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the mask of failure « Previous | |Next »
April 11, 2006

By all accounts Minister Vaile's performance at the Cole Inquiry was the same as that in Parliament--implausible to the point of incomptence. He didn't bother even trying to find out whether there might be something in the complaints about AWB kickbacks.

The transcript (scroll down) indicates that he relied on what he was told by his trusted department, which was depending on what the highly respected AWB said to it. He couldn't remember much and his department never showed him any of the 21 top-secret cables that referred to allegations of kickbacks and surcharges in oil-for-food contracts.

Bill Leak

It's sheer negiligence. Minister Vaile did not not exercise any real ministerial oversight as Australia's monopoly wheat exporter systematically and deliberately violated national and international law for four years. Nor did he have any interest in doing so. Anyhow, he did not have "ministerial responsibility" for the UN--that was the responsibility of Alexander Downer, the Foreign MInister. A buck-passing Vaile is all about selling wheat and trade.

The cleverly crafted terms of reference of the Cole Inquiry do not allow a judgement to be made about the Deputy Prime Minister's negligence. It is AWB in the dock not the Ministers. Consequently, the terms of reference need to be widened so that the Cole Inquiry can scrutinise the performance of ministers and the role of staff and public servants in carrying out their duties.

Vaile's performance at the Cole Inquiry reinforces Vaile's floundering performance in Question Time in Parliament. All he had to do was avoid implicating himself directly in the scandal. He succeeded in that, with his repetition of the " I don't know" and "I have no recollection" script. However, in being seen to failed to properly carry out his duties by turning a blind eye, Vaile is damaged --morally and politically--but he will continue to remain a Minister in Government.

Tony Abbott poses the issue succinclty. He says:

I just find it utterly inconceivable that this Government would have connived at paying kickbacks to Saddam at the same time as we were planning to try to get rid of him. It is just an implausible proposition that we would be with the one hand giving him large amounts of money and with the other hand preparing the armed forces of the Commonwealth to invade his country.It just doesn't really stack up to me.

Well that's close to what happened. 'Connived' is the wrong word though. 'Allowed' would be more appropriate. So the first sentence would now read 'I just find it utterly inconceivable that this Government would have allowed the paying [of] kickbacks to Saddam at the same time as we were planning to try to get rid of him.' However, all the signs indicate that is what happened. The conniving comes with the defence.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 8:20 AM | | Comments (2)


Well yes, Tony, it is, but it didn't stop you from saying it, did it? Oh yes, you're just doing your job, we understand.

Point is, Tony, we understand extremely bloody well.

A diffferent view is that of Michelle Grattin in The Age. She writes:

The conspiracy view is that somehow the Australian Government overlooked AWB's breaches for the sake of the wheat trade. The evidence for this, however, has not been there.

Abbott's 'conniving' refers to the conspiracy view.

Grattin goes on to say that:

This affair looks much more like a gross Government failure rather than a case of improper, or indeed illegal, behaviour.The warnings about AWB's behaviour were many, but those to whom they went either ignored them or failed to join the dots.

AShe adds that WB conned everybody and that it was always going to be hard to catch. However, that does not excuse sloppiness and lack of vigilance by the government when the clues were there. The Foreign Affairs Department fell down on the job big time.

She adds that though the scandal will not bring down a minister--the terms of refference made sure of that--- it is a serious knock for the Government's credibility.