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section heading icon     Australian cases 2

This page considers further Australian whistle-blowing cases, supplementing discussion of principles, practice and legislation.

It covers -

subsection heading icon    Fraser and Camden Hospital

NSW nurse Nola Fraser claimed in 2002 that there were serious problems at Campbelltown and Camden hospitals, including cover-ups and patients dying unnecessarily. The claims resulted in five major inquiries, at a cost of several million of dollars, and the end of some careers. devastation of a lot of lives.

Fraser gained the attention of controversial radio personality Alan Jones in 2003, with the claims quickly becoming deeply politicised. Some health administrators were sacked; they say unfairly and as the result of political opportunism. In 2005 the Independent Commission Against Corruption produced the second of two reports into claims made by Fraser and others, finding that none of the 39 serious allegations was substantiated.

Journalist Michael Duffy commented in 2005 that

Nola Fraser was an unwell woman who, by making many claims that were later proved to be wrong, caused many people anguish. But she publicised problems that deserve to be better known.

Fraser was used by the media, so in love with the idea of the whistleblower it accepted her more lurid claims credulously. She was used by the Opposition, who even presented her to the voters as their candidate for Parliament. And she was used by the Government to distract attention from the reality that our health system will always be inadequate because the demands on it are almost infinite.

subsection heading icon    Kessing

In June 2007 Allan Kessing was given a nine-month suspended prison term after being found guilty of leaking a 'protected' report that exposed ongoing security problems at Sydney Airport.

Kessing had blown the whistle in 2005, after the report was provided to The Australian newspaper. The report, which he had written as an Australian Customs Service officer, identified a range of serious breaches in security at Sydney Airport. It highlighted employment of baggage handlers with criminal records, theft of luggage and drug trafficking. It was 'buried' within Customs and reportedly was not sighted by the Minister until it was leaked (an action for which Kessing denies responsibility), some 30 months after it was written.

The furore was adressed by the government commissioning a report from UK security expert Sir John Wheeler, which confirmed Kessing's findings and prompted the government to announce investment of over $200 million to boost airport security. It was probably the most extensive overhaul of Australian airport security ever.

Crown Prosecutor Lincoln Crowley argued that a prison sentence it was necessary to deter potential whistleblowers amongst the public service. Kessing's barrister argued that there was nothing wrong in exposing a government agency to criticism if that criticism was justified through maladministration and/or incompetence.

Justice James Bennett indicated that "Whether or not it is appropriate to view the offender in the heroic light in which he has been bathed by some ... there is no justification for communicating the contents of the reports".

Prior to the sentence Kessing had commented that the trial

basically shows that anybody who knows of maladministration or corruption either in the private or the public sector, would be well advised to say nothing, do nothing, keep your head down and look after your career and your mortgage. It takes away the individual's responsibility and participation in what was once a constitutional democracy. We are being governed by fear at the moment; it's what the government wants and everybody else has to just - you know, head down, tail up. ...

I agree that a lot of information should not be made public, but that is not the case here. In fact there was a Lord Denning, Master of the Rolls, in Britain, back in the '60s, made the point that a servant is not responsible for covering up the criminality of his master. And that was a landmark decision in the Privy Council. And in this case the criminality, or the incompetence, or maladministration, whatever you want to call it, deserved to be exposed by somebody. But most people, as I say, they have careers, they have mortgages, to worry about.

In responding to 'why do you think the finger was pointed at you?', Kessing commented -

I was an easy target, I was retired, I had never been a quiet, acquiescent type, so yes I think I was just the easiest target.

How many people saw the report? In a May 2007 interview he said

According to the government, at least 73, but ... the point is it was flying around the unsecure Customs email system from 2003 until mid-2005, in contravention of Customs' own security regulations, it should not have been put on the email system as was testified by various people at the trial. So it was flying around the email system, which is a simple matter of copying and sending it on to the next person. There were an unknown number of hard copies of the final reports, and an unknown number of drafts, which were left on open shelves in open offices, as once again, was testified.

subsection heading icon    McLaren and ACT Health

In 2000 ACT physician Gerard McLaren, frustrated by his protracted unsuccessful efforts to address patient safety concerns at the Canberra Hospital (the national capital's primary hospital), persuaded the ACT Health Minister to order an inquiry into neurosurgical services at the hospital.

That report, delivered 2 years later, was severely inhibited by the reluctance of his peers to provide evidence. Subsequent investigations highlighted concerns about patient care, the reluctance of medical staff to publicly deal with issues and injury to McLaren as whistleblower, acknowledged in a belated apology to the doctor by the ACT Health system administrator.

The ACT experience is discussed in Thomas Faunce & Stephen Bolsin's 2004 article 'Three Australian whistleblowing sagas: lessons for internal and external regulation' in 181 Medical Journal of Australia (44-47).


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