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Monday, April 10, 2006

Vaile, venality and vacuity

His written statement addressed 21 diplomatic cables about suspected irregularities in AWB contracts, and 21 times he said: "I have no recollection of receiving or reading this cable."

This is the summation of Mark Vaile's evidence given to-day at the Cole Inquiry into the oil-for-food scandal uncovered by the United Nations which showed AWB, Australia's single-desk wheat seller, was the biggest subscriber, through bribery sometimes known as 'facilitation fees', to Saddam Hussein's coffers.

It appears from to-day's evidence that - if the Cole Inquiry's Terms of Reference allowed it - it would be possible to draw a conclusion that Mark Vaile, Deputy Prime Minister of Australia, Minister for Trade and Leader of the National Party (a rural rump agriculturally based party), has been negligent in his administration of the Department of Trade.

The sort of support the AWB expected of and was provided by the AustralianGovernment was something worthy of Australia Inc dogma and politics. Tim Costello - CEO of World Vision, aid activist and brother of Australian Treasurer Peter Costello - suggested at a public meeting in Melbourne yesterday that official government aid money was diverted from AusAid to the benefit of AWB in its dealings with and in Iraq.

Now the taxpayers of this country, the defence forces of this country who have been sent to the mess of Iraq, those who expect ethical and responsible governance require answers. At this point of the inquiry, those of us on the outside looking in are left to think that Ministers including the Prime Minister and their Heads of Departments were asleep at the wheel at best and complicit or negligent in their attitudes to malfeasance at worst.

Oh, and by the way, Vaile's evidence carried a sting in its tail. A desperate throw of the dice, perhaps? A little insurance? He mentioned that he had no ministerial responsibility for the United Nations or its oil-for-food program in Iraq. The person who has will be next cab off the rank, to-morrow.