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Silencing Voices of Dissent: Australia and the Repression of Whistle-Blowers.

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Scott C.                                            11 August 2019

As the Fascist Portuguese Empire collapsed due to anti-colonial rebellions in Africa and growing dissent at home, the people of Timor-Leste sought to win their Independence. However, this freedom was cut short by invasion in December 1975 by the imperialist-backed military regime of Suharto, who in 1965-6 had massacred upwards of 1 million communists and political dissidents, and invaded West Papua. Suharto subjected Timor-Leste to the same oppression that the people of Indonesia and West Papua then faced (and continue to face to this day).

Australia supported Indonesia’s invasion, as Indonesia agreed to adhere to the sea border established between Portugal and Australia over the Timor Sea, which left a vast amount of ocean territory - and with it, large supplies of oil and gas - in Australian hands. Timor-Leste would suffer massively under occupation; 300,000 people would die and many more would live under abject poverty and fear of the Indonesian military. Despite all this, the people of Timor-Leste resisted heroically, fighting their oppressors in the jungles of their homeland.

 When Timor-Leste finally gained its Independence in 2002, Australia moved in immediately to secure the country for the benefit of corporations and imperialist powers, namely the US and Japan. Australia worked tirelessly to make sure Timor-Leste remained subservient to the imperialists, and as a part of that process, ASIS (the Australian Secret Intelligence Service, Australia’s foreign intelligence agency, equivalent to the US’s CIA) bugged the cabinet rooms of Timor-Leste. They planted hidden microphones to record conversations to spy on government officials of Timor-Leste, in order to be aware of the situation and have our “negotiators”, who were attempting to resolve the Timor Sea dispute in favour of Woodside Petroleum, respond accordingly.

Alexander Downer, the then Liberal Minister for Foreign Affairs under John Howard, ordered the bugging, working on behalf of Woodside, and later took a job with the company. Ashton Calvert, Liberal Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) at the time, became a director at Woodside. The Liberals really got their hands in deep with the corporations they serve this time, in order to maintain the status quo of denying a people their rightful resources.

But Labor isn’t out of the blame either. The newly-elected Labor government of Kevin Rudd worked to cover up the Liberals’ crimes in Timor-Leste, and discouraged discussion of it. Two rocks, one bird, eh? But a question remains, how do we know this happened? A former senior ASIS officer, known only as Witness K, chose not to ignore his conscience, and came out and exposed the buggings, informing the government of Timor-Leste, which promptly withdraw from the Treaty, and demanded new negotiations for an internationally recognised border, which they finally achieved in March 2018, via the UN.

After exposing the Australian governments’ crimes, Witness K was arrested for “making known state secrets” and has been under persecution in a secret trial. His lawyer, Bernard Collaery, was also arrested under the same charge. They face 2 years in the gaol. The so-called trial against Witness K and Bernard Collaery has been artificially prolonged due to the government insisting it is a matter of national security, last-minute changes and prohibitions, and the late introduction of documents that not even Collaery and K, let alone their supporting lawyers, would be allowed to see, and using national security legislation to ban Collaery from instructing his lawyers.

This prolongation is largely from the efforts of current Liberal Attorney-General Christian Porter, who also authorised the persecution of K and Collaery. Porter’s tactics in refusing to allow Collaery to instruct his lawyers have been so appalling that they drew a rebuke from the presiding magistrate that “a finger needs to be pulled out to make it happen as quickly as possible.”

Porter’s delay strategy has exerted pressure on Collaery’s own legal practice. He has not been able to take anything other than minor cases while he is being prosecuted. It has had a detrimental effect on K’s health. K has been under extraordinary pressure for over 6 years, having been placed under surveillance along with Collaery by Labor’s Mark Dreyfus, the then Attorney-General of Australia, in 2013, while also being raided by ASIO and the AFP and then having his passport confiscated, and, despite ASIO claiming to have no concerns about K, not returning it to them.

K’s appeal against that vindictive decision by DFAT was halted, interestingly enough, by the prosecution. Then came last year’s prosecution, 5 years after the alleged leaking of information about ASIS’ illegal activities.

When the court case opened on August 6, Witness K indicated he would plead guilty to a summary offence, one breach of section 39 of the Intelligence Services Act for communicating secret information obtained in the course of his duties as an Australian Secret Intelligence Service agent.

Collaery said he had “great empathy for Witness K and the struggle has gone through spiritually, mentally and physically”. He said Witness K had “reached a conclusion he needs to exit the process” after “six years of seclusion, harassment and questioning”.

Collaery, however, would fight on. He said the case had revealed a “cheating culture motivated by commercial interests” which was both “contrary to Australia’s national security interests” and unlawful.

Collaery said he was charged with “speaking to five journalists after my chambers were raided and my brief seized”, labelling the case “a likely turning point on … true freedom of expression against abuses of power”.

Collaery said the prosecution was “a very determined push to hide dirty political linen … under the guise of national security imperatives”.

He said he felt capable of fighting the charges, saying "I'm from Wollongong. I grew up playing in the mud and there's going to be a lot thrown back soon."

This is not the first time Australia has silenced its critics. In 2015, the Federal Parliament passed the Australian Border Force Act of 2015, which silenced whistle-blowers who exposed the horrific conditions of people living in Australia’s concentration camps on Manus Island and Nauru. Then came the AFP raids on journalists at the ABC and News Corporation’s Annika Smethurst. There is also the case begun in June against Australian Taxation Office whistleblower Richard Boyle who faces six life sentences if convicted. He had revealed many instances of unethical and unprofessional conduct by the ATO directed at taxpayers. This repression is wholly unjustified.

We call on all Australians who believe in the right of Peoples to determine their own futures, who believe in the right for people to expose the crimes of a government, who believe our government should pay for its crimes, to support the immediate throwing out of this case, and to release Witness K and Bernard Collaery immediately.

More information can be found at the Australia-East Timor Friendship Association:

Our Party supports freedom for Witness K, Bernard Collaery, and all whistle-blowers and political prisoners both here in Australia and Internationally!
Freedom for all Political Prisoners and Whistle-blowers!

Support the Independence of Timor-Leste!

End the Indonesian Occupation of West Papua!

Prosecute those responsible for Crimes against the People of Timor-Leste!

Close the Camps!


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