Michael Pascoe writes:

The collateral damage from Terence Cole’s
Iraqi kickbacks inquiry keeps growing with Kevin Rudd and Kim Beazley copping a
ricochet, some more flak around the
nation’s spies and some serious fragging of the Federal Government.

After devoting every question time this
year to the AWB scandal, Rudd and Beazley are left looking more than a little
silly this morning by the AFR‘s Laura Tingle telling the world both men had
received the same briefings from AWB that they have been berating the
Government about.

Tingle writes that AWB expressed concerns
to the Labor Party as early as August 2004 about the likely findings of the
Volcker inquiry:

Labor foreign affairs spokesman Kevin Rudd
confirmed yesterday that he met AWB executives three times in 2004. Labor leader Kim Beazley also confirmed his
staff were briefed about the potential for adverse findings against the wheat
exporter before the Volcker inquiry reported last year.

The revelations show how AWB was briefing
politicians on both sides… They also seem to confirm the Howard government’s
position that it was told by AWB in 2004-05 that while finds were likely to be
made by the Volcker inquiry against the wheat exporter, it had not engaged in
any wrongdoing.

The real kicker is that AWB forgetfulness
must be contagious – Rudd effectively told The Fin he can’t remember what was
discussed during two 2004 AWB briefings in his office. “Because of opposition
resource constraints, my office has no records of conversations from those
meetings.”

The dog didn’t eat my homework – we
couldn’t afford the paper to do it in the first place.

Meanwhile Australian intelligence officials
are getting a protected ride on the basis of alleged national security – what
the spooks always claim when there’s some embarrassment about. “Spy files on
wheat kickbacks kept secret,”
reports Marian Wilkinson.

But perhaps the most damaging allegation
made in the past 24 hours comes from counsel assisting, John Aguis, while
apparently giving DFAT official Bronte Moules a gentle questioning. Ms Moules’s
line basically seems to be that she didn’t know what the various AWB contracts
meant and was just acting as a post box. Wilkinson reports: “Mr Agius told the inquiry this
hands-off approach to AWB began only in 1996, shortly after the election of the
Howard Government. He said until the mid-1990s documents suggested there was
far more scrutiny by Foreign Affairs ‘to ensure there was no potential
breach of UN sanctions’.”

After all the Rudd and Beazley posturing,
we at last have a hard allegation: the
Howard government called off the dog before it could discover any
homework.

Peter Fray

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