Saturday, March 22, 2014

The 44th: Friday Morning, 3am.

In those quiet moments between the middle of the night and darkest-before-dawn on Friday morning, Joe Hockey’s spin team issued a statement clarifying the chaotic web of stories linking Treasurer Joe Hockey and Assistant Treasurer Arthur Sinodinos with donations from ICAC target, Australian Water Holdings (AWH).

The statement, which is not available on Mr Hockey’s website, but was reported in The Australian, states  

“I have never received any money from AWH. I have never repaid money from AWH,” Mr Hockey’s statement read.

“The membership fees AWH paid to a Liberal Party business and community organisation known as the North Sydney Forum were refunded for AWH membership from 2009 until early 2013.

“I am advised that the North Sydney Forum cancelled AWH’s membership and returned its membership fee of $11,000 when allegations about AWH first became publicly known in February 2013, more than one year ago.

“I am further advised that subsequent to that $22,000 was returned to AWH for membership fees paid prior to 2013 and paid since 2009.”

Despite the early morning statement, there are still many questions unanswered, and too much that is open to interpretation.

Piecing together the various media reports, the money trail is straightforward. AWH paid $33,000 for membership to the North Sydney Forum, a group of businessmen who, in return for their membership fees, have exclusive access to a calendar of events featuring the Australian Treasurer. The businessmen, and possibly women, are paying to schmooze the Treasurer.

But the NSF returned the money to AWH. First, when AWH fell under the corruption spotlight, NSF repaid $11,000, with the balance of $22,000 being repaid at some point later.

The amounts and dates in Mr Hockey’s statements are a not precise. The statement refers to membership from 2009-2013. That’s probably 2010, 2011 and 2012, but the vague wording leaves it unresolved.

The statement describes the North Sydney Forum as a “Liberal Party business and community organisation”, yet there is no Liberal Party livery on the NSF website. In fact, the Liberal Party is only mentioned a couple of times on the entire site, and never on the homepage. The focus of the website is specifically about supporting Joe Hockey. (Check out the spelling errors on the site too!)

Words and Image from the NSF website
So the biggest question is around interpreting “Joe Hockey”. His statement that he did not repay any money to AWH is correct. The funds were repaid by NSF.

His statement that he did not receive funds from AWH is also correct, strictly speaking, yet there’s a direct line from NSF to Mr Hockey. Mr Hockey’s capability to develop and extend his political career has benefited from the NSF, which appears to exist for that purpose. There are no other beneficiaries. It's impossible to say that Mr Hockey has not benefited from the NSF, so we're left with dots we can't connect.
  • ·         When were the funds repaid?
  • ·         Would NSF have repaid anything to AWH if ICAC's interest in AWH had not become known?
  • ·         Did Mr Hockey know that AWH was a supporter, via NSF?
  • ·         Did Mr Hockey know that AWH was entangled with the Obeid family?
  • ·         Did NSF receive any funds from AWH in addition to the $33,000 we know about?
    I don't expect to be up at 3:00am pondering those questions.

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