Michael Pascoe writes:


Bribery and corruption inquirer Terence
Cole QC seems to have achieved his possible goal in releasing various
Government and AWB documents on Sunday – a widening of the inquiry.

We mused yesterday that maybe Tezza was subtly
applying a little pressure through the splashing of the Prime Minister’s July
2002 letter to the AWB. Well, John Howard has chimed in nicely.

As The Oz reports:

John Howard has faced pressure for not allowing the
inquiry to examine the role of government officers or ministers in the Iraqi
wheat sales. Instead, the inquiry can examine only accusations of wrongdoing
against AWB and two other companies that paid kickbacks.

However, the Prime Minister said yesterday that his
ministers would attend the Cole inquiry if they were called to answer
questions.

“If there are departmental officers called, they
will attend,” Mr Howard said. “If there is any request for ministers
to go, they will respond to those requests and attend.”

While the Cole inquiry yesterday was uncovering
more details of dubious operations in Pakistan
in the old Wheat Board days,
John Laws was serving a curly little question to the Prime Minister.

On 2UE radio yesterday, John Laws asked Mr Howard if he
was “a little bit naive thinking that everything would have been entirely
above board” when dealing with the Iraqis.

Mr Howard replied: “I don’t believe I was naive
because there was no evidence … that was put to the Government to suggest that
anything corrupt was occurring”.

Asked about evidence at the Cole inquiry that there was a
“whatever it takes” culture at AWB to secure wheat contracts, Mr
Howard replied: “Not that I was aware of, no.”

Of course Howard has never been aware of
anything that was less than nice or at least legal at any time in his Prime
Ministership.

And it was déjà vu all over again as AWB’s
learned counsel tried to criticise the inquiry for not playing fair. An
ethically-challenged corporation fighting a public inquiry tooth and nail with
lawyers for all before collapsing with claimed contrition at the last minute
but still taking very good financial care of the executives responsible. That
was the James Hardie script. We’ll find out in time if the final act plays the
same way.

Peter Fray

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