Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s recall of Parliament to secure a July 2 election has delivered unintended and potentially damaging consequences for the Liberals, with the Senate agreeing to hold a snap inquiry into political donations which will target the dealings of Cabinet Secretary Arthur Sinodinos.
Senator Sinodinos will be compelled to give evidence to the inquiry that will investigate the Liberal party’s fundraising body Free Enterprise Foundation (FEF), after Labor secured the support of the Greens and crossbenchers to pass its motion on Tuesday evening.
The successful motions put forward by Labor senate leader Penny Wong also call for the finance and public administration references committee to examine whether the Australian Electoral Commission has sufficient powers to deal with misconduct.
The move comes after a report from the NSW electoral commission that slammed the NSW Liberal party for “concealing” the identities of illegal major donors before the 2001 election and using the FEF to “channel and disguise donations by major political donors some of whom were prohibited donors”.
The NSW Electoral Commission is refusing to pay the Liberals more than $4.4 million until it reveals the secret donors who poured about $700,000 into the party’s coffers ahead of the 2011 state election.
Senator Sinodinos was the finance director and treasurer of the NSW Liberals at the time.
The inquiry, which has the potential to significantly damage the Turnbull government, would not have transpired had the prime minister not recalled parliament for extra sittings in a bid to reinstate the building industry regulator, the ABCC, of trigger a double dissolution election.
Senator Wong said Senator Sinodinos had serious questions to answer regarding political donations and his involvement with the Free Enterprise Foundation.
She said the federal government had fought tooth and nail to avoid a vote on whether he should be directed to appear before a Senate committee.
“Malcolm Turnbull and [Attorney-General] George Brandis have repeatedly refused to respond to questions on Senator Sinodinos’ involvement in the Free Enterprise Foundation,” Senator Wong said.
“If Senator Sinodinos has nothing to hide why have senior ministers used every procedural trick in the book to resist scrutiny of the Senate.”
Senator Brandis vehemently objected to the motion, saying there had been no negative findings against Senator Sinodinos.
“The prime minister most certainly was satisfied in every respect that [Senator Sinodinos] satisfied the requirements of the ministerial code of conduct and that he is a person of integrity, as we all know him to be,” Senator Brandis said.