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Thursday, 25 July 2019
Page: 1026


Ms SHARKIE (Mayo) (13:23): These bills implement the first tranche of measures to implement the recent treaty on maritime boundaries between Australia and East Timor. Sadly, the history of Australian negotiations with East Timor over maritime boundaries has been shameful and fraught with scandal. Australia unlawfully bugged the East Timorese cabinet to give it an unfair advantage in negotiations on the original maritime boundary treaty—to give it the upper hand in dividing the benefits of oil and gas reserves in the Timor Sea. That is a fact, and we did that to one of the poorest nations in Asia, which is really reprehensible.

As I mentioned, East Timor is one of the poorest countries in our region, with little revenue base other than these oil and gas reserves. In 2012, after learning that former foreign minister Alexander Downer had become an adviser to Woodside Petroleum, which was benefiting from the treaty, an ASIS agent, now known as 'Witness K', followed the proper internal processes to raise his concerns about the unlawful bugging operation. And now our government is prosecuting Witness K, and—unprecedented—his lawyer Bernard Collaery, for speaking out.

The case of Witness K and Bernard Collaery will likely stand for a long time as a landmark in Australia's democratic history. The question is: what sort of landmark will it be? Will the case of Witness K ultimately demonstrate the power of individual conscience against the abuse of power by the state, or will it be another step towards a future in which government secrecy and the power of secret agencies crowd out democracy and the rule of law? That has yet to be decided, but much will depend on the campaign to support Bernard Collaery and Witness K and, more broadly, on the effects of bringing our intelligence and national security agencies under full and proper scrutiny and control. At the heart of this case is an illegal act. At the heart of this case is a government decision to use the Australian Secret Intelligence Service, our overseas espionage organisation, to spy on our small and impoverished neighbour, East Timor. Our government did not seek to protect our national security but to advance narrow commercial interests for financial gain.

If there was ever a case of shooting the messenger, this has been the case. Collectively, we have worked with many members across the parliament, including former senator Tim Storer, and together we have referred the matter of the 2004 spying case on East Timor to the AFP. We ask the AFP to pursue the matter with diligence and rigour, knowing that no-one should be above the law, especially not our intelligence agencies. This disgraceful case of spying should never have taken place, and this is a very real moment of shame for this nation.

What we have now is the opportunity to right the wrong. I hope that, to right one of the wrongs, our Attorney-General decides to drop the case against Witness K and Bernard Collaery. However, in returning to the bill, this bill does take a positive step in the right direction. I again urge the Attorney-General to drop the case, and in the meantime I commend this bill to the House.

Debate adjourned.