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AWB: hard to believe « Previous | |Next »
February 19, 2006

The Wheat scandal. It really is hard to accept that the efforts of Saddam Hussein's regime to make money from the oil-for-food program were not well-known in Canberra quite early on.

Matt Golding

On the one hand, the Howard government was publicly involved in supporting UN sanctions against the Sadam Hussein regime in Iraq; on the other hand, it was doing everything possible to ensure the Australian Wheat Board (AWB) sold wheat to the same regime. The price for the paradox was kickbacks to the regime, which the AWB willing paid. The kickbacks continued with the provisional government after 2003 to prevent the Amercians from capturing a slice of the Iraqi wheat market.

Yet the line of defence has been that no Australian minister or bureaucrat even twigged to what AWB was doing ---systematically breaching UN sanctions. Nor was anybody in Australia responsible for ensuring that AWB wasn't breaching UN sanctions. So nobody in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) was informed by AWB or investigated the breaches?

Nobody was doing their job.That 's the obvious implication. That is hard to believe.

Isn't this an indication of a culture of concealment that seeks to evade accountability and checks on its power? The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is playing a blocking game. All the indications show that AWB had kept DFAT in the loop and that DFAT knew what was happening.

I presume that the fallout from the AWB kickbacks scandal will continue to spread through Coalition ranks opening up divisions within, and between, the Nationals and Liberals.These fissures are becoming ever more explicit around AWB's monopoly status---its continuation as a single desk that holds the power of veto of all bulk exports. Losing a wheat market is what really counts isn't it?: not kickbacks, breaking UN's trade sanctions, or the failure of accountability. Trade is what is placing the squeeze on the unity of the Coalition.

Presumably documents (emails) will begin to surface that will indicate that Canberra knew what was going on, despite the assurances of AWB that everything was okay. It will be a case of drip, drip, drip and a steady revision of the stories being told by senior bureaucrats and Ministers in Canberra. That will happen when Commissioner Terence Cole's inquiry turns from its focus on AWB to the tacit knowledge of the kickbacks by the bureaucrats and ministers. Presumably, we will begin to hear stories that they knew bits and pieces earlier than they are currently admiting.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 7:27 AM | | Comments (0)