I joined Customs in 1990 and retired in 2005. My first three years were on the wharves then two at Sydney airport. In January 1997 I was approached to join a new intelligence section analysing sea and air cargo where I remained until returning to the airport in 2001.
In 2002 I was recruited by the Air Border Security unit because of my previous experience to analyse the large amount of material it had accumulated over the years that had never been brought together. It took me a couple of months just to read and try to collate and the picture that emerged was one of accumulated abuses of Customs regulations, theft, smuggling and systemic criminality. Long time failures had been set in concrete during the run-up to the Olympics and many new rorts and abuses had been accreted on since then.
As a result I was asked to write a risk analysis specific to one area: private security staff employed by the privatized airport corporation. This was completed and forwarded to the Customs airport manager in early 2003. It was met with shock and horror at the implications and rejected out of hand as impossible to implement for a number of commercial and operational reasons.
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I was then directed to prepare an overall report on the workings of the airport that are beyond the public view, the so-called “sterile areas” which are restricted to employees issued with an Air Security Identification Card. I took a random cross section of persons holding these ID and this report was completed in August 2003. Like its forerunner this was also rejected.
This caused considerable dissatisfaction, not to say anger within the unit with talk of resigning or sending the reports to other senior officers, even plain envelopes to newspapers.
Shortly afterwards the unit was told that it was to be abolished and a rear guard action was fought without success. I was due to retire early in 2003 and had only stayed on to write the longer report because I felt committed to completing an important and worthwhile task.
I went on Long Service Leave in March 2004 and in September the ABS was abolished. Two members with years of specialized experience resigned and the other three were returned to general duties, a culpably incompetent waste of skills.
I returned just before Christmas, intending to retire as soon as the busy season was over in the New Year. Over the next couple of months, it was clear that my colleagues were still extremely dissatisfied at the suppression of the reports and it seemed that their only topic of conversation was how this could be rectified. I agreed to take it to my local MP, Anthony Albanese, but for whatever reason, nothing came of that.
I retired on May 10th 2005 to care for my mother who was in the final stages of acute myeloid leukaemia and in June The Australian published some details from the reports.
The government at first denied that there were any such reports on the first day, on the second that they were a minority view, the third day DPM John Anderson had announced his resignation and on day four Chris Ellison assured the nation that “…there was no need for any concern as we have the safest airports in the world”. Within a week Howard announced that Sir John Wheeler had been commissioned to conduct a review “due to community concern”.
Within weeks he endorsed the reports entirely, repeated the recommendations therein and added substantial criticisms. Howard promised that $200M would be allocated to implement this reform and the matter disappeared from public view. I was charged on September 6th with providing the information under the Crimes Act, s70 (ii).
I went to see Mr. Albanese a couple of weeks later to ask for some advice or assistance with the matter. He was sympathetic and seemed outraged by the government response. I pointed out that the previous information had been only to do with the airport and that there were equally serious deficiencies in cargo. I gave him a broad outline of problems, noting especially that the soon-to-be-implemented sea cargo automation clearance would fall over. (Which it did within 24 hours of going on line in October.)
He asked for more information and I said that I’d prepare a précis of things that needed attention. This was supplied a couple of days later and subsequently used in Senate estimates by Sen Ludwig in October.
Following this I was advised that a barrister had been found who would act pro bono for me and met with him in his chambers. He agreed to take on the case without charge and on the second meeting he introduced me to a solicitor whom he said he needed to assist.
I would be required to pay his costs and I agreed.
After four years, three barristers and over $70,000 wasted I am a convicted felon. As I have no further means to pursue legal options I felt that at last let the true story be told.
In the previous Parliamentary sitting Senator Xenophon formally asked for an estimate of the costs incurred by the Commonwealth in my prosecution and what action was taken following the Wheeler recommendations. To date he has received no response to the first and for the second a report on actions taken with a heading but entirely blacked out.
As to whether there have been any improvements resulting from the Wheeler recommendations, the recent events at Sydney domestic and the continuing rorts of the security training and vetting recently reported are not encouraging.