The government will consider any request to
broaden the Cole Inquiry into Iraqi wheat kickbacks, Treasurer Peter Costello
has said this morning.

The revelations that the Australian
ambassador in Washington, Michael Thawley, urged a key US
Congressional committee not to go ahead with a planned investigation into
allegations that AWB had paid kickbacks to Saddam Hussein’s regime
make this vital.

Both Michael Gordon and Michelle Grattan both offer compelling reasons in today’s Age for such a broadening of the terms
of references. Gordon writes:

The terms of reference should be extended
to include whether any government officials or ministers knew what AWB was
doing and, if they were ignorant, why they did not ask some hard questions.

It should not be forgotten that kickbacks
paid by AWB, Australia’s government-sanctioned monopoly wheat exporter, went to the regime
that was considered so evil and such an imminent threat to our interests that
the lives of Australian soldiers were risked to remove it.

The latest revelation of lobbying a key
Congress committee reflects a pattern of the Howard Government working hard to
protect AWB’s interests and maintain Australia’s
lucrative wheat exports to Iraq even
while waging war against Saddam.

The Prime Minister insists the Government
would have been negligent if it had not done so, stressing that it had no
suggestion and no suspicion that bribes were being paid.

Indeed – but this is where Crikey was at
two weeks ago, in the first week of evidence. “Hundreds of millions of
dollars were at stake if we could not deliver wheat to Iraq,” we wrote in
our item “How
Downer’s big mouth helped Saddam”. “Foreign Affairs must have
been involved in brokering a solution, given its trade and security policy
roles.”

The question now is – to what extent?

Peter Fray

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