Cabinet secretary rules out appearing at inquiry set up by Labor to investigate associated entities, such as the Liberal party’s Free Enterprise Foundation
Sinodinos wrote to the committee late Wednesday saying he wouldn’t be attending during the two hours scheduled for him to give evidence on Thursday morning and that the “direction” was “objectionable”.
“It would be inappropriate for me or any minister to appear ... the purported direction ... is without precedent, and violates well established Senate practice,” Sinodinos wrote.
He said the inquiry had a “ludicrously” short time frame and the public could be forgiven for concluding that it was a “stunt”.
As revealed by Guardian Australia, Labor used the special sittings of parliament this month to set up the snap Senate committee to investigate the oversight of associated entities, like the federal Liberal party’s Free Enterprise Foundation, which the New South Wales electoral commission says was used to “wash” property developer donations illegal in that state, at a time when cabinet secretary and senator Arthur Sinodinos was the NSW party’s finance director.
The government said the “demand” set a dangerous precedent and labelled the inquiry, by the Finance and Public Administration References Committee, as a “stunt”.
It then also requested that the inquiry hear from the opposition leader, Bill Shorten, and six other figures involved with a $40,000 political donation Shorten failed to declare for eight years before revealing it in evidence to the royal commission into trade unions.
The committee, on which Labor and the Greens have the numbers, declined.
Other NSW officials have also reportedly declined to give evidence and the chair of the NSW electoral commission, Keith Mason, has written to the committee saying it cannot provide a submission because the issues being discussed are still under investigation by the commission.
That leaves the Australian Electoral Commission as the only organisation actually providing evidence on Thursday.
The federal director of the Liberal Party, Tony Nutt, wrote to the committee saying in the Liberal Party’s view “the current arrangements set out in the electoral act for the funding and disclosure regime in general and for annual returns by parties and other entities ... works adequately” and that it helped to encourage “engagement with the democratic political system by a wide cross section of our society.”
Sinodinos has always said he did not know about the banned donations.
The committee will now report his failure to attend to the Senate, which may vote to refer the issue to the privileges committee.
The royal commission did not make any adverse findings against Shorten. In evidence to the commission he revealed he had failed to declare a political donation of about $40,000 from a labour hire company that he received for the 2007 election campaign. The labour hire company, Unibuilt, had donated money through the AWU that was used to pay $40,000 of the $52,000 salary of Shorten’s campaign director Lance Wilson in February 2007. He declared the donation only a few days before he gave evidence to the royal commission last year when it came to his attention. The donation came at a time when the AWU was negotiating an enterprise agreement with Unibuilt.
Shorten said he didn’t believe Unibuilt was seeking something in return for the donation.
The committee has three Labor members, two Coalition members and one Green.