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Vaile fronts AWB inquiry -

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(generated from captions) Welcome to the program, political and legal history - on a day rarely seen in Australian to front up to the Cole Inquiry when Deputy PM Mark Vaile had and answer questions under oath or indeed lack of knowledge about his knowledge to Iraqi regime of Saddam Hussein of AWB's payment of kickbacks UN Oil-for-Food Program. under the now-tarnished has probably enjoyed better days It can be fairly said that Mr Vaile in his political career. But even before Mr Vaile of cameras into the inquiry had to walk an intimidating gauntlet and its battery of lawyers, for the Government over this affair the political unpredictablity a couple of notches, had already been cranked up with the news that the PM himself a statement to the inquiry, had been asked to tender and possibly appear. Alexander Downer And, of course, Foreign Minister is due to give evidence tomorrow. Today, the focus was on about AWB's role in the scandal, why Mark Vaile knew so little on its assurances and why he relied so much in the affair. of complete innocence His memory was not helping him. was at the inquiry for this report. Political Editor Michael Brissenden

It's the nature of the job - Trade

Ministers spend most of their time travelling the world securing

valuable markets and in recent

pleading the case for trade valuable markets and in recent years

liberalisation. But few have

claimed so much of the public glare

as Mark Vaile. As he detailed in

his statement to the Cole

commission, his six and a half

in the position have been busy ones commission, his six and a half years

from the fettered atmosphere of

multilateral negotiations, through

many trips to Washington and the

A-list slopes of Davos and into the

Iraqi war zone itself, Mark Vaile

has vigorously pursued Australia's trade interests. It's an

achievement he wears on his sleeve,

one he's obviously proud of and one

that sells well to his constituents.

The objective of the Government is

to look after your interests. Now

we need to use whatever mechanisms

we need to, to ensure that happens.

Because at the end of the day for

years you have enjoyed access to Because at the end of the day for 50

that market as well as many other

markets across the world. We've

to ensure that that continues and markets across the world. We've got

so, I will go to Iraq. I'll go

Baghdad. I'll go into the green so, I will go to Iraq. I'll go into

zone. I may well have to go into

the red zone to meet these people

your behalf. Well today, it wasn't the red zone to meet these people on

quite the red zone, but the heat

certainly on. Mark Vaile is the quite the red zone, but the heat was

first minister to appear before a

commission of this kind in 23 years.

There were no insurgery ynts

waiting for him, but a war zone

might have been more comfortable

than this. REPORTER: Making a

statement Mr Vaile? When you let me

get up to the door. The minister

responded to the modern video

arsenal with his well-worn

rhetorical body armour. We always

maintained we had set up an open

transparent process as far as the maintained we had set up an open and

Cole inquiry is concerned. My

appearance here this afternoon following my submission to the

inquiry is proof of that and, of

course, the Foreign Minister will

giving evidence tomorrow afternoon. course, the Foreign Minister will be

We've said that it is an open and

transparent process. We've

established in Australia, that not

too many other governments around

the world have done. This is proof

positive of. That thank you. Inside,

the questions were as expected,

harder to deflect and for the first

time under oath, there was no

walking away. For a minister who

travelled so widely and was

presumably so well-briefed, today's

cross-examination under oath showed

just how little he knew about the

consistent concerns raised about

activities of one of our most consistent concerns raised about the

important trade areas and just as

importantly, how little he or

in his department did about it. importantly, how little he or anyone

From the start, John Agius QC for

the commission zeroed in on the

concerns about AWB that began to

emerge in diplomatic cables as far

back as January 2000. Mark Vaile

said he wasn't aware that wheat was

being sold at inflated prices, or

that AWB had agreed to payments

whereby money went to the Iraqi

regime. "I don't recall," he said

time and again. The words also

statement. appeared 45 times in his written

By the beginning of June 2003,

three months after the coalition

forces had dispatched and Iraqi

regime, cables from Washington

raised concerns about a lack of

transparency in the contract

process. And on 23 June that year,

our own office in Baghdad was

warning in cable s that

contracts were being inflated by warning in cable s that oil-for-food

between 10 and 19%. And pointing

out that AWB was the biggest

contractor under the scheme. In

between, Mark Vaile had been in

Washington defending AWB. He

thought it was all part of a

campaign by US wheat interests to

undermine the single desk. John

Agius seemed incredulous.

And even months later, Mr Vaile's

position remind resolute. This is

just a little bit of, you know,

commercial rivalry I think between

the two industries and two very strong exportering industries.

We've answered all these questions,

as has AWB in the past and I just -

it is beyond belief that anybody

could think that the AWB would

conduct their business that way

whilst under the spotlight and

scrutiny of the international

community through the United

Nations. I mean, this contract was

fulfilled and undertaken under the

UN Oil-for-Food Program. Mr Agius

asked Mr Vaile today, given he was

putting his name and Australia's

reputation forward, to so publicly

defend AWB against these

defend AWB against these accusations in early June and then a cable arrived showing there was at least

10% on all contracts, why wouldn't

someone in his department have

brought this to his attention?

"Well, I don't know why," Mr Vaile

replied and this was the tenor of

much of the rest of the Deputy PM's

answers.

I mean, this is a gross example of

negligence on the part of the

negligence on the part of the Deputy PM of Australia, multiple warnings

that he received he didn't even

investigate one of them, but still

was prepared to use, but still was

prepared to use Australia's good

name to ensure the United Nations

and the United States and others

that there was nothing wrong with

the AWB. It is a very poor

performance indeed. And a rare one.

Mr Vaile is the first. Alexander

Downer comes tomorrow and the PM

probably later this week. Mr Hawke

began his evidence to the inquiry

detailing... It's the first

appearance since the 'hope' Royal

Commission in 1983. Back then Bob

Hawke led a team of ministers into

the box to be cross-examined under

oath. I thank you for - you have a

job to do and I have and I hope

job to do and I have and I hope that you will understand that in the

circumstances to which I refer, I

cannot at this stage answer any

questions. Today, the PM revealed

he'd been asked to provide a

he'd been asked to provide a written statement to the inquiry by 4pm

tomorrow and he says he's more than

happy to appear in person if

required. REPORTER: PM, how does it

feel to be the first PM since Bob

Hawke to be likely to appear before

a judicial inquiry? I don't feel it

particularly one way or the other.

Life's a rich tapestry and you just

do things. It came very early in

do things. It came very early in Mr Hawke's prime ministership. He

lasted a long time after that

appearance, didn't he? Did you

expect this outcome? I'm not

surprised. So you've always thought

you might be called? I'm not

surprised. You never know. But I

said all along that I would not be

reluctant to appear, that I was

ready to appear, as were my

ministers and it's entirely a

ministers and it's entirely a matter for Mr Cole. We'll put in the

statement if I get called, I will

statement if I get called, I will go and I will answer questions under

oath. And they will be truthful

answers. They will also be

answers. They will also be delivered in an increasingly highly charged

political climate. Tonight, a

witness - the Cole commission

witness - the Cole commission itself has been chation so far

unsuccessfully - will appear on

'Four Corners'. Felicity Johnston

'Four Corners'. Felicity Johnston a senior UN official who vetted and

UN's oil-for-food contracts says

UN's oil-for-food contracts says the Government hasn't complied with its

international obligations as

expected under Resolution 661.

Every nation has a responsibility

absolutely under Resolution 661 to

ensure that its nationals comply

with the terms of that resolution.

Specifically in paragraph 3 of that

resolution, it states that all

countries should ensure that its

nationals do not provide transfers

of funds to Iraq. Now, I didn't

make that up. That's what it says

in Resolution 661 in black and

in Resolution 661 in black and white and Mr Vaile may try to wash his

hands of it, but they do have a

responsibility to ensure that their

nationals abide by the rules and

nationals abide by the rules and the regulations. I don't accept the

interpretation placed on the

Government's obligations by the

Government's obligations by the lady in question. But the commission is

clearly still interested. The

British Foreign Office has so far

prevented Ms Johnston providing

evidence. But according to Mr

evidence. But according to Mr Agius it's unlikely permission will be

given, given she's appearing on TV

tonight. Tomorrow it's Alexander

Downer's turn to take the stand

under oath and we understand the PM

may be asked to appear as early as

Thursday. Of all of them, John

Howard is perhaps the most skilled

under cross-examination. Question

Time is one thing and in his 30

years in politics he's never been

confronted with an unpredictable

challenge like this. KERRYO'BRIEN: