Michael Pascoe writes:

The Wheatgate scandal seems to descend
further into farce with every new day’s headlines, but even after the
cowboys-with-guns photographs and rampant amnesia, today’s Prime Ministerial
effort
sets a new standard with what can only be heavy lashings of satire:

In a letter to Iraq’s Prime Minister, Ibrahim Al Ja’afari, John Howard urged his Government to
think about individual Australian wheat growers, as well as the countries’
long-standing trade relationship in wheat, and Australia’s support of Iraqi democracy.

We are left to speculate about why our
PM believes Iraqis should think about individual Australian wheat growers just
now. Iraqi fatalities are running well into six figures and serious injuries a
multiple of that since we helped arrange an invasion of their country. Anyone
in a position of authority is living with assassination as a daily possibility
and there’s an unstable occupation force in place that is controlled by the
worst United States Government in memory. (One of the few things Mark Latham
got right.) They are experiencing the early days of what will be a long and
bloody civil war and the prospect of various shades of theocratic government
thereafter.

But despite all that, the Australian PM
wants Iraqis to think of Australian wheat growers. They would be the Australian
wheat growers who own and control AWB, the highly dubious corporation that
managed to sling Saddam $300 million under the table. They would be the
Australian wheat growers who profiteered from that corruption
through getting more for their wheat than it was worth. They would be the
Australian wheat farmers who mostly still support the idea of a single desk
export monopoly because it magically obtains a premium for wheat sales.

At least we now know how the Iraqi premium
works, but according to the AWB’s own justification for its monopoly power, all
international customers now know they pay the AWB $13 a tonne more for AWB
wheat than it is worth. That’s a hefty 6.5% premium
on the current rough price of $200 a tonne. It looks like you’d have to be
stupid – or corrupt – to pay that. But then again, maybe the premium is a
furphy – you never know with AWB.

But maybe the Iraqis are supposed to feel
sorry for the farmers after reading Julie Newgate’s fine work in yesterday’s
Crikey which explained how AWB ripped off the growers through receiving bonus
payments from the growers for the corruptly inflated Iraqi deals. Smart growers
might learn from that, but many are conflicted by being AWB shareholders as
well.

Of course the John Howard line asking the
Iraqis to think of poor Aussie farmers has a familiar ring about…it sounds
like the line AWB trotted out as the reason Iraq
continued to do business with it when Lord Downer started sabre-rattling.
Someone should tell John that it didn’t really work last time – it was the
extra cash under the table that did the trick.

So watch for a possible budget item – a
$300 million payment to Iraq, by way of subsidised wheat exports, as the Australian taxpayer
makes good the AWB/Saddam rip-off. Well, that might keep the Nationals
happy. Just think of the wheat farmers.

Peter Fray

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