31 March 2021

Prosecution of whistleblower Witness K costs taxpayers $4 million

| Albert McKnight
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Protesters gathered outside the ACT Magistrates Court today (29 March) calling for charges against Witness K and Bernard Collaery to be dropped. Photo: Albert McKnight.

Protesters have heard the prosecution of whistleblower Witness K and his lawyer Bernard Collaery is part of a larger slide into secrecy by the Australian Government that has already cost taxpayers millions.

Gathering under the banner of the Alliance Against Political Prosecutions, protesters rallied outside the ACT Magistrates Court on Monday morning (29 March) where Witness K was facing another hearing.

Witness K blew the whistle in 2012 over Australian intelligence services bugging the Timor-Leste cabinet room during 2004 discussions over the Timor gas treaty. He is believed to have been part of a team of Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) operatives who carried out the operation.

READ MORE Former ACT Attorney-General facing trial over national security charges

At the protest, Member for Canberra Alicia Payne told the crowd both he and his lawyer were undergoing a “secret trial”, prosecuted by their own government “in our name”.

“In our name as citizens, but without an explanation, and it is not good enough,” she said.

“While this issue is in part about two people whose lives and livelihoods are being destroyed, who are being denied the basic, fundamental rights of our justice system, it is also about a bigger slide into secrecy and the lack of accountability that we are increasingly seeing under this government.”

Ms Payne said last week in Senate Estimates, Labor learned that, so far, the prosecution of Witness K and Mr Collaery had cost taxpayers almost $4 million.

According to the Attorney-General’s Department, by 12 March, the cost was $3,478,974 (excluding GST).

“There are so many better things, of course, that they could use that for rather than destroying these men’s lives because they stood up for what was right and told the truth,” Ms Payne told the protesters.

Protesters on Monday

Protesters called for charges against Witness K and Bernard Collaery to be dropped. Photo: Albert McKnight.

Although Witness K’s statement is not public, it’s believed to relate to his concerns that Australia acted unethically during good-faith negotiations with East Timor and his concerns over the subsequent appointment of former foreign minister Alexander Downer and former Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Dr Ashton Calvert, to roles with Woodside Petroleum, a joint venture partner in the Sunrise natural gas field development.

READ ALSO Canberra judge blasts ‘unfair’ federal government delay in Bernard Collaery case

Sister Susan Connelly of the Sisters of St Joseph, who is also the convenor of the Timor Sea Justice Forum, told the protesters that in 1942 the Timorese died “in the tens of thousands” after helping Australian soldiers in World War II.

“We didn’t know in 2004 what the den of thieves was doing in Canberra. For months, if not years, they had planned to swindle the Timorese people,” she said.

“I feel totally betrayed by this government.

“There are people in the activist community who are thinking about reparations to the Timorese who spent time, effort, money and personnel fighting Australia for what was actually their right, and has been shown in international law to be their right.”

Group of protestors

Witness K and Bernard Collaery protests outside the ACT Court. Photo: Dominic Giannini.

Sister Connelly said the Australian Government was trying to rewrite the events that took place in 2004 by “scapegoating” Witness K and Mr Collaery, “the two people who had the integrity and the real Australian spirit to tell the truth”.

In Witness K’s court hearing on Monday, his lawyer, Haydn Carmichael, said a plea to a single charge of conspiracy had been indicated over a year ago, but there was no agreed statement of facts in the matter.

Magistrate Glenn Theakston said the case “has taken a long time; it’s gone very, very slowly”. Witness K will return to court at a later date.

Mr Collaery, who has four charges of breaching and one charge of conspiracy to breach the Intelligence Services Act, will have his case back before the ACT Supreme Court in May.

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The presentation of this as a whistleblower case where one side is in the right and being treated harshly, simply doesn’t stack up.

Particularly when Witness K is going to plead guilty and knew at the time his actions were against the law and agreements he’d freely made around secrecy. The same goes for Mr Collaery who was acting well outside his supposed role as a lawyer for Witness K.

“particularly when Witness K is going to please guilty…” Hmmm yes just like so may people pleaded guilty in the secret trials held in Stalinist Russia. Guess they must have been guilty too. Nothing wrong with secret trials is there comrade?
As to Bernard Colliery doing what lawyers do and defending his client….well , let’s just say Law isn’t your strong point is it.

Firstly you clearly haven’t been following this issue if you think Mr Collaery (spelling his name correctly when attempting to defend him might help) was simply defending his client. It went far beyond that as you should know, but clearly law is not your strong point.

And the case against Witness K is fairly open and shut with regards to the law. Whether you think he had some special moral reason to be allowed to break the law is irrelevant. Which is why he was willing to cut a deal.

And the case isn’t a secret trial, there are simply national security components that may lead to parts of the trial being held behind closed doors. If you’d followed the news in the case today, you would have seen that it isn’t a given.

About the only thing you got right in that post was the spelling of the Lawyer, Bernard Collaery (Spellcheck having decided to relate the name to a coal mine in my previous post.) As to the rest, well let’s see. A bit of knowledge of how our legal system works would certainly help set you straight:
(i) A defence lawyer defending their client is not going far beyond anything, it is how our legal system works.
(ii) This is not, by any means, an “open and shut case” . If it was, it certainly would not be taking the time (and the taxpayers’ dollar) which it is right now. That’s pretty logical.
(iii) If you think it is OK to break in to areas that you are not legally entitled to enter and plant listening devices, I suggest you try that on in the ASIO building and see how you go. Just tell them that you understand the law and it’s all perfectly legal.Hint: make sure you have a friend standing by to post bail, just in case you get it. (You probably won’t)
(iv) Sure the case isn’t a “secret trial” it’s “national security components (leading to) parts of the trial being held…um…secretly.
Thanks for the politically correct lingo however those of us who prefer to call a spade, a spade. will probably call it out for what it is. A secret trial. There are numerous reasons and people who know more about the law than you or I, who can explain to you the danger in establishing secret trials.


It seems this is a case of your ignorance and a fervent wish that the law wasn’t actually the law. You can argue that the laws and legislation in place aren’t appropriate and should be changed but that doesn’t mean you can choose to ignore them.

i. Defence lawyers are still restricted in what they can do in relation to the defence of their clients, they can’t break the law themselves, which is entirely the point. Mr Collaery knew the secrecy requirements about representing his client when he took the case.

ii. Witness K is pleading guilty, which is what I was referring to. So yes, it’s an open and shut case as he’s admitted the crime. Mr Collaery has more of a case to argue but I still think he will lose based on the evidence in the public domain although admittedly there is other evidence that we aren’t privy too.

Also, If you wanted to talk about why the case(s) have taken such a long time and cost a lot of money and whether politics has interfered, that’s a separate issue and I would agree that these cases have not been expedited as they should have.

(iii) Who says they aren’t legally entitled to? I’d suggest you actually read the legislation around what our security agencies are allowed to do, they are extremely broad which is another separate issue in itself.

Here’s a quick fact check for you:

Note, I know Mr Collaery has been claiming that ACT law was breached but that’s stretching a long bow. Also it is definitely illegal under international law but that doesn’t apply here.

(iv) You clearly didn’t follow the news yesterday and you clearly don’t understand why National Security is a perfectly valid reason for suppressing certain information.

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