It’s taken a long time, but the report of the Royal Commission has been tabled into the scandal of bribes being paid to Saddam’s Iraqi regime to secure Australian wheat exports. I did a series of posts on this back in February this year. Things appear much the same now as they appeared back then.
It is quite possible that the internal Coalition wrangling over the future of wheat exports, and the financial harm that’s been done to some wheat growers, will cause the government greater pain than the issues of bribes to Saddam, breaching UN sanctions, dishonest or poor public administration and the like.
There will be three main issues flowing out the report:
- Firstly, the political consequences to the government (and possibly to its opponents for failing to get a ‘scalp’).
- Secondly, the further investigations and possible charges and trials of various former executives of AWB (which may impact on the political consequences)
- Thirdly, the future of Australia’s wheat export markets and what happens to the current ‘single-desk’ system, where all exports have to go through a single body and can be vetoed by AWB.
I’ll leave others to argue about the political winners and losers. Leaving aside all of the other factors, the things that distresses me most is what it shows about how badly public administration has deteriorated – a sure sign of a government that’s been in power a long time and believes this is the natural order of things.
One example of this is Alexander Downer once again using the excuse that “you don’t know what you don’t know” as a reason for why action wasn’t taken. This sort of self-evident, closed-loop logic is being used to excuse virtually everything these days – whether it’s the mistakes over weapons of mass destruction or the failure to recognise the civil war which Iraq has descended into.
The real question is what people in such positions should know. The regular practice is to avoid knowing things that might make life more difficult – particularly if it involves one’s mates. Put all the stuff about who’s a liar and who’s corrupt to one side. Heaps of Foreign Affairs staff all around the world sending cables to Canberra about all sorts of matters, yet the Minister doesn’t read them. It’s just really really poor administration. For a variety of reasons, this one came to light in a spectacular way, but it is happening everyday in so many areas. Bad laws, badly administered, with short-term self-interest reigning supreme.