Contributed by Jim Hayes
The disgraced of Australia’s spying on the East Timorese government is finally unfolding. That the newly emerging small nation was was being treated in this way, was uncovered by the intended target in 2004. It went so far as to bug cabinet meetings. Although the East Timor government made a formal complaint, the matter has largely been kept hidden from Australian eyes to to now.
This is not a proper way to conduct relationships with other nations, let alone our close neighbours. No wonder governments wanted this swept under the carpet.
Back then, tensions over claims to Timor Sea oil and gas reserves had reached a peak. The Australian government disregarded Est Timor and claimed the lot. In doing this, it was acting in the interests of the American and British based oil company interests controlling the industry in Australia. It can be said that the Australian government was spying for these companies.
The problem was, that the East Timor government asserted that it needed this resource, much of which exists within East Timor’s territorial waters, to build a new economy and provide a livelihood for a population devastated by years of conflict under Indonesian occupation.
Although East Timor’s assertiveness eventually succeeded in wresting a concession, it remains that it only gained partial ownership of the reserves. This is too small a nation to have overcome the big brother muscle being flexed by Australia. That East Timor has succeeded as far as it has is remarkable, and comes thanks to the courage of the East Timorese, and enormous sympathy for East Timor and its people within the Australian community.
Then came the former spy who raised his concern about the involvement of the Australian Secret Intelligence Services (ASIS) in the illegal bugging. Witness K, as he is now known, approached lawyer and former Attorney General, Bernard Collaery. This led to both were charged by the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions, under existing anti-terrorism law.
Witness K had been due to provide evidence to the Hague in 2013. The Australia Secret Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) raided his home and Collaery’s office and the two were subsequently charged with conspiring to reveal the spying operation to the public. This can attract imprisonment for up to two years under section 39 of the Intelligence Services Act.
This is how the initial worongdoing was joined by a second wrongdoing: A concerted effort to cover the initial act. It has exposed the nature of the anti-terrorism laws, as a vehicle to silence criticism and intimidate whistleblowers and anyone else raising inconvenient truths.
Unfortunately for the government, Andrew Wilkie put the matter on the public record by revealing it in parliament,under the parliamentary privilege, which continues to exist – at least for now.
There is another chapter to this sorry story.
Former political staffer and now a journalist on the Murdoch payroll, Niki Savva, disclosed details of the case on the ABC’s Dateline on 1 July. Wilkie and others have asked how she managed to get hold of the information. There is an implication of a political connection.
Savva’s comments have led to the questioning of ABC staff. The Murdoch media, where the comments were first published has been left alone. This is unequal treatment, and provides a well founded suspicion that and attempt has been made, to deflect the scandal and hide it under the its agenda of mounting attacks on the ABC.