By political correspondent Christian Kerr



Has one of the more colourful – and litigious – members of the
Commonwealth
Parliament has been playing James Bond? Ross Lightfoot, a former
copper and a
Senator from the Wild West, allegedly visited Iraq at public
expense, packing
heat and carrying cash sewn into his jacket.

“Liberal Senator Ross Lightfoot smuggled $25,000 into Iraq on behalf
of
Australia’s biggest oil company and armed himself with high-powered pistols
for
protection,” reports News Limited here. “Senator Lightfoot said yesterday he used a taxpayer-funded ‘study’ tour
to
secretly spirit the money ($US20,000 in cash) into Iraq in January on behalf
of
Woodside Petroleum.

“The money, sewn into the lining of a suit jacket, was given as a ‘donation’
to
the Kurdish Regional Government. In an intriguing twist, Senator Lightfoot
sold
his Woodside shares on Tuesday, just before details of his Iraq tour
revealed.”
Cue that 007 twangy guitar theme. Is Lightfoot just an
adventure-loving
humanitarian, or is there more?

The Perth-based Woodside is “Australia’s largest publicly traded oil and
gas
exploration and production company with a market capitalisation of more
than
A$14 billion,” according to the company website. Their flaks had an early morning today. At 4:00 am, Western Australian
time,
they issued a statement “categorically” rejecting “claims in today’s
newspapers
that Senator Ross Lightfoot travelled to Iraq on behalf of the
company to make
a cash donation to local authorities.”

“Woodside has no relationship with Senator Lightfoot and he is wrong to
assert
any such relationship,” the statement says. “In October 2004 Woodside agreed with Perth’s Curtin University
to
provide US$20,000 to the Halabjae Hospital in northern Iraq, using funds
from
the university’s Woodside Hydrocarbon Research Facility. The hospital
treats
children of victims of the 1988 gas attacks on Iraqi Kurds.

“The Woodside Hydrocarbon Research Facility is managed by Professor
Robert
Amin, an Iraqi Kurd who regularly makes charitable donations from funds
raised
by the facility. Woodside provided the funds for the Halabjae Hospital
donation.

“The donation was properly made by Curtin University to a Kurdistan
Regional
Government (Sulaymaniyah) representative in Australia, Simco Halmet,
to pass on
to the hospital. Woodside was advised by Mr Halmet that the donation
was
formally handed over to the Kurdistan Regional Government in January 2005.

“The company received proper written acknowledgement of the donation from
the
Kurdistan Regional Government’s Minister of Health…”

Allegations are flying around Canberra this morning that Lightfoot dumped
his
Woodside share package when the News Limited papers started investigating
the
story. Taking such sums of cash out of the country is an offence punishable
by
two years imprisonment, too. H Rider Haggard and John Buchan fans will
be
disappointed to learn that Lightfoot’s official report on his trip is not
yet
available online, but keep an eye on the Parliament House site .

The Senator is pleading innocence. “I never saw any money, never carried
any
money with me apart from my own money,” he told the ABC’s AM this
morning.
“Those accusations are grossly defamatory to me, grossly defamatory.
And I’ll
be taking action as soon as I can, as soon as I get advice.” However,
Holt
Street flak Janet Fife-Yeomans is saying this morning that the News
Ltd
newspapers “stand by the story”.

The Opposition must be itching for a go at Lightfoot, but perhaps they
should
remember that Lawrence of Arabia made up some of his best adventures.

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