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I didn't see rorts cables, Howard says -

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(generated from captions) when the PM, John Howard, made his much-anticipated appearance at the Cole inquiry in Sydney today. In testimony lasting less than an hour, the PM said that as early as 2002 he suspected Iraq was rorting the Oil-For-Food Program, but never considered that AWB was part of it. He defended his advisers for not bringing to his attention a series of diplomatic cables warning of kickback allegations dating back to the year 2000. Michael Edwards has this report. If John Howard was nervous this morning, he wasn't showing it. CROWD CHANTS: Johnny's a liar! Out! Out! Out! But a lone protester did try to unsettle proceedings. MAN: Just remember - we remember children overboard! It's time for John Howard to go overboard! WOMAN: Stop the killing, stop the lies! The third and final member of his Government to front the inquiry, Mr Howard was questioned about a speech he gave in March 2003, during the lead-up to the invasion of Iraq. He has cruelly and cynically manipulated the United Nations Oil-For-Food Program. He's rorted it to buy weapons, to support...his...designs at the expense of the wellbeing of his people. John Agius, the counsel assisting the inquiry, asked the Prime Minister: Mr Howard replied: The Federal Government says In 42 minutes of evidence, Mr Howard testified he didn't become aware of the allegations against AWB until 2005. During the course of the Cole inquiry, a series of diplomatic cables have emerged. These warned the Government as early as 2000 that kickbacks were being paid. Mark Vaile and Alexander Downer had trouble recalling the cables. John Howard said his advisers had read some of them, but hadn't brought them to his attention. John Howard told the inquiry he never suspected AWB was paying kickbacks because he'd never been presented with any evidence of wrongdoing. And, like his ministers, he believed in AWB's then good reputation. Other lawyers at the inquiry were prevented from cross-examining the Prime Minister. At a press conference afterwards, Mr Howard said his appearance proves the Government's got nothing to hide. By appearing, by establishing the inquiry, by appearing, by seeing two senior ministers appear, this Government has demonstrated its transparency. But he did concede any adverse findings against his ministers would have serious consequences and assessments of the evidence would come from a range of quarters. It is for a commission such as Mr Cole's commission to establish whether there've been breaches of the law and to make findings of fact. It is for the political process and for you, ladies and gentlemen, and for the parliamentary process to deal with issues of ministerial competence. The Opposition's still far from convinced. John Howard knows that this commission of inquiry Has no powers whatsoever to make any determinations concerning his ministers performing their duties under Australian law. This commission of inquiry only has powers to determine whether or not the AWB should be charged with criminal offences. That's the bottom line here and John Howard knows it. Echoing the Opposition's calls is a group of lawyers who've written a letter Attorney-General calling for a widening of the terms of reference. Michael Edwards, Lateline.