Stephen
Barton, the director of the National Institute for Governance at the University of Canberra, writing in the Canberra Times
spin-off The Public Sector Informant, has provided us with the neatest summary
of the hottest issues facing the Cole Inquiry:

Ministerial involvement must lie somewhere
between two extremes: a) neither knowing nor having any reason to
inquire about
the kickbacks, and b) explicitly endorsing them. Both are implausible.
No matter
what you think of it, the government is not likely to have explicitly
approved
these payments. Equally, even strong supporters of the government have
argued
it could have asked more searching questions at the time. Where exactly
the government falls in between these poles is not yet settled – which
is why it
remains hotly contested…

And he
rather naughtily added: “The government has somehow managed media coverage on
the affair to the extent that it would just about take a personal letter from
Saddam Hussein saying ‘thanks for all the cash’ before a minister had to take
responsibility for the affair.”

So no
wonder Alexander Downer and Mark Vaile have both received letters from the Commissioner.

But if Ministers
are being asked to provide statements, what about ministerial staffers – like
one who got a mention during the week, the former foreign affairs adviser to
the PM and now ASIO head, Paul O’Sullivan.

On
Wednesday, Kim Beazley asked the Prime Minister about “evidence presented to the Cole inquiry that his own senior adviser on
international policy at the time, Paul O’Sullivan,
coached the AWB on its dealings with Volcker as late as June 2005 to ‘keep
your responses narrow and technical’ and ‘complain about the process’.” Doesn’t
that deserve some follow up?

And there’s
one former public servant who doesn’t seem be getting talked about – the former
head of PM&C, Max Moore-Wilton, for the role he played in fattening up the
Wheat Board for privatisation.

Peter Fray

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