Rupert Murdoch’s flagship, The Australian, is now well into
double figures on AWB splashes and has clearly identified itself from
the pack in going much harder on the story than anybody else.

However, the paper’s Saturday columnist and daily commentator for the
Murdoch tabloids, Terry McCrann, mustn’t have been looking at what’s
been published because this morning he began one of his items as
follows:

The John Fairfax hyper-ventilation over the Australian Wheat Board saga continues apace. Yesterday The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald
were joined by trashy dot com (as usual, Terry can’t bring himself to
name us and thereby utterly confuses his readers) which thundered that
the real question was: “What kind of government could have employed a
management and board who clearly weren’t fit to open a packet of
Wheaties let alone run a Wheat Board.”

McCrann then went on to argue that the AWB has nothing to do with the
government because it was privatised in 1999 and corrupt payments
didn’t start until late 1999.


Firstly, it certainly wasn’t “privatised” in the conventional sense
because we the taxpayers didn’t actually receive anything from the sale.
As with most statutory marketing bodies, National Party interests
pushed for the proverbial free lunch and the value arguably partially
owned by the taxpayer was handed over to the farmers for free.

The point is that the government was in charge of this whole process
and decided upon a board that was gifted huge monopoly powers and then went
headlong down the path of giving $300 million to the regime we
wanted to depose.

You then have the separate issue of government knowledge and complicity
after the “privatisation” with what were clearly illegal payments rorting
the UN scheme.

In directing US Ambassador Michael Thawley to tell what turned out
to be a lie to US Senators in 2004 clearly shows some government
involvement and concern. Then there have been numerous examples of
warnings being send to DFAT about dodgy dealings.

The government is dragged further into the mess by the fact that two of
the key conspirators in the whole scandal, Trevor Flugge and Michael
Long, were subsequently hired and paid by the Government to go and help
set up the agricultural arrangements in Iraq after Saddam was deposed.

We then have the question of containing the political damage. Who
has AWB Ltd hired as lobbyists and crisis managers to get it through
this mess? None other than Jackson Wells Morris, the firm which boasts
the PM’s former chief of staff and best mate Grahame Morris as a
director.

Morris was asked about AWB during a regular Sky News debate with Labor
arm-twister Bruce Hawker on Monday night and he implied the PM had no
problems and knew nothing before finally confessing his firm was acting
for AWB.

Surely the interests and actions of the AWB and the government are now
very different. AWB should hire someone whose career has not been
largely devoted to promoting and defending the interests of one John
Howard.

Finally, has anyone else noticed how hard Peter Costello is going in
talking up the AWB scandal? He almost seems to be enjoying the
discomfort being suffered by a certain Prime Minister, a certain
leadership aspirant called Downer and the entire National Party/farmer
mafia.

Peter Fray

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