Monday, January 17, 2011

Time to redress shoddy treatment of security whistleblower Kessing

By Chris Merrit, The Australian, 17 December 2010:
MEMO Andrew Wilkie: As one of the nation's best-known whistleblowers, you know what it is like to be persecuted for revealing wrongdoing.
Before you entered parliament, one of the few politicians who shared this insight was independent senator Nick Xenophon.
He had been waging a lonely campaign to right the terrible wrong inflicted on another whistleblower, Allan Kessing.
Now that your support is keeping the Gillard government in office, you have the ability to help Xenophon force an inquiry into the Kessing affair.
It won't be easy. Just enough detail has come to light about the grubby shenanigans at the heart of the Kessing affair to give the Coalition and the Labor Party a strong incentive to look the other way.
Until that changes, Kessing carries around a criminal conviction over actions that should be rewarded with the Order of Australia.
But this week, Home Affairs Minister Brendan O'Connor received a long-delayed letter from Kessing that could provide all the ammunition you need. 
The letter contains information about the circumstantial evidence that was used against him that, if true, must raise doubts about his conviction.
Kessing, a former Customs officer, was prosecuted after the Howard government was embarrassed by the publication in The Australian of articles based on a long-ignored report revealing serious flaws in airport security.
Kessing, who denies leaking to this newspaper, is seeking a pardon for his 2007 conviction. He was convicted under section 70 of the Commonwealth Crimes Act -- the notorious heart of the federal fixation with secrecy.
Kessing denies leaking to The Australian, but here's where it gets interesting. His pardon application admits he leaked the report -- and other information -- to a staff member employed by transport minister Anthony Albanese when federal Labor was in opposition.
Even more interesting is the fact that Labor apparently did nothing. Kessing is a real whistleblower who revealed ineptitude. He knew he was breaking the law but he went ahead because he believed his actions would save lives.
The Albanese leak, on his lawyer's advice, was never revealed in court. Kessing was convicted for someone else's leak.
The conviction relied on circumstantial evidence, including phone records and the business card of journalist Martin Chulov found in the home of Kessing's late mother along with a copy of the report on airport security.
The Kessing letter, which is now in the possession of O'Connor's office, is dynamite. Because he never gave evidence, he never explained the business card. Now he does:
"I obtained Mr Chulov's business card after the article in The Australian was published," Kessing says in his letter.
And that's consistent. If he had already tried, unsuccessfully, to persuade Labor to do something, the first thing he would have done after reading the report in The Australian would be to contact the reporter.
Kessing's letter also asserts that it can be shown he was not at his mother's house when certain telephone calls were made to the switchboard of News Limited (publisher of The Australian).
These assertions, by themselves, prove nothing. But they demand investigation.
Before O'Connor makes a decision on Kessing's pardon, he will need to show he has independently tested Kessing's statements.
And that's where you come in, Mr Wilkie. An inquiry into the issue is inevitable.
But it's up to you to ensure it protects nobody's backside.

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