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Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Treatment of Allan Kessing a low marker for our grand claims

Senator Nick Xenophon in Parliament last week speaking in support of the Aviation Transport Security Amendment (Screening) Bill 2012, noted the earlier statement by the minister on the bill's significance:
This will ensure that Australian travellers are afforded the highest level of protection against aviation terrorism, bringing Australia into line with countries such as the United States of America, Canada, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands. 
But then queried what sort of message is sent by the treatment of Allan Kessing:
We need to encourage and protect whistleblowers who work within Customs and our airports to come forward. Unless we do that, we will not get the full picture. We can only know all the necessary details—all the loopholes and clauses and ins and outs—if we listen to the people on the ground. But these people will never speak out as long as their jobs and futures are in danger, because they will look to what happened to Allan Kessing. They will look at the shameful and disgusting way he was treated by the system.There are great opportunities for us if we care to take them, if we encourage and support those whistleblowers to come forward. We might have to shift our thinking a bit to try new things and come up with new ideas, but the outcomes will be better for us all if we encourage those whistle blowers to come forward.....
This bill and the technology it introduces is an important step in improving our airport security but it is only part of the process. We need to heed what occurred to Mr Kessing. We need to heed his report and the Wheeler review and the fact that it appears those recommendations have not been carried out fully. Just because this is a big and visible step does not mean it is the only one we should take. It is important to be seen to be taking action, but sometimes the small things are the details which can have the biggest impact. The fact that there seem to be some serious problems with airport security cards is a real worry.
I encourage the government to continue its reforms but also call on them to conduct greater consultation with people who work in the industry, to encourage whistleblowers to come forward and to heed the information on the ground, which can be the most valuable in deterring terrorists. If the government wants to be true to its word and true to its 2007 election manifesto, about looking out for Mr Kessing in particular, they can start by giving him a full and absolute pardon for his reports back in 2002 and 2003 and to overturn what many regard as a wrongful conviction.
Successive attorneys general have said nothing publicly about the Kessing pardon application lodged in 2009.

The last mention in Parliament of whistleblower legislation by a minister was in March this year when Minister Gary Gray introduced amendments of little consequence to the Public Service Act. (Update-that bill limped into the Senate on 22 August). The Government response to the 2009 Dreyfus Committee report was tabled in Parliament in March 2010 and was full of promise. Then attorney general McClelland said at the time “The Government supports a pro-disclosure culture in the Australian public sector, underpinned by enhanced whistleblower protection mechanisms, as part of its commitment to integrity in Australian governance.." But no action since.

While injustice to Kessing and this gap in the law exist Australian taxpayers shouldn't be reassured by grandiose claims about the wonders of aviation security, the strength of anti-corruption measures or anything else where insiders know, bosses and the rest of us don't, and speaking up guarantees professional suicide.

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