Albanese Government Drops Prosecution of Whistle-Blower Lawyer

After four long and nerve-fraying years, Bernard Collaery can finally rest easy this week. Prosecuted in 2018 after denouncing Australian spying on East Timor during Timor Sea gas negotiations, Labor’s federal Attorney-General, Mark Dreyfus, waived the charges against Collaery last week. 

“Today, I have determined that the prosecution should end,” Dreyfus told the media in Canberra. Collaery was due to face trial this October.

Collaery is a Canberra-based barrister specialising in international law. He represented East Timor in a case at the International Court of Justice, which followed revelations by an ASIS whistleblower, known as Witness K, about the spying.

In 2013, Witness K’s and Collaery’s homes and offices were raided by ASIO and federal police. Witness K’s passport was seized to prevent him from travelling to the Netherlands to testify. 

The 2018 charges followed those raids. They were pursued during the ministry of former Attorney-General Christian Porter. Centre Alliance MP Rebekha Sharkie this week called the prosecution “an embarassment to the rule of law.”

Famous whistleblower and Independent MP, Andrew Wilkie, described the decision to prosecute as “an act of bastardry.” He commented, “The fact that Mr Collaery was being prosecuted in the first place was a grave injustice and an outrageous attack on the legal profession.”

Under Malcolm Turnbull’s leadership, an inquiry was commissioned into the law regulating whistle-blowing, the 2013 Public Interest Disclosure Act, after queries about its capacity to protect whistle-blowers acting in the public interest. The Morrison government did not respond to its findings until December 2020, four and a half years after the inquiry’s report went public. It agreed to the report’s recommendations on paper but made no changes.

Following the Dreyfus decision, Collaery said in a statement that he is “in awe of the depth of support in our community for ethical values.” He joins Witness K as a free man, after the latter was given a suspended sentence in 2021.

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