Wheatgate is already littered
with memorable lines and funny photographs, but perhaps the most
hilarious routine so far has been Lord Downer’s gigs on Sky News and AM yesterday:

ALEXANDER DOWNER: They (DFAT officials) were thorough. I
mean insofar as my department had a responsibility, I think they
fulfilled their responsibilities very well.

The Sky line, told with a straight face, was a honing of something he had trialled earlier in the day on AM with Tony Eastley:

TONY EASTLEY: Have there been failings within your
department, do you think? Because over the years there has been
correspondence with your department to at least be wary about kickbacks
going to Saddam Hussein, and here is an Australian company – named by
the UN order – that wheat contracts, or other contracts, were being
inflated.

ALEXANDER DOWNER: Well, look, I don’t have any
evidence that, as you put it, there have been failings by my
department. I think my department has been diligent in the role it’s
played in implementing the oil for food… the Australian component of
the oil for food resolutions, and the United Nations ultimately was
responsible, though, for the contracts, not the Australian Government
or the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade.

TONY EASTLEY: So you’re confident no one in your department knew?

ALEXANDER
DOWNER: Well, I am confident. I have, in the last few days, gone once
more through all of the documentation. I’ve spoken to people in my
department, but admittedly over a long period of time, not just
recently. But again, recently, I mean, they have to face the Cole
inquiry. I’d be interested to know what the Cole inquiry will be able
to elicit from them. But it’s the… on the basis of all the evidence I
have, I’m happy with what they did and with their performance. I think
they were diligent.

Aside from inspiring stand-up
artists, in a half-responsible government Lord Downer’s routine would
see him sacked. He has suddenly gone from knowing nothing to claiming
his department has been thorough and diligent. Which in turn means Lord
Downer’s assertion yesterday means he’s either incompetent, lying or
just a very funny guy.

Meanwhile there’s nothing for AWB shareholders to laugh about as sundry analysts
take a dim view of its future. The pundits reckon it could lose
anything between a quarter and two-thirds of its already sharply
diminished share price.

Watch out now for the wheat farmers
who are the majority of AWB shareholders to whinge even more furiously
to their National Party members and the Nats to consequently fall into
line with a rearguard action to try to keep AWB’s single-desk monopoly.

Peter Fray

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