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The virtue of having a go

  • 15 May 2007

Last Saturday, Martin Flanagan from The Age was guest speaker at Jesuit Social Services’ 30th Anniversary Dinner in Melbourne.

He spoke about many things. One of them was the virtuous activity of having a go. I describe it as virtuous because he linked it with what he called "common goodness". He said that this is found in the midst of wars and despair and, most importantly, "the blindness that flows from political and religious ideology".

His musing could easily be applied to the case of Allan Kessing. Kessing is a retired public servant of whom most Australians have never heard. He is a victim of such ideological blindness.

Last month, Kessing was found guilty of leaking to the media the contents of two classified reports that detailed serious security lapses at our airports. Publication of the findings of the reports in The Australian caused public concern that pressured the Government to commission the Wheeler Review. This eventually led to a major upgrade of airport security. Instead of being awarded for sticking his neck out in the interest of public safety, Kessing is facing a possible two-year prison sentence and the loss of his life savings through legal costs. As The Australian’s Janet Albrechtsen wrote in her blog, protecting deserving whistleblowers such as Mr Kessing ought to be seen as a public good. "Government departments will lift their game if they understand there are laws that recognise that leaks serving a genuine public interest may be justified," she said. Christian Brother Brian Bond suggested in the Edmund Rice Justice Bulletin last week that Kessing’s case is reminiscent of the campaign to discredit senior intelligence officer Andrew Wilkie. Wilkie resigned in protest at the Australian Government’s decision to go to war in Iraq in the face of contrary advice from intelligence experts which was subsequently proven correct. "The case raises important issues of openness and honesty in government and demonstrates the lack of protection for those individuals like Mr Kessing who take a stand for the common good when governments behave in a dishonest and deceitful manner,” he said. Martin Flanagan was surely referring to the actions of Kessing and Wilkie when he ended his address by sharing his belief that moving forward requires “a certain spirit, in part of defiance, which is native to this place”. “After all, who among us wants to be remembered for not having had a