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Drilling Downer

Daryl Mason is pretty new to Webdiary, and I hope he's with us for a long time. So far he has shared with us Whinging in Innisfail and More trouble for Howard and Downer as more Papuans arrive. Here is a candid analysis of Downer's performance at the Cole enquiry followed by a useful wrap up of the international media on the matter. It was originally published on Daryl's blog, New Reality. Thanks Daryl.

by Daryl Mason


Drilling Downer - How to Dodge Embarrassing Questions Like a Professional

Hot Tips From the Australian Foreign Minister, Sensational Secrets Revealed

For the purpose of this training session, imagine you are the Foreign Minister of Australia, and you have been for almost a decade.

Now, imagine that you’re caught up in... oh, let’s say, a massive bribery and corruption scandal where an Australian company you’re very fond of greased the already greasy palms of one of the world’s worst dictators with $290 million and you’ve pretty much known all about it for getting onto eight years.

Today, you’re fronting an inquiry into the scandal, and it’s all a bit heavy. After all, you’ve practically been colluding with the enemy, even if that collusion only involved you turning many a blind eye to what was going down.

Now don’t panic. The questions will be tough, but your Prime Minister set up this inquiry, he set the terms of reference, so you haven’t got too much to worry about. The commissioner in charge can’t prosecute you. All he can do is allow you to be questioned for a few hours by a team of kick-arse lawyers and QCs.

This is the big league. It might seem like you’re being thrown in the deep end for your first lesson, but you’re going to be learning from the master blaster of obfuscation and deceit himself, the Foreign Minister of Australia, Alexander Downer.

All the responses below are taken from Downer’s appearance at the Cole Inquiry into the corruption of the UN Oil For Food program, where the Australian Wheat Board was allowed to sell billions of dollars of wheat to Iraq. The AWB is now accused of bribing the regime of Saddam Hussein in order to score the very best of the wheat contracts.

Downer was in fine form, that’s why we’ve chosen a litany of 'answers' from his testimony given on April 10, 2006, as the most perfect example for our lesson today.

Now, once the questions start rolling your way, try to avoid the simple and boring “No” answer. That kind of response quickly gives QCs the shits.

Saying “No” repeatedly makes it sound like you might be hiding something, or give the appearance that you don’t want to answer the questions honestly. After all, you’re under oath here.

Choose a favourite phrase of negative response and make good use of it.

“I don't recall.”

“I don’t recall.”

“I don’t recall.”

Three times in a row is plenty. You’ll start to look dodgy if you keep it up.

Now it’s time to shift gear. You’re still going to answer in the negative, you’re still going to avoid the question, but you’re going to alter your favourite response, oh so slightly.

“I just don’t recall.”


“No, not that I can recall at all.”


“I can't recall my state of mind when I read the document...”


“I don't recall being given that information.”

Very good.

Throw in a “well” here and there, it makes you sound like you’re really trying to remember what you really don’t want to remember.

“Well, I simply do not recall.”


“Well, I can only tell you what I can recall...”

Okay, don’t overdo it with the “wells”.

“If he had told me that, I would have thought I'd have remembered it, but I don't recall.”


Now, when the questions get too close for comfort, when they’re honing in on information there is absolutely no way in the world you could possibly not be aware of, it’s time to get cute and cagey.

“Yes, it could be.”

“It may have been.”

“It could have been.”

“It might have been..”

A few “bes” and “beens” is enough. You’ve still got a couple of hours of questioning ahead. Shift back to the old favourite for a while.

“I don’t recall.”

“No, I don’t recall that.”

Careful, you’re almost repeating yourself.

“I don't recall them saying that.”

“I don't recall them saying that to me.”

“I could have done, but I don't recall it.”

“No, not that I can recall at all.”

The key is in variations.

“I can't, of course, recall.”


Next, you want to give the same response, but it’s time to take the attention off yourself and start directing it elsewhere.

“I don't recall him saying that.”


"I don't recall him saying that in the conversation.”

Too many short responses, it’s time for a bit of waffle.

“I am only in a position to tell you what I recall of the conversation, which is very sketchy...”

Good, that actually sounded like you were being honest.

“I don't recall it being brought to my attention, but it is possible it could have been.”

That made too much sense. Throw the bastards off their guard by saying something that is near on incomprehensible.

“Yes, I don't recall that being discussed, but I simply do not recall it is all I can say.”


Remember to point out the time that has elapsed since the events in question took place.

“I have only a very distant recollection, surprisingly. It's a long time ago.”


If they give you a hard time, don’t be afraid to get all poopsy about it.

“Well, my recollection is consistent with the statement that I made. I don't really have anything to add to it.”

And when they try and crank up the pressure, stick to your last answer.

“I stand by my statement.”

“Yes, I stand by my statement.”

“I still stand by my statement.”

What about when you’re specifically asked what you remember?

“I don't remember precisely...”

What if they keep pushing?

“My recollection is of a much more general nature.”

And if they keep insisting on a straight answer?

"I can’t answer that question."

Say it with authority, like you can’t answer for a reason you simply are not going to reveal. Then repeat.

“I can't answer that question.”

And don’t be afraid to then fall back on an old favourite.

“I can’t recall.”

At some point, someone is going to point out that you seem to be having recall problems, even though you’ve said the word ‘recall’ twenty or more times in an hour. Try this to throw them off guard.

“No-one's memory is perfect.”

And do it with a pout.

When you know that they know that you know they know, admit you did it, just not completely.

“I may have done.”

But did you?

“I can't tell you.”

Why not?

“I have no recollection of it.”

What a brilliant student you are! Alexander will be very proud.

And, finally, when you feel as though you’ve exhausted all the variations and alternates, but you know the questioning is drawing to a close, you may choose to go back to your stand-by, but give it some added emphasis.

“I just can't recall it at all.”

And there you have it. Now you know how to avoid answering the tough questions just like Alexander Downer would.

And did, yesterday.

Your certificate of achievement is in the mail.

International Media Now Paying Close Attention to 'Wheat for Weopons Scandal'

Labor Party's Long Struggle for a Catchy Moniker for the Scandal now Becomes Entrenched

It took a while, but the international media is now closely following the Cole Inquiry into the biggest bribery and corruption scandal in Australia's history.

The Labor Party must be grinning, not only because of Alexander Downer's bumbling performance under oath - where he misled the inquiry over the misleading statements he had already made about misleading... you get the picture - but because The Australian newspaper and a host of international media is now using their 'Wheat For Weapons' slogan when discussing the inquiry and it's fallout.

'Cash For Saddam' and 'Wheat Bribes To Saddam For Suicide Bombing Compo' never really took off.

But 'Wheat For Weapons' is now claiming space in intros and occasional headlines around the world. Expect a massive increase in the coverage as Prime Minister John Howard goes under oath tomorrow afternoon.

Even after the Cole Inquiry is done with, in a few weeks time, this scandal won't be over for the Howard Government. Senators in the US are now agitating for a more involved international inquiry, and if massive corruption can be proved, and the Australian Government is deemed to be complicit, there might be lots of lawsuits where US farmers sue for being shut out of profitable wheat export deals.

Here's some of the international coverage today:

"Ridiculed in headlines as the monkeys who saw, spoke and heard no evil, Australian ministers are this week insisting that they cannot recall warnings about the conduct of the country's wheat exporter in the UN's Oil-for-Food programme." - London Times.

"Foreign Minister Alexander Downer, testifying under oath Tuesday before the commission investigating allegations that an Australian wheat company paid more than $200 million in bribes to Saddam Hussein's government, dismissed as insignificant three specific reports over the course of three years indicating that the company, AWB, had paid the kickbacks." - The International Herald Tribune.

"Top leaders of Prime Minister John Howard's government have uniformly denied having any knowledge of Iraqi oil-for-food kickbacks allegedly involving Australia's monopoly wheat exporter.

"The latest denial came Tuesday as Foreign Minister Alexander Downer told an independent inquiry he had no information on whether the Australian Wheat Board, now known as AWB Ltd, paid a suspected $220 million to Saddam Hussein to secure grain contracts worth more than $2.3 billion between 1997 and 2003 under the U.N.'s oil-for-food program." - The Guardian, UK.

"When questioned about why his department, the department of foreign affairs and trade (DFAT), had not closely investigated allegations against AWB, Downer replied that DFAT had no authority to access AWB's files and did not have any sufficient evidence to refer any unproven claims to the Australian Federal Police..." - Xinhua, China.

"Downer also dismissed warnings of kickbacks by a U.S. military captain in Baghdad, contained in a June 2003 Australian cable, saying he was a junior officer and that Saddam had by then been toppled so sanctions were not as great an issue." - The Washington Post.

"AWB allegedly paid kickbacks to a Jordanian trucking company called Alia. The millions of dollars purportedly were to pay for transportation of AWB wheat in Iraq, but the company was part-owned by the Iraqi government, meaning the money went into Saddam's coffers." - The Houston Chronicle.


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The obvious spin.

Let's not worry about how incompetent is the driver of our bus - concentrate on the reserve driver. Now, that's reasonable isn't it?

A very perceptive Labor politician once said "a party led by a drover's dog could have won that election". Remember? On one hand the media states that Labor has too many differing opinions - which by the way was how "democracy" began. Then they commend the attitudes of the symbolic "independence" con of the Joyces, Georgios and Moylans.

However, IF a Labor backbencher of little note wants to be on the front page of say the Daily Telegraph, he or she only has to comment in any way that can be skewed as different to the party line. But then, what do these purveyors of misinformation do when THEIR BIGGEST ADVERTISER is portayed as a financial genius when - Foreign and domestic debts are escalating?

When young couples are losing their homes; when under-employment is the norm; charities are overloaded; more and more Australians are falling below the poverty line; when the Howard government is bringing in foreign cheap labour to fill the vacuum of their lack of "duty of care" for our tradespeople; when having children is unaffordable; when racism is rife and we, as a Nation are maligned all over the civilised world. They are silent - after all - it isn't personal - just business.



Ernest William, it seems as though the reserve driver of our bus, Costello, is now preferred over Beazley according to the latest poll. I'll bet you cannot wait till the next election.

not biting

I think it remains to be seen whether the AWB scandal does "bite" with the public, Syd Drate, particularly when its findings are released, people are charged with crimes, law suits begin to fly about and the American farmers lobby to keep our wheat farmers out of markets. There is life in this one yet and any political party, like Labor, which did not seek to squeeze electoral advantage out of it would be mad.

My point was that there is a volley of letter writing to Murdoch newspapers and a continual theme by writers like Greg Sheridan that it's all a waste of time. Maybe the police should adopt that attitude to crime.

I look forward to your comments on Labor policy but I think your reference to how large our coast line is points out how a fast moving Coast Guard could be the ideal service to protect us. Works well for the Yanks.

Average White Balderdash

I've been away from Webdiary for a while, but returning to it today I see that people like Syd Drate and the ineffably predictable Jay White have absolutely nothing to say about the AWB bomb; all we get is an irrelevant infantile blast at the Labor party and fabulously silly rant about 'leftovers'.

Look at the 'logic' of JW's contribution to see where it is really heading:

1. 'Leftists' have discovered there is nothing left to adhere to or promote as every vestige of 'socialism' (my god, how did that obsolete term get in there, JW?) has been unutterably discredited, reduced to nothing, no debate necessary, all bets off etc. as is more or less universally recognised (given time) by all with innate reasonableness and common sense.

2. There is no hope of any party vaguely left of right (ie. 'socialist' and without 'ability', according to JW) winning an election in a democratic country where most voters are, inevitably, 'reasonable' people.

3. 'Leftists' consequently have nothing left to do but try to bring down Bush, Howard et al. by getting them the 'sack' - and of course it is ONLY these unreasonable people who would want to remove them, it goes without saying.

4. The AWB scandal/outrage/disgrace/inquiry is really just one of these 'desperate' attempts to get Howard the 'sack', nothing more. As such, any exploitation or even mention of it in political discourse reflects a lack of 'ability' and 'reasonableness'.

5. Implicitly, all 'desperate' attempts to get Bush, Howard et al the 'sack' are by definition non-democratic or even anti-democratic and therefore illegitimate, unfair, spurious etc. and can rightly be dismissed.

6. Therefore - surprise, surprise - all Jay White's political prejudices are confirmed to his own deep satisfaction. Brilliantly, irrefutably, ineluctably and no doubt indefinitely.

Mr. White's Appraisal

Yes Andrew, one can always count on Jay White for accurate and informed commentary.

My personal favourite is from almost three months ago when he gave us the lowdown on what was happening at the Cole inquiry;

"This is a political beatup and will die a quick death".

Beat up by his own hand

Thanks for reminding me of that one, Mark. I was overseas at the time, but do remember reading it, now you mention it.
There were a few other obvious apologists for the Liberal party saying much the same thing, and some are still saying it, incredibly, even now it's obvious to most of the nation that JWH, Vaile and that silver spoon dandy are up to their codpieces and further in deceit. They're likely to be saying, also, that things are on the up and up in Iraq.

you want policies ?

The Labor Party has very clear and concise policies Syd Drate and Jay White but you would never know it if you rely on the popular media obsessed with just about anything else than alternate government. They are as different to Coalition policies as John Howard is to the truth.

Of course with a cowered media contingent dominated by the Murdoch / Packer clan and their persistent bias presented every day in their outlets that an important scandal like the AWB is not "biting with the general public", as though that were the main criteria for uncovering corruption in this country, why would you know ?. It's government  by the Daily Telegraph and whatever they perceive is important.

More discussion about those alternative politics may be more constructive rather than repeatedly pushing the line that "Kim Beazley doesn't stand for anything". He does and it seems, half the country agrees with him and have voted for him, possibly even a majority would at present despite the concerted biased media campaign against him.

However it's fairly clear at present that even their major policy - the reversal of Howard's odious attack on worker's rights is resonating with the general public. It will be Howard's Waterloo.


Michael de Angelos, the reason the AWB is not "biting with the general public", is because the public are really not interested in it because they can see right through Kev and Kim using it for political reasons.

I will read the Labor Policies over the weekend, but a quick look just now I spotted the fact that Kim has dredged up the "Patrol Boats" again. I don't think he has any idea how large our coastline is or how many boats we would need. The bit about saving the Barrier Reef will keep Balmy Bob happy, but it is hardly believable.


Michael de Angelos, I took time to read Labor's Policies, as expoused by Beazley, on Saturday afternoon and I have to admit I would have been better off reading the comics section.

If you are happy with that load of airy fairy crap that's fine, but the general public will not be fooled by it. It is the usual Labor policy on the run, cobbled together to make it look as though they are actually doing something.

What really caught my attention on another page of the SMH was the back stabbing of Sen. Conroy by another faction of the Labor Party.

I am sorry, Michael, but it will be another 10 years before Labor is in a position to even think about forming government. By this time they will hopefully have got rid of the deadwood and cut their ties with the unions which have just about reached the end of the road.

Some brilliant policies for Syd

Syd Drate, 10 years should give Labor just about enough time to come up with policies as brilliant as:

- the so called Free Trade Agreement with the USA, which not one person with the possible exception of the Liberals and Alan Oxley (maybe Syd Drate, too?) thinks is anything but utter crap and a disaster for us all except beef farmers who will see some paltry benefit in only 18 years;

- the sale of Telstra at $3.50 a share, if that. Sorry, that should be fire-sale; what a bargain for the nation - should be as profitable for the legendary 'mums and dads' as the last sale of Telstra shares;

- the sale of Medibank, something the whole population has been clamouring for, Syd. Haven't they?

- the orange bellied parrot environment and energy policy - now, that can't have been cobbled together 'on the run' can it?

- the policy that used to be 'we will decide who comes to this country' but which has been altered recently to 'Indonesia will decide who comes to this country' - that can't have been cobbled together 'on the run' (from whom, Syd?) can it?

- family tax rebates paid with no asset test to millionaires while social security benefit recipients face constant checks and pay-backs;

- the so called 'voluntary student unionism' policy that is nothing but vindictive ideological twaddle;

- the fully approved and legalised unfair dismissal policy - perhaps they could improve on it by making it compulsory;

the lie-and-deceive-and-forget-and-blame-everyone-but-a-minister policy;

the grovel to the Americans at all costs policy that sees Australia participate in every disastrous American military adventure, usually under the guise of the ANZUS treaty, but which is so one-sided the USA couldn't bring themselves to help out with forces in E Timor, but who's complaining? A fine partner to the Free Trade Agreement policy.

And so on ad nauseum.

If the Labor party were to come up with great policies like these (I'm sure they can do it, because they are, as you say, Syd, pretty hopeless - so much so that they acquiesce in a lot of them already), tell me... you'd vote for them, Syd, wouldn't you?

Andrew McRae.

G'day, Andrew. I have just got around to reading your articles, in particular this one. I agree with your comments wholeheartedly. My attitude is, however, while I am critical of the Bush regime and also some members of the Federal Labor backbenchers, I genuinely feel that to use this forum for such a purpose is foolhardy. Why - because the media spends all of their time telling us that the alternative government of Labor is just too radical! The fact is that Labor, at the moment, cannot do anything to help us surface from the "Howardistic flood of misinformation" with which we have been clobbered over the last eight years. Similarly, what I believe as a not too clever con, is the supposed gentle disagreements (with the Master deceiver), by the likes of "gunner" Barnaby Joyce (gunner do this, gunner do that), Mr Georgiou and Ms Moylan who only "appear" to be the voice of sanity in Howard's government of depraved indifference but, we should note and remember that the issues on which they "rebel" are invariably the distant edges of some insignificant legislation. Certainly NOT the IR or "Anti-Terrorist" unmandated policies. Certainly NOT the unmandated "70% off" sale of OUR magnificent Snowy Mountain Icon and most of our natural resources - like Uranium?

Do you remember the classic media hype of crucifying the Labor movement for people having differing views? Do you remember that Labor's democratic and transparent behaviour was called "disunity" by the media? Well, juxtapose those media views with the proud statement of Ms. Moylan - and I quote:

"Good political decisions are forged in the fire of robust debate and discussion, that’s what gives us good policy within the Parliament."

Fair dinkum?

What I would like to see, Andrew, is a concentration of our views on the issue which is the nucleus of all of our current and future problems. That is John Howard and his Government "by the corporations and for the corporations". The success of the Nepalese, the Solomon Islanders and the youth of France is admirable, but surely we should peacefully act before we arrive at those situations? With this opportunity for free expression in this media of profiteering, let's try, at least, to emulate our ancestors in forcing "freedom of the press" to be unbiased factual reporting for the benefit "of the people and for the people". Howard's media and Secret Police should remember that, if they crush all avenues of free speech and expression by people, like myself, they will lose an easy way to identify those who practice Howard's Nemesis - truth. Everything is politics.


Memo to Board of Directors 'Commonwealth of Australia Pty Ltd'

It seems that there are at least three people in the "Front Bench" managerial team with serious memory problems, sub-par reading comprehension, an inability to follow the thread of an inquiry plus an incapacity to make logical deductions based on evidence when dealing with project management.

It's time to think about the best interests of the company and either find these people a job more suitable to their diminished mental capacities or let them go. As the management team have all recently signed the new AWA through the Nauru based HR company, there shouldn't be any problems.

Actions Instead of Monikers

Syd Drate, if so then we would need to change from concepts to actions, which would mean that instead of monikers we'll need Lewinskys. and with pertinence to the gentleman in question I'd prefer not to attain any proximity to the most remote semblance of the analogy. What's the most ugly vsion that now springs to your mind?


Syd Drate

Syd Drate: "Wouldn't it be better if the Labor spent more time formulating coherent policies than playing silly games.".


"Suppose it would be too much like hard work."

Not sure if it is work ethic as the issue. It is for sure at least ability. Most reasonable people give socialism as a dream up by the latest in their early 20's. Life experience, common sense, intelligence and a whole other host of things are usually learnt by this time in a person's life. The leftovers I guess just stick with it.

The problem here is that the leftovers have realised their only hope is to circumvent the system, ie they will not be winning elections. Hence the desperate attempts made at getting Bush, Howard and Co the sack.

Will it work? Refer to point one about ability for the answer.


Howard's policy at present is to have us believe we finally found a WMD in Iraq, a "Wheat Mafia Deception" that is.

But wouldn't it have been better if "Honest" John's ministers spent more time stopping AWB's sanction busting in the first place rather than playing silly games now.

I suppose it would be too much like accountable government.

Headline suggestion

Australian Population re-elect Liars

In an effort to prove to thinking people the world over the adage "you get the government you deserve", the morons of the Australian electorate again elected a cabinet of proven liars and cheats.


Wouldn't it be better if the Labor spent more time formulating coherent policies than playing silly games.

I suppose it would be too much like hard work.

"Catchy Labor Moniker"

"Oils For Spoils", "Wheat For Grease", "Bang For Your Buck", "All Weapons Bought", "Tickles For Nickels", "Oil For Fraud "?

 I'm all out...

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