David Marr does DFAT in his wrap of Cole today – and does it pretty comprehensively:

Mr Vaile and entourage – including a body guard of Middle Eastern appearance who knelt in the aisle as his master gave evidence – were only the afternoon attraction in a day spent on what seems a single mission: putting the best face on failure.

There was David Stewart, first assistant secretary international security division in the Foreign Affairs Department – a spook’s spook with a comb over – who explained how reasonable it was that Australia’s top diplomats failed to put two and two together despite years of intelligence reports about exactly the sort of sanctions-busting AWB was getting up to…

It’s not the only mauling DFAT has received lately. Rebecca Weisser went them in The Weekend Australian – went them and went to the top:

He was Alexander Downer’s Sir Humphrey, a well rewarded, long-serving public servant who ran the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and was bound by law to keep the minister fully informed at all times.
Most of the significant diplomatic memos uncovered by Terence Cole’s ongoing inquiry into wheat kickbacks in Iraq were addressed to Ashton Calvert. Calvert was a veteran diplomat who, as DFAT secretary during the crucial years from 1998 to 2004, was responsible for the department that monitored dealings by AWB, formerly the Australian Wheat Board, with Iraq under the UN’s oil-for-food scheme.

Yet Calvert’s name has barely been mentioned in the inquiry, where middle-ranking diplomats have been left to answer for the department’s allowing almost $300 million in kickbacks to be paid to Saddam Hussein’s regime. While the demise of the concept of ministerial responsibility has been a subject of much discussion, Calvert’s reputation has been protected by a parallel trend in the public service: the demise of secretarial responsibility…

…Calvert, the $300,000-a-year chief executive responsible for juggling these competing aims, is not expected to front the Cole inquiry…

DFAT exists to facilitate trade, not do it. Yet we have heard much about how the Department has seen its role on the wheat shipments to Iraq as a “post box” for the AWB.

Former Sydney Morning Herald editor Vic Carroll put in well in a letter to the Fin Review. “Foreign affairs took second place to trade,” he said. “Good government was an also-ran.”

“Calvert had a professional responsibility to ensure AWB was not paying bribes,” The Weekend Australian commented. “So why didn’t he investigate? It wasn’t just that ‘decent chaps don’t check up on decent chaps to see that they’re behaving like decent chaps’, to recall the Yes Minister television series. Had Calvert discovered and revealed that AWB was paying bribes to Saddam, he would have been obliged to stop AWB paying them, with a subsequent loss of wheat exports.”

Interestingly, the paper also mentioned how Calvert is now a director of Woodside.

Also interestingly Jon Philp, Woodside Energy’s international relations manager, is a former Australian ambassador to Turkey.

And, interestingly, Turkey is next to Iraq.

Peter Fray

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