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Byron Shire
October 22, 2021

Freedom of speech, govt transparency on trial

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Cartoon of the week – 20 October, 2021

The letters deadline for The Echo is noon Friday. Letters longer than 200 words may be cut. The publication of letters is at the discretion of the letters editor.

Lawyer Bernard Collaery, left, and Andrew Wilkie, right, looks in Parliament House in Canberra, on Thursday, June 28, 2018. Wilkie revealed in Parliament that Collaery and a former spy client who accused the Australian government of illegally bugging the East Timorese Cabinet have been charged with conspiring to disclose secret information. (AP Photo/Rod McGuirk)

Hans Lovejoy

US writer and environmentalists Edward Abbey (1927–1989) said, ‘A patriot must always be ready to defend his country against his government.’

Or put another way, is a key principle of democracy the right of free speech and the ability to inform the public of unscrupulous and illegal government behaviour?

In this context, an ASIS intelligence officer tasked with protecting Australia – and his lawyer –  are being persecuted by the federal government after disclosing to the public a surveillance operation of a sovereign nation in 2004.

A trial now underway is to determine whether Witness K and lawyer Bernard Collaery will face jail after being accused of breaching section 39 of the Intelligence Services Act 2001.

Justine Elliot. Photo supplied.

While local Labor federal MP Justine Elliot says her party won’t be commenting on whether they would stop the prosecution and scrap relevant laws if elected, the case reveals how governments treat other countries and individuals who are prepared to put their conscience and ethics on the line.

It also indicates a lack of whistleblower protections for the intelligence community.

Under parliamentary privilege, independent MP Andrew Wilkie said, ‘One of the richest countries in the world forced East Timor, the poorest country in Asia, to sign a treaty that stopped them obtaining their fair share of the oil and gas revenue… The spying on East Timor was indeed illegal and unscrupulous. Although it was the Howard government’s initiative, the crime has subsequently been covered up by all governments since.’

Given the significance of the charge, where does Labor stand? Labor’s Mrs Elliot told The Echo, ‘The charges are serious, and it is important to let the judicial process take its course. It would be inappropriate to comment on the specific case while that process is underway. 

‘In relation to the relevant provisions in the Intelligence Services Act 2001, clearly it is essential we have effective protections in our laws to guard against employees of our security agencies disclosing sensitive classified information or agency operational techniques that could harm Australia’s national interests.

‘Interpreting whether that has occurred in this case is now quite rightly a matter for the court. Labor will continue to monitor and scrutinise our national security legislation to ensure it is fit for purpose, supports our national interests, and is aligned with community expectations.

Bipartisan

‘We will always approach matters related to national security and protection of our democracy in a bipartisan manner to keep Australians safe, while ensuring we uphold the rule of law and the rights and freedoms that define us as a democratic nation.

‘This includes strong support for independent oversight mechanisms that exist to ensure our intelligence agencies always act in accordance with applicable Australian laws and guidelines, such as the critical function of the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security.’


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2 COMMENTS

    • Dear Jimbo,
      The Editor, Hans Lovejoy seems as unearthed as I feel by writing to:

      From: Roger Graf
      Sent: Friday, 6 July 2018 12:14 PM
      To: [email protected]
      Cc: [email protected]; [email protected]
      Subject: Howard Government illegally bugged the offices of the fledgling East Timorese government and I was an acting service member at the time of the Peace Keeping Force in 1999
      Sensitivity: Confidential

      Attorney-General for Australia
      The Hon Christian Porter MP
      PO Box 6022
      House of Representatives
      Parliament House
      CANBERRA ACT 2600

      Howard Government illegally bugged the offices of the fledgling East Timorese government and I was an acting service member at the time of the Peace Keeping Force in 1999

      For Information:
      Senator the Hon Marise Payne
      Minister for Defence
      Honourable Bill Shorten MP
      Opposition Leader of the Labor Party

      Dear Federal Members of the Parliament of Australia,

      My Timor Medal and Clasp is on the line here if you go ahead and; “Attorney General Christian Porter has authorised criminal prosecution of Witness K and their lawyer, former ACT Deputy Chief Minister Bernard Collaery. (‘Witness K’ and lawyer Bernard Collaery charged with breaching Intelligence Act over East Timor spying revelations, ABC News, 31 June 2018)” due to the greed of our country that at the time the poorest nation in the world was East Timor which despicable we took advantage of.

      The Liberal/National Party should be ashamed of yourselves to pick on one of our closest alias in the pacific and bring disrepute to such serving members as myself. At the time of my return home to Australia, I was selected to meet the PM at Sydney Town Hall and commended PM John Howard on such a successful achievement that no casualties from serving personnel were contributed to warfare by use of weapons, thus the success of Sir Peter Cosgrove and I also served under the leadership as a fighting member of the 9th Battalion Royal Australian Regiment in Vietnam.

      It’s up to you Attorney General as I’m getting close to the age of 70 and personally I would like to keep my medals intact, however this act that was conceived by our government in 2004 is so un-Australian that I will return or remove my East Timor Medal and clasp as a protest if you go ahead with the charge as mentioned above.
      What’s worse, Corporal Mike Kiker who I play bowls with occasionally was the soldier that put pen to pad to design the Timor Medal and ‘as is’… what will I say to him? For your consideration and reply.

      Respectfully,

      Roger Graf
      # 3 / 48 Main Road,
      FINGAL HEAD
      N.S.W. AUSTRALIA 2487
      +617 55130588
      0452488440
      e[email protected]
      date: 06 Jul 18

      I feel Jimbo that I have done a disservice to my country all for the claim to gain an economic advantage in being deceptive at the highest level by Alexander Downer MP being in the portfolio of Foreign affairs at that time.
      There is a realistic shame and blight placed upon our country when, knowingly you are cheating and when caught out, you can’t stand up for your principles to defend the rights of another country that is a victim of stealing ‘Commercial-In-Confidence conversations to gain some form of future prosperity.
      I hope that our law will not be blinkered into the submission by the government. If they are, say good bye to freedom and values.

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