The Story

Drop the Prosecutions of Bernard Collaery and Witness K

The prosecutions of Bernard Collaery and Witness K result from the bugging by the Australian Government of the Timorese Prime Minister’s offices

The spying by Australia on the Timor-Leste government offices began when negotiations were taking place between Australia and Timor-Leste over the resources of the Greater Sunrise area of the Timor Sea, worth billions of dollars. This area is only 150 km south of Timor-Leste, but 450 km N-W of Darwin.

In 2004, operatives of the Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS) bugged the Timor-Leste Government offices, gaining advantage in the negotiations which resulted in a 50:50 carve up of the resources in 2006. This was a good result for Australia and the multinationals led by Woodside which were in line to exploit the oil and gas.

Who authorised this bugging? Alexander Downer was the Foreign Minister at the time.

Witness K, one of the ASIS officers involved, went to the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security to raise his concerns about a changed culture within the institution and was given permission to engage Bernard Collaery, a former ACT Attorney-General, as his lawyer. As a legal adviser to Timor-Leste, Collaery was involved in preparing a case against Australia for the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague. This challenged the validity of the 2006 Treaty, given that it resulted in an unfair allocation of resources––a result of the bugging.

Under the Abbott government in 2013, Attorney-General George Brandis authorised ASIO raids on Bernard Collaery’s home office. His legal papers for the case in The Hague were taken. At the same time Witness K’s passport was taken, making it impossible for him to travel to The Hague to give evidence. It is a shocking incident when a lawyer’s legal brief is taken by the opposing side, in this case, the Abbott Government. The International Court of Justice ordered the seized documents to be sealed, and they were eventually returned. Alexander Downer, when he left office in 2008, went to work for Woodside as a consultant – an action which would not be allowed if Australia had stronger ministerial guidelines against conflicts of interest.

Timor-Leste dropped the case, and since the bugging was now public knowledge, started negotiations for a new treaty on maritime boundaries with Australia which was signed in March 2018. Depending on the method of exploitation, Timor-Leste is set to gain between 70% and 80% of the resources.

Then two months later, in May 2018, Attorney-General Christian Porter decided the prosecution of Witness K and Bernard Collaery should proceed, charging them with offences under s39 of the Intelligence Services Act. Bernard Collaery is fighting the charges, and it is understood that Witness K has not finalised his plea.

These charges have been called one of the greatest threats to freedom of expression in this country, and an increasing number of Australians decry the prosecutions as a travesty of justice and threat to our democracy. National security is being given as the excuse for this case, and is being used to hold sessions of court in secret––a dangerous step towards a secret state.

Witness K and Bernard Collaery have great courage and integrity. They are heroes of our time, and democracy needs such people. Australians cannot allow this travesty of justice to continue –
Drop the Prosecutions!