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Policy Fiascos, Blame Management and AWB Limited: The Howard Government's Escape from the Iraq Wheat Scandal

McConnell, Allan and Gauja, A. and Botterill, L. (2008) Policy Fiascos, Blame Management and AWB Limited: The Howard Government's Escape from the Iraq Wheat Scandal. Australian Journal of Political Science, 43 (4). pp. 599-616. ISSN 1036-1146

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Abstract

In 1999, the Australian government privatised the statutory Australian Wheat Board and created AWB Limited, transferring the Board's assets and its export monopoly to a grower-controlled company. In 2000, allegations surfaced that AWB Limited had made payments to Saddam Hussein's Iraqi regime in order to secure lucrative wheat exports worth $500 million per annum. Such actions violated the terms of the United Nations' Oil-for-Food Programme and became one of the biggest corporate scandals in Australian history. It also placed considerable pressure on senior ministers in John Howard's coalition government who were vulnerable on a number of issues, including the existence of numerous warning signs and the extent of ministerial awareness. The purpose of this article is to outline and examine the federal government's role in managing the ensuing blame game. It utilises literature on policy fiascos and blame management to create a conceptual framework that is then applied to the unfolding dynamics of the AWB Limited case. It examines issues such as the roles played by the Cole Inquiry and the political language of ministers in steering blame away from ministers and towards AWB Limited and the UN.