I’ve been remiss in my non-coverage of the developing AWB scandal. Fortunately, GetUp! has a succinct and very funny spoof AWB commercial that gets you right up to date with everything you need to know.
For much more detail, however, you can’t go past Tim Dunlop, who has too many posts on the subject to link individually. Just scroll down and read them all. The case is now unarguable that Howard and Downer at least knew about the AWB’s Saddam kickbacks some years ago, and Downer even actively tried to limit Australia’s co-operation with the UN Volcker enquiry (contrary to previous claims by both Downer and Howard).
The trouble is, as I’ve commented before, that the reaction of many if not most voters to revelations that the politicians knew about the Saddam bribes but lied will be a barely stifled yawn. “Is the Pope a Catholic?”, I can hear them scoffing.
What interests me now is why Commissioner Cole hasn’t already requested an expansion in his Commission’s terms of reference to cover knowledge and actions of public servants and Ministers. My initial suspicion was that Cole would run a tame-cat enquiry and make no attempt to pursue possible government knowledge or involvement. But events have proven that hypothesis wrong. The conduct of the enquiry to date has been exemplary and determined. But, as a matter of law, Commissioner Cole won’t be able to make any substantive findings or recommendations about public servants, Departments or Ministers, unless the terms of reference are wide enough to encompass them (and they currently aren’t).
Moreover, if he intends making any such findings or recomendations, Commissioner Cole is obliged as a matter of natural justice to flag that possibility expressly so as to give those affected by any such adverse finding a proper opportunity to defend themselves. Given that that will inevitably significantly prolong the hearings, I would have expected that Commissioner Cole would have sought the extension of his terms of reference by now, and also flagged the potential adverse findings. I wonder why he hasn’t. Perhaps there is even more damaging evidence still to come, and he’s waiting until the case for expanded terms of reference is so overwhelming that Howard will have no political choice but to accede to the request.