Bernard Collaery will head back into court today to challenge a court order that would require large parts of his trial to be held in secret.
It is the 50th scheduled court hearing in the government’s long-running pursuit of the senior Canberra lawyer, who is being tried over his alleged role in helping his client, ex-intelligence officer Witness K, expose Australia’s illegal bugging of East Timor in 2004.
At the end of March, Michaelia Cash officially took over the role of attorney-general from Christian Porter. Porter repeatedly dragged out and delayed the prosecution of Collaery, earning criticism from three different magistrates about his tactics. Porter even tried to delay Bret Walker SC from joining Collaery’s legal team, leading Justice John Burns to criticise Porter and his department.
Walker is now representing Porter in his defamation case against the ABC — and last week defended Porter’s right to engage barrister Sue Chrysanthou against an attempt to block her from representing Porter in the case. Porter, it seems, is both happy for Walker to represent him, and to defend the right of people to be represented by counsel of their choice, despite his attempt to delay Collaery from engaging Walker.
Human rights lawyers say the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions could stop the prosecution today if it wanted to. They also argue that the ongoing prosecution of Collaery, as well as other public sector whistleblowers David McBride and Richard Boyle, are dangerously undemocratic and an exercise in avoiding political accountability.
“The Morrison government has refused to publicly admit these shameful acts and apologise to our neighbours,” Kieran Pender, a senior lawyer at the Human Rights Law Centre, told Crikey.
“Instead the attorney-general wants to cloak this case in secrecy, so the government can tell the court one thing and Australian people another.”
But Cash has played down her powers to intervene in whistleblower prosecutions, telling Crikey last week that they have “never been used” and are reserved for “very unusual” circumstances.
And as Crikey has noted, the new attorney-general also has a poor record when it comes to upholding legal processes, given her previous refusal to cooperate with an Australian Federal Police investigation into a crime committed in her office in relation to a bogus raid on the Australian Workers’ Union.
Along with Porter’s, that’s just one of many hypocrisies in the most sordid scandal in recent Australian history, involving an attempt by the current Coalition government to cover up crimes ordered by the Howard government, perpetrated to help political donor and noted employer of politicians, Woodside.