Senator Arthur Sinodinos has announced his resignation from the ministry, clearing the way for Prime Minister Tony Abbott to fill the position of assistant treasurer in a reshuffle.
Abbott is believed to favour only a limited reshuffle but is also under pressure to go further in order to freshen his team for next year and address the gender problem.
Candidates who have been mentioned for promotion include Josh Frydenberg and Steve Ciobo, both parliamentary secretaries.
The highly regarded Sinodinos, former chief of staff to John Howard, had stood aside from his post early this year because he was called before the Independent Commission Against Corruption (ICAC).
Now the reports from ICAC that affect him have been delayed at least until March, just when the government is anxious to boost its economic firepower in the months running up to the budget.
Finance Minister Mathias Cormann has been doing the work of the Assistant Treasurer.
Sinodinos said in a statement that he had been confidentially discussing his ministerial future with Tony Abbott and Liberal Party director Brian Loughnane in recent weeks.
Sinodinos said that on Tuesday he had advised Abbott that the reports of ICAC into the Credo and Spicer matters in which he was called as a witness would be delayed from January until March or beyond, due to a different case that would be heard by the High Court in relation to ICAC’s powers.
Operation Credo investigated the activities of Australian Water Holdings (AWH) – of which Sinodinos was a director and later chairman. Operation Spicer investigated NSW MPs soliciting and concealing donations from property developers, who are banned from donating to political parties.
“While I am extremely disappointed by this further delay, I am confident that when the reports are finally released, I will not be subject to any finding of corrupt conduct or illegality,” Sinodinos said.
Sinodinos said he and Abbott agreed the government needed a full time assistant treasurer for the preparation of the 2015 budget. “The Prime Minister has advised me that I cannot resume ministerial duties until the ICAC matters are completed and reported upon,” he said.
“It had therefore been agreed that I would resign today via an exchange of letters with an announcement being made on Sunday.” Sinodinos said he was disappointed that newspaper reports today had pre-empted this.
“Speculation on such an important matter does not assist the orderly workings of government.” Sinodinos said he looked forward to returning to the ministry “in the not too distant future”.