“Up to 16 key AWB figures may face criminal charges over the Iraq kickbacks scandal if the commissioner, Terence Cole, accepts confidential recommendations put to him by senior counsel assisting his inquiry,” the SMH reported on Saturday.
There’s more on the story in The Australian today: “The Howard Government and its officials will narrowly escape punishment for the AWB kickback scandal, with senior counsel to the Cole inquiry recommending no criminal charges against any federal cabinet minister, bureaucrat or official.”

We’re told “a final, confidential submission by senior counsel John Agius is scathing in its description of the Government’s role in the largest trade scandal in Australian history”, but that it “makes no formal adverse findings against Foreign Minister Alexander Downer, former trade minister Mark Vaile, or the former agriculture minister Warren Truss, who now holds the Trade portfolio”.

So, are the ministers, their minders and their mandarins off the hook? Of course not.

Even if the Cole Commission doesn’t recommend charges against Government figures, there’ll still be other trials to come – before and during the election, presumably. Prompt action will need to be taken in a matter like this.

Any defence lawyer worth their salt will presumably have this to say on their client’s behalf: “We did it because the Government thought it would be OK”.

Peter Fray

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