In the next few days three – possibly
four – officers of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade will appear
before the Cole Inquiry to answer questions about DFAT’s role in the
affair. They are relatively senior, but they are not the top bureaucrats in the
department, and they are certainly not the most senior people involved in
dealing with the scandalously out-of-control AWB.

As it stands, these handful of public servants will
be the only government officials to appear before the inquiry. Is this a
deliberate tactic by the Government as it continues to attempt to quarantine
itself from responsibility for the $300 million kickbacks fiasco? Or is it just
another stuff-up?

Commenting on his officials’ date with Cole,
Alexander Downer told ABC radio yesterday: “It will be interesting to
find what the Cole Inquiry can elicit from them…” Interesting,
indeed.

We emailed Downer’s press secretary, Chris Kenny,
yesterday morning with these questions:

Chris,

After trying unsuccessfully
to get through to DFAT media (no doubt they’re snowed under), I decided to put
these five questions to you:

  • AAP and the SMH name DFAT officers Bronte Moules, Bill Patterson,
    Zena Armstrong, Jane Drake-Brockman as scheduled to appear this week. Are
    these names correct, and are there any others?

  • How and when were they chosen – i.e did they
    volunteer, where they nominated by the department/minister or did Cole nominate
    them?

  • Has anyone been subpoenaed?
  • Was anyone above director level chosen/volunteered to
    appear?

  • Approximately how many people were in DFAT’s Iraq Taskforce (including members seconded from other
    departments)? And how many Taskforce members do you
    expect to appear before Cole?

More than 24 hours later, we have yet to receive a response from either
Downer’s office or DFAT’s media office.

To put this in perspective, the Government’s Iraq Taskforce was made up
of senior officers – at first assistant secretary level – from DFAT, Prime
Minister and Cabinet, Attorney-General’s, the
Federal Police, Ausaid, Defence, and a number of intelligence agencies including
the Defence Intelligence Office and the Office of National
Assessment.

This was no mickey mouse
committee. It was a high-powered government taskforce charged with implementing
Australian policy on the reconstruction of Iraq – while doing what was
necessary, in concert with the AWB, to keep the massive wheat trade
flowing.

We believe our five questions are pertinent. Not least, because if this
handful of mostly mid-level officers are the only Government officials to appear
before the Cole Inquiry – that, itself, would be a scandal.

We’ll keep pressing for some
answers.

Peter Fray

Get your first 12 weeks of Crikey for $12.

Without subscribers, Crikey can’t do what it does. Fortunately, our support base is growing.

Every day, Crikey aims to bring new and challenging insights into politics, business, national affairs, media and society. We lift up the rocks that other news media largely ignore. Without your support, more of those rocks – and the secrets beneath them — will remain lodged in the dirt.

Join today and get your first 12 weeks of Crikey for just $12.

 

Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

JOIN NOW