Here are
the Opposition’s first four efforts from Question Time yesterday and the
Government replies:

Mr BEAZLEY (2.01 pm) – My question is
to the Prime Minister. Will the Prime Minister confirm that Australia has
lost the opportunity to bid for the current Iraqi tender for the importation of
500,000 tonnes of wheat, worth about $100 million to Australian wheat farmers?

Mr HOWARD – I will
not confirm that.

Mr BEAZLEY (2.04 pm) – My question is
to the Prime Minister and follows the question he was just asked. I refer to
reports published in the national media last week that Iraqi Grains Board chief
Khalil Assi had confirmed publicly that Iraq had no
problems buying Australian wheat in the future so long as it was not from the
AWB while the Cole inquiry was running. Prime Minister, what is the difference
between the position articulated by the Iraqi Grains Board last week, before the Deputy
Prime Minister’s visit to Iraq, and the position articulated by the Iraqi
Grains Board this week, after the Deputy Prime Minister’s visit to Iraq?

Mr HOWARD – I draw
the Leader of the Opposition’s careful attention to the answer I gave to the
first question.

Mr BEAZLEY (2.11 pm) – My question is
to the Prime Minister. I refer the Prime Minister to his claim in this place on
16 February 2006 that
AWB had to be included in the delegation sent to Iraq
because it was legally necessary to do so. Given that the Australian delegation
does not include the AWB, did the Prime Minister mislead the House when he
claimed this legal obligation or is the Deputy Prime Minister now acting
illegally by negotiating access to Iraq in the
absence of the AWB?

Mr HOWARD – The
Deputy Prime Minister is not acting illegally, I am not acting illegally, and I
think the Leader of the Opposition has run out of real questions.

Mr SWAN (2.14 pm) – My question is
addressed to the Treasurer. I refer the Treasurer to his announcement yesterday
of a tax inquiry. As part of the inquiry, will the Treasurer direct Mr Hendy
and Mr Warburton to investigate why the Howard government allowed Australian
taxpayers to subsidise kickbacks that funded Saddam Hussein while the Treasurer
and his colleagues turned a blind eye?

Mr COSTELLO – What a
pathetic question…

Indeed. At least Lindsay Tanner added some bite
with interjections of “What about the Muslims?” and sticking
his fingers in the side of his mouth as if he was about to let out an almighty
dog whistle – but his imaginary dogs had more bite than Labor’s attack.

The PM had to advise the House of an error – that former AWB chairman Trevor Flugge was not, as Estimates was told,
paid $679,000 to advise the Government on post-war Iraq but
closer to a million – but that was the only time the Government looked wobbly.

So, the question has to be asked. Has Labor
Flugged up its AWB attack?

Labor is still ahead of the Coalition as the Iraqi
wheat sales scandal continues, but the ALP’s parliamentary attack is not
translating into personal support for Kim Beazley, Newspoll finds today.

What is
more interesting is the AWB specific surveying in the Fairfax broadsheets.
Peter Hartcher writes in the SMH:

The Howard Government has developed electoral
immunity to the perception that it may be lying.

Today’s HeraldPoll confirms
the extraordinary fact that most voters can disbelieve the Government on a
prominent issue and yet maintain their levels of support for the Government and
the Prime Minister.

Put simply, we do not believe it, but we will
vote for it anyway.

So we are
all postmodernists now? Are we all amoral? Are we all just relaxed and
comfortable about this? Or has
Labor constantly over-egged the pudding, constantly engaged in hyperbole – and
constantly failed to deliver.

Peter Fray

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