Abbott stays silent on Sinodinos
Arthur Sinodinos. Picture: AAP

Tony Abbott has stonewalled Labor attempts to force him to explain what knowledge he had of stood aside frontbencher Arthur Sinodinos' role in a company embroiled in a corruption probe.

NSW's Independent Commission Against Corruption has held hearings this week over the dealings of Australian Water Holdings as it tried to get a contract with the NSW Government-owned Sydney Water Corporation.

Senator Sinodinos was a director and then chairman of AWH, which was secretly part-owned by the family of corrupt Labor powerbroker Eddie Obeid, before he entered Parliament and stood to pocket up to $20 million in shares if the deal had gone through, ICAC was told.

The commission was also told Senator Sinodinos, a former chief of staff to John Howard, had become a board member to open up lines of communication to the NSW Liberal Party and was paid $200,000 for 100 hours of work a year.

Labor has peppered the Prime Minister with questions for three days running over the issue and yesterday unsuccessfully tried to force Mr Abbott to make a 15- minute statement to Parliament.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten cited Mr Abbott's declaration in September that he would not have appointed Senator Sinodinos to the ministry if there had been a cloud over him, even though at the time it was known it was likely he would be called to give evidence.

"There may not have been a cloud over Senator Sinodinos but there are smoke signals coming from the Prime Minister's office that he knew more than he said," Mr Shorten said.

"If it emerges that the Prime Minister is aware of more than he has revealed, then that is a problem for this Prime Minister."

Mr Shorten also said the rules on ministerial pay and conditions did not allow for a frontbencher to simply stand aside and they had to be either sacked or resign.

Mr Abbott said that Senator Sinodinos had asked for his ministerial salary to be suspended and he had moved into a backbencher's office, while his staff had been re-directed to Finance Minister Mathias Cormann's office.

The Prime Minister said he wanted to lift parliamentary standards and Senator Sinodinos had done the "right and honourable thing by standing aside until the matter was resolved". Senator Sinodinos, who has denied any wrongdoing, stood down from the ministry on Wednesday to avoid becoming a "distraction" for the Government.

The West Australian

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