Latest news

Whistleblowers: The latest on Witness K

June 02, 2021 IN WIP
Share this

Dear All,

The Witness K hearing this week will be held on 3 and 4 June. It seems it will be a sentencing hearing.

I can guarantee that you would find the following YouTube clip very interesting. It is nearly half an hour, but is well worth viewing.  Senator Kim Carr and Senator Rex Patrick engage with the Office of the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions and the Attorney-General in discussing just what the “public interest” is in the cases of Bernard Collaery and Witness K.

You might consider contacting these Senators regarding their dogged pursuit of truth and justice in this matter.

I’ll contact you again after the Witness K Hearing.

Best wishes to all


Timor Sea Justice Forum Facebook


Bernard Collaery – Go Fund Me

Petition: Drop the Prosecutions of Witness K and Bernard Collaery

Sister Susan Connelly

14 Yerrick Road

Lakemba NSW 2195

0498 473 341


The most recent hearing for Witness K was held on Monday 29th March. The demonstration was addressed by Alicia Payne, MP for Canberra, Flavia Abduraman, (, and Susan Connelly. A fire truck with a grand display of “Drop the Prosecutions” was provided by Ian Fraser and Ian Melrose, design by Cate Adams. On the same day, there was a demonstration outside the Australian Consulate in Auckland. Hooray for our NZ friends! Thanks to Maire Leadbeater.  Click here for photos.

On Wednesday 31 March the ANU webinar was seen by 400 people, many of whom sent in questions. The speeches by Nicholas Cowdery, Rebecca Ananian-Welsh, Kieran Pender and Pauline Wright were incisive and challenging. Kim Rubenstein did a great job of moderating. Click here for the recording from the ANU. Well worth viewing – an excellent event.

Here are two newspaper reports on the Webinar:

Guilty parties remain free in ‘chilling’ Witness K prosecution

Commonwealth prosecutors wrong on Witness K case, former NSW DPP says    

The ACT  Bar Association has sent out a superb media release: Time to Reconsider the Prosecution of Bernard Collaery

Time to reconsider prosecution of Bernard Collaery

With the announcement that Christian Porter will be replaced as Commonwealth Attorney-General, the ACT Bar Association calls on incoming Attorney, The Hon. Michaelia Cash to review the prosecution of former ACT Attorney-General Bernard Collaery.

Bernard Collaery who, for more than 30 years, had advised the East Timor Resistance movement and leading figures involved in the push for independence, represented Witness K in a legal case brought by the Timor-Leste Government against the Australian Government before the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague in the Netherlands.  Witness K was accused of disclosing secret information related to an operation conducted by Australia’s foreign intelligence agency, ASIS, to bug the office of Timor-Leste’s prime minister during oil and gas treaty negotiations in 2004.

In December 2013, ASIO and the AFP raided the homes of Witness K and Bernard Collaery.  Almost 4½ years passed before, on 30 May 2018, both were charged under section 39 of the Intelligence Services Act 2001.

The maximum penalty for this offence is 2 years imprisonment – the same maximum penalty for failing to pay for a restaurant meal.

Because of the nature of the allegations, the charges brought against Bernard Collaery can only be pursued with the consent of the Attorney-General.  Consent to prosecute was first sought from then Attorney-General George Brandis in September 2015. Having obtained advice from two Commonwealth DPPs and the Solicitor-General Mr Stephen Donaghue SC, by the time Mr Brandis was replaced by Mr Porter in December 2017, no consent was forthcoming.

Mr Bret Walker SC, the former independent monitor of Australia’s national security legislation, and now representing Mr Collaery, told ABC Four Corners in 2019 “I imagine the former attorney, Senator Brandis, didn’t find this a straightforward case to say yes to. That’s a very long time for something to be sitting on an attorney’s desk. I imagine it was not for want of thinking about it, that that time elapsed.”

However, within a few months of taking over the portfolio, Christian Porter gave his consent to prosecute the matter in what was criticised by many, including independent MP Andrew Wilkie and former Victorian Premier Steve Bracks, as a political decision.

The ongoing prosecution of Bernard Collaery has drawn criticism from many quarters, including retired judicial officers and academics.

The prosecution itself has been marked by further controversary with the secret nature of the proceedings and the suppression of much of the evidence that might be given in the case.

In June 2020, Justice David Mossop of the ACT Supreme Court ruled that material identified by the Attorney-General Christian Porter should be suppressed under the provisions of the National Security Information Act.  That ruling was based upon a secret certificate issued by Christian Porter certifying the material as prejudicial to national security. How, and in what respect, that material is said to be sensitive is itself suppressed.

Bernard Collaery is a 76-year-old man who came to Australia as a boy. He has spent his entire adult life serving the people of Australia. He has served as a First Secretary in the Australian Embassy in France, as the first Attorney-General of the Australian Capital Territory Legislative Assembly and has had a long and honorable career both in politics and in private practice as a lawyer.  Bernard Collaery has over decades helped, either for free or at greatly reduced charges, many clients.

There is an available perception that Bernard Collaery is being prosecuted by the Government for his involvement in acting for a man who brought to light allegations of improper and illegal behaviour by the Government.

It is difficult to identify any public, as opposed to political, interest in continuing this prosecution.  It is now eight years since the AFP raided Mr Collaery’s home, and 17 years since the alleged bugging operation. In the interim, the Commonwealth Government has now spent in excess of $3 million pursuing Mr Collaery for his role in acting for Witness K.

With the swearing in of our new Attorney-General Michaelia Cash, an opportunity arises to review the prosecution and, to withdraw consent for it to continue.

The Bar Association of the Australian Capital Territory earnestly calls on the incoming Attorney to undertake such a review.

1 April 2021

Media contact:

Andrew Muller
President ACT Bar Association

Joanne Dean-Ritchie
Executive Officer
0439 990 305


Another Webinar to Come:

Trashing Democratic Rights in Australia – Discussion and Q&A with Bernard Collaery and Greg Barnes SC, online 6.30pm (AEST) Tuesday April 20th,  Register here.

By Kieran Pender

As we reach the end of 2020, four individuals – Bernard Collaery, Witness K, David McBride and Richard Boyle – are being prosecuted by our government. These whistleblowers spoke up in the public interest, and now face the very real prospect of jail time. If we want to live in a transparent, accountable democracy, that should trouble us all.

Collaery and Witness K revealed that Australia bugged Timor-Leste’s cabinet, to help our government in ripping off an impoverished neighbour during tense oil and gas negotiations. McBride blew the whistle on the alleged actions of Australian special forces in Afghanistan – conduct characterised as potential war crimes by the Inspector-General. Boyle called out aggressive debt recovery practices by the Australian Taxation Office, which deliberately targeted vulnerable small businesses.

In each case, these whistleblowers raised their concerns internally first. Witness K articulated their misgivings with the Inspector-General for Intelligence and Security, in consultation with his Intelligence-approved lawyer, Collaery. McBride went to the police. Boyle lodged an internal disclosure. In each case, they were sidelined or ignored.

In desperation, they spoke up. But for these principled people, we might never have known about the misdeeds – potentially illegal, or, at the very least, improper – done in our name. It is only thanks to Collaery, Witness K, McBride and Boyle that we can demand corrective action and take steps to ensure they are never repeated.

We should be praising these whistleblowers. Instead, the Morrison government is prosecuting them. Orwellian? Kafkaesque? Take your pick.

Whether or not Collaery, McBride or Boyle succeed in their defences (Witness K has indicated a willingness to enter a plea of guilty to a single charge of breaching the Intelligence Services Act, subject to a plea bargain), the chilling effect of the prosecutions is severe. What potential whistleblower – having seen the reality faced by the current quartet – would accept these risks and speak up? Staring down the barrel of psychological trauma, professional ruin and financial oblivion, how many prospective truth-tellers will stay silent?

What wrongdoing might be occurring right now that Australians will never know about, because those who witnessed it remain mute? The cost of courage has become too high a price to pay.

It did not have to be like this. In 2013, the Labor government introduced protections for public servant whistleblowers. The Public Interest Disclosure (PID) Act provided a comprehensive regime for the disclosure and investigation of wrongdoing and protections for those who speak up. But while on paper the law was a step in the right direction, it has proven ineffective in practice – no more than a cardboard shield.

In 2016, an independent review by Philip Moss found that “the experience of whistleblowers under the PID Act is not a happy one”. Last year, a Federal Court judge lambasted the law as “technical, obtuse and intractable” and “largely impenetrable”.

On Wednesday, Attorney-General Christian Porter announced that the government was accepting, in part or in whole, 30 of the 33 recommendations made by Moss. This is welcome news, but it is long overdue. Porter and his colleagues have sat on this reform for four and a half years. In the meantime, homes have been raided, charges laid against whistleblowers and secretive trials commenced.

The Attorney-General must reform the PID Act as a matter of urgency. In the government’s official response, it flagged that it intends to go further than the Moss review. This is welcome, although the devil will be in the detail – detail which, for now, remains absent. If Porter is serious about promoting transparency and probity within our democracy, he should commit to legislating stronger protections for government whistleblowers in early 2021. Wednesday’s announcement is a positive step, yet until these changes become law, whistleblowers will continue to suffer.

Recent amendments to the laws protecting Australia’s private sector whistleblowers only underscore Porter’s inaction on public sector reform. Currently, those exposing corporate corruption are better protected than those exposing government misfeasance. That cannot be right. Public servants who speak up deserve protections equal to their private sector counterparts.

Meanwhile, the government has doubled-down on secrecy laws to penalise unauthorised disclosure of official information. It terminates the employment of public servants who dare criticise it online and cuts funding to accountability agencies that were established to keep the government in check. Our freedom of information regime is in tatters. Collectively, these measures guarantee a culture of silence within our public service and make external oversight even harder.

Australia was once a world leader in the field of whistleblower protections. When the first whistleblowing laws were introduced in this country, in 1993, the United States was the only jurisdiction with comparable protections. But as nations across the globe have found innovative ways to protect and empower whistleblowers, Australia has lagged behind. We have failed to shake off the words of a former police commissioner, who once observed that “nobody in Australia much likes whistleblowers”.

Yet any one of us could become a whistleblower. I have met dozens of individuals who have spoken up against wrongdoing. Almost unanimously, they say: “I did not intend to become a whistleblower.”

Many shun the label entirely. They are simply people who did what they believed was right – people who saw cruelty, corruption or abuse of power, and felt morally compelled to do something about it. In their shoes, would we not all hope for the courage to do the same?

Whistleblowers perform a vital democratic function in Australia. They are the canary in the coalmine that is Australian democracy. We must hear their call, not lock them up. The government’s recently-announced commitment to reform the PID Act is welcome, but actions speak louder than words.

Kieran Pender is a senior lawyer with the Human Rights Law Centre, and leads the centre’s work on whistleblower protections.

Subscribe for news & updates from PEN Melbourne.

People say that (writers) are pretty powerless: we don’t have an army, we don’t have a bureaucracy. But if that were true, then why would writers be arrested?... Because the spoken word is powerful.

— John Ralston Saul on the work of PEN International