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Transcript of doorstop interview: Parliament House, Canberra: 3 November 2005: Australian Wheat Board; Anti-terror laws; IR legislation.

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KEVIN RUDD M.P. Shadow Minister for Foreign Affairs, Trade and International Security




Subjects: Australian Wheat Board; Anti-terror laws; IR legislation.

RUDD: Well, the saga concerning Saddam’s Aussie slush fund and Pig Iron Howard rolls on again. There are extraordinary revelations in today’s press, in today’s Australian, concerning an interview with the Managing Director of Alia. The paper reports that the Managing Director of Alia says that this contract, all along, was not between the Australian Wheat Board and Alia, it was between the Australian Wheat Board and Iraq. On top of that, the paper is equally clear in its interview with the head of this organisation, that is Alia, that the money went direct to the Iraqi Government. And it was quite plain from this interview that the head of Alia was under no illusions whatsoever that that was how the money was funded.

In fact to quote him directly, I think that this is quite a stunning quotation, he says that the contract was not with us, it was between Iraq and the Australian Wheat Board. We just collected a fee. We got into the contract with the Australian Wheat Board and we signed a letter of agreement and we collected the fee. It was all quite normal. We just put the money into a normal bank in Jordan, we kept a small percentage, and the rest we gave back to the Government of Iraq. We had a contract with them to do that. And further, the head of Alia goes on to say, in answer to a question were the trucks of this company ever used to transport Australian wheat, “no”. This is quite an extraordinary set of arrangements which we see outlined in this interview. And what the head of Alia says at the end is, “we just collected the fee for Iraq”.

What does all of this say to us? If the head of Alia, the company that the Australian Wheat Board with the approval of the Australian Government was using during this period, says that they were simply acting as an agency to deliver funds back to Saddam’s regime?

Why didn’t the Australian Government ask these very basic questions over the several years that this contract continued, and resulted in $300 million dollars in illegal payments to Saddam Hussein’s regime? And finally on that, $300 million dollars: this is money which didn’t just go towards buying Saddam Hussein’s Weetbix, it was money that went towards the purchase of guns, bullets and bombs for Saddam Hussein’s plan to use against Australian and other foreign troops. Funds which are still being used for that purpose today.

I conclude with this. Why do we need a Royal Commission? This is a scandal of massive proportions. It’s not just Saddam’s Aussie slush fund. It’s not just a $300 million dollar Aussie slush fund at Saddam Hussein’s disposal. The Australian Government, it seems, didn’t bother to ask these basic questions about the arrangements which the Wheat Board was entering into - despite the fact that the Australian Government had an obligation under international law to prevent a violation of the sanctions regime.

REPORTER: Do you think that it was just commercial interests that prevented the AWB from asking the questions themselves, as to where the money was going?

RUDD: You know this just gets more sordid as each day’s revelations come out. I don’t know the full facts yet. That’s why we need a Royal Commission. This is not just your average, low-grade Howard Government scandal. This is a high-grade government scandal. $300 million dollars - the largest foreign source of money as kickbacks to Saddam Hussein’s regime.

Remember what I said yesterday. 2,200 companies investigated by the Volker Committee of Inquiry, resulting in a total of $2 billion dollars in kickbacks to Saddam’s regime. Guess which company paid the most amount of money? The Wheat Board - some 15 per cent of the total. This is an extraordinary revelation. That’s why we need a Royal Commission with full powers to get to the bottom of it.

REPORTER: Were you surprised yesterday when the Prime Minister made public that terror alert, just before midday, on a day when the IR legislation was being introduced and at a time when he was trying to secure broader support for the anti-terror laws?

RUDD: I would rather defer comment on that to Kim Beazley and Arch Bevis, who have had the briefing. I didn’t have the briefing. I have my own views about the Prime Minister and I have had them for a long time. But they have had the briefing and their response has been entirely appropriate under the circumstances.

On the IR legislation, as a Queenslander can I just say this - now is Barnaby Joyce’s moment of truth. No casual crossings of the floor on pieces of lesser legislation. If you want to be a man and show yourself to be a Senator for

Queensland, having cashed in your chips on the privatisation of Telstra, come on Barnaby, step up to the plate It’s time to defend the Queensland industrial relations system. Your state is watching.

Ends 3 November 2005.

Media Contact Alister Jordan: 0417 605 823