World Video | Defence | Foreign Affairs | Natural Events | Trade | NZ in World News | NZ National News Video | NZ Regional News | Search

 

PM Howard on AWB, Cole Inquiry

Transcript Of The Prime Minister The Hon John Howard MP Interview With Tony Eastley, AM Programme, ABC Radio

Subject: AWB, Cole Inquiry.

E&OE……………………………………………………………………………………

JOURNALIST:

Well the Prime Minister joins us now. Prime Minister good morning and welcome to AM

PRIME MINISTER:

Good morning Tony.

JOURNALIST:

You wrote to the Australian Wheat Board in 2002. In that letter you said that ‘in view of the importance of the matter’ - that’s the Iraqi wheat contract – ‘that the AWB and the Government keep in close contact in order to get a satisfactory outcome in the longer term.’ Did they do that?

PRIME MINISTER:

I think they did keep in contact. I certainly wrote that letter and why wouldn’t I? I was doing my job. What everybody wanted in 2002 and not least Mr Rudd was that Australian wheat sales to Iraq should go on because Iraq was a very important market, and when after a visit to Iraq by AWB it was announced that the wheat sales were going to be resumed Mr Rudd issued a statement in which he said this; he congratulated the AWB for achieving ‘a commercial outcome in the midst of the difficult foreign policy environment which had been delivered to them by the Foreign Minister.’ Now what was happening in 2002 was that everybody was saying to the Government. ‘We understand that you are critical of Saddam Hussein, but you have got to do everything you legitimately can to preserve our wheat sales to Iraq and by writing to AWB Limited, that is exactly what I was doing and I don’t find this letter embarrassing. I don’t find it proves what Mr Rudd rather breathlessly says it does. It would have been astonishing in 2002 if as Prime Minister I hadn’t done everything I possibly could to preserve Australia’s very valuable wheat market.

JOURNALIST:

Shortly after that letter was written, an AWB delegation, lead by Mr Lindberg, the fellow you wrote the letter to, ended up in Iraq. Now they were accompanied by officials from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. Then, according to the Cole inquiry evidence, millions of dollars were paid, or agreed to be paid in kickbacks. Now after that trip to Iraq did you follow up and meet with Mr Lindberg?

PRIME MINISTER:

When they came back from Iraq, there was a meeting between the leaders of AWB and the Foreign Minister. I called in on that meeting and we just had a very brief discussion. There had been an issue regarding the wheat which had been resolved. We were pleased about that. Mr Rudd was jubilant. He said that AWB Limited had achieved this outcome…

JOURNALIST:

…Did he say how they’d achieved the outcome?

PRIME MINISTER:

No they didn’t go into any detail. We had no suspicion, no suggestion there had been any bribes paid. Now look, I am in a difficult position. The Cole inquiry has not yet heard evidence in rebuttal, so to speak from AWB. Therefore, I don’t want to pre-judge what the inquiry is going to say. What essentially I am doing now is to answer these absurd claims by Mr Rudd that writing a letter that everybody in the industry would have expected me to have written in 2002, in some way implicates the Government in the payment of bribes. We were in no way involved with the payment of bribes. We didn’t condone them, we didn’t have knowledge of them, but we did work closely with AWB and I make no bones about it. I mean I had no reason to believe that AWB Limited wasn’t just going all out to preserve Australia’s wheat sales to Iraq. That is what we wanted them to do. That is what Mr Rudd wanted them to do and that is what every wheat grower in Australia wanted them to do.

JOURNALIST:

Some people might be a little bit keen to know though that an export crisis had been averted. You had asked these people to keep in close contact in order that satisfactory outcomes…

PRIME MINISTER:

…If you want the answer to that, there is certainly within my own direct knowledge and on the advice I have been given there is no suggestion that I was told, any of my colleagues were told, or anybody in the Government Departments were told of matters suggesting that bribes had been paid, if that is the question that you are posing, or you rightly say people are curious about. And the reason that we are having this inquiry into AWB Limited is because of the finding of the Volcker inquiry. Volcker wanted governments to investigate whether there had been any breaches of their domestic law and that is exactly what we are doing. And can I also remind your listeners, including people who are critical of the Government that at the beginning of this inquiry, counsel assisting the Cole inquiry said it was fully investigating the role of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. From the very beginning there has been no suggestion that the role of the Government was not being investigated and if people from the Departments are required to give evidence, they will give evidence. If any ministers are asked to give evidence, they will give evidence.

JOURNALIST:

The letter that we go back to that you wrote to Mr Lindberg, 2002. Two years before that the UN had warned the Australian Government that sanctions against Iraq may be being breached and this was cabled to your office. So was any action taken about that? Weren’t there alarm bells ringing…

PRIME MINISTER:

..There were no alarm bells, there was no suggestion, there was no evidence before us that AWB was paying any bribes. I mean the whole focus, it is very easy for Mr Rudd now to get into a lather of sweat. But the whole focus in 2002…

JOURNALIST:

…The UN was the one, not Mr Rudd…

PRIME MINISTER:

…No, no, well Mr Rudd is certainly worked up about it as well, but the whole focus in 2002 was preserving Australia’s wheat sales and that is what the Government legitimately did and at no stage did we come across any evidence that there were bribes being paid. If we had we obviously would have done and said a great deal about it.

JOURNALIST:

Did you look for any evidence?

PRIME MINISTER:

Well we had no evidence - you don’t gratuitously look for something if you don’t have any evidence, or have any cause to look for something, that is the point I am making.

JOURNALIST:

After the visit to Iraq by Mr Lindberg, who was accompanied by the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade officials. In 2003 the United States, not the United Nations this time, but the United States raised concerns about the AWB with Mark Vaile. So what action was taken about that?

PRIME MINISTER:

You have to bear in mind that the United States is a trade competitor for the Iraqi wheat trade…

JOURNALIST:

…But they’re a good friend…

PRIME MINISTER:

…They might be a good friend, but they are also a bitter commercial rival. Let’s not kid ourselves. The American were doing everything…the American wheat industry has done everything it possibly can to criticise the Australian wheat industry in order to take the Iraqi wheat market from us. And in fact, in both 2002, 2003 the complaint by a lot of people was that the Americans were trying to steal our market. Now,as to precisely what Mr Vaile personally did in relation to those claims you’d have to ask him. I don’t have direct knowledge of it but I am quite satisfied from my discussions with him that there were no substance in them.

JOURNALIST:

If the inquiry recommends it, will you agree to widen the terms of the inquiry and examine the Government’s role in the scandal.

PRIME MINISTER:

If there is any request from the inquiry for changes, we will obviously properly consider that. I am not going to anticipate things, I am not going to hypothesise. I’d simply point out that from the very beginning counsel assisting has said that it’s investigating the role of the Government. If there are departmental officers called, they will attend. If there is any request for ministers to go, they will respond to those requests and attend. We established this inquiry, we didn’t have to, but we did. We gave it the powers of a Royal Commission and I am not going to prejudge its outcome but obviously if it makes any request then that request will be considered on the merits according to the circumstances. I am not going to say yes or no in advance. That would be foolish. I don’t know what the nature of the request might be and it’s a purely hypothetical question.

JOURNALIST:

Prime Minister John Howard thanks for joining us this morning.

PRIME MINISTER:

Thank you.

[End]

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
World Headlines

 

Rohingya Muslims Massacred: Restrictions On Aid Put 1000s At Risk

Amnesty: The Myanmar authorities’ restrictions on international aid in Rakhine state is putting tens of thousands of lives at risk in a region where mainly Rohingya people are already suffering horrific abuses from a disproportionate military campaign. More>>

ALSO:

Werewolf: Gordon Campbell On North Korea, Neo-Nazism, And Milo

With a bit of luck the planet won’t be devastated by nuclear war in the next few days. US President Donald Trump will have begun to fixate on some other way to gratify his self-esteem – maybe by invading Venezuela or starting a war with Iran. More>>

ALSO:

Victory Declared: New Stabilisation Funding From NZ As Mosul Is Retaken

New Zealand has congratulated the Iraqi government on the successful liberation of Mosul from ISIS after a long and hard-fought campaign. More>>

Gordon Campbell: On The Current US Moves Against North Korea

If Martians visited early last week, they’d probably be scratching their heads as to why North Korea was being treated as a potential trigger for global conflict... More>>

ALSO:

Gordon Campbell: On The Lessons From Corbyn’s Campaign

Leaving partisan politics aside – and ignoring Jeremy Corbyn’s sensational election campaign for a moment – it has to be said that Britain is now really up shit creek... More>>

ALSO:

 
 
 
 
 
 
  • Pacific.Scoop
  • Cafe Pacific
  • PMC