Tomorrow the case against former senior Australian Secret Intelligence Service officer, Witness K, is due to be heard in the ACT Magistrates Court.
In 2018 the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions initiated prosecutions against Witness K and his lawyer Bernard Collaery for their role in revealing that the Australian Government had bugged the Timor-Leste cabinet room during sensitive negotiations about oil and gas revenue.
Emily Howie, Legal Director with the Human Rights Law Centre, said Witness K should never have been prosecuted in the first place.
“It is shameful to see Witness K treated like this for doing the right thing and using legal mechanisms to reveal that the Australian Government spied on its fledgling neighbour Timor-Leste for financial gain. With this prosecution, the Government sends the wrong message to all public servants: that if you dare to speak up, the Government will come down on you like a tonne of bricks,” said Ms Howie
In recent years the Australian Government has aggressively pursued a number of whistleblowers after they exposed significant Government wrongdoing. Last year, Parliament passed laws that imposed harsher penalties on whistleblowers and created new espionage offences that capture public interest reporting.
“Australians have a right to know what the Government is doing in their name, and people should be empowered to speak up when they see wrongdoing. Whistleblowers play a vital role in keeping our governments in check. And yet, there are currently no safe pathways for whistleblowers to go public when they see serious wrongdoing within our intelligence services. Decent politicians would ensure whistleblowers like Witness K and Bernard Collaery are protected, not punished,” said Ms Howie.
Attorney-General Christian Porter authorised the prosecution of Witness K and Mr Collaery for breaching section 39 of the Intelligence Services Act. The charges carry a potential two year jail term. The Government has subsequently increased the penalty for future breaches to up to 10 years jail.
Earlier this year the Attorney-General announced that the Government will look into simplifying and strengthening whistleblower protections.
“We look forward to seeing the Attorney-General’s plans to reform Australia’s public sector whistleblower laws. Our democracy is strengthened when governments are held to account, and often this requires bravery from people on the inside who blow the whistle. The prosecution of Witness K shows that our laws need to be overhauled. We should encourage and incentivise whistleblowers to speak up, instead the government is prosecuting them,” said Ms Howie
Michelle Bennett, Communications Director: 0419 100 519