By Gerry Georgatos - courtesy of The Stringer - http://thestringer.com.au/ - June 27th, 2014
Be prepared for ruin when blowing the whistle on corruption.
Some of these names – of whistleblowers – will mean little to you, they may not ring any bells, because the mainstream press in general has failed to adequately highlight corrupt transgressions and their transgressors and in the sustained ways that true journalism should chase down the justice. Michael Moodie, Allan Kessing, Chris Read, Neil Winzer, Jean Thornton, Jo Connolly, Deborah Locke and Simon Illingworth.
These whistleblowers stories are at least ten years old, but how many of them have you heard of? Journalism is supposed to be investigative, sustained with through-care, but sadly this is not the case in a nation that on the Reporters Without Borders Free Press Index ranks only 26th, with nations like Costa Rica ranking much higher for press freedoms.
In countries such as Australia where aside powerful cultures of favour dispensation and nepotism there is the obscenity of litigation – where the wealthy can use it exclusively to their advantage to suppress the truth and persecute those who blow the whistle on them, whether they are insiders going public or investigative journalists working in the public interest. In Australia litigation-aversive publishers and broadcasters do not deal as a free press. Without a free press no amount of legislation can protect whistleblowers. Blowing the whistle on corruption takes both courage and conviction.
Some whistleblowers question why they bothered, some warn others against going down their path.
Some suffer to the end of days.
Chris Read was a senior investigating officer with the State Ombudsman for seven years. He reported breaches by his boss. He lost his job.
Mr Read said his colleagues “sniggered” at “how entertaining it was watching me commit professional suicide.” He said his colleagues were “the ones who sucked up to him and received generous promotions.”
Mr Read’s boss resigned as the State Ombudsman in 2001 following two damning reports to Parliament. But despite vindication Mr Read’s career was in ruins. Instead of applauding his whistleblowing ways Mr Read became a pariah. Who wants a whistleblower around? Certainly not the nepotic cultures of favour-dispensation.
Jean Thornton was a public servant who exposed rorts in the Western Australian Aboriginal health sector. And the former head of two Perth’s major hospitals, Michael Moodie had his life destroyed after exposing a hospital’s terrible record on baby deaths and on exposing various financial rorting in the health sector.
Blow the whistle on the police hierarchy or on rogue police behaviours and you are a ‘dog’. Sergeant Jo Connolly found out the hard way that blowing the whistle on improprieties is just not on. Well it should be, there should be more like Ms Connolly. The police hierarchy mobbed Ms Connolly.
I have written previously on the police whistleblowing by former officer Deborah Locke, her lot was one of ostracisation and harassment.
Former NSW detective Senior Constable Locke, author of Watching the Detectives, blew the whistle on alleged corruption within the ranks of the NSW Police Force during the 1990s. By going public with her allegations of widespread corruption she factored into the bringing about of the Wood Royal Commission which arguably led to some reforms.
Ms Locke is a member of Whistleblowers Australia and has served as a representative on the NSW Police Internal Witness Advisory Council.
“As we continue to hear reports in the media about crooked detectives in police forces throughout the country, both State and Federally, we need to support the honest cops in their efforts to weed out the corrupt ones,” said Ms Locke.
Former Victorian police officer Simon Illingworth had his life smashed when he tried to weed out and prosecute corrupt police. Mr Illingworth had been part of the Victoria Police Ethical Standards Department. By the end of his tenure he was standalone and ostracised in the Department. He was described as a ‘filthy rat’, which would become the title of his book.
Allan Kessing was a Sydney based senior customs officer who in 2002 and 2003, near retirement was seconded to investigate and produce reports on Sydney Airport security. His reports on airport corruption were suppressed but after the arrest of Schapelle Corby in 2004, his reports were leaked by unknown parties to the media. Mr Kessing was prosecuted on suspicion he leaked his own reports under what was effectively an anti-whistleblowers Act – built around not passing on various information. His legal defence dried up his superannuation. An honest person wounded by cultures of secrecy and silences which may not necessarily be working in the public interest.
And then lastly there is Neil Winzer, a former Transport Department public servant. For nearly two decades Mr Winzer has been pushing for his whistleblowing and what has occurred to him ever since to be investigated. He has had his income blown away in alleged reprisal and his future looks bleak and impoverished. Is this the way it should be with whistleblowing?
Retired Western Australian parliamentarian, Max Trenorden spoke lengthily in Parliament in 2011 about Mr Winzer’s plight.
“Why has this matter not been dealt with?”
“There is no excuse for this matter to not have been dealt with,” said Mr Trenorden.
“I put to members directly that the number one reason this matter has not been dealt with is because this man blew the whistle on a range of prominent Western Australians and he deserves to be punished! That is why the matter has not been resolved and why it remains unresolved now.”
Mr Trenorden continued, “Mr Winzer blew the whistle on a number of very prominent Western
Australians. I will not run through who they are, but some of them cannot be much more prominent in this State, and I will point out to this House that some years ago we passed a Bill that said people who blow the whistle will be protected. But do we protect whistleblowers? Absolutely not!”
Whether it was coincidence or not the more than two decades-long stalwart of the National Party was not preselected again by the Party for candidacy – Mr Trenorden was furious. At that time the Nationals and the Liberal Party were a Coalition and formed Government.
“This issue has been reported on by several committees to this House and Members have regularly stood and attempted to get some justice for Mr Winzer, but this just cruises on. Just like with Michael Moodie it just cruises on. You just trample over these people because you have the power, because you are in the club and the club allows you to do what you want. It is just unacceptable,” said Mr Trenorden to the Legislative Council.
But Mr Trenorden was not the only parliamentarian to take up the cause for Mr Winzer’s rights. In 2000, the Labor parliamentarian, Kim Chance addressed the Legislative Council.
“Why would this happen? This is not a man who posed any threat to Government policy, he is simply a man who is trying to do his job professionally. I hate to think that we might be part of a system that for one reason or another has set out to destroy an individual. I know that nobody in this Parliament would want that to happen and I hope we can bring some goodwill to the way in which this man has been dealt with,” said Mr Chance.
In 2002, WA Greens Jim Scott told the Legislative Council, “Earlier, a Mr Winzer was in attendance in the House to listen to this debate. He is still trying to get a matter dealt with that would appear to me, on evidence, to be a genuine issue. However, there has been an ability on the part of the bureaucracy to bury the true details of what is going on.”
Later in 2002, Independent Paddy Embry also told the Legislative Council, “I will now refer to whistleblowing and Neil Winzer. I am sure everybody in this House must have heard of Neil Winzer, particularly those who were members prior to the last State election. Hon. Graham Gifford has spoken on the matter, as has the Leader of the House. Words have been said to the effect that this guy has been shafted, to put it politely.
During 2004, Liberal Cheryl Edwardes raised Mr Winzer’s plight in the Legislative Assembly.
“This Government has done absolutely nothing to resolve Neil Winzer’s situation and have this complaint investigated. Putting that issue aside, Neil Winzer is receiving no income. It is a disgrace.”
“Neil Winzer, the public servant, is subjected to constant harassment on a daily basis. He is receiving that treatment from public servants in that department. I will repeat what one public servant said about another public servant. Mr X – I will not repeat his name – could remain at home and rot just like Mr Winzer. If this is not part of workplace mobbing, I do not know what is. This Government is allowing that to occur with whistleblowers.”
In September 2007, a Standing Committee recommended to Parliament that the Minister for Planning and Infrastructure and/or the Minister for Public Sector Management take immediate steps to resolve the issue of Mr Winzer’s employment. Nothing has eventuated for Mr Winzer.
Whistleblow at your peril, this remains the warning. I too have firsthand experience of this – three times over. Despite vindication, havoc was wreaked all around me and to me.
The Norris and Costigan Royal Commissions may not have proven anything but they did unearth extraordinary allegations which over time are slowly proving that they could have been true. We should not forget the Wood Royal Commission, and the links between Government and ‘big’ business.
We should never forget that two of this State’s highest office bearers, Ray O’Connor and Brian Burke, were convicted and incarcerated. O’Connor at one time was also the Minister for Police.
We should realise that corruption threads every layer of society, the whole fabric, and that there are Eddie Obeids everywhere – cultures of double dealing and duplicity. Litigation protected Mr Obeid for far too long. Where would the corrupt hide if litigation did not exist. Litigation is the weapon of those who are both corrupt and wealthy.
Whistleblowers do not have any protections.
The late Patrick O’Brien, a long time Professor of Politics at the University of Western Australia wrote, “Executive Government determines salaries from the Governor down and has the power to award honours and social status. It determines who shall be Queen’s Counsels in the legal profession and thereby who shall be among the highest and most privileged income earners in the State.”
“It appoints members of the governing councils of universities, hospitals and other ‘public’ institutions. No monarch of old had such powers of patronage. When it considered that most of these powers can be exercised without reference to Parliament, it can be said that the real and potential powers of the Office of Premier are literally awesome.”
“Moreover, in combination with its vast powers of patronage, the subtle but decisive shift of power to the executive Government has the potential of transforming our system into a mammoth favours-dispensing machine in which those who have been given the right entry cards or who have paid sufficient dues to the ruling party have every chance of punching jackpots for themselves until the general revenue is exhausted. Thus, without exaggeration, Government in Western Australia in easily become a giant ‘pork-barrel’ greased by the Premier and Cabinet; an instrument for serving not the public interest but private and even corrupt interests.”
Whistleblowers and conscientious objectors should be protected and entitled to a system that provides for a substantive independent mechanism for whistleblowing complaints to be heard in entirety and honestly tested.
Litigation should be pulled into line if not done away with altogether. My late father taught me the best rule of all, “Be ready at all times to account for your every word and deed.”
Michael Moodie, Allan Kessing, Chris Read, Neil Winzer, Jean Thornton, Jo Connolly, Deborah Locke and Simon Illingworth, and hundreds of others deserve much, much better than the ugliness they have instead endured. If we want a better world then let us protect the honourable.