Whistleblowers facing charges for acting with integrity

Whistleblowers need our support!  Demand a Royal Commission into the treatment of whistleblowers!

There are a number of whistleblowers facing courts in Australia for disclosing either wrong doing or bad practice by the Australian Government.  These whistleblowers are people of great courage and integrity.  Democracy needs such people, who are heroes of our time.

CASE 1: The prosecutions of Bernard Collaery and Witness K resulting from the bugging by the Australian Government of Government offices of Timor Leste.

This began when negotiations were taking place between Australia and Timor Leste over Timor Sea oil rights worth around $45b.  In 2004, with the authorisation of Alexander Downer, An ASIS operative bugged the Timor Leste Government offices, gaining advantage in the negotiations which resulted, in 2006, in a 50:50 carve up of the oil rights. This was a good result for Australia and the multinationals led by Woodside which were in line to exploit the oil.  The Greater Sunrise fields, holding the oil, are 150km south of Timor Leste, but 450 km N-W of Darwin.

Witness K. the ASIS officer, went to the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security to raise his concerns and was given permission to engage Bernard Collaery, a former Attorney-General, as his lawyer.  Collaery prepared a case against Australia for the Permanent Court of Arbitration in the Hague, which would challenge the validity of the treat, given it resulted in an unfair allocation of the resources, through the bugging.

Under the Abbott government in 2013, Attorney-General George Brandis authorised ASIO raids on Bernard Collaery’s home and his legal papers for the case in the Hague were taken, Around the same time Witness K’s passport was taken, making it impossible for him to travel to the Hague to give evidence. This is a shocking incident when a lawyers legal brief is taken by the opposing side, the Abbott Government.  Downer when he left office in 2008, went to work for Woodside as a consultant – an action which should not be allowed if we had stronger Ministerial guidelines against corruption.

Timor Leste dropped the case and since the bugging was now public knowledge, started negotiations for a a new treaty with Australia which was signed in March 2018 and which gave Timor Leste a much greater share of the resources, around 80%.

Soon after, in 2018, Attorney-General Christian Porter decided the prosecution of Witness K and Bernard Collaery should proceed, charged with offences under s39 of the Intelligence Services Act.  Witness K has pleaded guilty but Bernard Collaery is fighting the charges.

These charges have been called ‘one of the greatest threats to freedom of expression in this country’, and may other articles decry the prosecutions as a travesty of justice and threat to our democracy. National security is being given as the excuse for this case, and is being used to hold sessions of court in secret a dangerous step towards a secret state.

We call for a Royal Commission into the treatment of Whistleblowers and the associated legislation which is meant to protect them but which has failed demonstrably, as well as legislation to protect journalists doing their jobs.

We can’t allow this travesty of justice to continue – Drop the prosecutions of Witness K and Bernard Collaery!

Andrew Wilkie MP deplores the bugging and the prosecutions in parliament in 2018.

CASE 2 – The prosecution of ADF Lawyer David McBride resulting from ADF actions in Afghanistan

David McBride served two deployments as a military lawyer in Afghanistan in 2011 and 2013, during which time he observed activities of the ADF which caused him much disquiet. Since 2001, over 26,000 soldiers have served Afghanistan. David says, “After learning that what I had seen was unfortunately widespread and systematic, I made an internal report in 2014. As I saw no real or effective action, I disclosed documents to the ABC in 2016. …

The Australian Government is using the catchall cry of ‘national security’ to take away our right to know what our government is doing and to remove their accountability to the people that elect them. Legislation is being used to threaten whistleblowers, lawyers and journalists with long jail sentences and hefty fines. Media organisations are being raided by the police.”

The ABC’s Dan Oakes and his producer Sam Clark were responsible for a series of stories aired in 2017 that the ABC called The Afghan Files. They were based on leaked documents from a stalled defence force investigation into allegations that Australia’s special forces in Afghanistan had committed war crimes. The ABC offices were subsequently raided and documents seized.

David is facing 5 charges – theft of government documents, 3 charges of talking to journalists, and talking to journalists not in the course of this duties.  He has pleaded guilty to taking documents, but argues that it was in the public interest.  It was also after he had raised his concerns through the correct channels and saw no result. David could be facing 50 years in jail if he is found guilty.

There have been ADF and Federal Police inquiries into the ADF activities in Afghanistan which are likely to see charges being laid against some soldiers.

It is clearly in the public interest for us to know if criminal activities have taken place in our name – the prosecution of David McBride should be dropped immediately.

You can support David though his GoFund Me page here.

CASE NO 3:  Richard Boyle disclosed debt collection practices at the tax office which he felt were unduly harsh and unfair.

Richard Boyle took his concerns about the ATO’s practices to the inspector general of taxation in 2017 before he went public with the disclosure in 2018.

Commonwealth director of public prosecutions reduces charges from 66 to 24, 3 July 2020 the Guardian

Excerpts from the Guardian article follow –

‘Boyle spoke out about the Australian Taxation Office’s treatment of tax debtors during a 2018 ABC-Fairfax investigation.

The investigation raised serious concerns about the controversial and aggressive use of garnishee notices to recover debts, which devastated small businesses and destroyed livelihoods.

Boyle has since been charged with 66 offences, including allegedly photographing protected information, disclosing protected information, and unlawfully using listening devices to record conversations with other ATO employees.

The decision [to drop some charges] follows revelations last month that the ATO conducted only a “superficial” investigation into Boyle’s concerns when he first blew the whistle internally.

In 2017, Boyle submitted a detailed and comprehensive public interest disclosure warning of the dangers of the ATO’s use of garnishee notices, which allow for the direct removal of money from a company’s bank account or direct collection from a company’s debtors.

The Senate asked for evidence from the ATO about how it responded to Boyle’s internal complaint. The evidence was heard in secret.

But the Senate economics legislation committee said in a brief statement that it was troubled by what appeared to be a superficial response [to his complaints] by the ATO.’

The Australian reports 3 July, that Richard Boyle faces the possibility of 161 years in prison if found guilty. ‘Senator Patrick said if the ATO had initially properly investigated Mr Boyle’s claims, “there would have never been any charges laid at all. The Commonwealth has not operated in accordance with model litigant obligations,” he said.’

‘The tax ombudsman, inspector-general of taxation Karen Payne, had argued her office was unable to protect ATO whistleblowers against personal and professional reprisal unless its powers were boosted.  A Senate committee holding an inquiry into whether the inspector-general properly fulfils its role, agreed the tax ombudsman need more resources and powers.

Last month, the committee holding the inquiry released a report making 16 recommendations that mostly involve the Federal Government making swift changes to boost whistleblower protections.’

The ATO has since changed some of its collection practices, virtually acknowledging the correctness of Richard Boyles complaints. He was offered a payout by the ATO on condition of keeping quiet about his concerns.  He refused the condition and his employment was terminated in 2018.

You can support Richard Boyle through his crowdfunding campaign here.

All of the charges against Richard Boyle, a man acting in the public interest, should be dropped.

Unfortunately there are many more whistleblowers and protection for them needs to be increased as does protection for journalists reporting their concerns.

We need a Royal Commission into the treatment of whistleblowers and journalists, such as ABC reporter Dan Oakes, who may face charges for reporting David McBride’s concerns.

July 2020