Put Christian Porter’s Whistleblower Legacy to Rest, and Get Julian Assange Home

On the 12th July 2022, Kathryn Kelly and Susan Connelly, Co-convenors of the Alliance Against Political Prosecutions, reported in the Canberra Times and other regional papers

The legacies of the Morrison government and, in particular, the legacy of former attorney-general Christian Porter have been damaging to many sectors of our society, the system of justice being a crucial one.

The partisan appointments to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal is one aspect of that damage. But the ones that most concern the Alliance Against Political Prosecutions are the prosecutions of Bernard Collaery, Witness K, David McBride and Richard Boyle.

We applaud the decision by Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus to discontinue the prosecution of Collaery, and it gives us hope that faith in our justice system can be restored. It is important that the “secret” documents from that case are kept secure, perhaps by the Attorney-General, so that they don’t “inadvertently” disappear before any investigation into the 2004 bugging operation can be undertaken.

We hope Dreyfus will seek a pardon for Witness K and both men will receive compensation for the terrible stress they have been put through since 2013 when Witness K’s passport was taken and Collaery’s office was raided. 

The lack of Australian Government action to protect Australian citizen, Julian Assange, is also a serious concern. Assange’s case is urgent and is a real threat to press freedom. It intimidates journalists everywhere with the risk that, if they publish material critical of Washington actions, they could be charged and extradited to the US. Thousands of parliamentarians, journalists, lawyers and supporters around the world have called for his freedom. 

Assange has suffered treatment worse than many murderers, and has been described by the UN Special Rapporteur on Torture, Professor Nils Melzer, as a victim of psychological torture. His health has seriously deteriorated, and he is reportedly at risk of suicide if extradited. He has committed no crime, unless embarrassing the US government is illegal. How can an Australian government let this situation continue?

The Morrison government did nothing to try and secure the release of this Australian citizen. The Albanese government must work harder to gain his freedom. Quiet diplomacy with the UK government may not be enough in this political trial. But a new UK prime minister may be willing to accede to a request from Australia.

George Brandis reportedly said: “Australia was not a party to the proceedings and had no standing to intervene in the proceedings. We would not intervene in those proceedings.” But did the government seek standing to protect its citizen? If they didn’t, I’d like an explanation as to why the Australian government can’t seek standing in the court or make an amicus curiae (friend of the court) submission to argue for an end to the extradition. 

The time to make extra effort in the UK is now. Of course, they still need to be urged to drop the charges. 

The prosecution of whistleblowers, Major David McBride and former Australian Tax Office employee Richard Boyle, are also patently unjust and not in the public interest. They too have suffered years of stress and loss of income. Are we really trying to intimidate people who see wrongdoing, from reporting it? 

Richard Boyle faces court in Adelaide on 25 July to put his public interest disclosure defence, and David McBride has a similar defence hearing coming up in a few months.

If their defence arguments fail (and the legislation has been criticised as being ineffective) their trials could go on for a considerable time. The cost of all these cases is significant. 

The principle of non-interference in legal cases is an important one, but it should not be utilised when these prosecutions are clearly unjust. Dreyfus should discontinue these two long-standing cases which also began in Porter’s time as attorney-general. 

The agenda now must include establishing the long overdue ICAC to investigate, amongst a long list of matters: the 2004 Australian government bugging of the Timor-Leste government offices, legislation to strengthen whistleblower protections, and a review of the National Security Information Act, which enabled prosecution lawyers to close the court on so many occasions in the Collaery and Witness K cases.

Read original article in Canberra Times
and more from the Alliance Against Political Prosecutions on Julian Assange