The revelations, viewpoints and angles on the ‘Wheatgate’/’Wheat for Weapons’/’Blood for Wheat’/’AWB Kickback Scandal’ seem to be as numerous as the different names coined for the saga.
After last week joining those who believe our single-desk system for selling wheat should be scrapped, today John Quiggin asks a question I’d been pondering myself – whose money was it that actually paid the bribes. He suggests “the money was in fact stolen from the UN, which in turn held it on behalf of the Iraqi people, who were supposed to be trading oil for food, bypassing the Saddam regime.”
Tim Dunlop has done a series of posts about the scandal criticising the Howard government, but finds himself appearing mild in comparison to the various thumpings the usually strongly pro-Howard Australian newspaper is handing out (not sure if that makes them “Howard Haters” too, like everyone else who dares express a negative view about any action of the Prime Minister).
Backbench Liberal and John Howard confidante, Bill Heffernan, has been complaining loudly that all the tut-tutting and political attacks about the paying of bribes will just end up harming our wheat farmers. Today he’s been outstripped by his best buddy Barnaby, who says its “an argument for the elites but not for the street“.
In a strange contrast to the repeated insistence of Alexander Downer and John Howard that nobody could have been expected to know that AWB was doing dodgy deals, Barnaby says anyone from a backpacker to an exporter trying to sell into the regime understood that the system was inherently corrupt, and “if you didn’t want to deal with a corrupt system you just wouldn’t trade with them at all. You’ll never get anywhere unless the right people are looked after. That would be the case for Iraq full stop. The only way to get around that would be not to deal with Iraq.”
Speaking of Mr Downer, he excelled even his usual standards with a piece he wrote for The Weekend Australian.
AD: There can be no more serious charge than to suggest the Government was aware of kickbacks and acted to cover them up. Yet this is the claim being made by Labor’s Kim Beazley and Kevin Rudd — without any evidence. These men, who aspire to lead this country, are suggesting my colleagues and I are dishonest and corrupt. It is an intemperate and demeaning approach to political debate.
Mr Downer of course has never cast slurs on any of his political opponents. I, on the other hand, have no problem at all in calling him and his colleagues dishonest and corrupt. That has already been established to my satisfaction through their own behaviour on more than one occasion. What hasn’t been established is whether they have acted corruptly in regard to the AWB issue (I think their being dishonest is pretty much a given).
AD: It is astonishing that such an allegation is being peddled by Beazley and Rudd without any supporting evidence. As they well know, written communications are the norm in the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Records of conversation, cables and emails detail myriad negotiations, conversations, briefings and instructions from post to post around the world and back to Canberra every day. The Cole inquiry has access to all DFAT’s staff and records.
As plenty of people know (not least Mr Downer, just as much as Beazley and Rudd), written communications in DFAT are often about recording the ‘official’ Sir Humphrey version. That’s the precise reason why they are the norm, to set a paper trail to cover over anything that might be embarrassing.
AD: In 2003, Labor’s advice was that we leave Saddam in power and continue to rely on the UN’s sanction regime to keep him under pressure. In other words, the Labor plan would have seen the corrupted sanctions regime still in operation.
Finally Alexander reveals the real reason why the government had to invade Iraq. It wasn’t the Weapons of Mass destruction, it wasn’t aiding Al-Qaeda, it was to stop AWB paying bribes. And Labor and the rest of us opposed to the war because we were wanting to the wheat trade going at all costs. It finally makes sense!
AD: We should expect more from politicians and commentators than to use the controversy to make unsubstantiated and incendiary allegations. Those who make such claims should have demanded of them some evidence. Otherwise they should be condemned for inflaming a serious issue for base political purposes.
Ah, it makes me feel so inadequate and ashamed to be faced with such pure standards and morality from our upstanding Foreign Minister. Every time he equated opponents of the Iraq invasion with supporting Saddam’s atrocities, it was clearly based on evidence and not at all about inflaming an issue for base political purposes. Now I recognise his unblemished record of of never making unsubstantiated and incendiary allegations about a political opponent, I can see why his standing for righteous and honest behaviour is so high.