A more interesting rabbit to chase than the
PM’s letter would be the question of why Terence Cole QC publicly released the documents
yesterday. It appears a most interesting exercise in beating the bushes – but
what exactly was he trying to flush out?

The documents hint at AWB working with DFAT
officials without getting anywhere near proving anyone in the Government knew
AWB was paying bribes and kickbacks. Yes, if DFAT agriculture trade officials
were competent they’d have to guess, but let’s not make any assumptions about
competence just yet.

To take the next jump, from public service
bureaucrat through political flak catchers to a Minster of the Crown, well, it
requires a very big leap of faith to start the run up. And remember, this is a government
that had specialised in isolating ministers from things they’re better off not
knowing long before 2002.

Given the way inquiries generally work,
punches are not telegraphed through the popular press on Monday mornings. The
wily counsel assisting harbours his evidence, keeps smoking guns discreetely
holstered until a suitably dramatic moment when they can be used with most
effect, when they can be pointed at a target caught in the spotlight of the
witness box.

So what is Cole up to? In the absence of
better knowledge, one is left to speculate and form opinions about whether he
might be angling for a wider brief –
with Kevin Rudd predictably filling in the space for him already.

Another
possibility though is that Cole is preparing the ground for any miscreants who
might want to plead extenuating circumstances. The thrust of yesterday’s
documents points to the pressure AWB was under to get a deal done – the old
“whatever it takes” culture that Crikey has been hammering on about and is now
being more generally followed.

If
you listen hard, you might be able to hear a QC whispering seductively: “Come
on, roll over, tell us all about it. You have our sympathy really, all that
pressure, everyone wanted you to do it, everyone knew what was at stake, the PM
himself wanted it solved, you were just doing your job really, saving honest
Australian farmers who would have been sent broke and broken, a good man
fighting hard in a corrupt world, no personal gain for you, you just had to do
it. Come on, tell us…”

Peter Fray

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