We heard yesterday about Barnaby Joyce’s chats with the punters
down at the servo – but don’t most of his constituents bypass the bowsers and
buy in bulk for the on-farm fuel tank instead?

If he dropped round to the farm, surely he would hear complaints
about the AWB bureaucracy and its frustrating penchant for grinding slowly
when it comes to actually processing paperwork and payments for grain growers.

And he might hear complaints along the lines of these raised
in today’s edition of the WA Farm Weekly:

Wheat contracts obtained by WA’s
Farm Weekly
indicate the delivered price of wheat to Iraq during the UN
oil-for-food (OFF) program rose to $450/tonne in January 2003, prompting
questions about how much of that reached growers.

The Cole Inquiry has heard how AWB Ltd inflated its wheat prices to pay $290
million in kickbacks to Saddam Hussein’s regime and also to recoup an $8m debt
for BHP Billiton, in return for a commission.

According to the inquiry, AWB paid the kickbacks up-front, from pool
money. It added them to the wheat bill before it was forwarded to the
UN for payment.

The kickbacks were paid as so-called trucking fees to Jordanian transport
company Alia. In later phases a 10pc after-sales fee was lumped into the kickbacks, which
went from $10.80/tonne in 1999 to $56/t in 2003.

Alia, partly owned by the Iraqi Ministry of Transport, took a
commission. It then forwarded the rest of the money to the Iraqi regime.

The concern was how AWB worked its finances to ensure the pool was not out of
pocket, from when the pool paid the kickbacks to when the money for the wheat
was paid by the UN. Settlement of these transactions could take up to 80 days.

And we
don’t know what damage yet will be done to Australia’s grain markets. Our growers
produce a premium product – but if there are doubts about buying it, the
Barnaby barometer will be pointing to stormy weather.

Peter Fray

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