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Sep 14, 2009

Allan Kessing: my side of the story

After four years, three barristers and over $70,000 wasted I am a convicted felon, writes whistleblower Allan Kessing.

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.

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.

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11 thoughts on “Allan Kessing: my side of the story

  1. John Wood

    The treatment of Allan is a national disgrace – he should be treated as a hero, not a villain. I would love to provide some small financial support to him; perhaps Crikey could help find ways to do this?
    John Wood

  2. graybul

    Thanks Allan . . for the courage to lead.

  3. Richard Wilson

    Yes thank you Allan. The State does not like it dirty little secrets exposed no matter which side of politics.
    If the public become outrgaed enough at this miscarriage of justice, maybe this can be rectified. Where is the mainstream media when they are really needed? Exactly! Thank God for Crikey.

  4. Tom McLoughlin

    This sorry chapter is enough to make claims the W Bush regime courted 9/11 sound sensible.

    What was the Howard Govt thinking? That if they left the ‘door’ open long enough that sure enough some violent extremist would give them the missing Iraq WMD rationale?

    It’s quite a mystery. What level of responsibility does Mr Kessing attribute to that nice Mr Anderson I wonder. Resignation? Hardly the accountability I have in mind.

  5. Greg Angelo

    I have been following Mr. Kessing’s case for a number of years,

    There are many aspects of this case deserving criticism. The previous Howard government was absolutely disgusting in its treatment of this man. The current Labor government has done SFA to help him, and equally the Fairfax press appear to have ignored his case because it was a story initially broken by the Australian newspaper which is its deadly enemy.

    Recent disclosures that our ports are similarly predisposed to allowing criminals and miscreants free rein would indicate that the Customs service is either under resourced, incompetently managed or in probability both descriptions are accurate. When we have an informal unholy alliance between big business which does not want to behave responsibly, and unions whose members involved some criminal activity, we are in serious trouble.

    We have to endure removal of our shoes and belts in a futile display of security at airports whilst baggage handlers and stevedores with criminal backgrounds are ostensibly operating with minimal restraint. It is about time the Rudd government did something serious about addressing these issues.

    I reproduce for the benefit of crikey readers the text of the letter recently published in the Australian Newspapernin relation to Mr. Kesssing’s case.

    The Lonely Whistleblower

    The recent disclosure (Australian 7 September) that the Labor Party turned away whistleblower Allan Kessing and refused to act is not surprising. When he provided opposition ALP MP Anthony Albanese ( now the Transport Minister) with access to a secret report on security flaws at Sydney airport he created some difficulty. To act whilst in a opposition would encourage future whistleblowers which is a problem when you are in government. The sad fact of the matter is that politicians of all persuasions hate whistleblowers because they all have skeletons in their cupboards. In opposition, they pay lip service to disclosure but in power they do their best to suppress dissent.

    The sad case of Alan Kessing is a classic example. Whilst Labor was in opposition, and the Liberals were copping flak over Sydney airport Customs debacle Labor politicians displayed some overt sympathy with Kessing’s case. However as we can now see they failed to act even when given the information prior to its public disclosure. Furthermore they have done absolutely nothing effective in relation to his case since they got into power.

    It should be noted that in Kesssing’s case, the Howard government didn’t have the guts to go after the journalists concerned in the disclosure (which led to $200m of reforms at Sydney airport), but they prosecuted Kesssing (the poor retired public servant) who was presumably a softer touch. This is straight out of the Mao Zedong management philosophy of “execute one educate a thousand”.

    The current Whistleblower legislation, State and Federal is ineffective and provides little practical protection to public servants or journalists. A government serious about good governance would facilitate whistleblowing, and give some effective statutory protection to both the whistleblower and the channels through which information is publicised.. However no such reform is ever likely from government intent on protecting its own backside from whistleblowers.

    Greg Angelo

  6. Frank Campbell

    The dubious customs of Australian Customs are as old as the bureaucracy itself: 108 years. A decade or so ago I reviewed for The Australian a massive academic tome- the history of Australian customs. I doubt many people read the book- a pity because it exposed the permanent state of paralysis, incompetence and corruption which puts Customs in a league of of its own: 4th division. In the 90s the smell was so bad the Dept. was actually shut down and reinvented. It was always the Siberia of Canberra, with as much weight in the cabinet room as a dead blowfly.

    Kessing should get the Order of Australia for exposing this foul disorder. The govt. should exhume all the other Kessings they’ve surreptitiously disposed of over the last century. They are buried national treasures.

  7. Colin Jones

    I too have followed Allan Kessing’s case. One reason why I never vote for a major party. They’re both corrupt through long having had no consolidated competition from the inbdependents.
    The absolutely disgraceful treatment handed out to Allan Kessing should tell us all what Labo(u)r and the Libs are about. A pox on both their houses for neglecting our security at our ports. Perhaps they’re getting little backhanders for the party coffers from the criminals.
    Remember the name Allan Kessing next time they come around asking for your vote and confront them with it.

  8. Stevo the Working Twistie

    Mother, don’t let your children grow up to be whistleblowers… Allan, you have my wishes, prayers and gratitude. Unfortunately, I don’t have any influence though, which is all that really matters.

  9. bakerboy

    The moral of the Kessing matter? Never be a whistlblower, you can’t win. Governments will never introduce adequate legislation to ‘protect’ whistleblowers as they just don’t want public servants disclosing the government’s many failings. As an ex public servant and military officer as well as a defence industry person, I could disclose lots of juicy stuff but I never would, I’m not that silly. Best wishes, Alan. Alex