It’s
always hard knowing when to turn over from Radio National to your local ABC
station in the mornings – and if you touched the dial too early today you
missed an amazing interview with fired-up former diplomat Bruce Haigh on the
wheat scandals.

Haigh
asserted that the government was stupid in allowing the Cole Inquiry to go
ahead, said it should have been held behind closed doors as it damaged export
prospects and when asked if it was common for Australian companies to use
bribes as a means of shoring up export markets replied “Let’s not call it a
bribes, let’s call it commissions.”

Haigh
also asserted that Labor would regret calling for the enquiry to widen, as they
had plenty of dirty dealings in their day.

Fortunately,
it’s online here.

Haigh has been involved in wheat sales, and
turns up in the Telegraph today with these comments (not online):

While Bruce
Haigh does not condone the alleged bribes paid by AWB to Iraq, he
says the Government should have kept the scandal behind closed doors because it
was not in the “national interest’.’

“Yes, we need
reform, and yes we need to fix it but not in the public place,” Mr Haigh,
whose brother-in-law is a wheat farmer in Western Australia,
said.

“Anyone trading
in the future will be wary of us – particularly Chinese and Japanese who don’t
want to be involved in a country that’s embroiled in commission.”

“I’m horrified
by the money paid out to the Saddam regime but benefits to Australia
outweigh disadvantages,” he said.

“It’s not
different to the Government trading with Indonesia
when the Suharto government killed thousands of people.” Mr Haigh said
kickbacks or bribes, known as “commissions”, was something he saw frequently
as a diplomat.

In Sri Lanka,
Mr Haigh said when companies wanted a contract they would pay whoever was in
charge a sum of money to be short listed for the job.

Mr Haigh said
the Government was playing into the hands of the US wheat industry,
which wanted Australia’s market.

Last month Haigh told ABC Radio paying commissions to Government bodies is part of doing business in the Third World and not something
that AWB should be attacked over:

There’s nothing,
nothing, new in any of this and nothing which would surprise any businessman who
has to deal in Asia, or Africa, or any other Third World country.

The trouble is
with this sort of business, is that you can’t make these things public.

There was more in the Herald-Sun, too:

Bruce Haigh, a
former foreign affairs official who worked at overseas postings until 1994,
said Australian “facilitation fees” in wheat, sheep and
infrastructure contracts were commonplace in international trade.

“Things
don’t happen unless various people are assisted,” he said.

Mr Haigh said he
had accompanied trade delegations seeking a range of contracts where
under-the-table payments were demanded.

“You’d get
to hear some of the things they’d have to do in order to seal some of the
deals,” he said.

He cited a 1994
contract, in which Federal Government officials helped liaise for Australian
power and port construction companies that had to pay kickbacks just to be
short-listed for contracts.

“I can tell
you that in Sri Lanka (in 1994) they had to pay a facilitation fee of 10 per cent (of the
contract value) to be short-listed,” he said.

Mr Haigh, who
this week told the ABC he was aware of Australian kickbacks made on contracts
in Pakistan, said other than allegations the AWB had breached UN sanctions,
such payments were unavoidable. “They are in trade everywhere and Australia
is not immune to it,” he said.

Bill Heffernan, a wheat farmer himself, has
been out today rallying against political wrangling over the AWB scandal,
saying it is damaging Australia’s wheat industry.

Ah, patriotism. The
things that are done in your name!

Peter Fray

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