The slow but steady revelations from the Cole Royal Commission are gradually revealing the bleeding obvious – if Government Ministers did not know that AWB were paying kickbacks to Saddam Hussein in direct contravention of the UN Oil for Food program, it is because they were absolutely determined not to know.
Even though the scandal doesn’t relate to the wheat export monopoly arrangements (although one could argue that a monopoly position in itself creates a culture that makes corruption more likely), it has also led to an outbreak of hostilities in the agri-politics sector about whether the single desk selling arrangement should remain in place.
One telling aspect of this scandal is that The Australian newspaper, whose editorial line normally stridently spruiks John Howard’s neo-conservative ideology, is the media outlet running the strongest attacks on the feeble defence being offered up by Mr Howard and his government. Their front-page headline yesterday – “Everyone in Canberra Knew of Kickbacks” – doesn’t exactly pull any punches. I’m not sure why this is – maybe they find the old style agrarian socialism of the AWB’s export monopoly offensive.
Other pieces from The Australian which detail the evidence that backs up their criticisms, can be found “here – Dodging the real issue – and here – “Early plan to tell Downer”. That’s not to say that other papers are ignoring the issue. This piece from The Age – “PM warned of kickback demands” – details some of the facts.
As for the future of the single desk, I’ve been getting media releases and letters from a wide array of grower groups, farmer bodies and assorted produce groups all with differing views about what should happen with the current arrangements.
Michelle Grattan analyses the issue in this piece – Pressure pushing the lid off marketing debate – and The Australian suggests that “change is inevitable”.
It would be best for this issue to be sorted out once the dust settles from the Cole Inquiry, but given that may not happen for a while yet, the pressure to consider changes to the single desk may need to be resolved before then.
ELSEWHERE: Some coverage of the issue on the blogospehre as well:
A lot of detail and further comments at The Road to Surfdom.
A good piece by economist Nicholas Gruen at Club Troppo. It includes the following statement (which I am somewhat sceptical about, but it is none the less worth noting that such a view is held):
today I was rung by a jouno in Honkers from the Wall St journal who commented that this was the biggest scandal of its kind EVER. The journo was amazed that it wasn’t being taken more seriously in Oz