News National PM Abbott thrown a wrong ‘un
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PM Abbott thrown a wrong ‘un

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· Abbott under water as Sinodinos resigns

Cricket coaches say mental toughness and getting into the “zone” are essential to great bowling.

Tony Abbott has been aiming to get into the zone during the past six months of his first Test.

The prime minister’s zone is well-defined: end the waste, fix the budget, stop the boats, Australia is under new management and open for business.

As he told coalition MPs at a party room meeting in Canberra this week: “We have started to find our line and length.”

His team knows the strategy demands high standards of discipline.

So it was that Arthur Sinodinos stepped aside as assistant treasurer on Wednesday ahead of fronting the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption as a witness in coming weeks.

Sinodinos is well-acquainted with dealing with political crises and setbacks, having served as chief of staff to former prime minister John Howard for nine years.

He knows when a “sideshow” (his own words) becomes too much of a distraction for a government.

And he has the prime minister’s assurance his ministerial job remains open for him after the last tent of the sideshow is pulled down.

But questions remain about his taking on the role of director, in 2008, and chairman, in 2010, of Australian Water Holdings before entering parliament.

ICAC has heard Sinodinos, a well-connected former treasurer and president of the NSW Liberals, was offered the $200,000 a year job to open lines of communication with his party and the state government.

He stood to gain up to $20 million if AWH was awarded a contract with the state-run Sydney Water.

Sinodinos asserts no wrongdoing and insists he knew nothing of AWH’s decision to make secret donations to the Liberal Party, or a deal for the Obeid family to take a 30 per cent stake.

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His answers at ICAC will be followed with great interest, but – no longer being on the frontbench – he is now off-limits from being quizzed at Senate question time.

Liberal MPs were quick to point out how Abbott’s standards of ethics and discipline differed to those of Labor in government.

Julia Gillard stood by backbencher Craig Thomson for years while the Fair Work Commission and media reports outlined examples of fraud and misconduct when he was national secretary of the Health Services Union.

But it wasn’t until April 2012 that she declared “a line had been crossed” and Thomson was booted from the ALP.

The Liberals also argue Labor has declined to pay back HSU-defrauded money which went into Thomson’s election campaign fund.

On the flipside, Thomson was never a government minister and, like Sinodinos, was due innocence until proven guilty at the time of being exiled to the cross benches.

The ICAC ball-tossing machine presents a problem for both Labor and the Liberals.

Federal and state Labor figures have been forced to pad up at hearings over the past few years.

At the heart of the inquiries is a former Labor figure, Eddie Obeid, whose name has become something of a byword for misconduct.

But more recent inquiries have required Liberal figures appear at the crease.

With only one sitting week left before the May 13 federal budget, and a Senate election re-run under way in Western Australia, the prime minister cannot afford any distractions.

A strong result in the WA election – which Liberal deputy leader Julie Bishop says is being taken as seriously as any general election – will help the government achieve its legislative program.

And the budget will outline the government’s economic and fiscal strategy for the remainder of its first term and well beyond.

Sinodinos was to play a key role in budget preparations, being a member of the so-called “razor gang”, but will now sit on the sidelines.

Abbott also wants to get some runs on the board in terms of international investment, with a visit to Papua New Guinea this weekend and a trade mission to Japan, South Korea and China in April.

In a previous job the advice from Sinodinos to the PM would be to focus on the talks with business and political leaders and stay in the zone.

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