Customs was warned 10 years ago of gaping holes in its security and the potential for corruption to thrive among its ranks in a report that was ignored by authorities at the time, according to Independent Senator Nick Xenophon.
Customs officer Alan Kessing was commissioned by his superiors to write two security reports, in 2002 and 2003, which detailed major problems at Sydney Airport, including staff working in airport sterile areas with criminal convictions and others who did not appear on the electoral role or any identification, Mr Xenophon said.
But Mr Kessing on Friday said he and other customs staff were "dumbfounded" when the airport manager at the time rejected those reports for being financially and "commercially too onerous" on the airport, Qantas and other major airport operators.
He claimed that if action had been taken at the time he finalised his reports, this week's revelations that Australian Customs and Border Protection staff had been involved in alleged corruption and drug trafficking could have been avoided.
Mr Xenophon said Mr Kessing "deserved a medal" for writing the reports and speaking publicly about their findings on Friday, which he did at the risk of prosecution.
"These reports were deliberately suppressed by customs back in 2003," Mr Xenophon said.
He said if Mr Kessing's reports had been acted on, "we would not have had the problems we are now seeing within customs".
"You have to ask the question: how many Australians have overdosed on narcotics as a result of corrupt customs officials allowing these drugs into Australia?"
Mr Kessing said in April 2005 he approached Anthony Albanese, the then-opposition transport spokesman, and briefed one of his staffers about his concerns surrounding the reports.
Mr Kessing claims he then was the subject of a witch hunt. His home was raided and the Australian Federal Police spent $250,000 tapping his phones, he said.
In 2007 Mr Kessing was convicted for breaching Section 70 of the crimes act, but maintains his innocence.
Mr Xenophon said in the wake of this week's revelations about alleged corruption and criminal activity at Sydney Airport, Mr Kessing should be pardoned and his two reports publicly released.
"The scandal is that this man who deserves a medal for the work he did 10 years ago was actually prosecuted through the courts and had his life entirely ruined...," Mr Xenophon said.