Saturday 08 Aug 2020 | 22:46 | SYDNEY
Saturday 08 Aug 2020 | 22:46 | SYDNEY

Reader riposte: The Cole Inquiry


Sam Roggeveen


9 April 2008 12:47

Alison Broinowski writes:

In addition to Professor Charlesworth’s useful reminder about Australia’s dismal performance at the UN, the Rudd Government might also clarify its position on cluster bombs, Israel’s wall, the US embargo on Cuba, and Oil For Food. The last is particularly urgent, because the statute of limitations will expire this year on the four cases remaining against Australians named by the Cole Inquiry.

The Howard Government signed the International Convention Against Corruption in December 2003. It was designed to deal with bribery, illicit drugs, money laundering, illegal arms trading, and misuse of aid by developing countries. It would demonstrate to the world, JSCOT was told, Australia’s commitment to fighting corruption. It obliges member states to pursue officials and businesspeople who are found to have paid bribes to other governments, and it includes provisions for repayments, with interest, to governments that have been defrauded by the nationals of other countries.

Australia ratified the Convention in December 2005, just after Mr Howard set up the Cole Inquiry into AWB’s dealings with Saddam Hussein’s government under the Oil For Food program (1996-2003). In his report, Mr Cole recommended investigation of nine former employees of AWB. The statue of limitations has expired for 23 of 27 civil cases, and the remaining 4 will expire at the end of 2008. Australia is legally and morally obliged to pursue those that remain as a matter of urgency, or we will appear complicit in a cover-up.

From 1998, Ministers in the Howard Government were repeatedly informed about AWB’s corrupt payments to Iraq – Mr Rudd himself has stated that the Howard government got 35 sets of warnings over 5 years, in the very years when Australia was negotiating the International Convention Against Corruption. Australia signed it when AWB’s kickbacks (in the form of transport fees) to Saddam Hussein’s government were at their highest. 

The new government has many high priority issues to deal with, but this should for obvious reasons be among them. At the very least, I suggest, the AFP and ASIC should be asked to speed up their investigation of AWB employees, and preferably, a new judicial or Senate inquiry should be empowered to consider the actions of former Ministers and officials. If Australia takes seriously the three pillars of its foreign policy — its support of the UN, its relationship with a future US administration, and its efforts in neighbouring countries – all of which are involved here, then the government should act decisively and without delay.