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From Richard Boyle and Witness K to media raids: it’s time whistleblowers had better protection

TJ Ryan Foundation Research Associate, AJ Brown, writes in The Conversation (13.8.19) that Australian laws make it inevitable for whistleblowers to be charged whenever national security might be involved, even when the information is in the public interest.

‘Never has the case for law reform to properly protect public-interest whistleblowers been so stark. Today, the public hearings into press freedom begin, following the “seismic” raids on media organisations in early June.’A broader Senate inquiry into protecting public whistleblowing is hot on its heels. This builds on a 2017 parliamentary inquiry, which recommended reforms only partially implemented.

‘Yesterday, a crowdfunding campaign for Richard Boyle’s legal defence was launched. Boyle is charged with 66 offences for disclosing concerns about oppressive debt collection by the Australian Taxation Office in Adelaide.

‘What’s more, the unknown Australian Secret Intelligence Service agent “Witness K” last week pleaded guilty to exposing secrets by revealing Australia bugged Timor Leste government buildings during treaty negotiations in 2004.

‘… The trouble is, Australian laws make it inevitable for whistleblowers to be charged whenever national security might be involved – even when, in theory, they’re intended to protect public interest whistleblowing.’

Why Bernard Collaery’s case is one of the gravest threats to freedom of expression

Spencer Zifcak writes in The Conversation (3.7.20) about how Witness K and his lawyer, Bernard Collaery, are accused of disclosing information related to a covert ASIS spying operation. The author argues that the legal issues likely to be raised at trial present a serious threat to whistleblowing and freedom of expression in Australia.

‘After a lengthy delay due to the coronavirus pandemic, the legal case that constitutes the most significant threat to freedom of expression in this country will soon play out in the ACT Supreme Court.

‘This is the prosecution of Bernard Collaery, the former ACT attorney-general and lawyer for Witness K, the former ASIS officer turned whistleblower.

‘Both are charged under section 39 of the Intelligence Services Act 2001, which deems it a criminal offence for a person to communicate any information that was prepared by the Australian Secret Intelligence Service in pursuit of its functions.

‘After an ACT Supreme Court ruling last week, significant parts of the trial against Collaery will now be held in secret, but the argument put forward by the attorney-general that certain information in the case must be kept classified is extraordinarily weak.

‘… A conviction in these circumstances would be a travesty, particularly as it carries with it a maximum sentence of two years imprisonment. This is the penalty Collaery and K are facing.’

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