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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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Ethics of MInisterial Investments

Should senior members of any Government focused on privatisation be allowed to make significant financial gains from their involvement?

It turns out that a company Downer holds shares in made a killing on the AWB's launch. Argo investments bought the shares on their first day out (in 2001) and then sold them for a profit ten days later.

Downer says that trying to pin him this way is drawing a long bow. Maybe he's right, but there are a few particularly pointy arrows aimed at him.

What if Downer's activities, and those of the other three current and former Federal Ministers with cash in the company, create an environment of profitability for Argo to exploit. Did Argo also make a killing on the recent Qinetiq float in the UK, thus allowing the ministers to profit on the technologies propagated by the War On Terror? Or what about a company that reaps rewards from providing support facilities for troop, such as the highly profitable Halliburton?

Could any such "ministerial financial planning” be considered as the ultimate in insider trading? Downer says he never had shares in AWB, only in the company that invested in them. However, if he was involved, in any way, in the transformation of the Australian Wheat Board into the privatised AWB, he has clearly been involved in a process from which he has benefited financially If detachment in investment by using a third party can be considered as exoneration, then he and his colleagues

Face it folks, these people can, and will, do whatever they feel like, and there will always be a "reasonable" explanation.

Downer Knew About BHP Saddam Bribes

Whether a gift or a loan, a free shipload of wheat equates to profit in Saddam's pocket. US planes were administering a No-Fly Zone while Downer was aware of BHP, in seeking oil exploration rights, providing Saddam with "savings" that might well have been spent on ammunition.

That this occurred in '96 suggests that the Foreign Minister has been aware of, if not involved in, Iraq-related corrupt practices for at least a decade.

Cole's Queue – 41 Gov't employees to appear – deadline exten

This inquiry is getting to the point where it will become necessary to front up to save your skin. With the G-G extending the deadline until the end of June, there are still 80 days left to redeem your personal integrity.

On March 20, the third anniversary of the Iraq invasion, Resistance are organising a protest in front of Downer's Adelaide office at 4:30. I hope to see you there.

Chain of corruption

When you look at the painfully slow extraction of pertinent information during this inquiry, do you tell yourself that such a scenario could never happen in Australia?

What if our political system was guided by a similar ethos? What if our politicians were receiving free tickets, holidays, share portfolio advice and post-government consultancies in return for facilitating the whims of corporations?

Did Peter Reith's consultancy with Tenix result in this week's attempt by French corporation Thales to claim entire ownership of Australian Defence Industries? There's a fair chance.

Might the South Australian Government and the Federal Government's South Australian Senators have received kickbacks to assist Halliburton gain control of maritime construction in Adelaide? Might elements of the Federal Government have "facilitated " the shuffling of US aid funds through Australian "bookwork" to keep the expenditure levels away from the eyes of the US Congress?

Commissioner Cole's terms of reference should be as open-ended as the chain of corruption that currently binds him. The problem is that those who may be the most complicit participants are telling him what to do.

And they're not relaxed at all

Breaking news: Commissioner Cole needs to seek clarification of his terms of reference, or more specifically, how far he can go in quizzing the directors of AWB (and if necessary the directors of other companies - BHP?). Until Phillip Ruddock comes through with the clarification there will be a few nervous Nellies in some of the nation's boardrooms.

I'm more relaxed than they are

The hand-written note reads "Spoke to them myself. Have to take it as it comes but I'm more relaxed than they are."

The words are written at the top of an account of a senior DFAT officer of a meeting with AWB officials last year. Alex must have felt in command of the situation at the time.

As Craig Rowley has previously pointed out, Downer has weaseled himself a spare loophole by using the phrase "within the context of the Volcker Inquiry" to cover himself in any time span. No doubt this can include the AWB's admission of guilt, to one of his senior advisers, months before the findings of the inquiry were announced. It can also include being at meetings with AWB execs in which the "allegations" were discussed.

Listen to the words of our alleged ambassador to the world:

"In general terms ... they talked about the allegation that by using a trucking company ... that there was an allegation that this trucking company was partly owned by the Iraqi regime and was creaming off some of the trucking fees and that was the allegation that was emerging through Volcker"

The oldest trick in advertising is to say something three times. That Mr Downer is relying on used-car-salesman tactics to salvage his international reputation is a possible indication of a deteriorating level of relaxation in regards to this subject.

Meanwhile the man that Prime Minister sent to reconstruct the Iraqi agriculture ministry, Trevor Flugge has stepped down from his membership of three boards to join Andrew Lindberg in attempted corporate obscurity.

While all this is going on our Trade Minister has rushed to New York to address a conference organised by Halliburton's financial advisors Goldman Sachs, after which he'll report in to Dick Cheney and co-chair the first annual review of the FTA.

Vaile was a major campaigner for Australian USaid subcontracts, especially infrastructure reconstruction (if you only look at two links on this page, look at these)

While this is being written, The Age has just reported that a third AWB exec was paid by Ausaid to work with the CPA in 2004.. Ausaid won't say what Darryll Hockey was doing, what he was being paid, or how much cash was in the boot of his car when he drove into Iraq. Clicking on Iraq on the Ausaid homepage still results in a "page not found".

And the AWB? In a timely coincidence with the PM's visit, they've received a fat contract from India.

Insider Trading?

ABC News has reported how an AWB team went to Canberra last May to warn of the negative impact of the Volker Inquiry. Is John Anderson's sale of his AWB shares before the release of the Volker Report, given his knowledge from the AWB, prosecutable a la Rene Rivkin? Who else in cabinet might have given a mate a tip-off?

Downer, Ausaid, and AWB

You can't help but wonder why, when Terence Cole asked for an extension to the inquiry, he didn't ask for expanded terms of reference. Is there insufficient data to warrant a prod at Ausaid to see what's actually going on?

I wouldn't mind hearing some answers, from those in the PM's office who prioritise incoming messages, as to why Bronte Moule's message didn't reach the PM's ears. Maybe there wasn't enough room on the dunny wall that day?

My personal belief is that Flugge's job for Ausaid was, as an advisor to the CPA, to ensure that Australia's contribution to Saddam's assets was spent on Australian produce. Given that Ausaid was as blatant as to suggest spending aid money on AWB wheat immediately after the Occupation, you could expect that similar tactics were being applied by the organisation, through Flugge and his million-in-the -boot. I'd be surprised if the million wasn't spent on greasing palms to ensure future contracts.

 [extract from Reportage]

Just one day later, Downer came to the rescue announcing that AusAID would buy these AWB shipments of 100,000 tonnes of wheat as humanitarian assistance. The total price was $83 million and included what Downer described as $45 million for the “challenging task of distribution and transport” of the wheat. This was surprising as the AWB had never played any role in the distribution of wheat in Iraq.

The AusAID plan did not go ahead because the UN advised that Australia should not spend $83 million of its aid money on buying Australian wheat and that it should instead go to ‘alternative’ humanitarian assistance. The government then proceeded to appoint Flugge and later AusAID transferred the $45 million to the Agricultural reconstruction section of the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq, headed by Flugge.

One of the questions that need an answer is whether Ausaid has been acting as an agent from AWB both in Iraq and elsewhere. Then you need to look for how much of Australia's annual aid budget is spent on "facilitation payments. From an organisation that reportedly has no protocols in place to deal with bribery allegations, this could prove difficult.

Good luck, Mr Cole! You'll need it.

"Who thinks it was sanction busting?"

Time for another round of "Who thinks it was sanction busting?", and today's entrants are Mike Steketee writing in The Australian:

... the Cole inquiry, exercising its royal commission powers, has uncovered a mountain of evidence that Australia's monopoly wheat exporter was making payments to a company that was a front for Saddam's family, that this was in breach of UN sanctions - enforced by Australian law - that were specifically designed to keep money out of Saddam's pockets and that many of AWB's senior managers knew exactly what they were doing.

And the Editor of The Australian, Chris Mitchell:

... while it's true there is no smoking gun connecting the Prime Minister's office to explicit knowledge of the scheme that paid $300 million in kickbacks to the former Iraqi dictator in exchange for contracts to buy Australian wheat, it is also true that, as the Cole inquiry probes ever deeper into the affair, the Government's denials of knowledge become ever more qualified -- and seem suspiciously free of outrage that an ostensibly humanitarian project was hijacked to enrich a brutal dictator...

As the Cole inquiry continues, the question is what all this will mean not only to the Prime Minister, riding high after celebrating 10 years in office. But while it may never be conclusively proved that the top echelons of government knew for sure what the AWB was up to in Iraq, it leaves Mr Howard -- a masterful politician not known for being caught on the back foot for lack of information -- in the curious position of pleading not guilty by reason of not asking questions. More worryingly, it shows Messrs Howard, Downer and Vaile in a defensive position. Their muted rhetoric suggests they do not yet understand the enormity of the accusations against AWB. Mr Howard justifies Australia's support of the US-led war to topple Saddam on humanitarian grounds, arguing that it was imperative that the Iraqi people should be liberated from the rule of an evil dictator. He should therefore condemn in the strongest possible terms the subversion of a pre-war program to alleviate the stress of ordinary Iraqis by the fraudulent payment of bribes to their oppressor -- yet his public comments on the kickback scandal have been guarded to say the least. It is time the Prime Minister joined his Treasurer, Peter Costello, in an unequivocal condemnation of the despicable act of paying bribes to Saddam, whoever is ultimately shown to be responsible. And he must unshackle the Cole commission by expanding its terms of reference.

Henry to our rescue

Just followed a Bob Wall link to find out the latest polls in America. Bush’s approval rating is 34% while Veep stands at a whopping 18%. It would appear the Yanks are wising up somewhat to the dishonesty of their leader.

In contrast our leader’s approval rating stays steady at 52% in spite of the fact that the majority of Australians agree that he tells (lots of) fibs and now know the AWB with the nod of government gives comfort (and lots of money) to tyrants.

Some people accuse the Yanks of being stupid; one might ask if the Yanks are stupid then what about Aussies? Looks like we at least lead the world in something - stupidity.

BTW: how does one get a job like Flugge’s or Bart Simpson's, I mean Glen Taylor, as I have an unemployed gold fish that would be ideal for any top pubic service or ministerial position. Henry, the fish has a memory span of three seconds, does not talk and believes anything I tell him. He would be happy with Bart’s ... I mean Glen’s salary of $350,000 per year. He would be just as effective and looks good with his shirt off.

Craig, Of course I do

Craig, of course I do not support arming Saddam. Their is no evidence that money paid by the AWB was used to arm Saddam.

Jay's post:

The problem for those looking for a way to damage the current Government is that nobody actually lost anything. In fact Australia gained around 2 billion dollars and Iraqis got food. Why would Australians concern themselves about the corruption in a nation that was full of corruption? They have enough worries about corruption directly effecting them at home such as the Cross City tunnel.

is spot on. The only people still concerning themselves with this are the ABC and Fairfax.

Howard's polls haven't dropped. The coalition's polls haven't dropped. Get over it. They have spent 100 questions trying to pin something and the best they have managed is a fax which was supposedly sent to the PM six years ago, which alleges that AWB was paying bribes. An allegation raised by AWB's competitor.

Well shit, if every time a competitor alleged a company was doing something wrong we had a royal commission, we would not do anything but have royal commissions.

Ahh Royal commisions...

Ahh, Royal commissions…

Horrid little affairs. Let's have none of that talk hey chaps!

Justin, you say "The only people still concerning themselves with this are the ABC and Fairfax"

A quick look outside of your boundaries will reveal that this issue is still alive and making headlines, even the Oz and the Tele have it as a leads with their online editions. No matter how many times yourself and Jay tell us it doesn’t matter it still jumps up in the news, usually front and centre. Why is that, Justin? Is it because no one cares? Media organizations usually pander to the minority, don’t they?

The opposition may have put over one hundred questions to the government on this issue, so what! Let them put forward another hundred. That is what democracy is about.

I, and others I know that hold the same stake in this country as you, would love to hear the truth even if it takes three hundred questions. Where is the problem with that?

By the way, did any you bother counting the Dorothy Dixers in the same period? I am guessing not.

Sanction busting itself?

Justin Wilshaw, good to see you didn't want to see Aussies giving Saddam the money to buy weapons. Did you want to see his regime get funds despite the sanctions regardless of whether those funds were used to buy weapons?

It doesn't directly affect people

Craig Rowley: "Thanks again, Jay White, for proving the other point made about your seeming incapacity for logical reasoning. If Justin Wilshaw's theory is that people out there don't care about current scandals they surely wouldn't give a stuff about the past and imaginary scandals you suggested. That's logical".

Well, this is the logic that those of the Howard hating bent cannot see. The AWB does not directly affect people. Keating telling lies about tax cuts does. Cross City Tunnel dirty deals and fiascos directly affect people's hip pockets and lifestyles. A rort, Craig, is only one when you're not in it. Now in the case of the AWB, Australia was in it up to about two billion dollars worth.

If you are so concerned about corruption going on in, say, Iraq, then it stands to reason that you would be applauding the Howard government cracking down on all corruption, no?

Perhaps an inquiry into union dealings with the Labor party might be just the ticket? These could be corrupt practices taking place in Australia, after all. I mean, that Centenary House Labor party, Labor government deal truly was a scandal, still costing the taxpayer money, by the way. I demand an inquiry!

Who actually paid the 290m extra to Iraq?

Jay White: "The AWB does not directly affect people."

So Jay, who actually paid the 290m extra to Iraq? Surely somebody paid for it.

We know definitively that the AWB paid 290m too much to the Iraqi regime. That’s a given at this stage, yeah?

But who actually paid for it downstream? Was it the farmers getting less for their grain as a result of AWB factoring in "commissions"? The farmers are people, were they affected?

Did the 290m come out of AWB profits? Was it the shareholders that lost out? They are people, were they affected?

Or before AWB became AWB Limited, were we the taxpayers, the people that were affected?

Ever Heard of Iraqi people

The money for the oil for food program belonged solely to the Iraqi people and was administered by the UN. The UN relied entirely on individual governments to monitor contracts to exclude any sort of bribery. No payments were ever to be made to Saddam so he could continue his corrupt and cruel practices.

In direct defiance of this the AWB were so determined to sell wheat at any cost they stole from the fund, which was money to feed the estimated 4 million starving women and children, gave it to a dodgy trucking company who gave it to Saddam Hussein. As for what he bought with it. Hmmmmm...flowers for the shia muslims?

The Iraqi people were subsisting on only $180 per year while the west engaged in genocide by starvation on them – then came the AWB and stole $300 million from them. 25% of all Iraqi children now die of starvation and preventable disease. Before the invasion it was one in 6, before the sanctions were eased it was one in 8. 1.3 million Iraqis died under the sanctions with 500,000 of them being kids - a price Madeline Albright maintained was OK.

Do not pretend no-one suffered. Not one Australian ever died of starvation in the meantime.

$300 million should be paid back to the Iraqi people with many loads of free wheat. Downer, Howard, Vaile, Truss and Ruddock should all resign and be charged for this crime against humanity. Ruddock because he was in the cabinet at the time and was demonising and locking up Iraqi children out in the desert.

The Australian editorial has nailed it. The government doesn't seem to have a grip on reality over this. If they had a true understanding they should be outraged. They aren't so they must have known all about it and just don't care.

Well, guess what. Stealing from an aid program for starving people is bad enough - but in this case the Iraqi people were the only people ever to be forced to pay for their own humanitarian aid and the AWB stole $300 million.

Yes, crack down on all corruption

If the Howard Government starts cracking down on all corruption I will applaud it.

There has already been an inquiry into Centenary House.

Some people have been telling the lie about tax reform - that they'd do some - for years now. And my vote for Liberal Joe Hockey in 1996 was down in good measure to the L-A-W broken promise.

Both these issues are old history. Spent.

Old history is no reason to turn a blind eye to current circumstances.

Corruption all around

Ross Chippendale: "Just for once take your blinkers off and look at what Howard has created. A country where people just don't care about corruption or the fact that Howard was notified".

Howard never created corruption. In fact, the man I would suggest has never done a corrupt thing in his political life. People see corruption around them every day in their own lives. Why would it suddenly surprise them that it took place in a region well known for it?

If groups did not spend the previous ten years talking down corruption claims whilst trying to keep the corrupt leader in power perhaps Labor may have got some traction out of the issue. As is, it is now the past and time to move on.

Good to see Australia getting a contract today worth about $70 million.

Where the corruption took place

Jay White, you're maintaining an erroneous line about where the corruption took place.

The decisions on providing funds to Alia for an inland transport service that was actually provided by the Iraqi Transport Ministry when it was known that Alia was a front for Saddam's regime took place in Australia (La Trobe Street Melbourne, AWB Ltd's head office). Until your comment I'd never heard anyone describe La Trobe Street as a place known for corruption. Spring Street, yes, at times. La Trobe Street, no.

Justin Wilshaw  "Take a

Justin Wilshaw: "Take a challenge. Pick a number from the phone book in Western Sydney. Any number. Ring them and poll them with this question: Tell me about the AWB issue. 10 bucks they won't know what the hell you’re talking about, and another 10 bucks says they will tell you to piss off, you’re interrupting, deal or no deal."

Just to add to that excellent question, then ask them about LAW tax cuts and who promised them? Justin, perhaps somebody should have bought a piggery with Iraqi businessman under Howard's name?

Proving the point again

Thanks again, Jay White, for proving the other point made about your seeming incapacity for logical reasoning. If Justin Wilshaw's theory is that people out there don't care about current scandals they surely wouldn't give a stuff about the past and imaginary scandals you suggested. That's logical.

Here's some other logic, based on the suggested level of community knowledge of the AWB scandal (85%).  If I ring a random Western Sydney number and offer $10 bucks to them if they will tell me about the AWB issue I'm likely to make $10 from Justin on most occasions. I could even test the pricing point and see how little I need to offer.

Justin's hypothetical is just as illogical as Jay's. The AC Nielson survey shows that 85% of people are aware of the issue. That is a result from a properly conducted randomised sample survey, not rubbish click a box online surveys or an ACA/TT/BB call this pay per vote number.

This issue will never take off

Craig Rowley: "Another made the exact point I'd made in WE are at a tilting point. If our government turns a blind eye to unethical activities and we let them get away with it, then we too are effectively turning a blind eye".

This issue will never take off politically. The Australian voter simply does not care about it. Every single poll done suggests this.

The problem for those looking for a way to damage the current Government is that nobody actually lost anything. In fact Australia gained around 2 billion dollars and Iraqis got food. Why would Australians concern themselves about the corruption in a nation that was full of corruption? They have enough worries about corruption directly affecting them at home such as the Cross City tunnel.

Business in the Middle East was conducted in this fashion and in fact the mob that was meant to running the whole thing - the UN - was up to their necks in it. Time to move. The Australian people already have.

Most people are more concerned about winning the contracts back.

Proving the point

Thanks for proving my point, Jay.

Something in the water

Something in the water in Canberra seems to be promoting memory loss. Now PM Howard is unaware of a cable sent to him six years ago. Oddly, it doesn't show up in his office's records of that time.

As the PM says, he gets "thousands" of cables a week. Perhaps it's a problem in the filtering system his office staff use to differentiate importance levels of incoming messages? You'd think that one that read "Hey, your trade representatives are committing major crimes" would be, if not mentioned on Howard's morning trot, put on his desk first thing. Perhaps it was, and the post-it note fell off - such things do happen.

I agree with Beazley... the party's over... hopefully the whole federal Liberal Party.

The USAid/Ausaid Iraq agriculture infrastructure rehabilitation programs need to be looked at. This isn't easy when the search engine on the Ausaid website, on clicking on Iraq, gives you "page not found"

Here's how USAid keeps itself honest:

Accountability for Iraq reconstruction funds is fortified by the right mix of experience and outstanding teamwork between the field mission in Baghdad and USAID in Washington. Experienced controllers, contracting officers, and Inspector General staff have been in Iraq since 2003 working with USAID technical staff to help ensure program accountability. Well-trained, on-site contracting staff and Cognizant Technical Officers (CTOs) use informed judgment to oversee Iraq's awards. USAID CTOs are trained through a certification program in acquisition management practices. These personnel, located in Baghdad and regional offices, enable the technical oversight of these programs.

Australia, on the other hand, relied on Trevor Flugge's bootful of loot and who-knows-what bookkeeping system to show that the US dollars were, in both Howard's and Downer's words, "acquitted".

Was any of the money "acquitted" in purchasing the guns that Flugge was photographed carrying?

When you look at this paragraph on the Ausaid website, you see that there's something very wrong with Flugge's appointment


The Australian aid program is not currently letting commercial tenders for reconstruction activity in Iraq. In the event there are commercial contracting opportunities under our aid program, these will be advertised in the normal manner on the AusAID website and in the press.

This statement (of which I cannot find a later amendment) implies that Flugge's work in securing opportunities for a monopoly was in direction contradiction to Ausaid policy.

In a December 2004 video Usaid consultant Trever Poole explained what his group was doing, when the question of aid donors for the next year arose.


To give a little bit of history of how AID got involved, realize we went in there in early May of 2003 without a lot of background information. We did have information from the FAO, World Bank, which then produced an assessment, but not much on the ground information. We had proposed in the contract that was actually awarded to actually do assessments and to look at poultry revitalization, look at the animal health sector, looking at grain storage handling, looking at the value added in terms of vegetable marketing, looking at the irrigation infrastructure, looking at livestock production.

All of these things were actually put on hold. We put out a contract, an RFP in June of 2003. It was awarded under full and open competition to develop alternatives in October. That team was on the ground immediately in early November and proceeded with some of the initial assessments, but had to truncate and actually reduce some of their work force because we had limited amount of funds. Did not have the amount of funds we thought we were going to have.

Fortunately or unfortunately in the supplemental agriculture was actually crossed out, was actually zeroed out. But L. Paul Bremmer, under that time, under the coalition provisional authority, had said, listen, agriculture, he was convinced that agriculture was certainly an important aspect. That it could be the engine that drives economic growth. He said, please make us a transition plan in concert with the Minister of Agriculture and look at job creation and employment over the long term. That plan was produced by development alternatives in close concert with the Ministry of Agriculture's staff, produced April 15th in last year. That is available. We can certainly share that with you. Had two phases. One phase was looking at short-term stabilization in the first year, or first six months. How do we get people jobs? How do we keep people off the streets, keep the rural employed? And actually stem the migration of rural youth going into urban areas and causing security problems. The second phase was looking at longer term policy reform, national programs for cereals, basically wheat, corn, and rice, and looking at what do we do for reducing subsidies basically from the public distribution system, and looking at land tenure.

Was Flugge's million being used in co-ordination with this apparently well-considered program, or was it being used to influence Iraqi support of Australian involvement? Your guess is as good as mine. However, Usaid's approach to restoring Iraqi agriculture infrastructure seems much more transparent than that of Flugge, as endorsed by Messrs Howard and Downer.

Al and the Heimer's

Hey all, perhaps it's selective Alzheimer's, like selective hearing.

What I find particularly appalling is the attitude by some here of "So what!".

Would they feel the same if Beazley gets caught for the same? Sure they would. Would they feel the same if a member of their business or family did the same sort of thing to them? Sure they would. Water off a ripped off duck's back.

Simply put - double standards apply.

Just for once take your blinkers off and look at what Howard has created. A country where people just don't care about corruption or the fact that Howard was notified. I agree most don't really care, but that's their problem. Howard would do the dirty on all of you Howard supporters as soon as he sees it as advantageous, as would any politician today.

That's Howard's country, not mine.

This time is somewhat different, though, in that the issues are still before an enquiry and Howard has been caught with his pants down. Maybe he's started asking Malcolm for advice.

I'll give you a hot tip

I'll give you a hot tip, Richard. The party's not over.

When you allocate over 100 questions in question time to this issue, and struggle to get a headline, in even the Fairfax press, pinning anything concrete on a minister. Mate, no one gives a toss.

Sure, you Howard haters might get yourselves all worked up over it, but Howard doesn't care. He knows hell will freeze over before you vote for him. And the average Joe who does vote for Howard could not care less about the AWB, kickbacks, or if the PM can't remember a specific piece of paper from six years ago.

Don't believe me? Take a challenge. Pick a number from the phone book in Western Sydney. Any number. Ring them and poll them with this question: "Tell me about the AWB issue"

10 bucks they won't know what the hell you’re talking about, and another 10 bucks says they will tell you to piss off, you're interrupting, deal or no deal.

We've tipped that far, eh?

So you wanted to arm Saddam too, Justin Wilshaw?

Sanction busting to bankroll the Butcher of Baghdad is ok because someone on their backside in Baulkham Hills couldn't be bothered to look beyond their own narrow needs?

Anything goes if you can get away with it? We've already tipped that far, eh?

Collective moral torpor and National irresponsibility

On hearing what Professor Frank Brennan, Jesuit priest, lawyer and academic, had to say at the annual Manning Clark lecture in Canberra last night I could hear the echo in an earlier article I wrote for Webdiary (WE are at a titling point).

Professor Brennan's point: We need to reflect on how we as a society allowed a state of affairs to develop where AWB could become the biggest single sanction busting kickback payer to the regime of Saddam Hussein.

"Our collective moral torpor and national irresponsibility were reflected in the nonchalant acceptance of assurances from our Government that all would be well with our wheat sales to Iraq even though we were gearing up for war with Iraq.

"While we pursue those government ministers asleep at the wheel of the ship of state, let's also castigate ourselves and remind ourselves that it is only a materialistic, utilitarian people which is collectively able to work the public conscience into such a state of submission so that the nation is able to trade successfully with a corrupt despot while convincing itself that necessary and justified sanctions are honoured and all is in readiness for war."

To paraphrase and update what I wrote in that earlier article: Our political officials act in our name with our express consent. They are our representatives. Ultimately their ethics are our ethics as well. If they turned a blind eye, and we allow them to get away with that, then we are turning a blind eye as well.

The talk is ...

It was pleasing to hear on talkback radio this morning (Jon Faine on ABC 774 Melbourne) other people call in and make the same point I'm making. We're not all blind obviously.

One caller highlighted how the balance of calls earlier that morning were gripes about the ballot for Commonwealth Games tickets and he lamented that people seem to care more about the price of tickets than they do the price of continued corrupting of our politics.

Another made the exact point I'd made in WE are at a tilting point. If our government turns a blind eye to unethical activities and we let them get away with it, then we too are effectively turning a blind eye.

Reprint of Advertiser Letter (Friday)

Reprint from the Debate page, The Advertiser, Friday March 3

It could be worse... the Government could be telling the truth.  Foreign Minister Downer has also said this week all the evidence is of allegations and not actual crimes. Of course it's possible to say that you were unaware of a crime when you were only aware of a claim, even when the claim comes from numerous respected diplomatic sources over a number of years. Yes, Minister, I understand.

A political leadership that could take the information that it has been involved in international war crimes and not carry out its own intensive probe immediately - that's incredible! Still, at least this way Messrs Howard, Downer and Vaille could "truthfully" tell the Australian public that they didn't know about AWB kickbacks, only lots of stories about the possibility.  

The only way that Federal Cabinet is telling the truth is, in my opinion, by admitting that it has created a loophole to allow itself to say so. Making such a feeble attempt at a cover-up would convict the ministers of ethical crimes greater than having known of illegal activities in Iraq - deliberately misleading Australian voters and savagely insulting our intelligence.

-Richard Tonkin, Brompton

USAid and Ausaid Iraq Agriculture Programs

The PM transcripts were up bright and early tonight.... John Agius has told the AWB that if they won't produce documents he will take them by force.

At the same time, as Parliament goes into recess, Mr Howard has told his opposition that they had failed in their AWB campaign

Alexander Downer's statements that Trevor Flugge needed to carry a million in cash across the border because of the unavailability of a banking system are interesting. I wonder how the money was accounted for - did Flugge keep receipts? Don't forget that there were infrastructure contractors in Iraq at the time who were employed by both AusAID and the Pentagon who didn't need an Iraqi banking system to function.

Did the money being handled by Flugge interact with the five million dollars pumped into Iraqi agriculture by the US? In October of 2003 a one-year program was announced by USAid, which said it would be "working collaboratively with the CPA."  Given that Flugge was working for both AusAID and the CPA he would have found it difficult to be unaware of the US program. Possibly, like every thing else, he can't remember.

My point here is that if two international agriculture restoration programs were operating concurrently, and USAid might have better paperwork of Flugge's activities than Ausaid or the man himself. Also, I haven't heard any stories yet of USAid representatives driving large amounts of cash around Iraq in the boot of a car.

The ALP haven't failed. Just wait till the Cole inquiry issues warrants on DFAT.

"Who thinks it was sanction busting?" 2

We've had enough distraction on the revised justification for a war that was sold to the people on the lie of WMDs that didn't exist. Time for another entry in the "Who thinks it was sanction busting?" game. This time it's the Herald Sun:

AWB's government relations manager dismissed as "bulls..." a Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) official's queries that the wheat exporter was paying kickbacks to Saddam Hussein's government five years ago, the Cole inquiry heard today.


Mr McConville told the inquiry that he became aware in January 2000 that the Canadian Wheat Board had complained to the United Nations, which had sanctions in place against Iraq, about the nature of AWB's wheat contracts with Iraq.

He said that he rejected the Canadian claims without making any inquiries within AWB to find out whether they were true.

The inquiry has heard that AWB paid trucking fees to a Jordanian company, part-owned by the Iraqi government, despite the payments being in breach of UN sanctions.

Mr McConville should apply for a job as a staffer for Mr Downer. Dismissing claims without making any inquiries within AWB makes him an ideal candidate. Maybe he's angling for a million dollar consultancy to spread the love with another $1.3 million of taxpayer hard-earned in cash on the quiet.

Graeme Finn...

Graeme Finn: "Jay White, how often does it have to be pointed out that Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11. The war on Iraq was manufactured on multiple falsehoods and is only increasing the chances of terrorism. Have you been totally hypnotised by warmongering propaganda?"

I never said that it did. The point I am making is that a lot of anti-Iraq war rhetoric and anti-Bush rhetoric does not have some things in common with reality either. There are a lot of other agendas running in this debate than just care and concern about the US dropping bombs.

Craig Rowley: "Jay, if you feel insulted please take it up with the Bush Administration. It was on their list. I am simply pointing out that they had a list of alternatives, which is something that you said did not exist in response to the point Hamish made about your failing logic".

It may have been on the list but that does not make it a viable one. The reasons you may find it was not taken. Of viable alternatives as I have said only two existed. 1. Saddam is removed by force. 2. Saddam is not removed by force and he stays.

Phil Moffat, I can live with it

Phil Moffat: “Jay, this started out as amusing. Now it’s rather embarrassing. Please retire.”

That’s okay – I can live with it. For nearly two years a constant moaning shows itself time and time again on Webdiary about the war in Iraq. Endless carping and finger pointing, the world is a terrible place, oh I am so good for fighting against the war etc. Well, I find it to be a whole lot of crap backed up with a whole lot of nothing for an alternative. The reason, no doubt, for abusive terms such as warmonger etc. Well, I call many of these people nothing mongers. How the hell do any of them actually make a decision to do anything but complain?

Craig Rowley: “The Bush administration weighed up options for deposing Saddam, among them supporting a local insurgency, fostering a coup by the Iraqi leader's closest lieutenants and an outright US-led invasion. That was reported in 2002

Now frankly, this is just plain insulting. What local insurgency? This was tried with devastating repercussions at the end of the first Gulf war. Saddam was in total control of the nation. He had the entire nation under the thumb and living in fear of his wrath. Yeah, and they thought about sending in James Bond to take him out as well!

As for the UN led invasion, you do not even believe this was possible yourself, surely? So do not try that nonsense on me. You know exactly the reasons why this would never have been the case. It was either the COTW invasion or no invasion. Stop passing real life and death decisions off to a plastic non-elected gabfest.

“They chose the US-led invasion. They could have tried to obtain UN support for the US-led invasion and choose not to“.

They tried and tried again. Saddam bribed and bribed again. Resolutions were broken and broken again. In the end something had to give, and it did. They could well still be in the UN trying today if you had your way. Just like the UN made quick decisions on Rwanda. Maybe they did not want to drop bombs? Nothing to be ashamed of there: at least they were anti-war! I imagine that if the US had been involved the same clowns would be out holding anti-war marches. A total insult to all those unfortunate people who perished.

“So there were other ways, but they went for the option most likely to lead to the deaths of innocents as their bombs rained down, the most likely to create an insurgent resistance, the most likely to see young Americans go home in coffins draped with the stars and stripes. Hey, it was a neat way to test new tactics and tools (not so neat for civilian Iraqis of course).

Ignore the people living under Saddam at this time, like those in Kurdistan and in Iraq proper. You are an anti-war activist after all. Keep the Mike Moore image of kids kite flying and playing in bliss in a perfect nation in your mind. Anything but face reality. War advocates at least admit to themselves that in war people die, even innocent people.

Pity anti-war advocates can’t admit to themselves that people not only die because of wars. They also die because of lack of action, even innocent people. Just forget about Rwanda!

“But if you've got truthiness on your side like George W, Honest John and Jay White and the whole conga line have then there is only one way. At least George W and deputy sheriff Johnny, being at the head of the conga line, could see the other options“.

There were no other options and any person being truthful to themselves knows it. Many of the same people marching against war in Iraq would have marched against Afghanistan and Bosnia the first Gulf war, and Vietnam. The real reason, of course, was they were never marching against the war. They were marching against the USA. They were never marching in support of some Iraqi people and Kurds because they were turning their backs on them. The same lot that were off the blocks to pronounce the US deserving of 9/11 in a rare moment of candour before the bullshit lines and conspiracy theories kicked in and found their niche.

“One day Jay may realise that he needs more than truthiness to be convincing. He could start with a reasoned critique of the alternate options“.

I am not trying to convince these people of anything. Most of these people were long past convincing before 9/11 or Iraq. America had gone through terrorist attacks long before Bush was on the scene and Australia (Bali) had a terrorist attack before the Iraq war. America has been disliked by the usual suspects for as long as I can remember. Why would I think I could change it?

The world was not a better place before Bush, Blair and Howard and it will not suddenly become all better again when they are gone. Neither, mind you, will America be loved. The world was not a better place before the US was on the scene and it will not improve on their leaving. Everyone needs someone to hate and America for the last 50 years have filled that role like Britain before them and somebody before them and so on. People want to love an underdog. Pity they can’t see Saddam was never one.

Now I know you like facts so here are some for you

1. Bush was not the cause of terrorism. This existed long before he was President. In fact, the famous video footage of Osama Bin Laden had him firing a gun at Bill Clinton as target practice. Bill Clinton himself had nothing to do with the first war in Iraq.

2. Bush, before being elected the first time, was the most isolationist candidate the US had seen post WWII. In fact, I think he had only travelled to one nation outside the US (Mexico). He was anti-UN because he reasoned they relied too much on the US and used them as the world’s police force. He was roundly criticised for this isolationist stand.

It seems one thing worse than the US being involved in the worlds problems is the US not being involved in them. He actually noted Australia and East Timor as how things should be done. He was critical of Europe and because of Bosnia and pointed out how certain regions could not deal with their own problems and constantly viewed the US as the life support.

3. He had only just become President when 9/11 happened. There was not one foreign policy that he instigated that could be held directly responsible for this attack. In fact leading lights of the left had things such as this to say:

“Only two months after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, Noam Chomsky argued that the United States is a leading terrorist state [1]. Specifically, Chomsky cited the Clinton administration for its role in what he called terrorism. Chomsky has long argued that some commonly accepted definitions of "terrorism" also apply to many of the actions undertaken by the US“.

4. The US has not had one terrorist attack on its soil since. In fact, more attacks took place under Bill Clinton up until at least this point in time.

5. There were certain western groups claiming that the attack on the US was deserved (including Chomsky). In fact, there was lively debate about this very question for months after the attacks. Suddenly this all changed to become the conspiracy theory of an inside job. Obviously the “they deserved it” argument did not catch on!

The US has always been a target of negativity for some groups no matter what they do. Bush is merely another in a long line for those to personalise and vent their hatred toward, giving the hater a respectable excuse in some eyes. I am sure if the internet had been around thirty years ago the story would be the same year in and year out. What’s the bet that after the Bush term ends Bob Wall will have his same propaganda column up running on the next President?

Forget the war in Iraq or indeed who the President is. That has never really been the central problem. I know it, and that is why the anti-American term gets such heated denial. Too close to home, I would say.

Logic, fact vs Illogic, Truthiness

Jay White: "Now frankly this is just plain insulting. What local insurgency?"

Jay, if you feel insulted please take it up with the Bush Administration. It was on their list. I am simply pointing out that they had a list of alternatives, which is something that you said did not exist in response to the point Hamish made about your failing logic.

Iraq and 9/11 again?

Jay White, how often does it have to be pointed out that Iraq had nothing to do with 9/11? The war on Iraq was manufactured on multiple falsehoods and is only increasing the chances of terrorism. Have you been totally hypnotised by warmongering propaganda?

Downer distancing despite DFAT responsibilities

When asked if he thought AWB had lied to him, Mr Downer has now said: "I do suspect that I was lied to, yes. I suspect that without really knowing."

So why now when he said he didn't suspect it earlier? It must be that he's seeing the evidence pile up at the Cole inquiry - the evidence of sanction busting our 'armless Jay White doesn't believe exists.

Downer's busy creating distance. It was them, not us. They lied, they tricked us. These are his themes now.

He's turned to these themes because Downer (unlike Jay) would be reading transcripts of the Cole inquiry and he would see that whereas the newspaper editors use the shorthand "bribes" and "kickbacks" (because it fits easier in a headline), the Cole inquiry is mostly about sanctions and sanction busting - who knew what and who did what with knowledge or naively. When Cole's report comes out it is going to be a story of sanction busting, not simply business as usual bribes and baksheesh.

AWB's defence is shaping up as the naivety line, that is they are claiming they were not au fait with UN Resolutions that applied and that as businessmen they couldn't be expected to 'focus on those details' like that. It is a ridiculous defence. UN Resolution 661 prints on half a page. All they had to do was print it out and spend a couple of minutes reading it to get the gist of what was and wasn't allowed. And if your major client is the subject of UN sanctions you think you'd get your head around it, wouldn't you?

What I can't get my head around is Downer's argument trying to distance his department from AWB's activities. Here's why:

The UN Security Council passes Resolution 661 and as Foreign Minister you know that you now have a responsibility to ensure no Australians or Australian companies sell weapons or provide funds to Iraq (amongst other things). You know how important this is. You know that the consequences of an Aussie becoming a sanction buster will be bad news big time.

So logically you would task your intelligence agencies with keeping an eye on attempts to smuggle weapons out of Australia and into Iraq. You would task the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade with keeping an eye on any Australian companies that sign up to sell their goods and services into Iraq.

DFAT knows that there are only a handful of Australian companies that decide to do business with Iraq and it doesn't take much effort to go brief the heads of those businesses about what the sanctions mean, what the can and can't do, what their responsibilities will be, what DFAT will be doing to ensure they meet those responsibilities and what the consequences of a failure to meet those responsibilities will be.

So why didn't DFAT under instruction from Downer do an adequate job to ensure compliance with the sanctions by a handful of Australian companies?

Today's Advertiser carries"

Today's Advertiser carries" before and after' quotes from Downer and Vaile, and proposes as a question for tomorrow's letters page "Do you believe that Government's claims that it did not know about the AWB kickbacks?" Responses can be sent here.

In an addition to Adelaide's Festival Fringe program, Mr Downer will be hosting an SA Liberal fundraiser lunch at Adelaide's Hyatt tomorrow. And will no doubt serve as a lightning rod for Australia's legalised form of kickbacks - corporate donations to a political party.

I've cobbled together some speech notes for Mr Downer, in case he's short on script:-

Thank you for attending this State Liberal Party Fundraiser - the more money raised for them through my name, the more I own them.

Most of  you have probably been wondering if I work for Prime Minister Howard or President Bush. The truth is that I actually work for both, in that I'm "on secondment" to the White House. It must give the listener great reassurance to know that when I speak it is the voice of authority that you hear.

We had to start the War on Terror - without new markets to exploit the US economy would implode within decades, taking all the money we'd invested in Carlyle and Halliburton with it. As long as the war doesn't end, everything will be fine.

You can understand from my handling of the AWB Scandal why Bush wanted me to front the International Atomic Energy Agency. We wouldn't be hanging around the gates of Armageddon (the Israeli military base) on the sixth of the sixth of oh - six... we'd be routing the Iranian Horseman of the Apocalypse as he slept, while our forces in Iraq watched from the towers of Babylon. Let it always be said that Alexander Downer always stood for what was right.

And what about that aforementioned wheat scandal. Damn, but I've been good! Look 'em in the eye and recite, "Yes, Minister" scripts... that's what John always says. He might be good but I'm the best! Four weeks now I've been playing word-games and I'm still made of Teflon. Too easy!

Ladies and Gentleman, you must be beginning to understand who should and shouldn't be in charge around here.

In my office I proudly hang a letter from my mate Dubya, who I met back when he was Texan Governor and only Andrew Peacock knew he'd be President. It says how when he's able he'd like to tie Australia more closely to the US. I think I've done a pretty good job in helping him achieve his vision.

The people of Adelaide now think that it is treason to oppose the Bush Regime, and this is one of my proudest achievements. I will do whatever it takes to maximise the returns of my share portfolio, as should all of you who dine here today.

South Australia is like your veal cordon bleu. The flesh of the freshly-slaughtered newborn animal is concealed in crumbs of gold, and it all gets more delicious when you stab into the yellow stuff.


I'm sure that Howard swallowed the neocons' line that Iraq was nothing but a vast treasure chest to be plundered at will. After all, he was doing nothing but follow their example, like the faithful pet that he is. I bet he also swallowed the line that Iraq would be a pushover, the US would have total control and that none of this would see the light of day.

Over here in the UK this is getting quite a bit of airplay and it looks like it may be taking off in the US as well. For the press the story reads like a fable and it should run and run.

If 70% of Australians think the government has lied, surely we've at last reached a tipping point. Once people get in the habit of asking the question about this they may start thinking again about all the other acts of bastardy perpetrated by this mob. The day must be drawing near where we can start to salvage the wreckage of Australia's reputation and soul that these clowns have left behind.

I wish I was there to watch the rodent squirm.

"Duly Acquitted"

This statement from the PM (in Question Time today) raises a few questions

[from The Age]

"This was the answer I gave to the member for Griffith (Mr Rudd) ... and I ask every member of the house to listen very carefully,"

"The (question) was, did he have access to any other Australian government money to support his activities in Iraq?.

"Answer: 'Yes, Mr Flugge and other members of the Australian agricultural team had oversight of funds for reconstruction of the Iraqi ministry for agriculture and the Iraqi Grain Board buildings, and the purchase of communication equipment. All these funds have been duly acquitted'."

This doesn't tell us how the money was spent. For example, who was employed for the reconstruction work? If this turns out to be yet another undercover (shielded from US Congress) way to give contracts to Halliburton I won't be surprised.

Secondly, how much of this money was used to "facilitate" the Grain Ministry rebuilding? This question needs to include not only transactions made in cash but "thank-yous" of AK-47 rounds, the common "currency" of the streets of Baghdad.

Thirdly, how much similarly financially explicit information does Howard have at his fingertips?

"Duly acquitted" could be the Freudian Slip that opens another Pandora's Box.

Monty Python staring Jay Cleese

Jay reminds me of that scene in a Monty Python movie when the King (was it Richard 3rd?) ended up with both legs and arms cut off in battle and he still kept fighting even after he lost his head.

Jay, this started out as amusing. Now it's rather embarrassing. Please retire.

Black Knight (not Deep Purple...)

Phil Moffat, it was Monty Python and the Holy Grail, the character being the Black Knight.

BTW, it might be an idea if all 'Diarists use people's surnames as well (at least for first time of mentioning). After all, there is more than one Phil, Craig, and Jay, and if one opts to view threads in flat rather than threaded mode it can be confusing working out who's who...


Backtracking a couple of days, when Mr D was speaking to Fran Kelly on Radio National, he sounded as if he was trying to be cryptically clever:

Kelly: Minister, just finally, the delegation to Iraq, suddenly the AWB will not be a part of it, yet last week the Prime Minister insisted they must be - why the change of heart?

Downer: Well I think you know, the AWB will have more to say about this issue in the delegation. One of the constraints we have in talking about this is that we certainly don't want to be talking about when Mark Vaile is actually going to arrive in Baghdad for security reasons - we've got to be careful about that, but…..

Kelly: ...the point is why aren't they going now when last week it was insisted they had to?

Downer: Last week they did seem to want to go and more will be revealed - I mean, I think you've sort of got my point that, we don't want to say too much about this, just at this very moment, on the first thing on Thursday morning, but, obviously it will all be revealed as to what's going on here.

All that has been placed on the public record about Vaile's visit is that it has resulted in Australia being allowed to continue to tender for Iraq wheat trade

Where are Mr Downer's revelations? Have they been silenced by the new international pressure to end the AWB's monopoly?

A couple of fresh photos from Iraq aren't going to impress the likes of the US and EU trade negotiators currently in Canberra.

What other options?

Hamish: “There were many options, right or wrong. You know that, as do the millions of people who were actually advocating them. Again, I say this with no need to actually advocate an opinion of my own. I'm just pointing out bodgy thinking, because it is serial in your case. Total war was the most extreme option. You just failed High School Logic - you are saying that if a does not equal b then it must equal c. Please continue arguing your case for the war etc - you have one - but for the sake of the debate stop being bloody stupid."

Well, I don’t see it that way (that there were other options). I have seen many things put across as options but they were all pie in the sky stuff. The world simply does not work like that and never has. If people need to choose not to live in reality to feel better about themselves good luck to them.

Saddam was only ever going anywhere by the fact of him being removed by force. There was no other way as the previous years had demonstrated to all but the most hopeless fairy tale believers. Anti-war activists paraded themselves as being something more moral. This is simply not the case and can only be the case by ignoring the alternative of Saddam still being in power. As he still would be today if the Iraq war had not happened.

This need for belief reinforcement of equating peace-loving moral people with anti-war activists was most aptly supplied for all to see by Michael Moore in his idiotic scene during his documentary when he shows Iraqi children playing and flying kites, insinuating this nation had not a care in the world until the evil USA came along. Utter childish and contemptible bullshit!

War advocates knew exactly that which they were advocating. It is about time anti-war advocates got a little truthful and started living in reality and admitted to exactly what the were advocating. No Iraq war equals Saddam still in power whether you or anyone else likes it or not!

Would anyone like to spell out the "other" options I must have missed?

There were other options, Jay

The Bush administration weighed up options for deposing Saddam, among them supporting a local insurgency, fostering a coup by the Iraqi leader's closest lieutenants and an outright US-led invasion. That was reported in 2002.

They chose the US-led invasion. They could have tried to obtain UN support for the US-led invasion and choose not to. So there were other ways, but they went for the option most likely to lead to the deaths of innocents as their bombs rained down, the most likely to create an insurgent resistance, the most likely to see young Americans go home in coffins draped with the stars and stripes. Hey, it was a neat way to test new tactics and tools (not so neat for civilian Iraqis, of course).

But if you've got truthiness on your side like George W, Honest John and Jay White and the whole conga line have then there is only one way. At least George W and deputy sheriff Johnny, being at the head of the conga line, could see the other options.

One day Jay may realise that he needs more than truthiness to be convincing. He could start with a reasoned critique of the alternate options.

"Hamish: so being for the

Hamish: "’so being for the war must have been to support the deaths of tens of thousands of civilians! It can be seen in no other light.’ Poppycock Jay. It's no argument for or against the war to point out simply that you're not thinking straight".

Hamish, the big wide real world is about making decisions both good and bad. There were two options. Either Iraq is invaded and Saddam removed or Iraq is not invaded and Saddam stays. There was no other possible alternative.

Hamish: “There were many options, right or wrong. You know that, as do the millions of people who were actually advocating them. Again, I say this with no need to actually advocate an opinion of my own. I'm just pointing out bodgy thinking, because it is serial in your case. Total war was the most extreme option. You just failed High School Logic - you are saying that if a does not equal b then it must equal c. Please continue arguing your case for the war etc - you have one - but for the sake of the debate stop being bloody stupid.”

Those who did not support war can only have supported Saddam remaining in power. Rather than try and hedge the bets every which way with complete bullshit I would much rather hear people truthfully explain why leaving this man there was the better option. However do not forget either way there were going to be deaths. The reality of life, I am afraid.

People marching against this war are no better than those who believed it was the correct option: that belief is only in their minds. Just wars also depend on whom one is speaking too. For example, not too many so called anti-war activists had much consultation with those from Kurdistan, now did they? Of course they did not, may have muddied the hating the USA waters, then it would be hard to keep the pretence up of being moral.

Howard "Disses" AWB

As today's Question Time drew to a close, the Liberal smoke machine was ready and waiting.

While Mark Vaile denied that he had misled the Parliament as to when he knew of the bribes, Dorothy Dixers came in quickly to use up remaining time, Alexander Downer entertaining his pals with a spiel on Pacific Island governance funding.

 It was notable that John Howard took the opportunity to send a signal on future methods of wheat trade with Iraq. When asked if it was legally possible for any Iraqi wheat trade to be done on a government to government basis while retaining a commitment to a single desk the PM responded that "We have considered that. I do not think it is a desirable alternative... the single desk policy must be looked at separately to the future of the AWB."

Driving another nail into the lid of the AWB's coffin, Howard went on to say that his government was inclined to a "more freer enterprise system."

US Wheat (have you noticed that the Liberals are now only talking about the Canadian grumbling?) will be rubbing its hands with delight when they learn that we're going to carry out their orders, so to speak.

Sacking the AWB will be the next move, the public will perceive Howard as an "action man" and that will probably end this chapter.

Ross Chippendale is right - the whole political process needs to be restarted. However if the incumbents won't even acknowledge their ethical breaches in such circumstances, the likelihood of even the lowest whim on the wish list, an alternative government, is probably slim for at least the next decade.

Dodgy Downer Denials

On February 7 (8.59pm) I shared a Lateline transcript of Tony Jones interviewing Alexander Downer. Following Richard's last comment let's look again here are the relevant questions and Downer's answers:

TONY JONES: Did you mislead Parliament when you said the Government's first knowledge of Alia and concerns relating to the AWB's use of the company was in the context of the Volker Inquiry?

ALEXANDER DOWNER: No, I did not mislead the Parliament. That is absolutely true. And this statement today by Mr Stott from AWB Limited has been very firmly contradicted by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. And, let me say it's very unusual for a Government department itself to put out a statement, but they have put out, I think, a very unequivocal statement. But, look, the beauty of this process is that we do have the Cole Commission. People are able to make statements in the Cole Commission, but it is, of course, the task of Mr Justice Cole to draw conclusions. And the person in question here in relation to the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, although she's resigned from the department some time ago - but she will have the opportunity to appear before the Cole Commission if Mr Justice Cole wants to call her and she'll have the opportunity to put her case.

TONY JONES: We'll come back to that in a moment. Just to confirm, your statement there seems to suggest the Government had never heard of Alia before the Volker Inquiry. Is that correct?

ALEXANDER DOWNER: That's right. When I talk about the Government, too - just so this is made absolutely clear - I don't just mean the Prime Minister, the Trade Minister and myself as the ministers, but also the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, officials within the department. That's the advice they've given me and nothing that has happened in recent weeks, well, you know since I made those statements in the Parliament and I think Mr Vaile probably did as well, um, nothing that has happened in the subsequent period has led us to revise that, or led the department to revise that advice.

So, to be crystal clear, what Alexander Downer said (paraphrased) was:

The Howard Government, including Howard, Downer and Vaile, and also officials within the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade had never heard of Alia before the Volker Inquiry.

Ok, we're clear on that.

Now this morning when I picked up the Australian Financial Review I was (for obvious reasons) drawn to the front page article "Downer had early warning of AWB risks". The fourth paragraph of that article reads:

The confidential documents released by the Cole inquiry show a senior diplomat at the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade's mission to the UN, Bronte Moules, cabled her superiors in Canberra on January 13, 2000, urging officials to mount a high-level investigation into kickback allegations against AWB.

She said that the UN Office of the Iraq Program had expressed concerns because another country, now known to be Canada, had refused to make a $14 per metric tonne payment outside the oil-for-food program when the Iraqi Grain Board had demanded it. The cable suggested the Iraqis wanted the money paid into a Jordanian bank account. The scheme was "designed to generate illegal revenue in $US". She further wrote that the OIP believed the Jordanian front company involved in the scheme was "owned by the son of Saddam Hussein".

What was the name of the Jordanian front company? Alia.

So the Government had never heard of Alia before the Volker Inquiry?

Perhaps that is true, but it had certainly heard of a Jordanian front company possibly "owned by the son of Saddam Hussein" involved in a scheme to generate illegal (i.e. sanction busting) revenue is $US for Saddam.

Ross Chippendale...

Ross Chippendale: "Perhaps we will start hearing the "Well, that's over, let's move on", and "Bloody Labor, always living in the past. What about what Gough did on the 1st of April 1973?" or similar useless comments".

Nah, we might start hearing about how the Labor party supported the campaign of Saddam in 1975. Always wondered why Labor supports Saddam so much. They sure were happy to see him stay in power.

A bit like a few on this board. Support for the anti-war movement was support for Saddam - it can be seen in no other light.

Hamish: so being for the war must have been to support the deaths of tens of thousands of civilians! "It can be seen in no other light." Poppycock, Jay. It's no argument for or against the war to point out simply that you're not thinking straight.

my favourite piece of squirming

Well, these were allegations that were made to the UN by the Canadian Wheat Board and if I may say so, I answered questions in Parliament about this in November of last year, so nothing I said yesterday is new. I mean, I've been through all of this once before. Just the cables being released is new.

But, what happened was that first of all, DFAT investigated these allegations with AWB Ltd, who obviously furiously denied allegations, as they have of course all along, that they were involved in kickbacks.

And then secondly, the UN wasn't quite satisfied with that and they said that they wanted from AWB Limited some additional details of their contracts with the Iraqis, which they didn't have.

Now, DFAT went back to AWB Ltd and asked for those and they were provided eventually and I don't think terribly enthusiastically by AWB Ltd to the Department to give back to the UN and... the UN as a result of that said that that… looking at those contracts that cleared the issue up.

Now we come to my favourite piece of squirming:

Nobody's said we never heard, we never heard that the Canadians had been concerned or that there weren't concerns very occasionally raised... the cables don't show that AWB was paying kickbacks. The cables show that the Canadians expressed concerns to the UN and the UN wanted information... and the UN therefore raised this with us, these allegations with us, and quite rightly raised them with us... We investigated the allegations. We… they weren't satisfied with the initial investigation, we provided them with the additional information that they thought was central to the investigation and were satisfied.

...The UN, the UN was responsible for the administration of this program and they conducted the investigations. We provided information to assist them with their investigations.

...You see, the central issue here is that AWB Ltd continually, right up, by the way, until October last year was vigorously denying that they had ever been involved in kickbacks. ...the simple point is AWB Ltd had consistently denied any involvement, we had no evidence, we had no evidence that they were lying to us.

{Mr Downer's comments from ABC-AM)

Blaming the Opposition, blaming the AWB does not divert us from the fact that Downer has been exposed as a liar in his claims of no knowledge of the kickbacks. Playing the game of being aware of allegations of the existence of the crimes but not of the actual criminal activities is a ploy unworthy of a Yes Minister script.

What next - will Downer "do a Flugge" and say that yes, he saw the documents, but as his spectacles were broken at the time ....?

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