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Mike Carlton's Insight into the AWB Affair

The Cole Inquiry into AWB is in recess this week.

One can only shake one's head in amazement at the "evidence" given at the Inquiry by Vaile, Downer and Howard last week. In a word it was a "joke" - and leaves one breathless at the ineptitude of our so-called political leaders.

In his weekly column in the SMH Mike Carlton, in his inimitable style, has this take on the Cole Inquiry:

"IN THE men's toilet at the famous Cole inquiry they have installed "the latest in water-saving technology, the Desert Cube Waterless Urinal System".

There is a notice above the porcelain, explaining how it works: "The small cubes below contain beneficial microbes able to eliminate odour-causing bacteria without the use of water," it says.

Last Tuesday, in Cole's witness box, Lord Downer was also working to eliminate odour, but far less successfully than the Desert Cube. The stench of the Government's deceit and incompetence in this AWB kickback scandal is everywhere, and no conga line of ministers washing their hands is going to dispel it.

On Monday at the inquiry, Mark Vaile had quavered like a schoolboy caught smoking in the dunnies. No beneficial microbes there. Downer, by contrast, affected a languid air, offering an occasional aristocratic smile as if this waste of time was, really, quite beneath him.

Bob Ellis, perched beside me on a windowsill, slipped me a scrawled note suggesting it reminded him of the trial of Oscar Wilde. A bit unkind, that, I thought; fishnet stockings or not, nobody has accused the Minister for Foreign Affairs of the love that dare not speak its name.

Struck down by flu, I was disappointed to miss John Howard's performance in the box on Thursday, but it is clear that - like bent coppers in the bad old days - all three ministers are sticking like glue to the agreed story. Saw nothing, heard nothing, knew nothing, asked nothing, never shown the cables, can't recall, thought AWB was run by Chaps Like Us, etc. It is a ludicrous performance by a Government that loves to boast of its managerial competence.

One curious thing: the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade is emerging from all this as if scripted by the writers of Yes, Minister. But nobody, so far, has questioned the head of the department at the time, Dr Ashton Calvert, now retired. I wonder why.

The bureaucratic can has been carried by one of his former underlings, the delightfully named Bronte Moules, who, I am told, was once dux and head prefect at Abbotsleigh, the North Shore school for Anglican ladies.

Abbotsleigh, according to its website, offers each girl an "inner strength and a philosophy of life, which will enable her to be an independent, constructive and compassionate world citizen with a will to serve others".

Ms Moules will be glad of that."

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