A petition calling for the Attorney-General to drop the prosecutions of Witness K and lawyer Bernard Collaery, who are being prosecuted in secret for their role revealing the Timor-Leste’s spy scandal, has reached more than 50,000 signatures.
The group behind the campaign, Coalition of Supporters of Bernard Collaery and Witness K (COSOCK), has warned that the prosecution of whistleblowers risks leading “Australia down the path towards a police state”.
In June 2018, the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions filed criminal charges against Witness K and Collaery for exposing a 2004 Australian intelligence operation which targeted the Timor-Leste cabinet during negotiations over the country’s oil and gas fields.
It is alleged that the operation helped Woodside Petroleum, a private company with links to the Liberal party, secure unfair access to mineral deposits in the Timor Gap – depriving the country, one of the poorest in the worst, of billions of dollars in revenue.
Secret Trials A Threat To Our Democracy
Kathryn Kelly, one of the organisers of COSOCK, attributed the groundswell of support to anger about the Government’s conduct toward Timor-Leste.
“The fact that the government bugged the offices of our poorest neighbours has made people very angry,” she told Xenophon Davis.
“Two good people, who were doing the right thing are being prosecuted, and it seems that those who were responsible for the bugging are not facing any consequences.”
Kelly was also critical of the Government’s use of National Security Information orders in both trials, a powerful piece of legislation that allows the Attorney-General to close courtrooms to the public and media – preventing scrutiny of the trials.
“The cases are threatening the right to open justice, the secrecy that’s going on in this trial under the guise of national security is a threat to our democracy and every citizen… it’s not generally the way we do things in Australia.”
A National Disgrace
“There’s a social contract that says the justice system should be used to restrain, punish, and deter criminals – but no reasonable Australian could see these men in this light.” Mark Davis, principal of Xenophon Davis, said.
“It’s staggering to me that the very finest Australians, those who acted for justice, are being attacked in this way. It is a national disgrace that they are being tormented for no discernible end.”
Last year, the Attorney-General’s Department revealed the cost of prosecuting Witness K and Bernard Collaery had skyrocketed to over $3 million – more than $200,000 per month since the trials began.
The Greens, Jacqui Lambie and Centre Alliance have all voiced support for an inquiry into the prosecution, with senior Labor figures critical of Attorney-General, Christian Porter, who they say has failed to justify the reason behind the prosecution.
“I remain concerned about the decision to prosecute Mr Collaery and Witness K in the first place,” Mark Dreyfus, shadow Attorney-General, told Guardian Australia.
“That decision has yet to be adequately explained by the current Attorney-General.”
The Government has yet to respond to the petition.
Coalition of Supporters of Bernard Collaery and Witness K (COSOCK) will be holding a rally outside the ACT Courts on Wednesday, 3 February. Details: https://www.facebook.com/events/435313627822752