Monday, March 10, 2008

Dumping on Mark Vaile

Toward the end of last year’s Federal election campaign, with Rudd taking the lead, I saw merit in Mark Vaile retaining his seat of Lyne, the electorate I live in. Vaile has a lot to answer for, and losing his seat would have simply meant end of story.

As it happens, Vaile is continuing his inept, corrupt ways because the Rudd government is too busy focusing on governing, not the past. I’ll accept that, there is a lot to fix from the overall Howard legacy, enough to keep a government swamped with forward looking tasks.

So just for the hell of it I will list the various sins of Mark Vaile as I have seen them, starting with the AWB ‘Oil for Food’ scandal. This particular scandal eventually forced the Howard Government to launch the heavily shackled Cole Commission of Inquiry.

“A relatively gentle grilling at the Cole commission revealed Mark Vaile to be, at best, totally naive and, at worst, frighteningly incompetent.” Michelle Grattan

Western Australian grain producer and ex-AWB chairman Trevor Flugge was paid $679,000 for services, through the Australian government humanitarian agency AusAID for ‘reconstruction’ work for the Coalition Provisional Authority in Iraq.

His position involved arranging payment for AWB (Australian Wheat Board) contracts which included alleged kickbacks of nearly $300 million to the Saddam Hussein regime which he had personally negotiated for the AWB in 2002.

Oxfam Community Aid Abroad chief executive officer Andrew Hewett told the Congress Daily in June 2003 that the Australian Government's appointment of Flugge to advise Iraq on reconstruction is "like appointing Henry Ford to advise on public transport."

Both the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Alexander Downer and the Minister for Trade, Mark Vaile personally applauded the appointment. In fact these two were finally responsible for the whole fiasco, as joint minsters of the department of foreign Affairs and Trade (DEFAT).

“Giving evidence to the inquiry “Vaile has no recollection of reading cables that came to his office. He doesn't even "have direct access to the cable system at my desk". Except in one case - where it was actually suggested in the cable that the matter should go to the minister.”

Given the low esteem in which Vaile was held by his senior coalition partners he might well have been kept out of the loop. Over the past few years I’ve found a long trail of evidence ranging back to 2001, when the Canadian government first complained about AWB corrupt activities. It is only with my latest review of that trail, and later Vaile behaviour, that he really does live in ignorance and simply accepts the pay packet without question.

That is not to say Mark Vaile is not corrupt, no one who reaches the position of Deputy Prime Minister can be so terminally dumb as to not see what is happening around them. He might well have been a stooge through the whole affair, but a willing stooge.


When Vaile became a total embarrassment to the Howard ministry he was gently moved from Trade to Transport and Regional Services. That move also downgraded a key domestic ministry, but that is another issue.

For the government leader with the finger supposedly on the pulse of the rural vote Vaile became the major pork barrel stooge. Particularly in the lead up to a difficult election campaign for the conservatives, promise a road here, a rail link there, a few regional airport upgrades and the generally conservative country vote

Federal Transport Minister Mark Vaile says he will take a proposal to Cabinet next week on a new phase of infrastructure funding. Some of the key projects in line for funding include the Goodna bypass in Brisbane's west and a possible Melbourne to Brisbane rail link. The cost of the package could reach $19 billion. February 16, 2007 ABC

Vaile spent the months prior to the 207 election in Queensland handing out promises on roads, airports and rail upgrades. He had started back in February, but by November it was still largely promises. His allotted task by the real leadership was to secure a swag of rural electorates in that state.

There was a pressing need for Vaile as well, his much treasured national positions were under severe threat if he failed, which he did of course.

The Australian National Audit Office

Prior to the November election I had been sourcing funding for a local community program which successfully guides house bound women into further education and the workforce. It is not an expensive exercise, but does require some financial assistance.

When I found the Regional Partnerships Program I thought I’d hit pay dirt. This seemed like the ultimate Vaile pork barrel exercise, and the timing was right. Well it might have been but the National Audit Office dropped the bomb before our program was considered.

NATIONALS leader Mark Vaile has foreshadowed a fresh batch of grants to regional areas under a funding program previously attacked as being political pork-barrelling.

Okay, it was transparently a rort – if not totally corrupt then certainly dubious. A bit of research around this, Vaile’s electorate showed that the Deputy Prime Minister was amenable to showering money around where he could see potential votes.

Chief among the recipients appear to be the local Catholic establishment and National Party donors. Trying to track money given to the Catholic establishment I was told there was no record because a cheque was simply handed over by Vaile.

While local public schools and hospitals languish, and the Catholic counterparts do little better, the money appears to have been funneled into a new sub-division development on Catholic owned land. Obviously growth of the church funds far outweighs any real needs in this electorate.

Deputy Prime Minister Mark Vaile says rules on public servants' actions during election campaigns should be reviewed. Vaile believes the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) may have breached caretaker conventions, prepared by the Prime Minister's own department, when it released the damning report. SMH

I doubt the revelation of a dodgy pork barrel exercise did more than confirm what some believed, but for the most part it was ignored and still is. For Vaile, now bereft of position and floundering in the role of local member, the Middle East beckons again. After all, he must have some knowledge now that it is rich soil for a corrupt income.

I didn’t cost the taxpayer…

Unrepentant Mark Vaile has defended his decision to supplement his $127,000 backbenchers' pay by moonlighting in the Middle East as a consultant. The former deputy prime minister said his trip was paid for by serviced office company Servcorp, not the taxpayer, and he would only be away from his electorate for four days.

Note that word supplement. Obviously Vaile does not see the Australian taxpayers as his paymasters, just as he doesn’t hold any special brief for his constituents in Lyne. This is one of the great problems attempting to understand Vaile’s behaviour.

The businessman who hired Mr Vaile for a four-day lobbying mission to the Middle East has rejected criticism of the trip, telling The Australian the former trade minister's contacts were invaluable in helping his company - ServCorp - to expand its business overseas. The Australian

Like all good conservatives Vaile has resorted to the ‘others do it better/worse than me argument.

“Vaile said there was nothing new about MPs from both sides of politics taking consultancies. "I recall many Labor, Liberal and Nationals MPs undertaking very similar advisory roles during and after their parliamentary service," he said in a statement from Bahrain.”

In response to critisim from Opposition leader:

"As far as me being absent from my electorate - I'm a member of the Nationals, not the Liberal Party," Vaile said.

The reality is that Vaile is no longer the serving member for Lyne, he is just serving time until something better comes along.

“"It was a trip for me to look at their business, and in doing so see if I could add any value to their operation in the longer term," Vaile said.”

Local Comment

Local reaction has been mixed, but generally there is so little contact with ‘the member’ here no one would really notice. This has been a conservative electorate, underserved for so long few realize what representation is or should be.

Throughout the last campaign, November 2007, some of us ran a ‘Where’s Wally’ campaign around the country to track Vaile’s movements around the country. He rarely campaigned within the electorate.

In one letter to the local newspaper the reaction was clear:

If Mark Vaile understood Australian political processes, he would have known that:
a) Public Servants are apolitical, and report to the government of the day
b) The ANAO's own website states that it "assists government" – and tough if you get a bad report card, they are just doing their job
c) Kickbacks are illegal – in your own case used to by Saddam Hussein to purchase weapons to be used against Australian soldiers
d) Decisions for funding cannot be made in caretaker period of government

I would also add:

e) Taking a business trip while accepting the parliamentary pack packet is a cost to tax payers.

If Mark Vaile isn’t corrupt he is totally incompetent and useless as a local MP. He serves neither his constituents or his country well, and the sooner he moves on the better.

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