Michael Pascoe writes:

Good to see the Prime Minister’s spinners
getting their $100 worth out of their Crikey subscription last night as John
Howard fell back to our February 3 suggestion of his next line of defence on
AWB.

Two weeks ago we wrote:

There is nothing to contradict Howard’s
carefully prepared defence put on Channel 9 this morning:

“I did not know, my
ministers did not know and, on the information that I have been provided and
the advice I have received from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, I
do not believe that the department knew that AWB was involved in the payment of
bribes.”

There is even a further defence available
to Howard – if he had known, he would never had allowed this public inquiry
that will destroy AWB’s export monopoly and continue to embarrass the
Government.

Well, as Wheatgate becomes ever messier and
the list of “ought-to-have-knowns” continues to grow, Howard followed our
advice on the 7.30 Report last night. He’s understandably sticking to the
Sergeant Schultz line, but twice last night added our suggested defence:

I can only repeat what I’ve said
before, and that is to that I had no knowledge nor did Alexander Downer or Mark
Vaile or other ministers have knowledge that bribes were being paid. I have
looked at all of the documents that have been brought to my attention and I do
not believe, on the basis of what I’ve been told, that any official has been in
any way complicit in this and I do not believe, and I do not accept the
allegations that have been made by the Labor Party against officers of the
Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. But, Kerry, we have an inquiry. I have
done something that no other head of government around the world has done. I
have exposed to rigorous scrutiny by an outstanding Australian lawyer the behaviour
of AWB and also the involvement of people in the Commonwealth Government. No
other head of government has been willing to do that.

Yep, there’s the implication all right: if
we had any idea how foul it was, we’d never have opened the can.

Peter Fray

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