The ALP’s lousy sense of timing and overall stupidity has overshadowed a rather hot subtlety ticking away in the Cole Report – the federal government is not out of the woods and is likely to face criminal trials over its role.

Of course Howard and co won’t be in the defendant’s box, but they will nevertheless be on trial as the possible criminal prosecutions recommended by Cole pretty much relate to defrauding, misleading or lying to Australian public officials.

Thus, unless AWB and AWBI are convicted, it certainly won’t have been established beyond reasonable doubt that Howard, Downer and Vaile are innocent.

If there’s a double negative running around in there somewhere, well, it is the AWB scandal.

What’s also been entirely overlooked is that all the recommended possible criminal charges against the “dirty dozen” depend on AWB itself being first convicted of the crimes. The possible criminal breaches for the individuals are couched by Cole as being accessories to AWB’s possible criminal behaviour.

Which leaves quite a lot riding on criminal prosecutions of AWB and AWBI. That, in turn, could lead one to speculate about the possible plea bargaining that might yet be conducted.

There’s a great deal more at stake in a criminal case and we need look no further than the lamentable Steve Vizard matter to see how willing an authority can be to do a deal to avoid a very expensive and hard-fought legal stoush.

If Labor wasn’t so busy fiddling with itself, it could still be pursuing the government over the AWB stench. But who cares about bringing down Howard when you can knock off a much softer target?

Meanwhile there are corporate matters that flow from Cole’s recommendations that are yet to be considered, the media pack having spent the weekend consumed by the fate of the single desk instead.

Back from the sin bin (surprisingly a couple of kind souls actually offered to bail me out), I shall endeavour to research further and obtain answers to questions asked of the authorities for tomorrow’s non-ALP in-fighting edition.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
Editor-in-chief of Crikey
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