A big, big story is unfolding this week at a Royal Commission being conducted in Sydney by Justice Terence Cole into "Certain Australian Companies in Relation to the UN Oil-For-Food Programme". Australia's biggest agribusiness company appears to be up to its neck in it, and so too the Howard Government.
In short, AWB (formerly the Australian Wheat Board), Australia's monopoly wheat exporter, was named in the UN report as one of the companies alleged to have been giving kickbacks to the Iraqi government whilst sanctions were in place. Testimony before the Cole Royal Commission is supporting those allegations, with some extraordinarily bad attempts at arse-covering by AWB executives this week.
The most interesting revelations surround the evidence that AWB's kickback activity began before July 1999. That was the date when the AWB was privatised - before that it was a Government-owned business enterprise.
I'm not going to attempt to analyse the nitty-gritty of this latest scandal to stain the Howard Government's CV, rather give some links by which you can follow the development of this extraordinary story:
- The website of the Independent Inquiry Committee into the UN Oil-for-Food Programme, which handed down its findings on 27 October 2005 (press release in PDF)
- The UN news website's coverage and official reaction to the Oil-for-Food Inquiry
- AWB's reaction to being named in the report (press release in PDF)
- BBC Online's coverage of the Oil-for-food Scandal
- The Australian Attorney-General's Department's website for the Cole Royal Commission.
- I have also set up a playlist of nine MP3 files from the ABC website covering news reports of the Royal Commission so far this week (about 36 minutes of listening all up). Here's a link to today's latest story on the ABC website.
- Here's an op-ed by The Australian's Mike Steketee in today's edition, which also featured an extraordinary letter to the editor by Global Village Idiot Alexander Downer (he's on holidays you see and therefore can't issue an official press release).
Significantly, the terms of reference for the Royal Commission only refer to investigating the role of "certain Australian companies" in the Oil-for-food program, not the role of the Australian government. The circumstantial evidence forthcoming from this hearing will, nonetheless, be dynamite. Federal Parliament resumes sitting on February 7.
Planning a distraction yet, JH?