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Labor promises inquiry into alleged bugging of Timor-Leste government

SBS News - August 12, 2021

Anna Henderson – The federal opposition has committed to hold an inquiry into claims Australian spies were eavesdropping on the government of Timor-Leste during highly sensitive oil and gas negotiations.

But it would firstly have to change the law that underpins Australia's top secret spy agencies.

The alleged operation during 2004 negotiations led to the prosecution of a former intelligence officer known as "Witness K" and his lawyer Bernard Collaery.

Labor opposes crossbench Senator Rex Patrick's move to set up a parliamentary inquiry through the Legal Affairs Committee to investigate the alleged operation.

Instead, Labor frontbencher Katy Gallagher announced on Wednesday night that if elected, the party would launch a probe through the powerful Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security (PJCIS).

To do that, Labor would need parliamentary support to change the Intelligence Services Act.

An election can be called any time between this month and May.

"In government, we will ensure an inquiry into the circumstances of the intelligence operation conducted by the Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS) in Timor-Leste, and the subsequent decision to prosecute Witness K and his lawyer Mr Bernard Collaery," Senator Gallagher told the Senate.

Witness K pleaded guilty to sharing protected information. Mr Collaery, the former ACT Attorney-General, still awaits trial.

The opposition is also pushing for Attorney-General Michaelia Cash to outline details to the Senate about the decision to pursue Mr Collaery in court at taxpayers' expense.

"Labor calls on the Attorney-General to provide an explanation to the Senate of the public interest in continuing to prosecute Mr Collaery," he said.

"For reasons that have not been publicly explained, Mr Morrison's former attorney-general, Mr Porter, personally authorised the prosecution of Witness K and Mr Collaery.

Senator Patrick has criticised Labor's decision to back away from his proposed inquiry.

"Labor won't be able to do anything in government unless if starts doing things in opposition first. Strong oppositions get voted into Government, not weak ones," the Senator said.

"They could have supported my vote for an inquiry tonight, but they didn't. They only pretend to stand for things."

– Anna Henderson is SBS News' chief political correspondent.

Source: https://www.sbs.com.au/news/labor-promises-inquiry-into-alleged-bugging-of-timor-leste-governmen