Hugo Kelly
writes:

Are
the smoking emails starting to seep out of the Cole Inquiry? Yesterday’s revelations
of an email chain between AWB and DFAT clearly identifying the kickbacks issue
sure look juicy when splashed across today’s front pages – along with those
photos
of the AWB cowboys.

The
“10% cut” e-mail has
yet to be presented in its full context, so it’s too early to assume this is the
one that proves the Government knew. So far, DFAT hasn’t been able to fully
explain the context; their chance will come when officials from Foreign Affairs
take the stand next week.

It
is fair to assume the 10% figure was a blanket assumption by the Coalition
authority on ALL contracts from all countries related to oil for food. The
Michael Long email didn’t specify that AWB had paid the kickbacks – it just
assumed that everyone had had 10% creamed off.

All
will become clearer next week when DFAT gives evidence.

No one has been
able to prove so far that DFAT hasn’t acted with diligence during the episode. A
professional bureaucracy would be inclined to ask the AWB to explain their
pricing policy and provide answers that could not be refuted without an
independent analysis of their contracts – which they alone
negotiated.

Would these concerns have
been brought to the attention of government Ministers? A professional
bureaucracy would have ensured they were. We might find out more on this
as early as next week.

A
professional bureaucracy keeps a paper trail. Where the trail leads is something
Commissioner Cole is very interested in discovering, as his
comments this morning make clear.

One question Commissioner
Cole might be interested to ask is: should the government – once it learned of
the kickbacks, even in the broadest sense – then have intervened using its
corporate regulatory powers to launch a full investigation?
That is a big political
question that will need to be answered – if Cole finds that public servants did
what they could do, given that they had no way of investigating the contracts
without the government acting.

And
would there have been a political will to do that? Has the Howard government
ever possessed that sort of willpower?

Peter Fray

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