While we were all steeped in the annual fervour that Anzac Day arouses, red lights were flashing warnings that things are seriously out of kilter in this country.
On 25 April some of the nation’s most influential lawyers called for retrospective legislation to be used to clear the name of convicted whistleblower, Allan Kessing.
Kessing, a former member of the Customs Air Border Security Unit based at Sydney Airport, had been instrumental in compiling two reports, in 2003 and 2004, highlighting major glitches in the security net at the country’s main airports. This included surveillance blind spots and criminal activity — and this was only a short time after the 9/11 tragedies in the United States.
The reports were leaked in 2005 and were front-page news, as a result of which John Howard panicked and hired British international aviation expert, Sir John Wheeler, to look into the claims. Wheeler confirmed the threats and vulnerabilities outlined in the reports and the Howard government allocated over $200 million to rectify the problem.
Despite its own rhetoric and duty, the government had been neither alert nor alarmed. But as usual, a lethargic government mugged by reality demanded a victim on whom to take out its scorn.
Kessing was targeted, charged and duly convicted last year. He was given a nine-month suspended sentence and put on a good behaviour bond for two years.
He has consistently denied leaking the reports and is currently in the process of lodging an appeal, following a drawn-out legal process that beggars belief.
In the run-up to last year’s Federal election, the Labor Party highlighted Kessing’s case when it committed itself to bringing in legal protection for public servants who make unauthorised disclosures in the public interest. What was leaked on airport security, and confirmed by Wheeler, has made all Australians inordinately safer, yet Kessing’s life is being systematically trashed. There’s no other way of putting it. The new Government has been in office for nearly six months and we still haven’t seen the whistleblower legislation, or any inclination on the part of Canberra to help Kessing.
This is appalling. Equally as shocking is the lack of interest on the part of the media, of parliament and of the community as a whole. Likewise, no one’s demanding to know from Canberra why the two Customs reports were not acted upon by senior bureaucrats and their relevant ministers. Why were they buried?