Collaery lawsuits are over, we must hold the perpetrators to account
Bernard Collaery’s immediate ordeal is over. For four years he was prosecuted by a vindictive government determined to punish him not only for helping, with Witness K, to expose the malignant crimes of the Howard government in Timor-Leste, but for trashing the basic concepts of the rule of law to do so.
Collaery bore the brunt of it without bitterness, and always maintained his deep respect for the law. Recently, he suggested, entirely against his own interests, that attorneys general – and he had been one himself in the ACT – should always be reluctant to prosecute without a bill, given that it amounted to a political intervention in the prosecution process. But he and his legal team have fought efforts by Christian Porter and Michaelia Cash to secretly sue him, to use secret information against him, to block his efforts to defend themselves — even to the point of trying to stop him from choosing his own lawyers. .
The conduct of Porter and Cash and their lawyers – which amounted to a complete rejection of the requirement that the Commonwealth be a model litigator – was deeply disgraceful, even by the grimy standards of the Morrison government, and poached the office of the “first law”. land officer.
Along the way, Witness K — who served his country in a way a privileged man-child like Christian Porter couldn’t begin to comprehend — hit the fence. Exhausted, aging, he pleaded guilty and received a short suspended sentence, a deeply offensive outcome even in its symbolic nature.
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All to persecute a man who dared to reveal how vile and corrupt the Howard government had acted towards the nascent state of Timor-Leste. That, despite Attorney General Mark Dreyfus’ welcome decision yesterday, remains unfinished business. Some of the eavesdroppers – David Irvine, Ashton Calvert – are dead. Others remain – inexplicably – in good public standing in Australia.
Unlike Collaery and K, they deserve to be in the dock and account for themselves. In public.
John Howard and Alexander Downer must be in the dock, explaining who initiated the plan, who approved it, and why. Downer can further explain what role this played in his later decision to take a job with Woodside, the primary beneficiary of the eavesdropping.
So did their advisers – Josh Frydenberg, adviser to Downer and Howard at the time. Former MP Dave Sharma, Downer’s legal adviser. Charles Goode and Don Voelte, then at Woodside. Margaret Twomey, then ambassador to Dili.
And the authors of the dissimulation too. Julia Gillard and Bob Carr, who in 2012 received East Timorese politician Xanana Gusmão’s confidential letter informing him of the matter, and who reacted aggressively, including publicly revealing the wiretapping allegations, even dismissing them as “not news” (thus making the whole prosecution ridiculous).
George Brandis, who authorized the raids on K and Collaery (although, to his credit, appears to have refused to authorize their continuation). Former intelligence chief Nick Warner, who as head of ASIS blocked the return of K’s passport, must also be held to account.
And above all, Christian Porter, his then-secretary Chris Moraitis, Michaelia Cash and their advisers – all must explain why the conduct of the Commonwealth during the prosecution (as distinct from the attorneys for the Director of Public Prosecutions, who have always been professionals) was so shabby and vexatious — and what changed was that Porter approved the lawsuit.
There are other parties whose conduct over the past four years has been less than decent. Few federal MPs have spoken about the egregious nature of the lawsuit. Labor’s Graham Perrett had the courage to speak out in 2019. NSW Labor MP Paul Lynch did so in 2018. Others, over time, followed, usually reflecting on aspects of the prosecution rather than the prosecution itself – Canberra Labor MPs Katy Gallagher, Andrew Leigh, Alicia Payne and David Smith; veteran Luke Gosling. Mark Dreyfus, who has his own role in the saga in 2013, has become a fierce critic of the prosecution’s conduct.
But Collaery’s political support came almost entirely from the cross bench: Andrew Wilkie, Nick Xenophon, Rex Patrick (later) and Nick McKim of the Greens spoke from the outset for Collaery and against the injustice done to him.
As for the media, their performance has been dismal. The ABC’s Elizabeth Byrne ably covered the trial in Canberra. Australia’s Guardian Christopher Knaus provided detailed coverage and expertly pointed out the absurdities of the case. But few other reporters showed significant interest. The press gallery, in particular, practically ignored it.
It was Australia’s Watergate – a moment of flagrant misconduct and cover-up that exposed deep corruption at the highest levels of politics and bureaucracy, a scandal unfolding before their eyes. And most of them turned a blind eye, either intimidated by the government’s constant lies about national security or, worse, deeming the issue irrelevant.
Many of them now welcome Dreyfus’ decision. Where were you when it mattered?