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Sinodinos stands aside -

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STEVE CANNANE, PRESENTER: The Coalition Government has lost its first minister. Under heavy pressure, Assistant Treasurer Arthur Sinodinos announced today he will stand down until the conclusion of a corruption inquiry into Australian Water Holdings.

Senator Sinodinos will soon be called to give evidence before the Independent Commission Against Corruption in New South Wales to explain his role in a company linked to disgraced Labor powerbroker Eddie Obeid.

The Prime Minister has stood by his minister, but today he said Senator Sinodinos had done the right and honourable thing in standing aside.

From Canberra, Jane Norman reports.

JANE NORMAN, REPORTER: Still a senator, but no longer Assistant Treasurer.

Arthur Sinodinos was the guest of honour at a Liberal fundraiser in Canberra tonight, capping off a day he'd rather forget.

PENNY WONG, OPPOSITION SENATE LEADER: There have been some extremely concerning, serious allegations which have been made, which have been made.

JANE NORMAN: The Senate was brought to a stand-still this morning as Labor and the Greens tried to force him to explain himself.

ERIC ABETZ, GOVERNMENT SENATE LEADER: She comes in here so sanctimonious, claiming she's so clean that she is the upholder of all these great standards, and ye,t she was the great defender of Craig Thomson.

JANE NORMAN: The senator himself was nowhere to be seen, leaving his Liberal colleagues to launch a furious defence.

GEORGE BRANDIS, ATTORNEY-GENERAL: A motion designed to humiliate and to smear a man against whom there have been no allegations made of wrongdoing.

JANE NORMAN: The motion was debated for hours and failed on a technicality. But in the end, Labor got what it was asking for.

ARTHUR SINODINOS, LIBERAL SENATOR: I rise to make a statement in regard to the current inquiry into Australian Water Holdings Pty. Ltd. by the Independent Commission Against Corruption in NSW.

JANE NORMAN: Claiming the Abbott Government's first ministerial scalp.

ARTHUR SINODINOS: I do not want this sideshow to be an unnecessary distraction to the important work of the Government, which I am proud to serve. Whilst this process is underway, I will therefore be standing aside as Assistant Treasurer.

JANE NORMAN: Arthur Sinodinos has consistently denied any wrongdoing in his role as a director of the company at the centre of a NSW corruption probe. Yesterday he vowed he will be vindicated. His colleagues have stood firmly by him.

JOSH FRYDENBERG, PARLIAMENTARY SECRETARY: If I was in the trenches, the one person you would want next to you would be Arthur Sinodinos and now we're going to be in the trenches with him.

JANE NORMAN: The Prime Minister let him go ...

TONY ABBOTT, PRIME MINISTER: Senator Sinodinos has done the right and decent thing.

JANE NORMAN: ... while anticipating a quick return.

TONY ABBOTT: I'm proud of him and I'm looking forward to his return to the ministry.

JANE NORMAN: If he thought the departure would stem Labor's attack, he was wrong.

BILL SHORTEN, OPPOSITION LEADER: When did the Prime Minister become aware of the issues that caused Senator Sinodinos to stand aside today?

TONY ABBOTT: Madame Speaker, I have nothing to add to my statement a few moments ago.

BILL SHORTEN: Yesterday the Prime Minister said that he had full confidence in Assistant Treasurer Sinodinos. Prime Minister, what changed in the last 24 hours?

TONY ABBOTT: I suppose I can understand the Leader of the Opposition trying to see something wrong in all of this. ... And what we see here is a member of this Parliament doing the right and the honourable thing.

JANE NORMAN: A view shared by his deputy:

WARREN TRUSS, DEPUTY PRIME MINISTER: I hope that he will have to stand aside for just the smallest possible time.

JANE NORMAN: The Finance Minister Mathias Cormann will take over Arthur Sinodinos' work - a disruptive shuffle in the countdown to the Budget and also because Senator Sinodinos was supposed to be guiding through the hotly-contested changes to Labor's Future of Financial Advice reforms.

The package was tabled in Parliament today in a bundle of regulation repeals meant to save up to a billion dollars.

BILL SHORTEN: Because of what you are doing, you are guaranteeing another Storm Financial and upon your heads it will rest. And we will hold you responsible for your abandonment of basic common sense when it comes to consumer protection.

JANE NORMAN: The zeal for repeal would also scrap the Charities and Not-For-Profits Commission. If that happens, the sector is worried there'd be more red-tape, not less.

DAVID CROSBIE, COMMUNITY COUNCIL FOR AUSTRALIA: We end up in the High Court trying to establish that we are charities, because their primary function is collecting revenue, not regulating a charity sector.

JANE NORMAN: The changes will all be debated next Wednesday on the Government's so-called "Repeal Day".

Jane Norman, Lateline.