Contributed by Adam Carlton
The groundbreaking prosecution of layer Bernard Collaery and his client Witness K has been going on since 2018. They are accused of breaching Australia’s national security by revealing information about how an Australian Secret Intelligence Service mission bugged the offices of the government of Timor-Leste.
Behind this was a battle for control over oil and gas deposits in the Timor Sea. This action took place when the then responsible minister in the Australian government, Alexander Downer, had a connection to Woodside, the company that was eventually awarded the rights to these resources.
The case has continued through twists and turns within the courts of the Australian Capital Territory. The government-imposed secrecy on proceedings and denied the defence access to important documents.
Collaery and Witness K have been subjected to a secret trial, which sets a worrying precedent for legal process in Australia. The right to open trial and to legal defense have been reduced. Collaery was also subjected to a police raid on his offices, after he first took on Witness K as a client in 2013.
But the case has drawn on with twists and delays brought about by the Attorney General Christian Porter.
The justification for the secret trial and delays has been national security. The means the use of the National Security Information Act, which provides the ability to deny the usual protections to the accused.
No explanation has ever been given as to how the bugging of a sovereign foreign government at the time of Timor Sea negotiations was in the interests of national security and its exposure a breech of it.
The trial proper for Collaery has been set for 24 October this year.
An important part of the defendant’s case is that is that the Timor-Leste operation was illegal.
Bernard Collaery’s lawyers are intending to lodge an appeal to the blocking of access to documents that they say will provide evidence of the illegality of the act.
The recent federal election changed the political context outside the court. Richard Dreyus, who is tipped to be the incoming Attorney General, says he will seek a briefing on the case. He has previously cast doubt on the merits of the case.
Nevertheless, Labor has remained coy about the case and has not withdrawn consent. This, if it should continue, is not in the interests of the public. The onus is on the new Albanese government to act on this and defend the right to a fair trial.
We should not forget about Witness K. He is also in the firing line, and this case has come about because of government intention to silence whistleblowers. Witness K was a member of the same Australian Secret Intelligence Service mission, forced to speak out be his conscience.