House debates

Thursday, 9 February 2006

Deputy Prime Minister; Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry; Minister for Transport and Regional Services

Censure Motion

3:16 pm

Photo of Gavan O'ConnorGavan O'Connor (Corio, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Agriculture and Fisheries) Share this | Hansard source

The scandal is of such proportions that there is simply no credible defence for the government in the matter. The government claims that it knew nothing of the kickbacks in face of the evidence that we now know was presented to it over several years. On that basis alone, it is culpable on a grand scale. If it did know of the kickbacks and failed to act on that information, it is culpable on an infinitely greater scale. Either way, it stands condemned for its failure to act on this matter—its failure to investigate AWB’s involvement in the payment of kickbacks to the Iraqi regime.

The minister comes to the table and tells this House that the Wheat Export Authority, headed by a National Party mate—or headed by a mate—did not give any advice to him or other ministers on the kickbacks that had been paid. I say to the minister: why didn’t you act on these warnings? In June 1999 the Iraqi Grains Board invites AWB to respond to a new tender that includes a new price term: ‘CIF free in truck to all governorates’. On 14 July AWB enters three contracts with the Iraqi Grains Board under the oil for food program—the first AWB contracts to incorporate the new contractual terms for inland transport. You were the minister. The minister claims he did not know of these particular contracts and the changed circumstance.

On 21 December 1999 the Canadian government tells the UN about a proposed contract where Iraq is demanding a payment of $700,000 to a Jordanian bank account to cover inland transport costs. The Canadians tell the UN that they understand that Australia has already entered into this kind of contract—and the minister and the government did not know about it. On 2 January the UN raises concerns with Australia’s permanent mission to the UN about issues of irregular payments to the Iraq regime—and the minister claims that he knew nothing about it. On 7 March 2001 the New York Times carries an article on abuse of the oil for food campaign, including bogus inland transport charges—and the minister claims to this House that he and the government knew nothing about it. In May 2002 the US General Accounting Office presents a report on weapons of mass destruction and gives details of the rorting of the oil for food program by the addition of surcharges on contracts. The minister has a department advising him on these matters, and he comes into this House claiming he had no knowledge of it. On 22 October 2003 US Senator Tom Daschle writes to President Bush to ask him to investigate allegations that Australia sold wheat to Iraq at inflated prices which incorporated the inland transport costs—and the minister claims today he knew nothing about it.

Ignorance, incompetence and negligence are no excuse for the worst scandal that Australia has seen, which is now damaging Australia’s great wheat industry, and the responsibility lies at the feet of Howard government ministers.

Question put:

That the motion (That the motion () be agreed to.


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