The Australian public might have
reached the view that John Howard and his colleagues are not telling the truth,
the whole truth and nothing but as the opinion polls are saying but I suspect
there’s also a majority view that the AWB really had no option but to do what
it did. Certainly Australia’s wheat
farmers are not condemning their industry leaders for paying some very large
back handers.

That kind of dirty work is what growers think always happens and
if Australia didn’t do
it sales would be lost to someone else who did. So, at the risk of joining the
Prime Minister in the dock for contempt, the likely conclusion of the Royal
Commission that AWB is guilty and the Government is innocent is completely the
opposite to what the voters think.

For the Labor Party this has
presented something of a dilemma. It wants to gain votes by painting the
Coalition as untrustworthy liars and/or fools without losing support in rural
Australia by going
too hard on AWB and its methods. Only Greens and Democrats can see an advantage
in taking the ethical stand that paying bribes is wrong under any circumstances
and hiding (or not trying to discover) them is wrong as well.

Being politicians of principle is
sure to stand the two minor parties in good stead. Their message in the 18
months until the next federal poll can be a simple one: being dishonest and
defrauding the United Nations did not save a market for Australian wheat
growers.

On the contrary it guaranteed that two countries which refused to pay
Saddam’s kickbacks – the United States and
Canada – will in future share
what was AWB’s biggest market. I can hear Bob Brown saying it now: crime does
not pay.

Peter Fray

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