Bernard Collaery prosecution brought to an end by Labor government

Bernard Collaery, former attorney-general of the ACT, will no longer face charges for disclosing confidential information about the bugging of the Timor-Leste cabinet.

Bernard Collaery (Image: AAP/Lukas Coch)

The prosecution of Bernard Collaery for his role in the exposure of the Howard government’s bugging of the Timor-Leste cabinet in 2004 is over. This afternoon, Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus announced that he had no-billed the prosecution, under section 71 of the Judiciary Act.

“In taking this decision I have had careful regard to our national security, our national interest and the proper administration of justice,” Dreyfus said in announcing the decision. “It is my view that the prosecution of Mr Collaery should end.”

Collaery, along with Witness K, was prosecuted in May 2018 for the disclosure of information about the bugging of the Timor-Leste cabinet by the Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS) in 2004, on the orders of then foreign minister Alexander Downer.

Witness K, a former ASIS officer, pleaded guilty and was given a suspended sentence in June 2021. Collaery’s defence was dogged by the efforts of then attorneys-general Christian Porter and Michaelia Cash to suppress evidence, conduct the prosecution in secret and block Collaery from subpoenaing evidence and witnesses about the bugging.

The conduct of the Commonwealth in the case, which was constantly represented by its own barristers in addition to those of the Director of Public Prosecutions, was repeatedly criticised by ACT magistrates for the delays imposed on the case. Due to this deliberate dragging out of the case, the trial was not even close to beginning in substance four years on.

Attorney-General Dreyfus had in opposition become increasingly critical of the conduct of the trial, culminating in him calling it “an affront to the rule of law” during the election campaign, and saying he had not seen a public interest case for its continuation.