HOWARDS WEAPONS FOR WHEAT
The Australian Wheat Board scandal around a $300 million Australian contribution to Saddam Hussein's Iraq has dominated the news in recent months.
However the real scandal is the role of the Howard Government which has allowed and effectively turned a blind eye to the immoral funding of the insurgency responsible for the deaths of more than 2500 Coalition troops in Iraq.
All the while relinquishing its responsibility and due accountability as the Government that signed off on the terms of the agreement.
The Government have purposedly left themselves and their negligence out of the terms of investigation allowed for the Inquiry.
Throughout the five years the scandal ran, three parties were involved in this scandal:
1. AWB (Australian Wheat Board) which paid money to Iraq via a Jordanian intermediary.
2. Saddam Hussein, who gladly took the money; and
3. Howard Government, who in writing, approved the detailed commercial arrangements between the AWB and the Iraqis that made these payments possible and kept the UN and the US off the AWBs back even when the UN lodged formal and serious concerns.
The government received warning after warning - 28 and counting - that this money was being paid to Saddam Hussein in contravention of the oil for food sanctions in place in Iraq at the time.
For Australian companies taking part in oil for food, enforcing sanctions was the responsibility of the Australian government. The Government however have abrogated their responsibility over the matter and are are now trying to put all the blame on AWB.
John Howard denies knowledge of kickbacks cable.
Prime Minister John Howard says he has no recollection of a 2003 diplomatic cable warning that every oil-for-food program contract included kickbacks to the Iraqi regime.
The cable was sent by diplomats in Baghdad to Mr Howard and some of his senior ministers in June 2003.
Mr Howard says the wheat scandal only "came onto his radar" in early 2005.
The Prime Minister has told ABC Radio's AM program that the cable would have been one of hundreds he receives every week and he has no recall of it being drawn to his attention.
"There seems to be an assumption that I spend all day and Mr Downer spends all day reading the hundreds of individual cables that come from all over the world," he said.
"The reality is that those cables come in and those that have a particular urgency, and should be brought to my attention, are brought to my attention, but the great bulk of them aren't."
Federal Opposition Leader Kim Beazley says the cable is now further evidence the Government knew about kickbacks to Saddam Hussein's regime but turned a blind eye.
Mr Beazley says the consequence of the scandal is that Australia helped fund the enemy in Iraq.
"There's been a smoking artillery park fundamentally in all the evidence leading straight back to the Government. They knew all about it, they choose to turn a blind eye to it," he said.
After two months of hearings, the Cole inquiry yesterday heard the strongest evidence yet indicating the Government was warned about AWB kickbacks prior to the United Nations' Volcker Inquiry.
The cable from Australian diplomats in Baghdad dated June 2003 says the Coalition's provisional authority's oil-for-food office believed that from late 2000 that all oil-for-food contracts contained kickbacks to former dictator Saddam Hussein's regime.
Labor says the cable blows apart the Government's defence.
Mr Howard has said he became aware only last year that AWB was under suspicion and he repeated that on ABC TV's Lateline program on Monday night.
"In the beginning of 2005 I was told by my department that came out of our mission to the UN in New York that Mr Volcker was unhappy with the level of cooperation he was receiving in relation to his inquiry and that he entertains suspicions about AWB," he said.
That does not fit with the timeline presented at the Cole inquiry.
Labor's foreign affairs spokesman Kevin Rudd says the Opposition has tracked down now some 26 sets of warnings to the Howard Government.
"But this I've got to say, is the sharpest and most direct of them all," Mr Rudd said.