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Ill gotten grains - when will Downer resign?

Richard Tonkin is a regular Webdiarist, specialising in Haliburton and corporate corruption. His last contribution was The Halliburton peanut butter files.

In the 'Hot Topics' of the Ausaid website you find Australian Humanitarian Aid to Iraq:

Australia's focus on Iraq's agricultural sector aims to improve food security and facilitate Iraq's transition to an open, market based economy. Australian advisers are helping build the capacity of Iraqi officials in the Ministry of Agriculture. Additional assistance is provided through in-Australia training and study programs for Iraqi officials from a number of Iraqi Ministeries including the Ministry of Agriculture and Ministry of Trade.

Significant Australian support has been given to the Iraqi Ministry of Planning and Development Cooperation in the form of policy advice and technical assistance to develop donor coordination mechanisms in the reconstruction process.

And now.. a word from Ausaid's sponsor:

Australia has a direct interest in seeing other countries integrate into the global economy or globalise. Not only is there a humanitarian interest in seeing enhanced economic growth and poverty alleviation in poorer countries, but globally integrated economies are more politically stable and can be a market for Australian goods.

Australia can do a number of things to spread the gains of globalisation. Assisting with governance reform and institution-building is possibly the most important.

With stronger institutions, countries are better placed to introduce the policies and reforms vital to securing the opportunities of globalisation. The strength of Australia’s own institutions means we are well placed to help others improve their institutions and their approaches to key policies.

Through our aid program we are investing in the prosperity, the health and the freedom of the poorest, particularly in our own region. With more than a third of our aid program focused on promoting good governance, we are helping create environments where creativity, enterprise and effort can reap rewards ... and where resources are allocated to productive purposes rather than squandered through corruption or mismanagement. - Alexander Downer, February 4 2006

How anybody in Downer's position could champion the integrity of his aid program in the light of the Cole inquiry almost makes me believe the man had no idea of what was occurring under the auspices of Ausaid in Iraq, To conduct yourself in a manner so contrary to such information would be a bold-faced lie enough to cost a sinner his soul.

However, when you get to the end of this speech you realise that prices may have already been paid:

The enterprise, curiosity and enthusiasm of human beings will always ensure that opportunities are sought in every corner of the globe.

So our challenge is not to prevent globalisation but to manage it in such a way as to maximise the benefits for all.

The former World Bank head, James Wolfensohn said that “for me, the argument about globalisation is a non-argument.”

I couldn’t agree with him more.

Taking this line of non-argument as one of Downer's raisons d'etre casts an interesting psychological shadow over the Government's attitude toward the AWB. The picture beginning to emerge is of a government attempting to manipulate Iraq into an acceptable "partner", an Australian trading foothold in the Globalised World Order.

It will be interesting when PM Howard reveals the details of the aid package he's planned for Iraq. If Ausaid-funded "governance education" is exemplified by such as messrs Flugge and Long, Iraq will face an Aussie-enforced "democratisation" with aid withdrawal as the Sword Of Damocles of non-compliance, especially if we helped the Iraqi Planning Minister in the same manner as his collegue in Grains.

On that note we return to last Thursday night's Lateline interview, and Mr D's lack of of reaction to the concept of his department, through Ausaid, paying Michael Long to manipulate the Regime Change to suit the AWB's business interests.


JONES: So...but you wasn't specifically aware that Michael Long was actually working to keep this man, Yousif Abdul Rahman, who I think was, in fact, the director general of the Iraqi Grain Board, to protect him, as it says literally in the memo, from the de-Baathification process and put him in a position in the Ministry of Trade?

DOWNER: Ah, look, there may have been information that came back to Canberra about that, I just don't have any recollection about it. But I don't know the gentleman, so I don't know anything much about him at all, except the position he held. But, I mean, my view by the way has always been that the de-Baathification process was too rigourous, that you had to leave some people in place who'd been members of the Baath Party because I mean, to get anywhere in Iraq under Saddam Hussein you had to be a member of the Baath Party. So, I mean, I don't, on the face of it, as the facts have emerged from the Cole Commission - and there probably was information available to DFAT and AusAID at the time - it's not something that causes me any particular concern.

Today's Sydney Morning Herald tells how, in obeying a request from Commissioner Cole, Brendan Nelson has handed over documents discovered during a review of AWB related documents. Mr Nelson has refused to comment on the rumour that the paperwork reveals that Defence told DFAT what the AWB was doing some time ago. Thanks to the Catch-22 that the Government has placed on the AWB Inquiry this news is unlikely to perturb Mr Downer. As Kevin Rudd so aptly described the situation yesterday, "Cole has no power to make findings against government officials, ministers or advisers."

It will be interesting when the transcripts for a day that Mr Downer spent in Washington are eventually released. On what still would have been, in Australia, April Fool's Day of 2003, Our Foreign Minister met Bush, Rumsfeld, Cheney, Wolfowitz, Rice, and the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of staff. After this briefing Downer gave this statement:

So it's been an opportunity for me at every level here to put the case that in the post-conflict environment we would like to see some UN involvement in Iraq. We've been pleasantly surprised by the very positive reception to that message that we've received from the President downwards.

I think the Administration knows only too well that there needs to be some UN involvement. That it's crucial to have UN aid agencies involved in Iraq and also to get the IMF and World Bank involved. Indeed I met with the managing director of the IMF and talked about this with him at some length..... I had lunch with the administrator of USAID, the United States aid agency, and we talked a lot about the delivery of aid to Iraq and also this issue of contracts and the like. Again, at that level I've been pleasantly surprised by the identity of views between Australia and the United States so I think things are heading in the right direction.

Downer's level of conversations with the Bush Administration, when the Invasion of Iraq was only thirteen days old, implies not only an amazing feat of meetings scheduling but also a level of co-operation that surely existed before the Coalition crossed the border. To have this situation existing at the same time as the Free Trade Agreement negotiators were calling for the dismantling of the AWB because its monopolistic existance violated US trading ethics must have been extremely galling - moreso when you've done the right thing and subcontracted Ausaid work to Halliburton.

The reason that US Wheat was calling for action over AWB's monopoly back in 2003 was because of a US Defence document... the one that Kevin Rudd was waving under Mark Vaille's nose in Parliament last week. Released in September of that year, it discusses Oil For Food overpayments and names AWB.

It's a fair guess that Commissioner Cole would be assuming that US Defence would have shared this intelligence with Australian Defence- it would be a logical reason for calling for the information that Brendan Nelson has handed over. It's getting pretty hard to even imagine that Alexander Downer had no knowledge whatsoever of the AWB scandal. For the Minister to have suggested, within days of AWB's loss of trade due to the Iraq invasion, that Ausaid buy AWB's wheat (and to have the idea rejected by the UN) suggests that Downer was very aware of the AWB at that time. Surely, when negotiating future aid arrangements days later at the White House, this situation would have been weighing heavily on his mind?

How long will it take for Mr Downer to realise that his denial of involvement in AWB activities is reaching a "point of diminishing returns" and resign? It's only Monday...

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PM a nervous nelly

Rowley and Tonkin fill in a few gaps which explain Howard's anxious dog-whistling and the responses of the likes of Danna Vale and Alan Jones concerning Muslim migrants not "integrating" (just as well Aussie blokes don't treat their sheilas like these mid-eastern coves!!)

In the wake of Costello's significant tacit refusal to endorse the wheat board antics, via the specific of tax evasion last Friday, in the wake of the RU486 Howard defeat and now Nelson releasing further significant information, it seems the little fellow is starting to thrash around a little, being in too deep at what he discovers to be the wrong end of the pool.

The racist nonsense highlighted on Media Watch last night indicates a psychological taking of hostages, by the proverbial bank robber caught red-handed in the middle of a job.

Tonkin suggests the sleeper issue involved in all of this apart from, how long after the war began we were still financing Saddam, (eg, when our own troops were there); that no politician or journalist wants to touch with a two hundred foot barge-pole. He alludes to the US eyeing off of our Iraq wheat contracts, despite us having played the game, having even "done the right thing and subcontracted AUSAID work out to Halliburton". And that issue is the magnitude of the contempt we have been shown by the USA, who we have so loyally grovelled to for so long.

Howard rattled

It is news like this that must have John Howard rattled.

Today the Cole inquiry has seen documentary evidence - a letter sent by the ambassador and permanent head of the UN mission, Penny Wensley - that shows the Australian mission to the United Nations made inquiries in 2001 about the payment of fees to Iraq. Yet the Howard Government has maintained that it was not aware of any corruption in the oil-for-food program "until the release of the UN's Volcker report last October."

( Actually, Alexander Downer as I've mentioned before has been very careful to use the words "in the context of the Volker report" to give him some wiggle room when it is eventually shown they knew earlier).

Howard on the ropes at press conference

A press conference about the additional commitment of Aussie troops to Afghanistan being broadcast live a moment ago on ABC News Radio turned into a wide ranging discussion. Interestingly, John Howard sounded like a man on the ropes when hit with hard questions about the wheat for weapons sanction busting scandal. Howard was pressed by Michelle Grattan and others on what he called a chit chat he'd had with Paul Volker before the Volker Report was issued. He ducked and weaved trying to escape the question - did he discuss the AWB or wheat in relation to the UN Oil-for-Food program? I'll post more later as the reports start to come out clarifying the actual questions and responses.

Another day at the (Cole) office

Another kickback, or a smokescreen? Apparently the AWB was also paying US 50c per ton to Iraqi port authorities before unloading, and the UN weren't worried about it. Unsurprising really, when you consider that some kind of local fee is involved in using ports anywhere in the world.

What is more disconcerting is that AWB claims that information on this matter was sent to DFAT.

The Russian deal is more interesting. AWB, selling wheat on behalf of Russia, was happy to explain the $15 per ton "trucking fee" but omitted the information in documentation to the UN and DFAT

South Australia

Richard Tonkin, as an expert on SA, could you explain why the SA Labor government failed to give contracts to local firms in IT, but preferred to give millions to overseas companies? I believe the figure is around $600 million, can you imagine what you would be saying if it was the Howard government that had sold the local firms down the river. I wonder whether there were any kickbacks involved.

Will 'e? Not On Your Nellie

Alexander, given to fits of high pique, is not a quitter. No one in this Cabinet is a quitter.

Howard's is the non-quittingest government in the whole world. If we had an Olympic event for non-quitting, we would win all the medals.

But then, the majority of Australians don't want him to quit either. Our fellow citizens are non-interested . If we had an Olympic event for non-interest, we would win all the medals.

Australians have little interest in rodents' anuses (should that be anni) and, should Alexander find an engaging place to hide (somebody's anus), most Aussies would merely flick the channel to the gripping real-life drama of Who Wants To Be A Millionaire? (I do).

I rest my case!

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