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Tuesday, 28 November 2006
Page: 34

Mr RUDD (2:12 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Foreign Affairs. After 10 years as foreign minister, and as the minister responsible under Australian law for enforcing UN sanctions against Iraq, does the minister accept any responsibility whatsoever for the following damning conclusion contained in Commissioner Cole’s report:

The critical fact that emerges is that DFAT did very little in relation to the allegations or other information it received that either specifically related to AWB, or related generally to Iraq’s manipulation of the Programme. DFAT’s response to the information and allegations was limited to seeking AWB’s assurance that it was doing nothing wrong.

Minister, having refused to accept any responsibility whatsoever for the other failures referred to in Commissioner Cole’s report, do you accept any responsibility for this failure also identified in Commissioner Cole’s conclusion?

Mr DOWNER (Minister for Foreign Affairs) —I thank the honourable member for his question. As I made clear, obviously the Cole commission found that AWB endeavoured to mislead the Commonwealth, including the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. That is the first point to understand. Secondly, I encourage honourable members to read the report. The report makes clear, fairly obviously, that this was a United Nations-run program. Mr Cole stated that the United Nations’ acceptance of a contract after examination by UN experts provided a sound basis for the minister or his delegate—in this case it was the delegate—to grant approval for the export. He went on to say that DFAT did look at contracts. According to the Cole report, if the true nature of the arrangements had been disclosed to officers of DFAT, they would have acted differently.

I think that is crucially important. The commissioner went on to say that by omitting any clear and accurate reference to the transportation arrangements, AWB effectively deprived DFAT of the opportunity to properly scrutinise and consider the legality of the arrangements actually in place between AWB and IGB. He went on to say that DFAT had been astute to give proper advice when asked regarding the operation of the UN sanctions and the oil—

Mr Rudd —Mr Speaker, on a point of order: the question asked whether the minister accepted any responsibility.

The SPEAKER —If the member for Griffith wishes to raise a point of order, he will come to straight to his point of order. The minister is in order. I call the minister.

Mr DOWNER —Not only did I say that AWB were responsible for defrauding the Commonwealth but let me ask, by rhetorical response, whether the member for Griffith and the Leader of the Opposition accept any responsibility for the allegations of collusion—the allegations that the government was fully aware of what was going on—for telling the Australian people that and whether that was a reasonable thing, or whether we will ever see the day when the Leader of the Opposition and the member for Griffith appropriately apologise for what they said.