Early in
February, Anthony McClelland praised the Cole Inquiry’s spin skills in his
column in The Australian‘s Media section:


The Cole inquiry was set up by the Government
to satisfy international political trade needs, but I doubt those who did so
thought they would be getting the daily headlines that just keep getting more
incredible. And there is an even greater behind-the-scenes battle going on
between the inquiry and AWB, a battle being played out in the media.

The Batman and Robin legal tag team of
commissioner Terence Cole and senior counsel assisting, John Agius, QC, is
relentless in its pressure on AWB and its hapless witnesses.

It’s reasonably clear that a tactical decision
has been taken by the commission to use publicity and ridicule as weapons
against those who are less than co-operative. And they have been very effective…

[Cole and Agius] seem centred on making sure
the media is fed, and fed well…

Michelle
Grattan picked up the theme in her column in The Sunday Age
yesterday. “Commissioner Terence Cole has staged rollicking good theatre so
far,” she wrote. But there was more:

Now we’re to be treated to a new and rare act.
Downer and Vaile have been asked to produce statements. They’re then expected
to be called into the witness box. This will be fascinating, for what they say and
how they say it. In Parliament they can bluster if they like. The commission is
another matter…

As Grattan
says, there are risks for both sides of politics here. If the Ministers haven’t
told the full story, there’ll be problems. If they’re vindicated, the Labor
case collapses.

But what
about Cole’s tactics? Things had been ramped up so it became virtually
inevitable that ministers would have to give evidence – and, hey presto.

It’s
awkward for the Government, but might end up being easier for the Prime
Minister – if he isn’t caught up in things, of course. For all the noise over
the AWB scandal, it hasn’t really struck a chord with the public. That air of inevitability
will help.

Losing
ministers is never nice, but if it happens it won’t be such a bolt from the
blue. And is that yet another example of how clever Cole’s tactics have been?

Peter Fray

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