor the satisfaction but it gets Sinodinos out of the way of the WA Senate election and the budget pantomime. Sometimes the greatest contribution you can make is to go away quietly. Arthur solves problems.

There is no good reason why a journalist could not have gone through AWH and told us all about it, which would have headed off Sinodinos' political career before it began; but that's a blogpost in itself. Such an investigation would've had far more value than Malcolm Farr's assertion that Sinodinos is a good bloke.


  1. The Hellenic warrior received positive feedback on S.b s's Greek program today..

    Very rare indeed.

    The ethnics liked him and they csn spot crap a mile away.

    Despite his respect from all sides Andrew...he was not decent to those in the know...he was an opportunist.

    Hilarious to watch Frydenberg defend him.

    The Liberal brand has been tarnished significantly

    The prestige has gone..

    Ironic it coincided with those Marches incidently...

  2. Sorry, have to call bullshit on this one. You come across as being too close for the sake of objectivity. This story would seem to be bigger than you are portraying with office holders disregarding everyday fidiciary duty.in order to feather their own nest - and with the cover of a quasi government body being enabled to shovel funds to a chosen political party as fast as they can.

    Arthur Sinodinis earned good money during his career (as I have done) and was not entitled to special windfalls as compensation for whatever he might think are the "tides of history" committed against him (as I have never received or expected).

    It's an ethical construct that seems to be missing more and more in the Australian psyche as time goes on.

    David Perth

    1. I think you miss the point of the article. Precisely those things you articulate are why Sinodinos' career is over in Mr Elder's estimation. It will take the resources of the Murdoch press and the Liberal party to prevent this going further than the ICAC hearings. And we've heard nothing of Mr Di Girolamo yet.

  3. bye bye Sino, don't let the door...

  4. VoterBentleigh20/3/14 8:36 am

    When they say he solves problems, they mean that he is a good political salesman and he certainly is "slick". It pays to be wary of a slick sales pitch.

    The PM was asked whether he had full confidence in Sinodinos on Tuesday. While he answered "yes", he talked of maintaining standards and that the issues were prior to Mr Sinodinos entering parliament as a minister (thereby suggesting whatever Sinodinos has done, there is no reflection on the Government) - definitely muted support. Sinodinos appears to have gone for the same reason that Minister Nash's staffer went: the PM can deflect questions by saying that the person has done the right thing and nothing more need be said. The PM's praise of Sinodinos (now that he's no longer a minister) yesterday reminded me of Shakespeare's 'Julius Caesar': "For Brutus is an honourable man, / So are they all, all honourable men". Faint praise from Mark Anthony.

  5. VoterBentleigh20/3/14 8:43 am

    Sorry, I feel faint .. "Feint praise from Mark Anthony."

  6. The next generation are smarter but easier to spot..

    Those freemarket libertarians who have been given a spot unelected are doing exactly the dame deal...

    It's obvious from the start...

    Some use a human rights platform as their guise to hide their private dealings...

    Just saying

  7. "There is no good reason why a journalist could not have gone through AWH and told us all about it"

    Andrew some time ago you had a shot at Kate somebody, a journo who did a *cough* first rate job of exposing Obeid et al.
    How come she, and others, missed out on Sinodinos?
    A reasonable omission, or a bit suss?


  8. Hi Andrew,

    yet again political journalists have let us down. Sinodinos' relationship with AHW and the Obeids was covered by investigative journalists in the SMH in December 2012


    Since then I cannot recall one "political journalist" asking one question to Abbott, Hockey or Sinodinos regarding his interests in AWH.

  9. Reading the letters in The Australian and all the commentary from feature articles about him....

    Unethical behaviour is a constant thread in their comments.

    Sorry but he has been tarnished.

    Greek tragedy in the making.

    Step aside and leave parliament.

    The problem is he has been in politics a very long time and knows how to play the game too well and manipulative the process.

  10. Maybe Arthur is not as smart as reputation has it?

    He is obviously a fine schmoozer.

  11. Yes...but the reak question to be asked is this...?

    Will his knighthood be revoked now ?

    Sir Sinodinos

  12. what does a grade 1 public servant "earn" I was under the impression that it surpassed the PM's..I am sick of all these whining fuckers who take a seat in parliament then complain about the pay packet because their particular genius would be better renumerated in the private sector.. fuck off..

  13. Breaking news from the peanut gallery..

    Ms Mirabella to take up a position as a public policy fellow at Melbourne University........ugh

    I have advice for all those students
    wanting to enrol there in that course

    Please do and take notes on her behavior please

    Beware of any dalliances with deans of law that may result in embezzlement


  14. The whole idea of 'selling' a budget that help cut people's livelihood, and hopes and dreams for the future from under them. is so incredibly cynical. How much damage was done and is being by economic advisors who advocate this kind of brutality? This can also be put down to the university lecturers who teach economic extremism to students who then go out with a slash and burn attitude to civilisation, and advise governments to cut cut cut, destroy destroy destroy.

  15. But the media does not actively dig into politicians' affairs. It does so intermittently, incidentally. I have crawled across the desert and thrown myself onto the only mudpuddles I could find, but I still think clean, abundant water is important.

  16. Phil Atkinson12/8/16 10:53 am

    Interesting reading this article in August 2016, with NSW ICAC about to hand down a report into Operations Spicer & Credo in September 2016. (The report was due to be handed down in March 2016, but was put back to September, following "legal argument". The pending federal election would have had nothing to do with it *cough*).

    Since this article was written, we have had revelations in the MSM regarding Liberal Party fundraising, in particular relating to the Free Enterprise Foundation, Wentworth Forum , and more recently, Parakeelia Pty Limited. I can't wait for next February when political parties have to disclose their donors and then try matching the major donors with the states the donations were declared in!