John Howard this morning dutifully played
the third of the Cabinet monkeys who neither heard, saw or spoke any evil while
AWB was kicking back to Saddam. And the
phrasing of his denials was very carefully crafted, as usual, to deny the
possibility that he did know.

“I
believe that I did not receive or read any of the relevant cables at any time
during the relevant period,” AAP reports Howard as saying. “I
believe that the contents of the relevant cables were not brought to my
attention at any time during the relevant period.”


Belief, like faith, is a wonderful thing. Just as “an opinion” allows a journalist to
say more without falling foul of defamation laws, having a “belief” is much
safer than stating a fact.

From the day the Cole inquiry began to
stray into the federal government’s role, the Prime Minister has been very
careful to couch his denials and defences of his ministers in those sorts of
terms. And that is all he has to do. As long as he doesn’t believe he knew and
no-one can prove otherwise, he’s done nothing wrong.

As we first opined some months ago and
Howard subsequently confirmed, calling the Cole inquiry is the government’s
primary defence. And that’s the line Howard is predictably sticking to. It might
even be true. AAP:

“The culpability of AWB did not really enter my mind until 2005,”
Mr Howard said. “There was absolutely no belief anywhere in the government at that time
that AWB was anything other than a company of great reputation.

“There was nothing by way of hard evidence in the allegation and it
would appear on the face of it the matter was going to be dealt with.”

Counsel assisting the inquiry, John Agius SC asked Mr Howard if he had
been
aware of the warning raised in the cable, would it have stayed in his
mind? Mr Howard replied: “Not necessarily because attacking the
behaviour of
one’s trade competitors in the international wheat trade is fairly
common.”

It was all over as quickly as forecast, an
hour neither strutting or fretting on the Cole stage and the Prime Minister was
gone the way he came, through the front door, unlike his Foreign Minister. And
the evidence signified nothing.

Image courtesy of Heynick.com – the internet art gallery of Australian artist Nick Bleasel.

Peter Fray

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