The comedian Sandman sounds like Bernie Fraser but isn’t a former RBA governor. Somewhat similarly, AWB’s version of very expensive “risk consultant” Peter Sandman isn’t quite the same as the picture this Sandman paints of himself.

One of the endlessly fascinating insights the Cole inquiry has provided into AWB’s internal disarray concerns the hiring of Sandman when the board realised its good ship had hit an iceberg and was taking on water fast. The Smage account shows AWB company secretary Dr Richard Fuller – a fella who seems to have a little trouble with document retention – portraying Sandman as someone who believes in “over-apologising”:

Dr Fuller said Mr Sandman was hired last December and devised a plan for AWB to handle the fallout from the UN report and the federal government’s decision to set up a royal commission into the wheat exporter’s activities in Iraq.

“He had a thesis about how to manage these things, and it was essentially to over-apologise; to apologise for things that had happened, to cover the ground and in fact to go further than was necessary, and that was in the interests of the corporation to do that, in terms of its public reputation and its recovery from events such as this,” he said.

Dr Fuller said several drafts of the apology were worked on by Mr Sandman and AWB staff, including himself.

AWB is desperate to keep that unreleased “apology” secret. After paying a fortune for Sandman’s time, they didn’t take his advice. To see how expensive Sandman is, check the US dollars at his website:

My current fee for outrage management work is $650 an hour plus expenses (first-class airfare, hotels, meals, and ground transportation). I charge the same rate whether the time is spent preparing, speaking, consulting, or travelling. (I don’t charge sleeping time!) The hourly rate goes down to $600 for clients who guarantee a minimum of 40 hours over a 12-month period, to $550 for clients who guarantee an 80-hour minimum, and to $500 for clients who guarantee a 120-hour minimum. I am always willing to translate this hourly rate into a flat fee, based on our joint estimate of how much time the job will take.)

If you go beyond the fees and read Sandman’s risk consultancy papers, you don’t find a policy of “over-apologising” as Dr Fuller suggests. There are various degrees of dealing with the “outrage industries” as Sandman calls journalists and their fellow travellers, but “over-apologising” isn’t one of them.

Sandman is the subject of a feature in the current issue of Time on how the US government is dealing publicly with bird flu policy. It includes this paragraph:

Sandman argues that it’s hard to rouse folks from their usual day-to-day routine to prepare for a new threat without also triggering alarm. Besides, a little bit of panic helps folks prepare emotionally for what the future may hold. It’s a necessary kind of “adjustment reaction,” he says, that allows folks to think about what they can and cannot do, so that when the crisis comes they don’t just dissolve into despair and inaction.

Maybe that’s what Sandman was doing inside AWB – giving the headless chook board and dubious management some “adjustment reaction”. Sorry, Pete, it looks like it didn’t work.