Federal trade Minister Mark Vale yesterday fronted the Cole Inquiry into the AWB ‘wheat for weapons’ scandal. Mr Vale turned out to be yet another Howard Minister whose staff were guilty of hiding important information from him. Try as they might, ministers in the Howard Government simply can’t find staff capable of recognising important cables, even if they appear dozens of times over the course of several years and expressly call for the minister’s urgent attention. Minister Vale said that he was ‘surprised’ by the repeated failure of his advisors to bring cables regarding the kickbacks to his attention. Funnily enough nobody else shared his amazement. Over the past few years, ministerial advisors have made it their business to bury cables about travel rorts, immigration detention, the children overboard affair, and breaches of UN sanctions amongst other things. So, who are these ministerial advisors, what do they do and how accountable are they for their various blunders? Professor Stephen Bartos, Director of the National Institute of Governance at the University of Canberra explained the situation to Tristan Burt.

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