We speculated yesterday that it seemed
AWB’s tactic for damage control was travelling the well-worn path of giving a
few Indians up for slaughter while protecting the chiefs. We were so unkind as
to suggest AWB’s barrister, James Judd, tipped his hand when complaining to the
commission about Bob Bowker (current Australian ambassador to Egypt,
former head of DFAT’s Middle East section) ringing AWB’s middle-level government lobbyist to enquire
about kickback allegations.

“Had he asked someone else, he may well
have gotten a different answer. It might be expected that if the matters had
been addressed properly, then the conduct which has become the subject of
this inquiry might have been nipped in
the bud,” protested Judd QC.

But probably not. What’s missing from the
reports is that Bowker did talk to
someone more senior at AWB in January, 2000, someone who might well have known
exactly what was going on – Nigel Officer, the head of AWB’s global sales and
marketing.

After Bowker asked AWB government relations
officer Andrew McConville about the UN-sourced kickback allegations, McConville
checked with Officer, the man who should know. Nigel assured McConville it was
all ship shape and undertook to speak to Bowker, which he subsequently did.
Bowker was apparently satisfied with Officer’s explanation.

So while there’s plenty of room for the
Cole inquiry and the rest of us to wonder about DFAT’s performance and why it
allegedly went limp on AWB supervision post 1996, it looks like Judd QC was
prepared to sacrifice the wrong Indian on Tuesday.

The AWB chiefs remain on the field and
they’re not dealing with General Custer.

Peter Fray

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