ICAC and Arthur Sinodinos silent on claims he has been ‘cleared’

Arthur Sinodinos outside ICAC during its investigation into his dealings with the Australian Water Holdings. Photo: Rob HomerThe NSW corruption watchdog says its high-profile inquiry into a company linked to Labor and Liberal figures including Arthur Sinodinos​ has not yet been completed, amid reports the Turnbull government minister has been cleared of corruption findings.

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Senator Sinodinos, a former chairman of controversial infrastructure company Australian Water Holdings, was called as a witness during the Independent Commission Against Corruption’s public inquiry into the company in 2014.

The NSW Senator and cabinet minister was not expected to face corruption findings.

Submissions from counsel assisting the ICAC, sent on December 18 and apparently leaked to News Corp by a third party, have reportedly indicated that he will not face such a finding.

However, it is not yet clear whether the watchdog will make critical comments about his time as non-executive chairman of the company.

On Thursday, Senator Sinodinos told Fairfax Media he was not able to provide a comment until the inquiry was finalised.

Finance Minister Mathias Cormann told ABC Radio on Thursday it was “very difficult” to comment on the situation because the final report – expected around March – had not been officially released.

But Senator Corman praised his fellow frontbencher as a “friend and valued colleague”.

“Arthur was only ever questioned as a witness,” he said. “He was never a target of that investigation. “

The ICAC released a statement on Thursday morning stressing it had not finished its investigation.

A spokeswoman said the Commission had “invited further submissions from relevant parties in Operations Spicer and Credo [which involve AWH and Liberal Party donations] as a result of recent changes to the ICAC’s jurisdiction.

“The submissions phase has not been completed. When it has, the commission will prepare and table a report to the NSW Parliament detailing its findings.”

The High Court ruled in April last year that the ICAC did not have the power to investigate a range of allegations against private citizens where no wrongdoing was alleged on the part of a public official.

Laws to amend the ICAC’s jurisdiction were rushed through the NSW Parliament to deal with the fallout from that ruling, but still left parts of Operations Spicer and Credo outside its jurisdiction.

Senator Sinodinos stepped aside and then resigned as Assistant Treasurer in 2014, following questions over his time as chairman of AWH.

The NSW senator has denied any wrongdoing but stood aside from the frontbench, explaining he wanted to avoid any distractions for the Coalition government.

He was reinstated to the frontbench as cabinet secretary by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull in September, amid expectations that he would be cleared.

A former chief of staff to prime minister John Howard, Senator Sinodinos was appointed to the AWH board in 2008 and made chairman in 2010, while he was honorary treasurer of the NSW Liberal Party.

The ICAC heard he was earning $200,000 a year for “a couple of week’s work” and would have “enjoyed a $10 or $20 million payday” if AWH had won a lucrative government contract.

The inquiry into AWH has probed a range of allegations, including that the company improperly billed the state-owned utility Sydney Water for lavish expenses, including limousines and airfares.

The inquiry crossed party lines and examined allegations that the family of disgraced former Labor minister Eddie Obeid had a secret $3 million stake in the company, although the Obeids have insisted the money was a loan.

Former NSW Labor ministers Joe Tripodi and Tony Kelly face allegations they misused their positions by changing a cabinet minute in an attempt to benefit the company.The men denied the claims.

After the March 2011 election that swept Labor from power in NSW, Australian Water assiduously lobbied the state Coalition government. The commission was also investigating whether Australian Water paid $183,000 to an alleged slush fund set up by a former adviser to former Liberal minister Chris Hartcher.

The company’s former chief executive, prominent Liberal Party fundraiser Nick Di Girolamo, gave former NSW premier Barry O’Farrell the now infamous $3000 bottle of Grange that ended his premiership.

News Corp has reported that allegations of fraud relating to the expenses billed to Sydney Water will not be pursued against Mr Di Girolamo.

He had denied the claims and the subsequent High Court ruling on the ICAC’s powers made it clear that allegations of fraud against private citizens generally will not be within the watchdog’s jurisdiction.

However, he faces a potential allegation that he encouraged Mr Tripodi and Mr Kelly to change the cabinet minute to benefit the company.

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‘Offensive, outdated’: Christopher Pyne criticises legal denial of overseas gay marriages

David and Marco Bulmer-Rizzi. Photo: Facebook Innovation Minister Christopher Pyne Photo: Andrew Meares

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The pair were on their honeymoon when David died after falling down stairs. Photo: Facebook

Not recognising overseas same-sex marriages is anachronistic and offensive, government frontbencher Christopher Pyne has said, as he denounced the recent case where a British man’s marriage wasn’t acknowledged when he died on his honeymoon in Adelaide.

South Australian Labor Premier Jay Weatherill has apologised to British man Marco Bulmer-Rizzi, whose husband David died while the pair were on holidays and weren’t allowed to have their marriage recognised on the death certificate.

On Thursday, Mr Pyne was asked whether it was time to change laws in some state and territories that prevent same-sex marriages performed in other jurisdictions from being recognised.

“I haven’t studied the issue. I did see the story and I agree with Jay Weatherill that that is outdated and anachronistic and I think it’s offensive to the man involved, obviously,” the South Australian MP told ABC radio. “I agree with him on that.”

The comments from the state’s most senior Liberal will fuel momentum for changes to the law around the country, including in South Australia where Mr Weatherill is seeking reform.

Mr Weatherill also promised to issue a new death certificate once reform is achieved. Currently, David Bulmer-Rizzi’s death certificate states “never married”.

Mr Pyne supports same-sex marriage in Australia and was one of the 33 Coalition MPs who voted for a conscience vote on the issue, defeated by the 66 who opposed it.

Vocal at the time of the party room vote, Mr Pyne said that same-sex couples should be in a “position to have some legal basis for their relationship and that’s why I’ve changed my view.”

“South Africa, UK, the US, Ireland, New Zealand, most of the European countries have managed to do this without the sky falling in,” he told an audience in Canberra.

“And I think Australia will end up going in this direction.”

Mr Bulmer-Rizzi said that he and Mr Weatherill talked for 10 minutes on Wednesday.

“I thank [Mr Weatherill]. I think it’s amazing. It’s so much further than I ever thought last night when I was wondering what I could do,” he said.

“My mind is blown away that the Premier of South Australia called to apologise. It’s such an acknowledgment, coming from the top of the state.”

The couple, from Sunderland, married in London last June. While same-sex marriage is not legal in Australia, overseas same-sex marriages are recognised in some states, but not in South Australia, the Northern Territory and Western Australia.

“I phoned Marco and on behalf of the South Australian people and government I expressed our condolences for the loss of his husband. I also expressed my sorrow for the way in which he was treated,” Mr Weatherill said on Thursday morning.

As well as committing to reform, he said same-sex marriage legalisation at a federal level was essential.

“Ultimately this is about recognition of same-sex marriage and there are so many things that flow from that such as basic acceptance in our community and people at every level behaving towards people that are in marriages of the same sex appropriately,” he said.

“This will only be properly dealt with once we have same-sex marriage legislation at the federal level.”

He also indicated via social media that he will look into a possible retrospective amendment of David Bulmer-Rizzi’s death certificate should laws in the state change.

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Australian Open 2016: Serena Williams frustrated by Roberta Vinci questions

Less than impressed: Serena Williams. Photo: Getty Images Serena Williams cruised to a second-round win over Taiwan’s Su-Wei Hsieh in the Australian Open on Wednesday, but was left frustrated by an Italian reporter bent on reminding her on her loss to Roberta Vinci in 2015.

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Vinci ruined William’s calendar year Grand Slam (winning all four majors) aspirations at the US open with a remarkable upset in the semi-finals in September.

The Italian reporter began his line of questioning saying, “Serena I don’t want to remind you of your nightmare, but Roberta Vinci is the only Italian still left in the draw…”

Williams answered the question but grew visibly frustrated as the questions around Vinci went on, with a USA Today report describing her as “clearly annoyed” by the end of the press conference.

His final question drew a sarcastic response from Williams.

Reporter: “If you don’t throw me an arrow with your eyes, another question on Vinci, which is — this is the last one, I promise: Verdasco last night said that he had seen his match 10 times, the one he played seven years ago against Nadal. He keeps watching it. Roberta said she saw her match with you, against you, five times. I want to know if you ever saw it again or you didn’t want to see it or you saw it?”

Williams: “Yeah, I watch it every day. Every night to get ready.”

Williams then ended the press conference after being asked about her sister Venus skipping her own press conference after her first round exit at the hands of Johanna Konta.

“I don’t know. If you want to, you can ask her. Yeah, I don’t know. I wasn’t here,” Williams said.

“In fact, I was watching Telenovela. I’m coming apart, though. Do we have any more questions?”

Williams will next face world No. 69 Daria Kasatkina after the young Russian defeated Croatian Ana Konjuh 6-4 6-3.

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Newcastle drivers pay more for fuel, but price down overall

MIND THE GAP: Newcastle motorists paid 14 cents more at the bowser than their Sydney counterparts on Thursday, but Hunter petrol prices are falling overall.

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RELIEF at the bowsercould be at hand for Newcastle drivers, despite them having to pay14 centsmore for petrolthan motoristsinSydney.

Theaverage costof unleaded fuel in Newcastle on Thursday hovered at $1.18 a litre ascustomers in Sydneyenjoyedan averageof $1.04 and, in some areas, less than a dollar.

Novocastrians alsopaidseven cents a litre more than their counterparts in Maitland, while the United service station at North Wyong was charging $1.03 a litre.

Some Hunter service stationscharged far more, including the United at Freemans Waterhole ($1.21) and an outletinNewcastlethatreportedlygougedcustomers nearly $1.60 a litre.

The NRMA’s Peter Khoury said thatwas “insane”, but added that prices in Newcastle were falling overall.

“Newcastle stillshouldn’t be 12 to 14 cents more expensive than Sydney, and there’sa way to go in Newcastle, in Maitland and on the Central Coast,”Mr Khourysaid.

“It hasn’t fallen far enough, but the trend in Newcastle is that prices should be heading south.”

Mr Khoury said there was “no reason” for Newcastle motorists to fear petrol price spikes in the near future.

Fuel gate prices (the price service stations pay for fuel) dippedas low as $1.04in Newcastle on Thursday, onlya cent more than Sydney gate prices.

Motorists can generallyexpect to pay about seven cents per litre more than the gate price when retail margins are added at the bowser.

Newcastle sat in 14thplaceon the NRMA’s Bowser Buster cheap fuelrankings for NSW, down three spots from the previous week.

Maitland was in eighth place for cheap petrol, down from sixth, and the Central Coast was 10th.

Average fuel pricesin smaller cities andcountry townssuch as Casino,Forbes, Leetonand Bega were all lower than thosein the Hunter.

Mr Khoury said Hunter motorists would always extract maximum value from fuel providers by “shopping around”.

The shopper loyalty fuel discount schemesrun by Coles and Woolworths, he said,were a distractionfrom the retail giants’inflated pump prices.

“Try and go to the independents, because they’re the cheapest,” Mr Khourysaid.

“To pay $1.30 so you can save four cents a litre doesn’t make sense.”

Anoversupply of oilhas sent theglobal oil benchmarkto a six-year low and resultedinlower prices for Hunter motorists, even sincethepre-Christmas period when locals were being charged $1.30 a litre.

On a global scale, it hastriggered the biggestslump in the energy sectorsince the2008 global financial crisis.

The profits of major oil companies such as Exxon Mobil Corpand BP Plc have beenhalved.

The currencies of crude-rich countries such as Mexico and Russia have also declined sharply.

Diabetes-related amputations on the rise in the Hunter

Life-changing: Don Harris urges other diabetics to seek early treatment after both of his legs were removed due to complications. Picture: Jonathan Carroll.

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DON Harris knows a thing or two about what can happen when Type 2 diabetes isn’t treated early and correctly.

The Salamander Bay resident and Type 2 diabetichas had both of his legs removeddue to complications associated withthe chronic, progressivedisease.

Hisright legwas removed in July, 2013, and his left in January, 2015.

“The doctor said if they didn’t cut my leg off I was going to die,” Mr Harris said.

“Shedidn’t sugar coat it.”

Mr Harris, who has a family history of Type 2 diabetes,was firstdiagnosedafter a heart attack in 1996.

“They had me on medication and diet control, but the tablets weren’t doing what they were supposed to do, and it turned outI was on the wrong medication for about eight years,” he said.

Following a second heart attack in 2009, the former builder’s labourerhad six heart bypasses.

“That’s when they checked my insulin out and decided to change my medication. But it was too little, too late.”

Wearing aT-shirt that said, “Well cut off my legs and call me shorty,” Mr Harris, 60,explainedto The Heraldthat his sense of humour was one of the things thatgothim through some difficult and painful years.

Music was another.

“I was devastated,” he said.

“I was sitting in a hospital room looking out the window andlistening to music when Herbie Hancock and John Legend’s song Don’t Give Up came on. It came on at just the right time,because I was giving up.”

The Heraldrecently reported that diabetes-related amputations were on the rise in the Hunter, with two to three fingers, toes or feet, removed each week in a losing battle against Australia’s fastest-growingdisease.

According to NSW Health data,the Hunter hassome of the highest rates of diabetes-related hospitalisations in NSW.

Mr Harrishoped sharing his story would encourage others toseek advice andtreatment early.

“Like me, a lot of people can be ignorant about these things.Mine was a worse-case scenario, but if you don’t do anythingabout it, no one will. I think if I’d asked more questions earlier, I wouldstill have mylegs.”