Emails presented to the Cole corruption inquiry yesterday revealed a “culture” within the board that resulted in an agreement to pay kickbacks – and debate among employees about how to hide them from the UN – in June 1999.
The big news is that the emails were exchanged while the wheat board was a statutory authority, controlled by the Government!
It was privatised the month after the emails, becoming AWB as it listed on the Australian Stock Exchange.
Opposition trade spokesman Kevin Rudd said that in light of the new evidence, the Cole inquiry’s terms of reference should be expanded to incorporate the role of the Howard Government.
“Planning appears to have commenced for corrupt practices when AWB was a statutory authority, when it was still in the direct hands of the Howard Government,” Mr Rudd said.
“This takes the matter to a new plane altogether and the role of the Government must be examined. Commissioner Cole should be allowed to make findings in relation to government, as well as employees of AWB.”
Under the terms of reference set by the Government, the inquiry is confined to examining the role of AWB and two other Australian companies in the payment of kickbacks to Saddam’s regime under the oil-for-food program.
The Howard Government has previously insisted that AWB’s problems were its own, because it was a publicly listed company with no links to the Government.
Foreign Minister Alexander Downer was in his role at the time of the AWB privatisation.
Mr Downer is on leave and could not be contacted.
Mr Rudd accused Mr Downer of hiding from the AWB scandal: “My challenge
to Mr Downer is: Alex, Alex, come out, come out from wherever you are.
The Australian people would liketo listen to what you’ve got to say.”
Mark Vaile, now Nationals leader and Deputy Prime Minister, replaced Tim Fischer as trade minister in July 1999.
Mr Vaile refused to comment on the revelation. His spokesman said: “The minister will not be giving a running commentary on evidence presented to the Cole inquiry. He will wait until the inquiry is complete.”
Edited excerpts from The Australian: AWB plotted bribes before float Caroline Overington
January 26, 2006