The one thing worse than finding your hot scoop is in fact old news is when your own organisation admits as much within hours. That’s happened with the Oz splash this morning, “New note blows lid on AWB scandal” – the note’s not new and the lid on the AWB scandal by now is keeping poor little Pluto company.

In short order News.com.au was running an AAP report on Al Downer claiming the Oz story was a beat-up, with the third par stating “it has been confirmed the documents are old and were tendered to the inquiry on April 27”. Alexander seems to find comfort in the fact that it’s old news his department was, at best, monumentally incompetent.

In Caroline Overington’s defence, the notes by DFAT official John Quinn are still red hot after the many months they’ve been sitting on the Cole Inquiry web site. They were reported on in May, but arguably could have been given greater prominence (obviously Caroline missed them) given the aim his smoking gun takes at his own department.

But even with an Australian colonel in Iraq telling DFAT that AWB was crooked, the Howard government’s ministerial witness protection scheme was safely in place – no-one told Downer/Vaile/Howard/any minister anything. After all these months, the smell of the government is all over AWB, but no ministerial DNA has been found on the Browning.

I have no knowledge of the process that led to this morning’s Oz splash, but I can imagine there might have been some pressure to produce something on AWB after Deborah Snow’s big SMH feature on Tuesday examining the company’s National Party connections and standover tactics. There’s a follow-up on that today with the Wheat Export Authority finally showing signs of life by expressing “concern” about millions of dollars in potential fees that the AWB could levy on farmers.

The WEA proved to be a heavier sleeper than Rip Van Winkle while AWB was rorting the UN’s food-for-oil scheme. Nice to see it was only a coma and not death.

The bottom line is that the AWB cake is so rich, there’s always plenty of mileage in having another nibble, or putting some back through the Mixmaster.

Peter Fray

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