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DFAT's negligence « Previous | |Next »
November 29, 2006

So how are our journalists evaluating the implications of the Cole Inquiry? Unsuprisingly the focus is on AWB, the corrupt culture of AWB's corporate governance. In this they follow the Cole Report. They mention the fire wall of protection around the government, the politics of the agri-politicians and highlight the downside of AWB's single desk monopoly of the wheat trade.

Alan Moir

We dealing with the consequences of the Howard Government's simultaneously wanting war with Saddam Hussein and selling wheat to the regime. It's such a lovely contradiction, isn't it.

So what of the role of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in approving and submitting AWB's contracts to the UN under the oil-for-food program and, as delegates of the minister, signing export permissions for fraudulent contracts?

As we know assessing DFAT's incompetency or negligence was outside the terms of reference, even though it did next to nothing about the warnings, complaints and allegations froma multitude of sources. Is this not a failure of governance? Is there not a bureaucratic veil here?

Cole says that DFAT was not guilty of deliberfately turning a blind eye and that there was "no evidence" that any DFAT officer had knowledge that AWB paid fees to Iraq via the transport company Alia. He says nothing about what lies inbetween the 'bliind eye and knowledge ", even though we know that DFAT didn't have any systems or procedures in relation to how its staff should proceed in relation to the breach of UN sanctions.

As Paul Kelly observes in The Australian DFAT regarded AWB as a company of "utmost integrity" and that:

DFAT saw its role as being to support Australia's economic interests against allegations from competitors.Critically, DFAT did not see itself as an investigatory agency and it possessed neither the systems nor procedures to investigate alleged breaches of sanctions. It lacked the commercial and price expertise to make such judgments and it did not try. As Cole says, DFAT had "no way of determining whether the contracts reflected the true contractual arrangements between buyer and seller". It was hostage to AWB's deceptions.

That negligence is where a Senate inquiry should probe. Natasha Cica, writing in The Age outlines the questions that need to be asked:
Why didn't DFAT have any systems or procedures in relation to how its staff should proceed in relation to the breach of sanctions? Why was no specific officer given responsibility for responding to or investigating such matters? What were the chains of command - and their weakest links - in relation to any relevant decisions, including about departmental process? Exactly what were DFAT's relevant practices regarding liaison (or lack of it) with Australian intelligence organisations? And with relevant advisers in the offices of relevant ministers? Exactly who in all those offices was making the decisions about who saw and signed off on relevant pieces of the oil-for-food info-puzzle? According to exactly what criteria? Who or what was setting the tone and pace of this government business? How frank, and how fearless, can or should the mandarins and minions of Canberra be in their dealings with today's political masters?

Good questions. There is a protective wall around any such probe. It will not be breached without a Senate inquiry.

| Posted by Gary Sauer-Thompson at 6:10 AM | | Comments (0)