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'only a postbox' « Previous | |Next »
November 27, 2006

The Cole Report into the Iraq kickbacks scandal involving AWB is due out today. It is expected that the Howard Government ministers, bureaucrats and officials will be cleared of illegal activity associated with AWB bribing Saddam Hussein's regime. It is an expected finding because the terms of reference of the Cole Inquiry excluded seeking findings against ministers and officials.

Alan Moir

Illegal activity is not the only critieria for judgement in this affair. Australia had responsibility to monitor AWB's compliance with the UN food for oil sanctions against Iraq. However, it never occurred to Government ministers, bureaucrats and officials to check on a wide variety of claims that AWB was breaching the terms of the UN's oil-for-food program in Iraq. After all, they added, there was no reason to doubt AWB's assertions that all was above board. And it was not their job to check the terms under which AWB sold wheat to Iraq. They acted only as a postbox for the UN.

That was the stonewall defence to protect their jobs. They were primarily interested in securing AWB's $3 billion wheat sales. They were negilgent and incompetent in their terms of policing the sanctions.

As David Marr points out in the Sydney Morning Herald:

Not a shipload of wheat could leave for Iraq in those years without a certificate from Downer or his delegate to say that "permitting the exportation will not infringe the international obligations of Australia". Nearly 300 of those certificates were signed to allow 12 million tonnes of wheat to be exported to Saddam Hussein's Iraq - and every one of those deals was loaded with kickbacks.No one in the department noticed.

The system of accountability failed, bigtime. The AWB kickbacks scandal went undetected, unchecked and without any real inquiry or investigation into allegations of UN sanctions-busting.

Since it is the last sitting fortnight of Parliament there will be a lot of political noise about 'the not knowing anything defence" because we were deceived by AWB. No doubt the Howard Government will announce it is exonerated by Cole and say the case is closed and point the finger at the ALP

Depressing. The AWB affair indicates that the Canberra bureaucrats avoid information they knew their ministers did not want to hear. And for years, ministers stayed surprisingly ignorant of what was increasingly common knowledge among intelligence experts and foreign grain traders - that AWB was bribing Saddam Hussein and breaking the UN sanctions. It's called incompetence and corruption but few speak its name. In the old days the Senate would have launched an inquiry, and rightly so.

All that we can hope for these days is that AWB's single desk monopoly will go. Once Australia's share of the Iraq wheat was 90%; now it is 10%.We can continue to hope that the ALP will continue to ask tough questions of the Government about its knowledge of the scandal.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 4:40 AM | | Comments (2)


Already you can see it being swept under the carpet - the SMH has some bogus article about the ALP bracing for a bad opinion poll because of the leadership speculation (which was all a figment of the media's febrile imagination anyway, talk about self fulfilling prophecies).

Why aren't they yelling from the rooftop the simple point you raised above, the Government is either incompetent or corrupt over AWB?

Too bloody right it is depressing.

The Howard Government is all slick smiles. Their 'we have been vindicated' is everywhere in the media flows. The political point scoring is along the lines of 'we knew nothing'; we were lied to by AWB;we did no wrong; the ALP should back off from its outrageous claims.

The media is not concentrating on what this kind of scandal means for Australia--what does this corruption say about our nation? What ethical significance does the negligence re the UN sanctions have for our polity?

These kind of questions go beyond the political point scoring loved by the talking heads on Sky's Agenda programme.

It's like a cancer growing inside the body politic but nobody really notices.