Cost of Prosecution of Witness K and Lawyer Bernard Collaery Rises to $ 3.7 Million | Witness case K
The lawsuits against former spy whistleblower Witness K and his lawyer Bernard Collaery have now cost the Australian government $ 3.7 million, new figures reveal.
The government’s external legal costs related to high-profile cases have increased significantly since the middle of last year, when the tally was $ 2 million.
The latest figures have prompted Independent Senator Rex Patrick to call the lawsuits “unfair” and “extremely expensive”.
“It sends absolutely the wrong message to potential whistleblowers: if you do report, we will pursue you with all the force of the government, and we will spare no expense,” Patrick said on Friday.
Witness K and Collaery were indicted for their alleged role in exposing Australia to eavesdropping on its impoverished neighbor, Timor-Leste, in negotiations to divide the resource-rich Timor Sea in 2004 .
Witness K, a former Australian Secret Service officer who was disturbed by the wiretapping operation, pleaded guilty last month to a single charge of conspiring with his lawyer, Collaery, to release intelligence information to the government of Timor-Leste.
The ex-spy was spared jail and given a three-month suspended prison sentence. Collaery, a former Australian Capital Territory attorney general, plans to fight the allegations at the trial.
The Federal Attorney General’s Department disclosed the latest legal fees associated with the prosecution of the two men in response to a question posed during the latest round of Senate estimates hearings.
“As of May 14, 2021, the total external legal costs incurred by the Commonwealth in the prosecution of Witness K and Mr. Bernard Collaery amounted to approximately $ 3,670,379.91 excluding GST,” the department wrote in a response. to Green Senator Lidia Thorpe.
“This amount includes Australian government attorney services and external legal services, which include attorney’s fees and attorney’s fees and legal disbursements.”
In the question, submitted on June 4, Thorpe also asked why Attorney General Michaelia Cash had “failed to provide Parliament with an explanation” for the prosecution.
The ministry pointed to Cash’s subsequent comments in the Senate Chamber.
In the exchange of June 17 (PDF), Patrick asked the Attorney General to “please explain to this chamber why it is in the public interest to prosecute Bernard Collaery and Witness K for reporting illegal activity.”
Cash responded that the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions (CDPP) had “reviewed the evidentiary record and made an independent decision that a prosecution was the appropriate course of action in this case.”
She said this was done “in accordance with Commonwealth prosecution policy which requires the CDPP to be satisfied that prosecution would be in the public interest”.
Patrick told the Senate the government had “worn down Witness K over the years – including removing his passport in 2013 so he couldn’t leave this country,” prompting Cash to say the government wasn’t disagree with this “comment”.
Patrick said on Friday he saw “no public benefit in this lawsuit.”
Thorpe called on the government to “drop all charges against Bernard Collaery”.
“The Morrison government spending over $ 3 million in public money to prosecute a whistleblower is ludicrous, especially when Witness K risked everything to find out that the Australian government sent spies to Timor-Leste to obtain benefits for Australian oil and gas companies, ”Thorpe said on Friday. .
“This government, and the previous government, will pay anything to keep their skeletons in the closet.”
Timor-Leste has previously said it has overwhelming evidence that Australia has tapped the country’s cabinet to gain an unfair advantage in the run-up to a 2006 deal extending the term of a crucial treaty on oil and gas.
In 2014, the International Court of Justice in The Hague heard a case brought by Timor-Leste, which sought to prevent Australia from using documents that the national spy agency Asio had seized in Collaery in 2013.
The treaty at the heart of the dispute was renegotiated in 2017. The following year, then Attorney General Christian Porter signed the lawsuits against Collaery and Witness K for disclosing protected information.