February 06, 2006

"Pig Head John"

You know the Australian Wheat Board scandal is a pretty big thing when even Rupert Murdoch's editors at The Australian are coming down hard:
The more AWB officers admit to Terence Cole's inquiry into the food-for-oil scandal, the more reason there is to wonder if the Government is gullible, duplicitous or worse. And whether ministers knew about this grubby business is perhaps the most important question the Prime Minister and his colleagues have faced in their decade in office. Australians fought Saddam Hussein's wretched regime twice in 15 years. Proof that the Government knew, or even suspected, AWB was paying off the dictator, but did nothing to stop the bribes, would be a betrayal of the men and women who risked their lives on active service. It is hard to conceive of circumstances in which any minister so implicated could survive. ..

... evidence is emerging that if nobody knew, some people in Canberra should certainly have suspected something odd was going on in Iraq. Canberra was alerted on at least five occasions. And on Thursday, Commissioner Cole heard evidence that AWB officer Michael Young, on secondment to the occupation forces in Iraq from Australia – and therefore working for the Australian Government – was asked to assist in identifying money that Saddam Hussein's regime had skimmed from the oil-for-food contracts. Both he and an AWB colleague copied the request to a DFAT officer. This in itself hopelessly compromises DFAT, with Mr Long in a position to report, or keep quiet, about the payment of kickbacks to which he was party. But the official line is that it did not occur to anyone in DFAT to ask some hard questions about AWB's sales success in Iraq...

That the bureaucrats were naive at the time is manifest. But they are plain stupid if they think this explanation gets them off the hook... Even on what we know now, the AWB kickbacks are set to become the Howard Government's biggest scandal... This wretched business is destined to go down as Mr Howard's version of the scandal that earned his hero, Bob Menzies, the moniker "Pig Iron Bob".
Courtesy of Tim Dunlop.

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