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Thursday, 28 June 2018
Page: 73


Senator McKIM (Tasmania) (15:40): I move:

That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Minister representing the Attorney-General (Senator Fifield) to a question without notice asked by Senator McKim today relating to national security.

Earlier today in a press conference I stressed the need for transparency in our justice system. I said that justice must not only be done, it must also be seen to be done. That press conference was with distinguished lawyer Mr Bernard Collaery and some of my parliamentary colleagues.

Mr Collaery, a distinguished lawyer and former Attorney-General of the ACT, has been issued with criminal charges by Ms Sarah McNaughton SC, the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions. Also charged is Mr Collaery's client, known only as Witness K—a former officer of the Australian Secret Intelligence Service; a person who revealed the bastardry of what Australia did to Timor-Leste in 2004. Their first appearance will be at the ACT Magistrates Court on 25 July, where it's expected that the DPP will try to have the entire prosecution conducted in secret to prevent the media from scrutinising it. This is unacceptable. I encourage the media to apply for a public hearing, and I hope they do. ABC journalists Emma Alberici, Peter Lloyd, Conor Duffy and Marian Wilkinson and former producer Peter Cronau are named in the prosecution documents. It's abundantly curious that other media organisations and their journalists are not named. I wonder: is the prosecution trying to protect certain media organisations that might be sympathetic to the government? It also seems curious to me that previous Attorney-General Senator Brandis got up in this place, in the Senate, 4½ years ago and threatened Mr Collaery with prosecution.

Last month the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties finally held public hearings on a new Timor Sea treaty, and immediately afterwards Ms McNaughton, the DPP and former counsel to the trade union royal commission, filed charges. Any prosecution of this nature can only be instituted by or with the consent of the Attorney-General. The Australian public needs a firm assurance from government that these criminal proceedings are not politically motivated.

Minister Fifield's refusal to answer the questions I asked today is a disgraceful cop-out. And his refusal to deny that these charges were politically motivated when I gave him every opportunity to do so supports the obvious conclusion that, in fact, they are. Let me remind the Senate that successive governments have pursued and harassed Mr Collaery and Witness K since 2013. Governments denied a passport to Witness K, although the Director-General of ASIO has said that ASIO has no concerns about Witness K being allowed to travel overseas. Witness K has gone to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal to seek to have that decision overturned, and my understanding was a decision was imminent in that case, but these criminal proceedings, I understand, have led to a staying of that decision. Maybe that's the reason for the timing of these charges being laid.

Ms McNaughton is handling the case through her organised crime and counterterrorism unit—adding insult to injury. Are we to understand from that decision that Witness K and Mr Collaery are to be treated as though they are potential terrorists? I mean, give me a break! The Howard government ordered ASIS to spy on Timor-Leste's cabinet officers as part of a deliberate campaign by that government to defraud Timor-Leste and to steal that country's oil and natural gas, and to steal the revenues that would have flowed from the oil and natural gas rightly and properly to Timor-Leste. This was a criminal action by the Howard government. The way it and successive governments have reacted since shows the level of embarrassment that has been caused by Australia's criminality being exposed.

This latest prosecution—the charges laid against Mr Collaery and Witness K—continues the disgraceful way that this matter has been handled by successive Australian governments. Minister Fifield can't use these charges and the resultant legal proceedings as a veil to continue to hide under. He's got some serious questions to answer, and there is no way that responding to my questions about whether or not these charges are politically motivated and how the Attorney-General either instituted these charges or gave consent for these charges to be laid could compromise justice in any way. Let the truth out.

Question agreed to.