Is the Opposition’s AWB campaign
working – or is Labor actually managing to dull the importance of the
revelations of the Cole inquiry?

That’s a question that
seriously needs to be asked after another fiery but fruitless Question
Time – and yet more stunning revelations in the Cole hearings in Sydney.

Labor
targeted Nationals Leader and Trade Minister Mark Vaile in Question
Time. The PM took a dixer on the AWB early on, though, so there was
footage of him on his feet getting his message out in Parliament for
the teevs last night.

However, the action was elsewhere – a letter from Wheat Export Authority admitting it was aware of the commercial arrangements between AWB and the Alia sham trucking company, despite earlier denials.

The Australian‘s editorial writers thunder again today: “Scrutiny is essential… but ministers are not watching their mandarins.”

As they say, there are very serious matters at stake here:

This Government has crippled the concept of ministerial
accountability… It would be far preferable if the old ideal of
ministerial accountability still held. In decades past, ministers
walked without murmur over errors they had little to do with… But not
since his first years in office has John Howard copped it sweet and
required ministers to take responsibility for significant mistakes by
their staff or in their departments. This is a significant problem for
all Australians, because trust between the governors and the governed
is the foundation of all successful societies. Once ordinary people
have good reason to assume the powerful think they are above the law,
or can act independently of community standards to suit themselves, the
trust that ensures people willingly pay their taxes and obey the law
inevitably unravel. We are seeing the start of this in evidence to the
Cole inquiry…

Should Labor step back, turn down the rhetoric and let the Cole inquiry do its job and expose the wheat scams?

After all,
politicians are all tarred with the same brush. We know of some curious
wheat frolics in Iraq under the previous Labor government. The Tigris
allegations date back to the days of the Keating administration.

And that “trust” The Oz’s
editorialists speak about is long gone. That’s why Barnaby Joyce can
make his comments that this is just an argument for “elites”.

Politics
is full of ritual combat and hyperbole. Punters respond by saying both
sides are just as bad as each other – and tuning out.

Perhaps it would be better to just let Cole get on with his job without distraction – and carefully watch what he uncovers. His statement of independence
last Friday, after all, was pretty unequivocal: “I will, without fear
or favour, affection or ill will, make decisions about what is before
me.”

Peter Fray

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