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Ill gotten grains - when will Downer resign?

By Richard Tonkin
Created 20/02/2006 - 10:48

Richard Tonkin is a regular Webdiarist [0], specialising in Haliburton and corporate corruption. His last contribution was The Halliburton peanut butter files [0].

In the 'Hot Topics' of the Ausaid website you find Australian Humanitarian Aid to Iraq [1]:

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 [2]

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 [3] of the aid package he's planned for Iraq. If Ausaid-funded "governance education" is exemplified by such as messrs Flugge [4] and Long [5], 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 [6], 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 [7] 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 [8]:

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 [9] 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 [10].

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 [11] 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 [12] (and to have the idea rejected by the UN) suggests that Downer was very aware [13] 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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