So… a summary of top secret
documents handed to AWB Commissioner Terence Cole by the intelligence
agencies yesterday shows our spies have known for eight years
that the trucking company Alia which channelled money to Iraq for the
Wheat Board was part-owned by Saddam’s regime in breach of UN
sanctions. And in separate evidence, a senior Department of Foreign
Affairs and Trade officer said she knew AWB used Alia six years ago.

Foreign
Minister Alexander Downer’s spokesman has said “What the Cole inquiry
unearthed does not make a link between Alia and AWB.” He has also
pointed out that the information was based on nasty foreign
intelligence – not dinky-di Aussie info – and does not change what the
government has said about its involvement in the scandal. His boss has plugged this line
this morning: “Of course, in the context of the time, it’s likely to be
useful to the Government in relation to the issues that we’re dealing
with,” the Foreign Minister told AM. “This wasn’t perceived, I guess, by anybody at the time as being a major problem.”

Well…
We’ve got to respect Cole’s decision from earlier in the week on the
national security aspects of intelligence material before the Inquiry –
but given the lines Downer’s spinning today, it’s easy to imagine the
line the Government spun Cole.

The sheer fact that Cole asked
for summaries to be made so that the gist of the material could be made
public suggests he has reservations about the Government’s case.

Counsel assisting the Cole inquiry, John Agius SC, has highlighted DFAT’s “post box” role in the matter under the Howard Government.

This,
of course, highlights the degree of deniability over dialogue between
ministers and mandarins and their senior staff – and how and if the
word filtered through the system not to push AWB too hard as it sought
to keep the export tonnages up.

It will be interesting now to
see who Cole puts in the box, under oath, from the government side. Who
they are and how their evidence gets cross-referenced will be vital to
discovering the truth.

Peter Fray

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