Michael Pascoe writes:

The press gallery will take a while for
their excitement over the Prime Minister’s utterly predictable Cole
appearance to die down, but after a few deep breaths and a little lie down,
they’ll come round to realising nothing happened but might wonder what will happen.

It will go like this:

Secure in its defence of mere incompetence
and not believing they never knew nuffink, your honour, the three cabinet
monkeys are off the hook and only have to suffer the Rudd and Beazley huffing
and puffing … an act that seems to go nowhere with the voters while
unemployment and interest rates remain low.

The incompetence within DFAT’s ranks might
have to be rewarded with a promotion or two, perhaps an ambassadorship or deputy-secretaryship,
a la DIMA and children overboard. There will no doubt be “a review” of
procedures somewhere.

If Terence Cole is feeling particularly
independent and strays beyond his terms of reference, he might hint at our
spooks needing to actually assess some of the intelligence that comes to them.
(That’s a very big “might” but given the relationship between the spooks and
AWB, maybe he’ll feel he needs to say something.) The good part about that for
the spooks is that it becomes a reason to ask for more money come budget time.
And it’s all nudge, nudge, wink, wink anyway.

Which leaves AWB. That’s where all the
shots are going to be fired. The AWB board will offer a watered-down version of
the three monkeys’ “we were never told”, but it won’t wash nearly as well. Just
on the Tigris deal, the board has to be cleaned out with only the most recent
appointments left standing.

The AWB senior management is left sitting
squarely in Cole’s cross hairs – and this is where the finger pointing will become interesting.

You know who AWB is going to blame for the
whole $300 million? The staff at the frontline, specifically, those who have
blown the whistle and rolled over. In
the time-honoured fashion, they’ll be cut loose and let swing. For such
strategies are many lawyers hired.

Unless those troops down the line have
rock-solid documentary evidence that they were acting under orders…well, you
know how the systems operate.

And AWB itself? A half-reasonable man would
think it must lose the wheat export monopoly. A reasonable man would think the
wheat export monopoly itself would be given a genuinely independent review –
unlike the sort of thing the farmers commission to tell themselves what they
want to hear.

But this is about politics, not reason. AWB
will have to share some of the monopoly in the fashion already telegraphed by
the industry in dealing with Iraq. The
agrarian socialist instincts aren’t to be denied this time. And AWB’s other export dealings, other
possible kickbacks and bribes? There will certainly be no inquiry into them.

Peter Fray

Independent journalism at a Boxing Day price

You knew it was coming, so here it is, our Boxing Day offer. But this is different to the other offers out there.

Dig this: save 50% on a year of Crikey.

Usually $199, use the promo code BOXINGDAY2020 to get half price on your annual membership before midnight December 30.

Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey

SAVE 50%