Michael Pascoe writes:

“AWB’s strategy is to be Australia’s
leading agribusiness through becoming the ‘business partner of choice’ for
primary producers and end customers” – or so the company announces on its web
site. And if being the business partner of choice means a few hundred million
in kickbacks and bribes along the way, well that doesn’t clash with the
strategy, does it?

The AWB, its senior management and most of
its board are going down. Even the relatively narrow terms of inquiry set by the
Howard Government can’t prevent that as more than enough shots were fired in
yesterday’s opening exchange to make wholesale changes inevitable.

And the question well raised in the Smage
by Marian Wilkinson is how many government bureaucrats will the AWB take with them. It would of
course be fanciful to think for a moment that any Federal Minister might suffer
though – we seem to have long since abandoned any concept of ministerial
responsibility.

The AWB brass won’t be such protected
species. Chairman Brendan Stewart, the powerful and sometimes feared CEO Andrew
Lindberg, plus seven other directors on the 15-member AWB board, plus another
three on the AWB International board, were all in place while the $300 million
Iraqi scam was underway, never mind whatever AWB has been up to in Pakistan, Yemen, Egypt and
other places of dubious business practice.
The dozen directors, plus another whole
layer or two of management, therefore
have the usual terrible choice to make in these circumstances: Do they plead
incompetence or complicity?

Yesterday it looked like another senior
businessman had been sharing Alan Bond’s water bottle as the “can’t remember”
and “can’t recall” answers frequently came to the lips of former AWB CEO Murray
Rogers. It’s a fair bet amnesia will prove to be of plague proportions within
AWB.

Nonetheless, at the top of the pile, it is
inconceivable for a start that the chairman and CEO can escape responsibility.
Brendan Stewart joined the board six years ago, becoming chairman in March
2002. His CV shows a man in the very thick of Australian grain politics and policy, topped
by the line that in 2003 he was appointed inaugural chairman of the Council for
Australian Arab Relations.

Andrew Lindberg joined the AWB in 2000 –
with the Iraqi kickbacks in full swing and continuing until the invasion in
2003. Given the scale of the payments, let alone the trail of evidence already
uncovered by inquiry, only a grossly incompetent CEO could have been unaware of
what his company was doing.

The other still-serving directors on the
AWB board while the company was
contributing to Saddam’s coffers are: deputy chair Robert Barry (appointed 1999);
John Simpson (1998); Warrick McClelland (1998); Christopher Moffet (1998); company
secretary Richard Fuller (2000); and general manager risk and general counsel Jim
Cooper (2000).

Stewart, Lindberg, Moffet, Fuller and
Cooper are also directors of AWB International, along with Ian Donges (elected
2001), Wayne Gibson (2000) and Clinton Starr (1998).

The non-executive directors will have to
explain how they didn’t know the way AWB conducts its business. The executive
directors will have to explain how they’ve forgotten what they didn’t know.