September 18, 2019
As Australian barrister Bernard Collaery is set to stand trial in the ACT Supreme Court over charges of conspiring to communicate secret information, the Australian Lawyers Alliance (ALA) has stepped forward and called for his prosecution to be dropped.
With the approval of attorney general Christian Porter, the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) laid charges in May 2018 against Collaery and his client, Witness K, over revealing information regarding an ASIS operation that involved the bugging of the Timor Leste government.
Under the cover of an Australian aid refurbishment program, Witness K was charged with bugging the Timor Leste-East Timor cabinet office, so Australia could gain the upper hand in treaty negotiations over oil and gas fields in the Timor Gap.
An ever-broadening reach
As the recent Four Corners investigation explained, while Witness K has decided to plead guilty, Mr Collaery will fight the charges in a trial conducted in partial secrecy, under the provisions of the National Security Information Act 2004 (Cth) (the NSI Act).
Ostensibly designed to prevent prejudicing national security without interfering with the administration of justice, the NSI Act sits amongst a great pile of counterterrorism-national security legislation passed post-9/11, which has gradually whittled away at citizens’ rights.
The ALA has raised concerns about the scope of this legislation, which hasn’t been accompanied by any corresponding rights protections. And the alliance has long warned about the application of the NSI Act, as it leads to a lack of transparency and accountability in proceedings.