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Name: Antony Loewenstein
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Saturday, February 04, 2006

Dancing with the devil

Is the leading Murdoch pro-Howard broadsheet starting to turn against him?

"John Howard says he did not know AWB was paying bribes to secure sales of wheat to Iraq. He says his ministers did not know either. And the same goes for officers of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. If it is established "in a proper legal sense" that AWB did pay bribes, Mr Howard says he will be very angry because "we frankly believed all along AWB was an organisation of complete integrity". So that's all right then. AWB was off on a frolic of its own, and the Government was gulled. No, it's not.

"The more AWB officers admit to Terence Cole's inquiry into the food-for-oil scandal, the more reason there is to wonder if the Government is gullible, duplicitous or worse. And whether ministers knew about this grubby business is perhaps the most important question the Prime Minister and his colleagues have faced in their decade in office. Australians fought Saddam Hussein's wretched regime twice in 15 years. Proof that the Government knew, or even suspected, AWB was paying off the dictator, but did nothing to stop the bribes, would be a betrayal of the men and women who risked their lives on active service. It is hard to conceive of circumstances in which any minister so implicated could survive."

For more on this growing scandal, see here, here, here, here and here.

When Foreign Minister Alexander Downer is forced to slam his accusers as having an "intemperate and demeaning approach to political debate", some of the mud is clearly starting to stick. And the pressure is starting to show. The key point, lost in some of the desperate attempts to defend the Dear Leader, is that ignorance is no defence. It is virtually inconceivable that leading Howard ministers, and possibly Howard himself, were unaware of the way in which AWB - and host of other companies around the world, for that matter - are "forced" to do business in any number of countries.

Involvement in a war to "liberate" Iraq from Saddam, while at the same time turning a blind eye to providing money for that regime, is hypocrisy at best and duplicity at worst.


Blogger Wombat said...

I noticed journalistic hoar Piers Ackerman rushign to Howards Defence last week, pretending that there was "nothing to see here". How utterly predictable.

He had nothing to say at Washington's high profile dummy spit at Canberra's denial.

How is it that Bush, Blair and Howard get away with selling themselves as strong descisive leaders, while all three are maters at feigning ignorance or passing tgh ebuck when the lights are turned on to their shady operations?

Saturday, February 04, 2006 1:29:00 pm  
Blogger Antony Loewenstein said...

That gem of an Akerman column is here:,20285,17984513-5001032,00.html

After all, without Johnny, little Piers will be awfully lonely.

Saturday, February 04, 2006 1:33:00 pm  
Blogger James Waterton said...

There's nothing to see in this blog post, either. You may perceive the Oz as showing bias towards Howard (although various columnists frequently lambast the government), however I think it's simply a reflection of the fact that for a number of years the opposition has been simply unelectable.

So the paper's doing its job and when a real scandal pops up where real impropriety is committed, the paper comes down hard. Why is this so amazing to you? You do realise that the editorial line (and the opinions of individuals) may vary as events unfold, right?

Incidentally, I'd be more than happy to see Howard take a fall for this - I'm certainly no fan of a Liberal govt headed up by someone like Howard. Trouble is, the alternative is so depressing.

Saturday, February 04, 2006 6:57:00 pm  
Blogger Edward Mariyani-Squire said...

"The more AWB officers admit to Terence Cole's inquiry into the food-for-oil scandal, the more reason there is to wonder if the Government is gullible, duplicitous or worse."

Did the OZ have the same sceptical line for the Kids Overboard Saga and all the other Shaggy-style "It Wazn Me" scandals? It certainly looks like the beginnings of a change in tune. Of course these things have to be done gradually, otherwise plausible deniability of "taking a line" is impossible to sustain.

Sunday, February 05, 2006 1:49:00 am  
Blogger Wombat said...

I totally agree James, with everything you said.

My references to Ackerman is that he is a ferevent Howard appologist. But as for opposition, they are indeed a sad lot.

Sunday, February 05, 2006 2:34:00 am  
Blogger James Waterton said...

What other "it wazn me" scandals are you referring to?

What Simon Crean characterised as "Kids Overboard" had two very distinct sides to that story. The newspapers didn't chase the anti-govt side as hard as they might have because the whole affair was mainly driven by conjecture and anti-Howard bias. The facts of the case simply didn't provide Howard's foes with the "smoking gun" they so desperately craved, although it's hitherto sunk into leftist mythology as a great unsung scandal.

Fact is, a respectable newspaper isn't going to go hanging its hat on some half cocked story like Children Overboard. However, if they smell blood (or, more appropriately, shit), they'll follow the scent. Perhaps the Oz believes there is a firm prospect of a strong paper trail leading to government impropriety regarding this issue.

Before the anti-Howard types start hyperventilating, I would caution; early days still. No time to be making rash assumptions. Wait until you see the whites of their eyes.

Monday, February 06, 2006 5:44:00 am  
Blogger Wombat said...


I disagree with your characterisatinos of the children overboard fiasco. There were conflictring reports from the military about the validity of the claim , but there is no doutb that Howard and Crean milked the scenario for all it was worth.

I remember that sfter that election victory, Howard's cabinet met for a celebrtion and as hhOward approached Crean to congratulate him, he feigned a hug, as though to say to him, "job well done".

There have been a litany of smoking guns against Bush, but the media have repeatedly given him a free pass. Just because these guys get away with the crime, doesn't mean it was through lack of evidence.

Monday, February 06, 2006 11:19:00 am  
Blogger Progressive Atheist said...

I am amazed. Dr Andrew Vincent, sponsor of Antony's membership on the board of the centre for North African and Middle East Studies at Macquarie University, said on ABC midday news that the Cole enquiry should stop, because it jeopardizes Australia's ability to bargain in international trade deals, despite the fact that UN sanctions were broken.

Antony, response please!

Monday, February 06, 2006 2:50:00 pm  
Blogger Antony Loewenstein said...

Well, I disagree, simply put. I didn't hear Andrew's comments, but I think they miss the point. This inquiry is vital to understand the ways in which Australia does business in the world. The fact that the media has missed many of the other relevant issues - not least the human cost of appalling sanctions - doesn't change a thing.
May Cole continue!

Monday, February 06, 2006 4:06:00 pm  
Blogger James Waterton said...

Children overboard is a classic case of a lot of smoke (generated elsewhere) and precious little in the way of fire.

And are you trying to suggest that the "scandal" was covered up by collusion between Howard and Crean?

That's so ridiculous as to be laughable. What on earth did Crean get out of it?

Monday, February 06, 2006 7:56:00 pm  
Blogger Wombat said...

Sorry, I'm confusing Crean with Ruddock. Been away from Oz too much. ;-)

Yes I do think there was a cover up. The Howard government publicised and used the Tampa/children overboard case as a platform for their campaign. When it was revealed that there were no facts to prove the situation occured, the Howard mob stuck t their guns and the navy closed ranks.

When it was subsequently raise,d teh Howard leadership just dismissed the affairt as old news.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006 12:13:00 am  
Blogger James Waterton said...

Re. Crean/Ruddock switcheroo - fair enough :)

Point is, when viewed objectively Children Overboard was far from a conclusively proven case of government malpractice.

So you *think* there was a coverup - that's not going to be good enough for a broadsheet like The Australian. Like I said, conjecture and anti-Howard bias. I'm sure some journos for the Oz dug and realised they couldn't make anything stick, so they walked away. The paper - as well as other broadsheet publications who would have done the same thing - have reputations to uphold.

Maybe the journos reckon they're backing a stronger horse with the Cole Inquiry, which is why they're going for the jugular.

The above seems bloody obvious to me, although Ant detects pro-Howard bias in any publication that doesn't read like the Green Left Weekly.

Tuesday, February 07, 2006 1:05:00 am  

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