Steve Cannane Nobel Peace Prize winner and former president of East Timor Jose Ramos-Horta says charges should be dropped against two men who exposed Australia's spying operation on the East Timor cabinet room during a lucrative oil and gas deal in 2004.
Canberra lawyer Bernard Collaery and former intelligence agent Witness K are facing prosecution on charges of breaching the Intelligence Services Act five years after details of the operation were initially reported in the media.
Mr Ramos-Horta was the foreign affairs minister for East Timor while the sensitive oil and gas negotiations were taking place in 2004 and served as president for the fledgling nation from 2007 to 2012.
"Witness K and the barrister Bernard Collaery did not commit an act of treason in a situation of war between Australia and China or Australia and North Korea," Mr Ramos-Horta told the ABC.
"It was a case of moral conscience... that had zero impact on Australian national security. I say please drop the case and let [Witness K and Mr Collaery] continue their lives normally."
Mr Ramos-Horta believes East Timor created a precedent in dropping its case against Australia at the UN's International Court of Justice over the Dili spying operation.
"We agreed to drop the case with the International Court of Justice, the espionage case, on the condition that negotiations start on the maritime boundary," he said.
"Australia agreed to that, so I think it would be fair [to drop the current prosecution]."
While Attorney-General Christian Porter approved the prosecution, it would be highly unusual for him to now withdraw that approval.
Mr Porter was unavailable for interview, but at a media conference today he reiterated that he acted on advice that came from the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions.
"The advice [from the DPP] that I received was thoughtful, detailed. It was very considered advice," Mr Porter said.
"I can't really put it much higher than that, than simply to say that an independent officer of the government in Australia, being the DPP, acting at the highest levels provided submission to me.
"The submission recommended the prosecution of two individuals. I consented to that prosecution. Other than saying that, there is very little that I can go into further."
Mr Ramos-Horta is in Australia to launch a book of his collected speeches.
When he returned to the capital Dili he said he planned to recommend the two Australians be nominated for the Order of Timor-Leste the same award that Governor-General Peter Cosgrove received after leading the International Peacekeeping Mission in 1999.
"I compare Witness K and Bernard Collaery to the many friends of Timor-Leste in Australia in Portugal, in the US, Japan... who Timor-Leste, as a country, have honoured in the past with the highest decoration from our President and they are considered among the people who are at the forefront of the fight for justice."
Helen Davidson and Christopher Knaus Australia should drop its prosecution of Witness K and lawyer Bernard Collaery because the two men "acted out of conscience" and "reflected the very best of Australia", former Timor-Leste president Jose Ramos-Horta has said.
In an exclusive interview with Guardian Australia, Ramos-Horta said the actions of the former intelligence officer and his barrister in exposing Australia's 2004 bugging operation during sensitive treaty negotiations led to the historic maritime treaty signed by the two countries in March.
"This was a very simple case, a political and moral case. So I would hope that Australia would look at it accordingly, proportionally, and let bygones be bygones and let them resume their lives normally," Ramos-Horta said on Monday.
"It would only elevate Australia further in our eyes if Australia were to say this is a very special case which did no harm whatsoever to any complex sensitive Australian intelligence operation, and drop the case."
Ramos-Horta's comments came as the Australian foreign minister, Julie Bishop, sought to play down the impact of the prosecution on diplomatic relations between the two countries.
Bishop was in Dili on Monday for the first Australian ministerial visit to the country in five years. While some protesters targeted her hotel, calling for an end to the prosecution, Bishop told reporters the Timor-Leste government agreed it was "a matter for Australia".
"It's a prosecution that has been taken on the advice of the commonwealth director of public prosecutions so it's a domestic legal matter for Australia," she said.
Ramos-Horta agreed it was a domestic matter but said the fact remained the pair's situation was "intimately connected with Timor-Leste".
He said while he understood governments across the world were strict on intelligence services, whose operatives "must leave their conscience at home", Ramos-Horta said the case of Witness K was "a far cry" from exposing intelligence operations with a hostile or enemy country.
In 2004 Australian spies bugged Timor-Leste government buildings to gain an upper hand in negotiations to carve up oil and gas reserves in the Timor Sea. The resources contracts were crucial to the economy and prosperity of the then fledgling nation.
More than a decade on, commonwealth prosecutors have charged both Witness K and Collaery with the consent of Australia's attorney general alleging the pair broke laws against sharing intelligence information.
Their prosecution has been met with widespread condemnation, including from human rights campaigners, diplomats and supreme court judges.
"For many in Timor Leste and Australia... their action reflected the very best of Australia," said Ramos-Horta.
"They acted on the basis of their conscience, that what Australia was doing was wrong, so much so the Australian government retreated and backtracked on the maritime boundary saga and it led to this historic agreement, for which I personally more than once strongly and sincerely commended both sides."
Collaery and Witness K face up to two years behind bars if convicted. Collaery has maintained Witness K went through the proper channels to raise his concerns about the bugging operation. He raised it with the inspector general of intelligence services, who gave him approval to seek legal advice from Collaery.
The revelations of Witness K and Collaery prompted Timor-Leste, represented by Collaery, to take Australia to the Hague to dispute the treaty. A new treaty was struck earlier this year, and the pair's actions are widely seen to have helped Timor-Leste to get a far better deal.
"It was Witness K's courage in expressing within the department his disagreement, and Bernard Collaery's public denunciation of this, that gave the Timor-Leste side a strong legal argument to challenge the validity of the Timor Sea treaty that it was obtained essentially through bad faith and coercion," said Ramos-Horta.
"In that case it can be said that Witness K and Bernard Collaery were decisive in provoking review of the whole Timor Sea treaty, leading to this happy ending that actually contributed to elevating Australia's international standing."
He said other nations such as China and Japan were watching the world-first conciliation under the UN convention on the law of the sea, which was described by the UN secretary general, Antonio Guterres, at the signing in March as inspiring for other nations looking to peacefully resolve disputes.
The success gave Australia "enormous credibility" in the region to challenge China on its actions in the South China Sea, Ramos-Horta said.
"If Australia had not embarked on this Timor Sea negotiation with the Timor-Leste government, it would have zero credibility if it were to call on China to respect international law and the law of the sea. But now, Australia can talk loud and clear.
"In the midst of all of this, two people who contributed could end up in jail."
Australia's desire for the oil and gas reserves in the Timor Sea has led it to questionable stances in the past. Newly declassified documents, first reported by Guardian Australia earlier this year, showed oil and gas rights were a driving factor for Australia in legitimising the Indonesian occupation of Timor-Leste in the 1970s.
The academic and author Kim McGrath, who secured the documents release, said they showed the government was too "embarrassed" for the public to see that maritime boundary negotiations were the primary motivator for Australia giving legitimacy to Indonesia's occupation.
"It wasn't just that we wanted to appease Indonesia for the sake of being friendly with a big neighbour," McGrath said. "It was because we had a direct commercial interest."
The case against Collaery and Witness K was first due to appear in the ACT magistrates court last week, but was delayed significantly, until 12 September.
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has rejected suggestions Australia has bullied East Timor in the fight over natural gas and says it's time to renew the friendship in the first visit by a federal minister in nearly five years.
Since Australia's intervention as peacekeepers in East Timor's establishment as a nation nearly 20 years ago when its people were being murdered by pro-Indonesian militias, the relationship between the countries has deteriorated.
The deterioration culminated in the prosecution of a former spy and whistleblower known as "Witness K" and his lawyer Bernard Colleary who had revealed Australia bugged East Timor's cabinet during maritime boundary negotiations in 2004.
A maritime boundary deal was finally struck at the UN this year giving the majority of the Greater Sunrise gas field to East Timor. "We had a challenging relationship over the maritime boundary dispute but we resolved it in an exceedingly positive way," Ms Bishop told AAP.
"I don't accept that (Australia bullied East Timor). I think Australia negotiated an outcome that enabled for example the Baya Udan (gas fields) to be developed, which has given rise to the (East Timor's) petroleum fund of some $17 billion."
Local media asked Ms Bishop whether Australia would encourage the project owners Woodside, Shell and Conoco Phillips to produce the gas in East Timor but she said that was between the companies and East Timor's government.
She would not be drawn on whether she discussed the spying issue and Witness K in the bilateral talks, saying it was a domestic issue that did not involve East Timor.
East Timor's Foreign Minister Dionisio Babo Soares acknowledged it was the first visit to East Timor by an Australian foreign minister for "quite a while" but said the visit and UN deal were milestones between countries with strong, historical "people to people connections in times of need".
"Minister Bishop and I had a very candid, fruitful discussion on a range of issues to open a new chapter," he said.
Ms Bishop also met separately with East Timor's president Francisco Guterres Lu'olo, Prime Minister Taur Matan Ruak and visited education and training projects Australia is providing aid to.
One of those, the Timorese seasonal workers program, will be increased from 914 this year to 1500 people able to go to Australia in six-month stints and earn far bigger wages to send home to family.
Heading into its 18th year of independence, East Timor's economy is still small and desperately needs to diversify and attract foreign investment, relying on gas revenue for 95 per cent of its budget and unemployment, poverty and malnutrition remain significant problems.
Ms Bishop said Australia will continue to invest its development assistant program, which was $91 million this year. Australia will also give the country two Austal-made Guardian-class patrol boats, she said.
Luke Henriques-Gomes The former Victorian premier Steve Bracks says the federal Labor party should speak up about the Turnbull government's prosecution of the former Australian spy Witness K and his lawyer.
The former Australian Secret Intelligence Service operative and his lawyer Bernard Collaery face charges for conspiracy to breach section 39 of the Intelligence Services Act after revealing that Australia had bugged Timor-Leste's cabinet rooms during lucrative oil and gas negotiations in 2004.
Bracks, Victoria's second-longest serving Labor premier and an occasional adviser to Timor-Leste, called on the attorney general, Christian Porter, to drop the charges, which the former premier described as "shocking".
He added that Labor should scrap the prosecution if it wins the next election. The opposition has been silent on the issue since the independent MP Andrew Wilkie used parliamentary privilege earlier this month to reveal the pair were being prosecuted.
Asked if the shadow attorney general, Mark Dreyfus, and the opposition leader, Bill Shorten, should comment on the issue, he said: "They may give a public comment soon, I hope they do and I would encourage them to do so."
An initial hearing on the case was scheduled at the ACT magistrates court on Tuesday but has been postponed until 12 September. Porter has said the decision to charge the pair was made by the commonwealth director of public prosecutions. The prosecution requires his consent.
The Timor-Leste government has said the charges are a matter for the Australian legal system, but the country's former president, Jose Ramos-Horta, told ABC Radio on Wednesday it was "beyond comprehension Australia is prosecuting Witness K and solicitor Bernard Collaery".
Bracks joined Timor Sea Justice Campaign activists, Balibo Five widow Shirley Shackleton, Victorian Trades Hall officials and the former Victorian Labor deputy premier John Thwaites at the protest against the prosecutions in Melbourne on Wednesday.
Speaking to the rally, Bracks suggested the government was seeking a suppression order in the case to avoid political embarrassment, including that the foreign affairs minister at the time, Alexander Downer, may be called to give evidence.
"Why would the Australian government go to the extent of choosing to proceed with a prosecution against Witness K and Bernard Collaery?" he said.
"What have they got to hide? What is the motivation... You have to ask the question, why at the magistrates court in the hearing in Canberra in September, would the Australian government seek a suppression order? Why? They don't want this strategy made public."
Thwaites, who worked on infrastructure projects in Timor-Leste after he left politics, told the rally he was "sick in the stomach" when he heard about the charges.
"I believe Australia's international reputation is being harmed by this," he told Guardian Australia.
"We're not going to be able to expect other countries to do the right thing and follow international law if we behave like this, if we breached the law in our actions in other countries and then cover that up, and then charge people who tell the truth."
Thwaites said political pressure, including from Labor, would be "worthwhile", but added that "the bottom line is that the government is responsible and the attorney general is responsible".
Collaery, who was also a legal advisor to Timor-Leste, has said he and Witness K raised their concerns about the bugging operation through the proper channels.
The pair are charged with communicating information about the operation to ABC journalists and a producer.
Clara Chung, a member of Melbourne's Timorese community, told the rally Timor-Leste had eventually gained a "fairer deal" because of Collaery and Witness K. "We will never forget their favours," she said.
Timorese activists were also expected to converge on the Australian embassy in Dili on Wednesday.
Christopher Knaus Human rights campaigners have urged Australia to drop the prosecution of a former spy and his lawyer who helped expose a secret government mission to spy on Timor-Leste during lucrative oil and gas negotiations.
The case against lawyer Bernard Collaery and a former Australian secret intelligence service operative, known as Witness K, was originally expected to appear in the ACT magistrates court for the first time on Wednesday.
But Commonwealth prosecutors confirmed on Tuesday that the case has now been delayed by months, and will not appear until 12 September. The delay was agreed to by both sides, prosecutors said.
If convicted, the pair face up to two years behind bars for disclosing information about the bugging of Timor-Leste government buildings in 2004, an operation that gave Australia the upper hand in talks to carve up resources in the Timor Sea.
Human Rights Watch has called for the prosecution to be dropped, saying it is likely to have a "chilling effect" on those who witness government wrongdoing.
"The attorney general should not be bringing a case against Witness K and his lawyer for reporting on wrongful practices by the government," HRW's Australia director, Elaine Pearson, said.
"This case, combined with sweeping new laws criminalising unauthorised disclosures, could have a chilling effect on officials who see government corruption or wrongdoing and want to do something about it."
Collaery has maintained that he and Witness K acted through the proper channels to raise concerns about the legality of the bugging operation. Witness K approached the inspector general of intelligence services and was given to permission to speak to his lawyer, Collaery, about the concerns. Collaery was also a legal advisor to Timor-Leste.
They have been charged with communicating information about the operation to ABC journalists and a producer. The prosecution has prompted widespread condemnation.
The main target of Australia's spy operation, the former US diplomat and Timor-Leste's chief negotiator, Peter Galbraith, criticised the "pointless" prosecution of the pair.
Galbraith said if anyone was the victim of Australia's actions, it was him, but he thought it better to just move on from the episode.
"It's just vindictive and pointless, it's time to move on," Galbraith told Guardian Australia earlier this month. "At last, after 18 years, Australia did the right thing [by signing the oil and gas treaty]. Accept the accolades, which are deserved, and move on."
Senior judges have also condemned the move to hear the case in closed court.
That sentiment was echoed by Human Rights Watch, which said secret prosecutions did little to maintain public confidence in the criminal justice system. The group said suppression orders should not be used to shield the government from criticism.
Activists in Timor-Leste compared the prosecution to their treatment at the hands of Indonesia's Suharto regime.
The Movement Against the Occupation of the Timor Sea (MKOTT) said on Friday it was shocked that "in this day and age" the Australian government was doing what the group believed "only the dictator Suharto was capable of".
"Ironically, these Timorese were charged as terrorists by the Indonesian government and today Mr Bernard Collaery and Witness K are charged with the anti-terror law by the Australian attorney general, their very own government," MKOTT said.
The attorney general, Christian Porter, has maintained the decision to prosecute the pair was made independently by the commonwealth director of public prosecutions. His consent was required for it to proceed.
Helen Davidson Timor-Leste activists have condemned the Australian government over the prosecution of Witness K and lawyer Bernard Collaery for their roles in revealing the bugging of the Timor-Leste cabinet during negotiations on an oil and gas treaty.
The activists from the Movement Against the Occupation of the Timor Sea (MKOTT) have joined mounting criticism of the prosecution, comparing the act to the targeting they and their family experienced under the rule of the Suharto-led Indonesian government.
"Ironically, these Timorese were charged as terrorists by the Indonesian government and today Mr Bernard Collaery and Witness K are charged with the anti-terror law by the Australian attorney general, their very own government," MKOTT said on Friday.
"MKOTT is shocked that, in this day and age, the Australian government is doing what it thinks only the dictator Suharto was capable of doing during his reign."
The Australian intelligence officer known as Witness K and his solicitor, Collaery, are facing charges of conspiring to breach section 39 of the Intelligence Services Act, following the revelations in 2012 that Australian spies had bugged the room of Timorese negotiators during sensitive talks in 2004 about an oil and gas treaty between the two countries.
A summons alleges Witness K unlawfully communicated intelligence secrets to Collaery, who then allegedly communicated them to a number of ABC journalists.
The News Corp journalist who first broke the bugging story, Leo Shanahan, is not named in the summons. The first directions hearing is scheduled for Wednesday in Canberra.
Timor-Leste took Australia to the permanent court of arbitration at The Hague, with Witness K prepared to be a key witness, however he was prevented from leaving Australia when his passport was seized in 2012.
In 2013 Collaery's office was raided by Asio officers and documents seized in what Collaery alleged was an attempt to "muzzle" him. The then attorney general, George Brandis, said the Asio search warrants were issued "to protect Australia's national security".
MKOTT condemned the charges as "politically motivated" and an attack by the Australian government on democracy and freedom of expression.
"This act on the part of the Australian government also shows that the government will use anything to pursue Australia's commercial interests in relations with its neighbours, even if it violates international law to deprive one of its poorest neighbour, and will crash anyone or anything stands on its way."
Australia's fractious negotiations with Timor-Leste over the lucrative oil and gas reserves in the seas between the two countries has stretched for decades, intertwined with the Indonesian occupation of the tiny nation and marred by hostilities and accusations.
The case at The Hague was subsequently dropped as an act of good faith and the two countries have since signed a treaty delimiting a maritime border that largely determines the split of oil and gas reserves.
The final division depends on whether the processing occurs in Timor-Leste or Darwin. Timor-Leste has build a processing plant in anticipation but oil and gas companies have flagged a preference for Darwin to avoid having to pipe across the Timor Trench.
The treaty split also prompted criticism of Australia's decades long claim over resources it has since exhausted but now acknowledges, via the treaty, had belonged to Timor-Leste all along.
The prosecutions of Witness K and Collaery were revealed under parliamentary privilege by the Tasmanian MP Andrew Wilkie, and the Australian attorney general, Christian Porter, subsequently confirmed he had approved them, but refused to elaborate on why.
When asked at the time why the perpetrators of the act were not being prosecuted instead, Porter replied he did not understand the question.
"I am not the prosecutor, nor is the government the prosecutor," Porter said. "I am not the judge nor the jury in this matter, and nor is the government."
Porter's office declined to comment further and directed Guardian Australia to his previous comments.
Christopher Knaus Australian federal police (AFP) say they are assessing a request to investigate the lawfulness of Australia's controversial spy operation against Timor-Leste during sensitive oil and gas negotiations.
A group of crossbenchers on Thursday sought to raise the stakes in the controversial prosecution of former spy Witness K and his lawyer Bernard Collaery.
The pair revealed the existence of a 2004 spy operation against Timor-Leste, which involved Australia bugging the fledgling nation's cabinet to gain a commercial advantage in negotiations to carve up lucrative resources in the Timor Sea.
Witness K and Collaery are now facing two years behind bars for disclosing intelligence secrets.
Independent MP Andrew Wilkie, Greens senator Nick McKim, senator Rex Patrick, and senator Tim Storer wrote to the Australian federal police, asking it to investigate whether the spy operation against Timor-Leste was itself criminal.
They allege the spy operation amounted to a "conspiracy to defraud" Timor-Leste, an offence under Australian Capital Territory law. An AFP spokesman confirmed the referral had been received and was being assessed.
In their letter to AFP commissioner the crossbenchers ask for their request to be considered "as a matter of priority".
"We believe that an investigation is required to determine whether the actions by Australian government officials in this matter constituted a conspiracy to defraud," they wrote.
Patrick said the operation against Timor-Leste unnecessarily diverted Australian Secret Intelligence Service resources from another pressing issue: the bombing of the Australian embassy in Jakarta in September 2004. He said the bugging was outside of the proper functioning of Asis and a breach of international law.
"The negotiations that were under way between Australia and East Timor were negotiations subject to the requirements of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties," he said. "Australia had a legal (and moral) obligation to conduct these negotiations in good faith."
Revelations about the spy operation infuriated the Timor-Leste government, which took Australia to the permanent court of arbitration in the Hague. That case was settled and a new deal was struck over the oil and gas reserves in the Timor Sea.
The prosecution of Witness K and Collaery followed that new deal by a matter of months. The move has been widely condemned as "pointless" and "vindictive".
The main target of the spy operation the former US diplomat and chief negotiator for Timor-Leste, Peter Galbraith last week urged Australia to simply move on.
"I was the target, therefore, the 'victim' of the bugging. I was leading the East Timor negotiations at that time," Galbraith told Guardian Australia. "But I'm not calling for prosecutions. I'm just pleased that East Timor finally got what it wanted."
Two former judges have also condemned the case. Former NSW supreme court justice, Anthony Whealy, told Guardian Australia the prosecution was "deeply disturbing".
"By any standards, the information revealed by these two men needed to be conveyed, and indeed needed to be in the public domain," Whealy said. "On its face, the bugging by Australian interests of a foreign power's cabinet room, if that is what happened, was detestable."
Matthew Doran Intelligence whistleblower turned independent MP Andrew Wilkie has called on the Australian Federal Police (AFP) to launch an investigation into the role the nation's intelligence services played in the bugging of East Timor's cabinet rooms.
The 2004 incident led to a souring of the relationship between Canberra and East Timor, as the two nations were negotiating a deal on accessing offshore oil deposits at the time.
Last month, Mr Wilkie used parliamentary privilege to reveal the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions had lodged criminal charges against Canberra lawyer Bernard Collaery and a former spy known as 'Witness K' for divulging information about the operation.
But today the Tasmanian MP said senior government officials were the "real criminals the people who ordered the illegal bugging".
"There's no way the Police Commissioner can ignore a referral from three Australian senators and one Member of the House of Representatives," Mr Wilkie said. "Today is a day of reckoning."
Mr Wilkie has enlisted the support of Tasmanian Greens senator Nick McKim and South Australian crossbenchers Tim Storer and Rex Patrick in referring the matter to the AFP.
"We wish the police to conduct an investigation to look at who's involved, who the senior officials are, who the government ministers were, noting all of this has been done in secret," Mr Wilkie said. "No-one is above the law."
Mr Collaery, who is a former ACT attorney-general, has described the charges against him as "heartbreaking". A conviction would mean he would be prevented from practising law.
He has fiercely criticised Attorney-General Christian Porter for allowing the charges to be laid, describing the whole process as a threat to freedom of speech.
Unprecedented legal action against two men for allegedly breaching the intelligence services act has sparked fierce debate about the balance between national security and the public's right to know.
Ellen Fanning, presenter: Unprecedented legal action against two men for allegedly breaching the Intelligence Services Act has sparked fierce debate about the balance between national security and the public's right to know.
It's claimed the pair revealed allegations that Australia bugged East Timor's government offices in 2004 to gain the upper hand in oil and gas negotiations.
At the heart of the case is a former spy known as Witness K, who allegedly oversaw the bugging operation and his outspoken lawyer.
Michael Vincent reports.
(Footage of Canberra, fogbound, at dawn)
Andrew Wilkie, Independent MP for Denison: I would describe this current legal action against Witness K and Bernard Collaery as, frankly, an act of bastardry.
(Footage of George Brandis addressing the Senate, December 2013)
George Brandis, Federal Attorney-General 2013-2017 (2013): The search warrants were issued on the advice and at the request of ASIO to protect Australia's national security.
Michael Vincent, reporter: It's a case that pits the protection of the nation's secrets against those who chose to reveal them.
Peter Galbraith, Former US diplomat: It seems vindictive to have filed these charges; almost a perversion of justice to have done it 14 years after the event.
Christian Porter, Federal Attorney-General: The matter will be tried before the courts and the prosecution will be heard before the court. And that has to run its course.
Michael Vincent: Australian lawyer Bernard Collaery spends much of his time in the UK. He is preparing to defend multiple charges under the Intelligence Services Act, including conspiracy to share secret information.
Bernard Collaery, lawyer: The law is my life. Professing the law and bringing justice is my life.
People say, "When are you going to retire?" I say, "Well, I'll drop dead in court, maybe." And I intend to see out my life pursuing justice and the rule of law.
Michael Vincent: It's the first time any Australian has been prosecuted under these laws. The former legal adviser to East Timor now faces a potential two years in jail for revealing the alleged bugging of Australia's close neighbour.
Bernard Collaery: Heartbreaking though it is to me and my family, I need to adjust to where I am at.
Michael Vincent: When Australians think of the nation's network of spies, what comes to mind is protecting Australians and preventing adversaries from stealing secrets.
But Australia's foreign spy service, ASIS, also has the power to act in the interests of Australia's economic wellbeing.
(Footage of aid worker serving bowls of food to impoverished children, archive)
Michael Vincent (voiceover): So, as Australia was publicly giving millions of dollars in aid to East Timor to help the fledgling nation get on its feet, it's alleged it was covertly acting to prevent East Timor from getting billions of dollars in oil and gas revenues from the Timor Sea.
In 2004, as negotiations over a new maritime boundary stalled, ASIS officers allegedly posed as aid workers to bug East Timor's government offices for information relating to the talks.
(Footage of Andrew Wilkie addressing parliamentary committee, 28 June)
Andrew Wilkie (Jun.): Australia, one of the richest countries in the world, forced East Timor, the poorest country in Asia, to sign a treaty which stopped them obtaining their fair share of the oil and gas revenues and that's simply unconscionable.
Michael Vincent: Bernard Collaery, then working as a Canberra-based lawyer, was approached by an ASIS officer, now known as Witness K. He wanted Collaery to represent him, as he complained about the bugging operation through official channels.
It wasn't until May 2013 that the allegations of the Australian bugging first surfaced publicly. Then-foreign minister Bob Carr and attorney-general Mark Dreyfus neither confirmed nor denied the allegations of espionage.
East Timor declared Australia had acted in bad faith and determined it would renegotiate the Timor Sea deal through the International Court in The Hague. Those confidential hearings were then thrown into chaos at the end of 2013.
ASIO raided Bernard Collaery's office here in Canberra and seized the passport of Witness K, preventing him giving confidential evidence on behalf of East Timor.
Eventually, in March this year, a maritime boundary agreement was struck, soon after the charges were laid against Bernard Collaery and Witness K by the DPP (the Office of the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions). Those charges, however, remained secret until this statement to the Parliament:
(Footage of Andrew Wilkie addressing parliamentary committee, 28 June)
Andrew Wilkie (Jun.): The Turnbull Government has now moved to prosecute the intelligence officer who blew the whistle on this secret operation.
Michael Vincent: That forced the Attorney-General to publicly acknowledge the case.
Christian Porter: The decision to prosecute was an independent decision, made by the (Office of the) Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions, based on their consideration of the evidence, the law and their prosecution policy and guidelines.
Andrew Wilkie: There is no good reason why the Government would be doing this right now: except for political reasons; and to punish people in an unwarranted way; and to silence those who might follow them.
Peter Galbraith: Certainly it makes no sense to be prosecuting those who exposed the criminal act that Australia engaged in.
Michael Vincent: Peter Galbraith is a former American diplomat. He was appointed by the United Nations (UN) to help East Timor in its early days and was the lead negotiator on the maritime boundary discussions, when the East Timorese offices were alleged to have been bugged.
Peter Galbraith: I certainly think it was a bridge too far and I must say: I wouldn't think that it was appropriate to use an intelligence agency for economic purposes, especially against an impoverished neighbour who is dependent on Australia and who is a great friend of Australia.
Michael Vincent: Alexander Downer was foreign minister at the time. Several years after leaving Parliament in 2008, he worked briefly as a consultant for Woodside.
In a later interview with Four Corners he dismissed any concerns that the Australian government was too close to Woodside:
(Excerpt from Four Corners, 17 March 2014)
Alexander Downer, Foreign Minister 1996-2007 (2014): Of course, when we are involved in negotiations we maintain contact with Australian companies. The Australian Government unashamedly should be should be trying to advance the interests of Australian companies.
One former insider claims that governments of both persuasions use ASIS for the nation's financial gain much more than the public may realise.
Clinton Fernandes, professor, University of NSW: I would say that about half or more of those clandestine activities occur for economic purposes.
Michael Vincent: Former Defence intelligence officer Clinton Fernandes is writing a new book about Australian foreign policy.
Clinton Fernandes: The ASIS operation which occurred in October 2004 occurred within the portfolio of the minister for foreign affairs, Alexander Downer. I believe, therefore, Alexander Downer ordered the bugging of the Timorese.
Michael Vincent: The former foreign minister wouldn't answer specific questions about the bugging claims, nor would he confirm or deny that he had ordered any such operation.
"Those who have run or worked in intelligence agencies never respond to specific claims," he told 7.30 in a statement.
Mr Downer said he was solely motivated by a desire to maintain the integrity of Australia's borders. Regarding Bernard Collaery and Witness K, Mr Downer said: "Employees of intelligence agencies are not above the law."
He added: "Our courts are independent and if anyone is charged, the court will determine their innocence or guilt, not ministers or members of the media."
Clinton Fernandes is now at the University of New South Wales. He argues the alleged bugging cannot be justified under Australian law.
Clinton Fernandes: Section 11 of the Intelligence Services Act talks about national economic wellbeing. And what I'm saying to you is that the case that it's a national economic wellbeing as opposed to the wellbeing of a particular corporation, which then offers consultancies and directorships can't be confused with the national economic wellbeing.
Michael Vincent: Some legal observers argue ASIS has such broad powers, any alleged bugging would have been lawful. But Peter Galbraith believes taking this matter to court now may backfire.
Peter Galbraith: You would think that it's time to put this in the past and to move on. And yet now the Australian Government or Prosecutor's Office is creating a new and unnecessary controversy.
Bernard Collaery: I won't accept the notion that I am against the government. I am against an element in the government. I haven't been able to identify precisely that element. But it's certainly involved with corporate trade issues.
Michael Vincent: As Bernard Collaery prepares his defence, he says he's getting support from unexpected quarters because of the charges he is facing.
Bernard Collaery: I have had enormous expressions of support from, interestingly, the defence and intelligence community. There's no doubt at all that there is a vast difference of opinion on this issue.
Ellen Fanning: That report by Michael Vincent.
Michael Vincent Australian lawyer and former legal representative for East Timor, Bernard Collaery, says the charges against him for allegedly breaching the Intelligence Services Act for revealing Australia bugged East Timorese government offices mean he is facing the prospect he may never practise law again.
"The law is my life," he told 7.30. "Heartbreaking though it is to me and my family, I need to adjust to where I'm at."
Mr Collaery, a former ACT attorney-general, is one of two Australians who face unprecedented charges for allegedly breaching the Intelligence Services Act, including conspiracy to share secret information.
It could see him face up two years in jail and the loss of his legal licence. The other person charged is former senior ASIS officer Witness K.
It is claimed the pair revealed that Australia had bugged East Timor's government offices in 2004 to gain the upper hand in oil and gas negotiations.
"I won't accept the notion that I'm against the government," Mr Collaery said. "I'm against an element in the government, I haven't been able to identify precisely that element, but it's certainly involved with corporate trade issues."
Australia's foreign spy service ASIS has the power to act in "Australia's national economic wellbeing".
So at the same time as Australia was providing millions of dollars in aid to help the fledgling nation of East Timor get on its feet, it's alleged to have been covertly acting to prevent the Timorese from getting billions of dollars in oil and gas revenues from the Timor Sea, with Australian company Woodside set to benefit the most.
"Section 11 of the Intelligence Services Act talks about national economic wellbeing... as opposed to the wellbeing of a particular corporation which then offers consultancies and directorships can't be confused with the national economic wellbeing," said former Defence intelligence officer Clinton Fernandes, now an academic at the University of NSW.
"I would say that about half or more of those clandestine activities occur for economic purposes."
The foreign minister back then was Alexander Downer. Several years after leaving parliament in 2008 he worked briefly as a consultant for Woodside. In a 2014 interview with Four Corners, he dismissed any concerns that the Australian government was too close to Woodside.
"Of course when we're involved in negotiations we maintain contact with Australian companies," he said. "The Australian government unashamedly should be trying to advance the interests of Australian companies."
In a statement to 7.30 he said: "Those who have run or worked in intelligence agencies never respond to specific claims."
Mr Downer said he was solely motivated by a desire to maintain the integrity of Australia's borders at the time of the negotiations.
Regarding Mr Collaery and Witness K, Mr Downer said: "Employees of intelligence agencies are not above the law."
Tasmanian MP Andrew Wilkie revealed the charges when he rose in the Parliament last month.
"There is no good reason why the government would be doing this right now except for political reasons and to punish people in an unwarranted way and to silence those who might follow them," Mr Wilkie told 7.30.
Attorney-General Christian Porter was then forced to acknowledge publicly he had consented to the prosecution.
"I received advice, as the usual course of these matters, from the Director of Public Prosecutions. That advice was to prosecute," he said last month.
"It was an independent decision made by the Director of Public Prosecutions based on their consideration of the evidence and the law and their guidelines."
Some have described the prosecution as "vindictive", "vengeance" and "an act of bastardry".
"I've had enormous expressions of support from, interestingly, the defence and intelligence community. There's no doubt at all that there is a vast difference in opinion on this issue," Mr Collaery said.
Christopher Knaus A decorated US diplomat spied upon by Australia as he represented Timor-Leste during lucrative oil and gas negotiations has described the prosecution of the two men who exposed the covert operation as "vindictive and pointless".
The former US ambassador to Croatia Peter Galbraith was the lead negotiator for Timor-Leste during 2004 negotiations with Australia to carve up more than $40bn of oil and gas reserves in the Timor Sea.
Galbraith only learned he and other Timor-Leste officials had been bugged through the actions of a senior Australian intelligence officer, known as Witness K, and his solicitor, Bernard Collaery, who believed the operation was unlawful and conducted purely for commercial purposes.
It was revealed last week that Collaery and Witness K are now facing criminal prosecution for conspiring to communicate intelligence secrets.
Speaking to the Guardian, Galbraith criticised the prosecution of Witness K and Collaery, urging Australia to "move on" from the unedifying episode.
He said the spy operation conducted against him and other Timor-Leste officials was "clearly a crime" under international and Timor-Leste law. If anyone was to be prosecuted, he said, it should be those who approved a covert operation against the government of a friendly nation purely for the financial gain of Australia and Australian companies.
"I was the target, therefore, the 'victim' of the bugging. I was leading the East Timor negotiations at that time," Galbraith said. "But I'm not calling for prosecutions. I'm just pleased that East Timor finally got what it wanted."
He said he was surprised at Australia's continued pursuit of Witness K and Collaery.
"It's just vindictive and pointless, it's time to move on," Galbraith said. "At last, after 18 years, Australia did the right thing [by signing the oil and gas treaty]. Accept the accolades, which are deserved, and move on."
Collaery and Witness K are expected to first face an Australian Capital Territory magistrates court hearing on 25 July. There is a possibility the case could be suppressed entirely.
The notion of a secret prosecution against Collaery and Witness K has already drawn condemnation from senior legal figures, including a former New South Wales supreme court justice, Anthony Whealy, who said such a move would be "disturbing".
Galbraith was shocked at the possibility of a secret prosecution. Speaking from the US, he said Australia might need an "upgrading of its civil liberties".
"The notion that you can have a secret trial, without a jury, and send someone to prison for two years it's pretty shocking," he said.
Speaking to the media last week, Collaery said Witness K was not a whistleblower, and had gone through the proper internal channels to raise concerns about the operation. He had made a complaint to the inspector general of intelligence and security, and was given permission to disclose the operation, Collaery said.
Collaery has been charged with communicating the information to ABC journalists.
He was, at the time, acting for Timor-Leste in a dispute over the bugging operation at the permanent court of arbitration in The Hague. Witness K was due to appear as a witness to the proceedings but was unable to travel because Australia refused to give him back his passport.
The case in the permanent court of arbitration was dropped by Timor-Leste last year as an act of goodwill in the lead up to the signing of a new resources treaty.
The attorney general, Christian Porter, last week said the decision to prosecute Witness K and Collaery was made independently by the commonwealth director of public prosecutions. He conceded he had given his consent to the prosecution but would not elaborate on his reasons for doing so.
Christopher Knaus The former New South Wales supreme court justice Anthony Whealy has warned it would be "disturbing" to prosecute a former spy and his lawyer in secret over their role in revealing Australia's bugging of Timor-Leste's cabinet.
Solicitor Bernard Collaery and his client, the intelligence officer known only as Witness K, are facing criminal charges for bringing to light Australia's bugging of Timor-Leste's cabinet rooms during sensitive negotiations over a $40bn oil and gas treaty in 2004.
The spy operation was designed to give Australia an upper hand and derive a commercial benefit at the expense of the Timor-Leste government, and Witness K, a senior and long-serving intelligence officer, believed it was unlawful.
Whealy, now the chair of Transparency International, said the plight of Collaery and Witness K was "deeply disturbing", particularly at a time when the federal government was seeking to advance whistleblower protections and promising its new espionage and foreign interference laws would be used sparingly.
"By any standards, the information revealed by these two men needed to be conveyed, and indeed needed to be in the public domain," Whealy told Guardian Australia. "On its face, the bugging by Australian interests of a foreign power's cabinet room, if that is what happened, was detestable.
"It is equally disturbing that, at this stage, the threat looms that proceedings against the pair will occur in a closed courtroom, with its doors and windows barred by a potential suppression order. This is Australia... not Russia."
The summons for Witness K and Collaery, seen by Guardian Australia, alleges the spy unlawfully communicated intelligence secrets to his lawyer. The summons alleges Collaery communicated this information to the ABC journalists Marian Wilkinson, Peter Lloyd, Conor Duffy, Emma Alberici and producer Peter Cronau. The News Corp journalist Leo Shanahan, the first to break the story on the bugging operation, is not named in the summons.
Whealy is the second senior retired judge to raise such concerns. Last week the former Victorian court of appeals judge Stephen Charles expressed alarm about the prosecution and said Australia's behaviour in the entire episode demonstrated the need for a federal anti-corruption commission.
"I think it shines a light on the level of ethics and morality of parliament in Canberra that above all demonstrates we need a national integrity commission," he told Fairfax Media. "A lot of people in legal circles are horrified by the government's behaviour."
Witness K first raised concerns about the bugging operation internally, with the inspector-general of intelligence and security. Collaery said the inspector general gave Witness K approval to disclose the information.
Prof Clinton Fernandes, an international studies expert at the University of New South Wales and former defence intelligence officer, said the prosecution appeared deliberately timed to take place after the signing of the oil and gas treaty in March and the conclusion of a parliamentary inquiry in May.
"It was always on the agenda, it was just that they were just waiting to get the diplomacy out of the way," he told Guardian Australia.
Fernandes said the lack of any whistleblower protections for intelligence officers was problematic. He has authored a paper urging greater parliamentary oversight of intelligence agencies. Fernandes said Australia's scrutiny of intelligence agencies compared poorly with the United States model.
"In the United States, the Senate and House intelligence committees have full access to intelligence and they are briefed regularly on sensitive and non-sensitive intelligence operations," he said.
"By contrast, the parliamentary joint committee on intelligence and security here is only empowered to examine the administration and financing of the agencies. They are not allowed to examine any operation, past, present, or proposed."
The attorney general, Christian Porter, last week said he had approved the prosecution but said the decision was made independently by the commonwealth director of public prosecutions.
Paul Karp The attorney general has refused to elaborate on why he approved the prosecution of a former spy who revealed Australia had bugged Timor-Leste's cabinet rooms, describing it as an "independent decision" of prosecutors.
Independent MP Andrew Wilkie has blasted the government for approving the prosecution and suggested it has leaked information to a journalist to defend its position.
On Thursday Wilkie used parliamentary privilege to reveal the man, a former employee of the Australian Secret Intelligence Service known only as Witness K, and his lawyer, Bernard Collaery, were being prosecuted.
At a press conference in Perth on Monday, Christian Porter said he consented to the prosecution after "very detailed, very thorough" advice from the independent commonwealth director of public prosecutions.
Asked if the prosecution was an attack on basic freedoms, the attorney general replied that "people will take their own views" on the case.
He acknowledged the case needed his consent as attorney general to proceed, but characterised it as "an independent decision made by the director of public prosecutions based on their evidence and the law and their guidelines".
Witness K was a key witness for Timor-Leste in a case against Australia over allegations the cabinet rooms in the capital Dili were bugged during negotiations over a gas and oil treaty in 2004.
The former Asis officer was supposed to give evidence at the permanent court of arbitration in the Hague, but was unable to leave Australia because his passport was seized in 2012.
Timor-Leste dropped the spy case against Australia last year as an act of goodwill ahead of signing a new resources treaty.
On Monday Wilkie pinned blame squarely on the government, telling reporters "all the DPP does" is make a recommendation, and "the decision to prosecute is entirely a decision for the attorney general".
Wilkie said he had "no reason to speak ill of the DPP", and accused Porter of a "political decision to go after Witness K and his lawyer".
The independent MP also referenced comments by the Australian's columnist Niki Savva on ABC's Insiders on Sunday. Savva suggested the attorney general had no room to move because his predecessor George Brandis had sought information from the CDPP, which resulted in the recommendation, and if Porter had ignored it he would have "faced a lot of grief".
Wilkie suggested people would be "appalled" by this, accusing "someone in the government" of leaking protected information to a journalist to defend its position.
Earlier, Porter was asked why "those who perpetrated the act" had not been pursued a reference to the fact nobody has been charged for bugging Timor-Leste's cabinet rooms. He replied he did not understand the question and would not go into the substance of the Witness K matter before the courts.
"I am not the prosecutor, nor is the government the prosecutor," Porter said. "I am not the judge nor the jury in this matter, and nor is the government."
Porter said he would not comment because "expansive commentary does no assistance to the defence or the prosecutors or the court or the jury in directing a regular trial".
On Thursday Collaery explained he and Witness K face charges of conspiracy to breach section 39 of the Intelligence Services Act for allegedly communicating information they obtained in the course of employment or an agreement with Asis.
He described Australia as a police state, warning the case was "unprecedented" and meant that Australia was "not a safe country to represent another sovereign power anymore".
Collaery said Witness K was not a whistleblower because he "went with his complaint to the inspector general of intelligence and security", and received approval to disclose the alleged bugging. Similarly, Collaery said he had received approval to act for Timor-Leste in international proceedings.
The case will begin with a directions hearing on 25 July, during which the court will consider whether to hear it in private.
Paulina Quintao The Vice President of the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Timor-Leste (CCI-TL) Kathleen Goncalves said entrepreneurs have discussed among themselves about looking for alternatives to reduce the use of single-use plastics towards resolving the growing plastic waste problem throughout the country.
She said CCI-TL is sharing information about the negative impact of plastic waste to the environment and to public health so communities become more aware and limit the use of plastic.
"We are trying to look for some alternatives to plastic use. We have been able to reduce some use but not totally," she said from her office, at Acait, in Dili.
She acknowledged that adequate raising of awareness on the impact of plastic to entrepreneurs and society needs to be strengthened so everyone has the correct knowledge on the issue.
She added that some countries have banned communities from using plastic as it impacts on the environment and Timor-Leste needs to develop a similar policy that bans the single-use of plastic in the country.
She said if the government believes plastic use has a bad impact on the environment and can harm people's health it should create a law that addresses this issue.
Meanwhile, the Chief of Suku of Kaikoli Hipolito Marques said to address the issue, Timor-Leste need a strong law that imposes sanctions on those throwing rubbish arbitrarily, including plastic waste.
He said another alternative is for the government to invite companies that invest in plastic waste recycling.
"I think it is up each one of us also buying things and shopping in the market, to always dispose of plastic in rubbish bins," he said.
He said it is good to make a law, but for the immediate term, everyone needs to be conscious about disposing of rubbish appropriately.
On the other hand, the Program Manager for Community Tourism at Haburas Foundation, Pedrito Viera said the government should be creative and look at different ways to manage the waste issue in the country and especially in Dili.
"I think the citizens who live in Dili should be able to pay a tax on waste so we can use the existing resource to support waste management actions," he said.
He added paying tax on waste is the issue the government needs to consider, towards creating a law that regulates waste disposal and management.
The President of the Board of Timor-Leste's Women's Network Timor-Leste Judite Dias Ximenes said women's representation within the divulged composition of the VIII Constitutional Government of Timor-Leste has decreased compared to previous governments.
She said in 2015, women made up 24% of the leadership roles but in 2018, this has decreased to 14%.
She said the lack number of women in the executive reflects prevailing patriarchal mindsets within the political parties which is still a major obstacle for women to get into politics.
"We continue to provide advocacy and encourage women through the trainings, but reality shows that it is still difficult to break the patriarchal barrier," she said during the opening of a training activity for women in the political parties held in Dili recently.
She said the number of women in legislature is consistent with the quota system as guaranteed in the law with 30% of the National Parliament mandated to be for female MP's or 1 in 3 seats belongs to a female MP.
She added the Article 17 of the Constitution ensure equality between women and men as having equal rights within the family and culture, and in social, economic and political life but despite talking about it, the government does not adhere to.
She said also that the Timor-Leste has adopted the Convention on Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).
She expressed concern because even though in Timor-Leste all sectors talk about substantive equality and non-discriminatory equality, women continue to face much discrimination.
The President of the Council of Women in Politics CAUCUS Maria Exposto said the lack of women representation has nothing to do with women's capacity or of not being ready to assume leadership roles, the biggest challenge for women is that they are not seen.
She said women's organizations use this reality as motivation to continue to prepare women for leadership roles by providing trainings and promote them in public so their presence and the capacity can be witnessed by society.
"We have the capacity and are ready to compete with men, but we still hide ourselves and have not shown to men and the world that Timorese women can assume any decision-making role," she said.
She added women's lives will not improve if they are not involved in politics, and in leadership roles because only women can talk about the problems that affected their own lives.
She urged women who are in leadership roles to be accountable, innovative and representative in their decisions so that these are beneficial to all other women.
Shannon Power As Pride celebrations continue around the world, the upcoming parade in the tiny nation of East Timor is a welcome reminder of why Pride exists at all.
East Timor (Timor Leste) is one of the world's youngest nations. It has been on a path of self-discovery after gaining independence from Indonesia in 1999.
The new nation located about 2,000kms (1,246 miles) north-west of Australia has been busy developing itself from the ground up. So there hasn't been much time left to think about the LGBTI community and its needs.
But as the LGBTI community gets ready for this week's Pride festival, it wants to make sure government hears its demands.
'Timor-Leste's LGBTI community is a powerful force for inclusion and acceptance. In a region growing increasingly hostile to the community, we compel support from all walks of life,' Pride Timor organizer Natalino Ornai Guterres told Gay Star News.
LGBTI people face daily discrimination in East Timor. A shocking 2017 report showed queer women and trans men faced extreme levels of violence, often at the hands of their own family.
Guterres has been a key figure in promoting LGBTI rights in East Timor. He helped orchestrate last year's historic message of support from Prime Minister Rui Maria De Araujo.
Guterres also put together the country's first Pride parade last year which became an international news story for its color and overwhelming success.
Guterres knows that while there have been some achievements, equality is a long way off.
'Being the country's second Pride parade, this year's event is a combination of both a protest for all the struggles that we still go through and a celebration for all the things we have achieved over the past year after the first Pride parade and the PM's message last year,' he said.
Last year for the country's inaugural Pride parade, organizers expected about 300 people to attend. They ended up getting double that, which is pretty impressive considering the tiny population of East Timor.
But following on from the success of last year, this year's parade is going to make history. The parade will be a political protest and celebration of the LGBTI community. But it's also a chance to showcase the many delights East Timor has to offer tourists.
'You don't want to miss out on the unique opportunity of being part of a history,' Guterres said.
'The event is a carnival-like, there will be a DJ playing local and international songs on a float as people march demanding for inclusion.'
'In addition to the parade, there will also be other events leading up to it, including an after-party that serves as a fundraising event for the CODIVA Transgender Clinic.'
Transgender people in East Timor face daily harassment and bullying. So Timor Pride organizers have invited a transgender marching band to lead the parade this year.
'Giving them the opportunity to walk on the main road of the country's capital city, feeling proud and safe to be themselves, will be a meaningful and a groundbreaking experience,' Guterres said.
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop will be the first Australian minister to visit Timor-Leste in five years when she goes as part of an Asian tour.
Ms Bishop will visit Timor-Leste, Malaysia, Singapore and Indonesia from July 29 to August 7 and reaffirm Australia's commitment to its regional neighbours in southeast Asia.
"We will discuss deepening our cooperation in security, development and the economy opening a new chapter in the Australia-Timor-Leste relationship," Ms Bishop said in a statement on Sunday.
The two countries have recently signed a treaty establishing permanent maritime boundaries.
Ms Bishop's visit to Malaysia will be the first ministerial visit since that country had its first change in government since Malaysia's independence in 1957.
Labor frontbencher Penny Wong said the relationship between Australia and Timor-Leste had been strained, and she criticised the lack of visits until now.
"In my visit to Timor-Leste in 2017 it was clear that our relationship would have benefited from closer engagement," Senator Wong said.
"Had any minister from either the Abbott or Turnbull Governments made the same visit any time in the past five years, this sore point in our relationship might have been overcome much sooner."
Paulina Quintao The Executive Director for Business Registration and Verification (SERVE), Florencio Sanches said they recently received applications from four big international companies with the intention of closing their business in Timor-Leste due to low earnings.
He said from the four companies, three companies are set to close their business, while the other one has only ceased activities after receiving advise from SERVE.
He added in 2017, two or three companies each day submitted a request for closure because they were not making any money.
"I am disappointed with the big foreign companies. They make huge profits of more than $50 million, but decided to close the company because they were not able to get any contracts last year," he said from his office, in Matadouro, Dili.
He added that Tax Law No. 8/2008 states that companies that do not generate any income do not have to pay tax but must report nonetheless their earnings (or lack of). He informed also that SERVE register daily 40 or 50 companies.
He said the closure of several businesses is concerning because the private sector pays for the salaries of the public sector through paid taxes.
At the end of the day, he said, it is up to the company if it chooses to close because the government does not have a mandate to stop them.
On the other hand, National Member of Parliament MP David Diaz Ximenes said the current political situation is affecting badly the private sector, both national and international companies because many have not been paid by the government.
If this continues, investors will withdraw their investment and new ones will not come to Timor-Leste to invest.
"It will lead to an economic crisis, without investment our people will lose their jobs, there won't be goods, children will not go to school and the rate of unemployment will strongly increase," he said.
He appealed the government to present and discuss the National Program to the National Parliament immediately for approval to ensure people's livelihoods.
Sophie Raynor Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop arrived in Timor-Leste at the weekend, on her first official visit and the first by any Australian minister to the country in five years. Bishop arrived with the promise of a beatific "new chapter" in the two nations' previously fraught relationship.
Bishop's assertion that the Greater Sunrise development is now a matter for Timor-Leste and joint venture partners washes Australia's hands of the gridlock.
The time between trips is explained by the protracted battle between the neighbours to draw a permanent maritime boundary in the oil-rich Timor Sea. With the March signing of a boundary treaty, Bishop could pull out her diary and book in the three-day trip, the beginning of a 10-day tour of Southeast Asia intended to reaffirm Australia's commitment to its region and deepen relationships with new governments.
At the announcement of the treaty signing in March, green billboards appeared in Dili sporting Bishop's portrait and the sincere message, "Thanks, Julie". But if Bishop is hoping for that same easy appreciation now, a few months on, she'll be disappointed.
Against the backdrop of an already splintering new local government that is spending unsustainably, a stalemate on Greater Sunrise development and public fury over the prosecution of "Witness K" confronts Bishop in Timor-Leste. It exposes the tension that remains between the nations despite the minister's most optimistic words.
Bishop's Timor-Leste visit comes only days after protests in Dili, Sydney, Melbourne, and Darwin saw hundreds gather in support of the whistle-blowers charged with revealing Australia's bugging of Timor-Leste during lucrative oil and gas negotiations between the two countries in 2004.
The anonymous former Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS) agent "Witness K" supervised an Australian espionage effort that saw microphones secretly installed in government buildings in Dili under the guise of an Australian aid funded refurbishment program.
Witness K and his lawyer, Bernard Collaery, concluded that Australia was spying in order to skew Timor Sea negotiations and gain an unjust share of the US$65 billion Greater Sunrise gas field that lies in the north-eastern corner of the disputed area between the countries.
The pair went public with this information in 2013, causing the Timorese government to eventually start the conciliation process concluded by the March boundary agreement.
The surprise decision this month to charge the pair with conspiracy to share information about ASIS was met with fury in Australia. The independent MP Andrew Wilkie, who used parliamentary privilege to reveal details of the prosecution, in parliament called it an "insane" development made all the more curious by the timing of the treaty. "It seems that with the diplomacy out of the way, it's time to bury the bodies," Wilkie said.
Bishop hasn't left this anger behind in Australia. Timorese activists have condemned the decision, likening the prosecution to charges laid against Timorese by former Indonesian dictator Suharto during the 24-year-long Indonesian occupation of Timor-Leste.
In a statement made in Dili last week, Timorese activist group Movimentu Kontra Okupasaun Tasi Timor, or Movement Against the Occupation of the Timor Sea (MKOTT), denounced the charges as politically motivated, and urged the Timor-Leste government to revive its dropped espionage case against Australia if Collaery and Witness K are pursued.
In a brief press conference with Timor-Leste's Foreign Affairs Minister Dionisio Babo Soares in Dili on Monday, Bishop refused to be drawn on the Witness K issue, calling it a "domestic legal matter" for Australia and refusing to confirm whether she'd bring it up in subsequent meetings with Timor-Leste president Francisco "Lu Olo" Guterres and Prime Minister Taur Matan Ruak.
Bishop similarly stepped back Australia's role in the development of the Greater Sunrise gas field, a key issue of the boundary dispute, saying it remains a question for the Government of Timor-Leste and development joint venture partners. "Our interest is a pathway to maximise prosperity for the people of Timor-Leste," Bishop said.
It is a well-intentioned sentiment, and there's no doubt Timor-Leste's prosperity and security are priorities for Australia. But to predict a "new chapter" in the countries' relationship without acknowledging the Australian government's pursuit of the pair who exposed unjust dealings bogs down efforts for Timor-Leste's development.
So too does the stalemate over Greater Sunrise development. Timor-Leste draws around 90% of its public budget from its Petroleum Wealth Fund, financed by Timor Sea oil and gas fields predicted to run dry as soon as 2022.
Bishop's assertion that the Greater Sunrise development is now a matter for Timor-Leste and joint venture partners washes Australia's hands of the gridlock. Timor-Leste is adamant that LNG processing takes place onshore in the country, while oil companies refuse to contemplate what is seen as the commercially unviable option.
Any pathway to prosperity for Timor-Leste through Greater Sunrise remains unclear, but a newly elected government is ploughing ahead with an ambitious agenda seeking to triple economic growth and reduce unemployment to less than 10% over the next five years.
Initially delayed by Guterres's rejection of 11 ministerial candidates due to allegations of corruption, governing coalition Change for Progress Alliance (AMP) has now successfully passed through parliament its program and a new law authorising an extraordinary US$140 million transfer from the country's Petroleum Wealth Fund to finance state activities for July and August.
Timor-Leste's previous minority government was unable to pass a state budget. The AMP government has thus been operating on a shoestring since January, which is reportedly affecting the country's nascent private sector and razing its ministries' budgets.
Last week the coalition encountered further trouble with the surprise resignation of former president and prime minister Xanana Gusmao from his previously approved role as an adviser to his former adversary Taur Matan Ruak.
In June, Gusmao refused to attend the government's swearing-in after ministerial nominees from his party were rejected, and his decision to step down entirely is the surest sign of fissures within the three-party coalition, which banded together to win an unusual parliamentary majority in the 12 May election.
Gusmao was Timor-Leste's chief negotiator for the maritime boundary treaty and will retain control of Timor Sea development discussions. He is not scheduled to meet Bishop on her Timor-Leste visit.
For Bishop, it is unclear how the promised "new chapter" will be realised without recognition of Australia's past wrongdoing and release of the handbrake that remains on Timor-Leste's economic development as a result Greater Sunrise's gridlock. But Bishop's bold words offer promise, and the decision announced on Monday to schedule annual meetings with her Timorese counterpart Soares prevents another five-year drought between visits.
John Braithwaite Much of the media commentary on the government prosecution of Witness K and his lawyer Bernard Collaery has focused on government duplicity in suppressing the trial until it had its oil and gas treaty signed with Timor-Leste.
But this focus on government hypocrisy has neglected the accountability of the director of public prosecutions, Sarah McNaughton. The prosecution policy of the Commonwealth says:
"The decision to prosecute must not be influenced by any political advantage or disadvantage to the government."
McNaughton's job is to be the key politically independent actor in the process. She must be a check on state political revenge. This is why the case should of course be in open court, so the public can see how the DPP justifies its independence in the case.
The reason people are worried about the case is that it has the appearance of state revenge against Witness K, who complained through proper channels about the illegality of the bugging he was asked to do, but a decade on served the public interest by blowing the whistle.
Alexander Downer was foreign minister when our international intelligence services were moved away from their counter-terrorism work to focus on commercial espionage on behalf of oil magnates who later offered him a lucrative consultancy. Witness K went public after Downer started working for the consultancy.
So, let the public see in open court whether this is, or is not, a coin-for-the-crown-case that rightly provoked a whistleblower, and not a political revenge case.
An even greater concern is that K's lawyer, Collaery, has been swept up in the government's prosecution.
From assault to complex commercial crimes, it is common for both sides to make allegations of criminality against the other. We expect the DPP to show independence in assessing who is the greatest victim of crime in complex cases like this. That person will be the least likely to be prosecuted.
The prosecution policy of the Commonwealth also requires the DPP to take into account the views of crime victims in deciding how to manage its deliberations, not only about whether to prosecute. In this case, the public needs to see what kind of victim support services are being provided to Collaery.
For example, the DPP should be asking the government as one of the alleged offenders to make one very public announcement. This is that Australia will continue to abide by the spirit of the International Court of Justice order that the government keep sealed the documents it seized from Collaery's office in 2013.
The Commonwealth should also assure the public that it will continue to desist from spying on Collaery's legal work and any bugging or invasion of Collaery's office.
Further, the prosecution policy says the government should avoid cases that "undermine the confidence of the community in the criminal justice system".
That confidence has already been shaken by this case. It will be further shaken if much of it were heard in secret. "Openness" and "accountability" are specified in the policy, binding the DPP to "maintain the confidence of the public it serves".
Citizen confidence that counter-terrorism laws would not be used against civilians is a public issue. It seems these laws are now hanging over Witness K and Collaery, who most Australians view as patriots rather than terrorists.
Lastly, the prosecution policy emphasises that prosecutorial resources are limited. Only those cases most worthy of prosecution should go forward.
Banking and insurance crimes are a real threat to the security of our financial system. These are the kinds of cases where the "public interest" test demands more focused resources, not cases against public-spirited civil servants.
Another element of the prosecution policy is that the passage of time since the alleged offence occurred should also be taken into account.
In this prosecution, the passage of time has been taken into account in the wrong way, delaying prosecution until a political interest of the government has been realised.
Rarely have the courts in our country faced such a moment of truth for our justice values.
James Scambary East Timor held its fourth parliamentary election in May 2018. Kay Rala 'Xanana' Gusmao's newly minted coalition, the Change for Progress Alliance (AMP), comfortably defeated the Revolutionary Front of Independent East Timor (FRETILIN), ending months of political crisis.
The AMP comprises three parties: Gusmao's old party, the National Congress for Timorese Reconstruction (CNRT); the People's Liberation Movement (PLP); and Enrich the National Unity of the Sons of Timor (KHUNTO).
In the 2017 elections, the PLP's strident anti-corruption campaign narrative squarely aimed at Gusmao's government had raised observers' hopes of a new policy-driven, progressive era in Timorese politics. But then the PLP joined the CNRT to contest the 2018 elections. If corruption was an issue in the 2017 election, it wasn't in this one.
Yet there are many who still hope that the PLP's influence might constrain some of Gusmao's more extravagant projects and persuade him to pay more attention to vital sectors such as health, education and agriculture.
Others have even speculated that the anti-corruption stance of the PLP's leader, the newly appointed prime minister and former guerrilla commander Jose Maria Vasconcelos (popularly known as Taur Matan Ruak), may lead to confrontation with Gusmao, precipitating the breakup of the coalition and new elections.
That may be wishful thinking. There are three largely overlooked but important factors to consider when analysing East Timor's politics.
One is that rhetoric about corruption is not all that it seems. Beyond a tertiary educated Dili elite, corruption is commonly interpreted as other people getting things that you're not. That interpretation was cynically exploited by many party campaigners in the 2017 election, who promised to widen access to government pensions or scholarships, implying that governing party supporters received preferential treatment.
Another factor is the nature of the PLP's support base. Talking to the core of loyal young, urban and educated activists who drove Vasconcelos' presidential campaign and the PLP's 2017 parliamentary election campaign, it's hard not to be impressed by their passion for social justice and clean government. This is the public face of the PLP.
Yet the PLP also received about 40% of its vote in Vasconcelos' rural birthplace of Baucau municipality. Apart from blood ties, he also commands the loyalty of a powerful and extensive veterans' network in that region. The network has consistently delivered a large slice of the vote to Gusmao, then to the PLP and now to the AMP, so the anti-corruption narrative plays little part in this base of support. This support came at a cost, however, in terms of an exponential rise in veterans' pensions as well as lucrative state construction contracts.
This relates in turn to the third factor: networks are everything in East Timor's politics. Policy in East Timor, at least under Gusmao's administration, is driven less by party caucus-style debate than by a more informal process. Anodyne campaign rhetoric about issues such as corruption counts for little in winning votes. People want a new village hall, for example, scholarships for their kids or to get on one of the many pensions currently blowing out the budget.
While unswerving resistance-era loyalties still decide a considerable chunk of the vote, many people are highly pragmatic. They will follow the political preference of the person or people they think will deliver direct benefits. Typically, these are local leaders such as village chiefs, who act as brokers between their communities and the state. Such brokers can amass a substantial following and potential voting bloc, and so are in a position to bargain. They may change party preference more than once as a result. So while voting patterns at a regional or even municipal level are fairly consistent between the major parties, at a village or sub-village level it's more fluid, with some villages changing hands at every election. That is where elections are won or lost. Recruiting these brokers, then, is critical to winning elections in East Timor.
Campaigning also costs a lot of money. Party donors must be found and they expect a quid pro quo, and that's what happened after the 2012 election. A range of lavish mega-projects awarded to party donors were embarked on with little regard for due process, feasibility or social benefit.
These are the dynamics that not only drive government spending, but also shape the composition of government. Aptitude, qualifications and experience help, but are by no means a guarantee of a cabinet position. Loyalty to Gusmao, bringing in campaign cash and mobilising votes are still leading criteria. This is why East Timor doesn't always get a government of the willing and able, or policy that's driven by the public good.
The new cabinet is a case in point. The president, Francisco Guterres (popularly known as Lu-Olo), has vetoed a proposed list of cabinet members as it contained 11 figures who are being investigated for, are facing, or have been convicted of corruption charges. While some have optimistically speculated that the action was instigated by Vasconselos, that's unlikely. As prime minister, it's hard to believe that he didn't see this list and approve it before it was submitted. In any case, after the protracted political standoff since the last election, FRETILIN needs no encouragement to inconvenience Gusmao the gloves are off.
Vasconselos' own integrity is not in dispute. Time will tell whether his integrity will be able to find expression in the current governing arrangement. But for the moment, pragmatism, not principle, may offer a more useful guide to understanding East Timor's future political and economic trajectory.
Australia's greedy and probably illegal theft, through espionage, in 2004 of fledgling, struggling neighbour Timor-Leste's government's deliberations on a dispute between the two nations over ownership of oil and gas reserves was a disgrace. The international ignominy is being amplified by the Australian government's subsequent shameful treatment of the man who brought the scandal to light and of his lawyer.
The informant, referred to in court documents as Witness K, was part of the ASIS team that bugged Timor-Leste's government. The information there is protected by law. Australia also arguably broke international law by raiding the homes of Witness K and his lawyer, Bernard Collaery in 2013. It confiscated Witness K's passport (still unreturned) to prevent him appearing as a witness for the Timor-Leste government in legal proceedings there.
Witness K has widely been described as a whistleblower. Whistleblowers, sometimes at terrible personal cost, generally serve the public interest. Witness K is not even open to the attacks supporters of heavy-handed government level towards whistleblowers in so-called matters of national security. He dutifully took his gnawing disquiet about the cynical spying to the Inspector-General of Intelligence, who concurred that the evidence might well be disclosed in any associated legal proceedings. Mr Collaery says both men were given approval to disclose by the inspector-general.
The spying saga began emerging years ago, but it was not until recently we learnt when independent federal MP Andrew Wilkie, himself a former intelligence officer, revealed, under parliamentary privilege that Attorney-General Christian Porter has approved a prosecution against both men. Our government appears to be doubling down on its reprehensible position; the case will start on July 25, when the court will also consider whether to hear it in private.
It would, of course, be naive to argue nations do not and should not gather intelligence on enemies or potential threats. That is justifiable on national security grounds. But what Australia did to an ally in need of our support was not about security. It was about denying Timor-Leste one of the poorest countries on earth a fair share of the undersea energy resources between our two nations.
Mr Wilkie, with the support of two other crossbenchers, is rightly calling on the Australian Federal Police to investigate whether ASIS broke the law by installing the surveillance devices. The wrong people, it seems, are being sent to court. Those who ordered and covered up the spying are open to prosecution on a number of fronts.
This grubby case could well end up in the High Court, where, in a 1984 ruling against the proposition governments can order activities that breach laws here or in other nations, Justice Anthony Mason declared: "For the future, the point needs to be made loudly and clearly that if counter-espionage activities involve breaches of the law they are liable to attract the consequences that ordinarily flow from breaches of the law."
Max Lane The laying of criminal charges under the Intelligence Services Act 2001 against Witness K and lawyer Bernard Collaery in relation to their exposure of the Australian government's reprehensible bugging of the East Timorese government's cabinet room is a case of a defeated and wounded elitist white imperialism lashing out at somebody at home because they can't do it to the people who humiliated them: the leadership and people of Timor Leste.
Of course, no doubt they also see it as a warning against others who might dare try to expose the criminal activity of the Australian state. But don't under-estimate the resentment of humiliation and defeat that Australian imperialism has experienced at the hands of Timor Leste. The first court hearing is scheduled for July 25 in Canberra. If they are convicted, the maximum sentence is two years gaol.
While the Timor Leste government was in negotiation with the Australian government over the disputed oil and gas reserves in the Timor Sea and indeed over the maritime border the Australian government was listening in using bugging devices implanted by the Australian Secret Intelligence Services (ASIS) using ASIS agents pretending to be part of an Australian aid programme. Witness K and Collaery are accused of conspiring to make this activity known to the media. Timor Leste had been left impoverished by 25 years of military occupation by Suharto's Army, and with a third of its population killed or dead as a result of the occupation. Still the Australian state and its politicians were determined to ensure that their 25 years of imperialist plotting and scheming would not be undone by the newly independent country.
The Australian government, first under Prime Minister Whitlam and then Fraser, followed later by Hawke and all his successors, were complicit from the start in the devastation of Timor Leste that was wrought by Suharto's military occupation. After the Portuguese revolution when it became clear that the social and political forces in Timor desiring independence would triumph, Jakarta started preparing for an invasion. The Whitlam government and the Australian Embassy in Jakarta indicated their agreement, as did the US government. All the parties were afraid that the Revolutionary Front for the Independence of East Timor (FRETILIN), which was radical and left-wing back in 1975, would make East Timor a pocket of popular democracy right next door to the 10 year old Suharto dictatorship. They saw this as potentially destabilising.
The Australian government, however, had an additional interest. It knew there were substantial oil and gas resources in the Timor Sea. It knew also that most of these resources were on the Timorese side of the median line between Timor and the Australian mainland. At that time, an actual formally recognised border did not exist between Portuguese Timor and Australia. It would have to be negotiated: but with whom? The Australian government, with a strong supporting assessment from the Australian Embassy in Jakarta, decided they were more likely to get a better deal from Suharto than from a FRETILIN led independent Timor.
Thus from the beginning Canberra's complicity was driven by its lust for oil and gas. It truly was a "blood for oil" policy. And Canberra was able to do a great deal for the Australian government and oil companies with Suharto. Suharto agreed to a weird maritime border that suddenly, and inexplicably, shot northwards towards Timor as soon as it approached the oil and gas fields. The oil and gas resources all turned out to be on the Australian side of the new border. Indonesia would get some royalties not to mention the fanatical political and diplomatic support of Australia for the invasion and occupation. Australia was the only country in the world to defy the various United Nations resolutions confirming Timor's status as a yet to be decolonised possession of Portugal. Australia gave de jure recognition to East Timor's incorporation into Indonesia as a province.
Gareth Evans, Foreign Minister under the Hawke Labor Government, finalised the deal and he and Suharto's Foreign Minister Ali Alatas flew over the Timor Sea to sign the deal and clink their pretend champagne glasses for the cameras. Australia would get 50% of all revenues from oil and gas that were not even in its territory. A part of the area was to be controlled by Australia totally.
What a great deal had been done. In return for being Suharto's international defender (with some army assistance and training thrown in for a while), the Australian government and companies would gain billions of dollars. Oil! Gas! All theirs. No wonder the champagne glasses clinked.
But the Timorese fought back. They won the support of more and more of the people of Australia and Portugal, and of liberal elements in the United States and Europe and of the left-wing of the democracy movement in Indonesia. In Timor they fought with guns against the Indonesian army, despite being completely outgunned. They mobilised for demonstrations, despite being massacred. They jumped fences on foreign embassies in Jakarta, finally also doing so with their Indonesian solidarity activist comrades. When the Indonesian student movement, articulating the vast mass sentiment against Suharto, and after a long struggle, forced Suharto to resign and ended the dictatorship, students in Timor also mobilised openly for independence.
Under escalating international pressure, spearheaded by public mobilisations in Portugal and Australia, President Habibie of Indonesia initiated a referendum on independence in East Timor. The Timorese mobilised again, in the face of violent harassment, and voted overwhelmingly for Independence, which, in fact, they had already proclaimed in 1975. Even greater violence against the Timorese followed the referendum. Even greater levels of international public pressure manifested themselves, with many calling for an international peacekeeping force. President Habibie announced that Indonesian military forces would withdraw and would hand over Timor to an U.N. sponsored military force.
This was a great victory for the Timorese and a defeat for Suharto's military it was still, at that time, Suharto's military despite Suharto himself having been forced out.
But it was not only that.
It was a huge defeat for Australian imperialism, despite the fact that it was the Australian Army that made up the bulk of the UN international force (Interfet) that went into Timor after Jakarta's agreement. The whole point of Canberra's 1975 onwards support for the invasion and occupation of East Timor was so as to avoid any negotiations with an Independent East Timor and do the deal with the more amenable Suharto. The Australian Prime Minister at the time, John Howard, and his Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer, who had done everything they could to prevent or delay independence quickly changed their rhetoric in the face of this defeat to make the false claim they played a role in securing Timor's freedom. Apart from getting back on side with the Australian public, they knew that their agreement with Suharto on the border and on the oil and gas would surely be up for negotiation again. They were manoeuvring hoping to woo the Timorese leadership. Of course, they would also offer aid to the new country, which would then be used later as a cover to bug the Timorese government's cabinet offices to help Canberra with the new inevitable negotiations.
Canberra's 1975 assessment has turned out to be correct. It has been harder to get the deal it wanted with an independent East Timor than it had been with the dictator Suharto. Even with the Timorese leadership refusing to encourage public protest against Canberra's attempt to keep the Suharto era agreement in place, and despite Canberra's bullying, the first deal done between Dili and Canberra resulted in the Australian government receiving a significantly smaller share of royalties than they had achieved under the deal with Suharto. The Timorese hard bargaining had forced Canberra into a tactical retreat. Canberra was still getting revenues to which it had no rights; its imperialist bullying still had Timor Leste forced to give up its sovereign rights, but the deal it got was nowhere near as good as the old deal. It had been forced back, despite too its bugging of the cabinet room. But this was to be followed later by another retreat.
The imperialist bullying at the time was accompanied by unadulterated imperialist arrogance as well. Almost as soon as Timor Leste won its independence, Australian withdrew from the international convention under which maritime borders were regulated. It refused to agree to a maritime border between Timor Leste and Australia based on the internationally accepted regime of a median line, a border based on a line drawn half-way between Timor and the Australian mainland. This was the normal procedure where countries were 500 kilometres apart or less. The first agreement signed between Australia and Timor Leste, while reducing Australia's royalties significantly still did not settle on a maritime border. It was left as an unresolved question. That was a victory for Australia.
But another defeat was to come; another humiliation. The great white imperialist Australia was forced into arbitration at the U.N. by "little" Timor Leste, where the whole agreement was re-negotiated. And this time the royalties for Australia were reduced even further and a median line border was agreed to. Royalties on Greater Sunrise now became 80/20% in Timor Leste's favour and Timor would have 100% of any future upstream revenue. The original deal with Suharto gave Australia 50% of revenues in shared areas and total ownership in others. (And the other 50%, of course, went to Indonesia, not to East Timor.) Yes, Australia was still to receive royalties and there was still to be a joint development zone, but the new agreement was even further removed from the initial deal with the dictator Suharto.
And this is where the revenge against Witness K and his lawyer Bernard Collaery comes into it. Witness K, an agent with ASIS, had been a part of the bugging operation. He was morally offended by the operation when he saw that Foreign Minister Alexander Downer and the top bureaucrat in the Foreign Ministry later went on to take lucrative consultancies with the oil company that had benefited from the negotiations. Working through the official channels available, and with Collaery as his lawyer, he raised his concerns about what had happened. Eventually, the Timor Leste government also learned of the bugging. Not surprisingly, they angrily concluded that the first negotiations had not been carried out in good faith by Canberra. They moved to annul the existing agreement and force Australia into arbitration where essentially Australia was driven back further.
No doubt in the eyes of Australia's imperial-minded politicians and bureaucratic hacks, their new humiliation was partially to be blamed upon Witness K and Collaery.
Imperialism humiliated can be very revengeful.
Vigorous solidarity with Witness K and lawyer Collaery, who have done the right thing on this issue, may let's all hope deliver a further humiliation to this imperial arrogance with the dropping of the charges.
Binoy Kampmark It took the protective grace of parliamentary privilege to encourage independent Australian MP Andrew Wilkie to reveal that a former Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS) officer, known as Witness K, and his lawyer, former ACT Attorney-General Bernard Collaery, had been charged by the Commonwealth Department of Public Prosecutions.
The seminal breaches alleged by the DPP centre on the Intelligence Services Act 2001 and the provisions on conspiracy to communicate ASIS information in connection with an ASIS operation that took place in 2004.
Australia's not so noble mission then entailed bugging the cabinet room of Timor-Leste as the new state was seeking to negotiate the maritime boundary with the Howard Government. This very act itself suggested suspicion, a sneaky act of bullying to gain an advantage over the new State's attempts to draw earnings from the Greater Sunrise oil and gas field. In a matter that could be described as perversely sneering, the operation was executed under the guise of an aid project.
The result, as Wilkie explained, was that Australia: "... one of the richest countries in the world, forced East Timor, the poorest country in Asia, to sign a treaty which stopped them obtaining their fair share of oil and gas revenue."
When the facts of the bugging incident surfaced in 2012, the Gillard Government showed a nose-turning contempt that has become standard fare on the part of Canberra to Dili, sending an official to placate the East Timorese who had been directly connected with the operation.
East Timor's Prime Minister Rui Maria de Araujo was convinced that ASIS had committed a grievous ethical breach: "Having that as an advantage for you to negotiate something that is a matter of death and life for a small country, I think it's at least morally it's a crime."
Former East Timorese President Xanana Gusmao deemed it a more conventional criminal act, one in severe violation of State sovereignty: "Australia would not allow it. Under the Security Act it will be a criminal act. No? For us we believe it should be considered like this."
Given the moral sanctimony suffusing politics in Canberra at the moment, notably on the issue of foreign interference laws and the fears that Australian democracy is somehow under threat from shady external agents, such incidents provide fodder for the hypocrite. What is obviously good for Australian security does not, it seems, extend to matters of theft and marauding when it comes to impoverished neighbour states. The bully will have his way.
Nor does it extend to protecting intelligence officers who complain about operational irregularities and breaches themselves. Witness K had decided to take the bugging operation to the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security, retaining Collaery, who advised that the operation had breached the Intelligence Services Act.
The actions against the two men provides yet another example of a psychology of decline and terror complaints are to be quashed and those asking them, be held accountable. Information, notably disclosing the corruptions of power, is to be strangulated.
Collaery has been ribbing the Australian political establishment for some time, some of it at the behest of his client, Witness K, and with involvement from such East Timor representatives as Gusmao.
It was Collaery who helped draft a letter delivered by Gusmao to Prime Minister Julia Gillard 'in confidence about the bugging and asking that the matter be dealt with in confidence.'
The response from Gillard was swift and intrusive: to authorise the installation of listening devices in Collaery's Canberra office. The Abbott Government, giddy with notions of the national interest, duly authorised raids by the Australian Secret Intelligence Organisation on Collaery's office and Witness K's home. This entailed a seizure of East Timor's legal documents another act of contempt to add to the cabinet of curiosities that is Australian regional diplomacy.
Collaery has claimed over the years, in no uncertain terms, that there is a general bipartisan consensus attempting to cover-up the entire matter.
Wilkie agrees with resounding conviction: "The bottom line is that the spying on East Timor was indeed illegal and unscrupulous." While it had been initiated by the Howard government, "... the crime has subsequently been covered up by all governments ever since."
Witness K was subsequently frustrated in his bids to travel to The Hague in person to give evidence on the operation in proceedings initiated by East Timor against Australia in the Permanent Court of Arbitration. In what seemed to resemble an act leafed from the Theatre of the Absurd, ASIS supplied a view claiming that Witness K should be refused a passport, as he might be 'cultivated by a foreign power'.
Foreign Minister Julie Bishop, in following the ASIS brief with unquestioning insensibility, suggested the possibility that this decorated officer might "be likely to engage in conduct that might prejudice the security of Australia".
The potential penalty here is two years' imprisonment for the pair. (This savage penalty would he more severe if the events alleged had occurred now.)
Wilkie's summation of this outcome, should it transpire, is most prescient. The Government, said Wilkie, is wanting to effectively "... turn the former ASIS officer, and his lawyer, into political prisoners."
The proto-police state just got an aggressive nudge into a darker, more sinister world.
Patrick O'Connor A new East Timorese government was sworn into office on June 22, following an early election held in May that was triggered by the collapse of a minority Fretilin administration earlier this year. Fretilin is now the official opposition party, after receiving 34 percent of the total vote and 23 of the 65 seats in parliament.
A new tripartite coalition called the Alliance of Change for Progress (AMT), led by Xanana Gusmao and Taur Matan Ruak, is in power, after it won 49.6 percent of the vote and 34 parliamentary seats. Ruak, the former head of the Timorese military, has been installed as prime minister.
Gusmao, the former guerrilla leader during the Indonesian occupation of the former Portuguese colony (between 1975-1999) and former president and prime minister of the new state, is reportedly preparing to serve as the Minister of State and Advisor to the Prime Minister. This position will see him retain control over negotiations for the pending corporate exploitation of the Greater Sunrise and other offshore gas fields.
The new government confronts an escalating political and economic crisis, exacerbated by rising geo-political tensions that are being fuelled by the efforts of the US and its allies, including Australia, to counter China's regional influence.
Timor's political establishment, which continues to be dominated by the "1975 generation" of independence leaders, is increasingly distrusted by ordinary people. Those aged less than 25 years comprise nearly 70 percent of the population. All they have experienced is the bitter failure of the promise that an "independent" capitalist statelet established under the patronage of various imperialist powers would deliver prosperity and national liberation.
Scheduled parliamentary elections in July 2017 followed two years of a so-called national unity government in which Fretilin and Gusmao's National Congress for Timorese Reconstruction (CNRT) shared power. Mass poverty and unemployment continued to plague Timor, and both parties saw their vote decline in the 2017 poll, with the CNRT registering an 8 percent plunge, to 29.5 percent.
Fretilin only just won in 2017, securing 29.7 percent of the vote, and went on to form a minority government with just 23 of the parliament's 65 seats. However, the CNRT and other smaller opposition parties subsequently blocked all government legislation, including the national budget. A protracted impasse was only broken earlier this year by President Francisco Guterres who triggered another election the first time an early vote has been held in the country.
Fretilin lost despite its share of the vote increasing from under 30 percent in 2017 to 34 percent this year. This small rise did not reflect growing support for the incumbent government. Whereas in 2017 twenty different parties were on the ballot, this year just eight options were presented to voters. Minor parties formed multiple electoral coalitions in an attempt to reach the 4 percent of the vote required for a seat in parliament under the proportional representation system.
Fretilin's election campaign featured party leader Mari Alkatiri promising to create additional "special economic zones," in a bid to attract additional international investment by offering corporations more zero-tax and cheap labour havens. The pledge underscored Fretilin's evolution over recent decades in line with bourgeois nationalist organisations around the world from a party purporting to represent the anti-colonial and even anti-capitalist aspirations of the masses to one acting as the open and ruthless instrument of finance capital and transnational corporations.
Less than a fortnight after the new AMT government formally took power, it is already clear that Timor's political crisis has been exacerbated by the latest elections.
Beyond a shared thirst for the spoils of power, there is little uniting the three component parties of the governing AMT coalition. Gusmao's CNRT and Taur Matan Ruak's People's Liberation Party are the main forces, backed by the year-old Khunto party that was formed by several of Dili's martial arts street gangs.
The AMT is mired in numerous corruption allegations. President Guterres last month refused to swear-in 11 proposed government ministers, on the basis that some already had corruption convictions while others are under active investigation by the public prosecutor's office. The latter category reportedly included the government's proposed defence and finance ministers. Xanana Gusmao boycotted the swearing in-ceremony, in protest against Guterres's decision.
While Ruak is prime minister and Gusmao his senior "advisor," it remains to be seen how the two figures, who have previously clashed over rival economic development initiatives, will work together. In 2006, while serving as president, Gusmao helped instigate a violent split within the Timorese military and collaborated with an Australian military intervention in order to oust his rival, Fretilin's then Prime Minister Mari Alkatiri.
There are also reported tensions between the AMT government and the Timorese armed forces.
A New Zealand Defence Force commander, Kerry McKee, who is serving as a "strategic advisor" within the Timor-Leste Defence Force (F-FDTL) leadership, has raised the prospect of a military coup. In a provocative email distributed via an East Timor "riseup" listserv, McKee explained that there were personal tensions between F-FDTL head Lere Anan Timor and both Prime Minister Ruak and his proposed defence minister.
"How this will play out will be interesting to watch," McKee wrote. "[I]s there potential for the foundation of a coup d'etat should Government not perform [?] A long shot but not beyond the realm of possibility noting [Lere Anan Timor's] continued commentary on politics."
Australian imperialism is undoubtedly continuing to intrigue behind the scenes. Last March, concerned by China's growing influence as well its ability to exploit Australia's hypocrisy over territorial disputes in the South China Sea, the Turnbull government conceded a maritime boundary covering the gas-rich Timor Sea (see: "Gas profits and China fears drive Australia-Timor boundary treaty"). The Australian government and its allied transnational energy giants are nevertheless still refusing to countenance piping the Greater Sunrise gas reserves to Timor to be processed.
At the same time, an anti-democratic, secret trial is being prepared for a former Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS) officer, who is only identified as Witness K, and his lawyer, former Australian Capital Territory Attorney-General Bernard Collaery (see: "Ex-spy and lawyer face jail for exposing Australian bugging operation in East Timor"). Witness K exposed the illegal bugging of an East Timor cabinet room in 2004, by spies posing as aid workers, during negotiations for the division of Timor Sea oil and gas revenues between Canberra and Dili.
The provocative prosecution of the whistleblower and his lawyer is undoubtedly intended, at least in part, to send a pointed message to the Timorese government, ahead of a planned visit to Dili by Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop later this year.
Viji Menon Timor-Leste's second parliamentary elections in a space of 10 months have raised the prospect for a resolution to the young country's political gridlock; but challenges remain which call for exceptional leadership from all parties.
The parliamentary elections on 12 May 2018 were called because the one in July 2017 produced no clear winner. The Fretilin party of Mari Alkatiri held only one more seat than the National Congress for Timorese Reconstruction (CNRT) led by Xanana Gusmao, a former president and prime minister. Alkatiri was appointed prime minister and formed a minority government.
Gusmao's CNRT joined two other opposition parties after the elections, the Popular Liberation Party (PLP), led by former President Taur Matan Ruak, and the youth-based party, Khunto, to form the Alliance for Change for Progress (AMP). The AMP blocked the Alkatiri-led government's attempts to pass a budget and amidst political deadlock, President Francisco Guterres dissolved Parliament in January and called for fresh elections.
The election campaign was generally free of violence although there were reports of some minor incidents. Amid some heated rhetoric by politicians, including personal insults and mudslinging, the AMP criticised the Fretilin government for not addressing the challenges facing the country and for being corrupt. While the elections were a positive step for Timor-Leste's democracy, they tend to be personality-based, where the individuals running for office count for more than policy differences, with no mention of any foreign policy issues.
On 28 May, the Court of Appeals (Supreme Court) ratified the final result of the second election of January 2018, declaring the AMP as the outright winner with 49.6% of the votes (34 seats out of 65) followed by Fretilin with 34.2% (23 seats), Democratic Party (PD) with 8% (5 seats), and another smaller party, the FDD with 5.5% (3 seats). Of the 34 seats won by the AMP, the CNRT had 21, PLP 8, and Khunto,5.
Fretilin declared that it would accept the people's choice. Alkatiri told the media that Fretilin was ready to be a strong opposition to monitor the government's programme implementation and expenses. He added that Fretilin "would not do any action to topple the new government. I guarantee it". The PD and the FDD have said they will join Fretilin in the opposition, thus giving the latter a total of 31 seats.
The new government led by the AMP, was inaugurated on 22 June, with Taur Matan Ruak, 61, leader of the PLP (a member of the AMP coalition), sworn in as the new prime minister. This is the first time since independence that the leader of another party other than the CNRT or Fretilin has been sworn in as premier.
As the AMP has a majority in parliament, this could mark the end of ten months of political gridlock. Although Gusmao was widely expected to be named prime minister, he was, in a surprise move, named instead as Minister-Counsellor to the prime minister. It is unclear what Gusmao's role will be, but most observers believe he will retain significant influence over policy.
One of the first key tasks of the new government will be to present a budget and have it approved. The failure to pass the 2018 budget in the last parliament had effectively stymied implementation of all government programmes. Nearly all the political parties during the campaign were concerned with Timor-Leste's current development challenges and future development.
These challenges are related to limited employment opportunities for the youth, low agricultural productivity leading to import dependency, allegations of corruption and mismanagement of public resources, and more importantly, the state's dependence on the Petroleum Fund account to finance the budget.
Ruak's party, the PLP, is a grassroots development movement that campaigned on the values of governmental transparency. Both the PLP and Khunto, the youth party, have argued that more money should be spent on education, health care and infrastructure projects that develop the economy and provide employment, especially for the youth. During his swearing-in, Ruak said that his government would improve equality and develop the economy so it does not "just rely on interest from the petroleum fund".
The new alliance between Gusmao and Ruak has been seen as recognition of reconciliation between the two men. The once strong comrades in Timor-Leste's independence struggle have supported each other in the past but their relations had been strained during Gusmao's premiership while Ruak was president. Ruak was often critical of the Gusmao-led government's spending, especially the excessive dependence on the Petroleum Fund to finance the budget and advocated more active policies to diversify the economy.
Some observers have argued that cutting public spending should be one of the most important objectives of the new government led by Ruak. Each year since 2008, the government has been taking more than the sustainable amount from the Petroleum Fund to finance the budget.
The savings in the Petroleum Fund are expected to run out in another 10 or 15 years, or earlier, depending on how much the government withdraws from the Fund. In the last decade, the government had focused its attention on physical infrastructure, primarily electricity and roads.
This was all necessary spending in order to improve public service delivery. However, there may be a need to revisit some other investment projects, particularly big projects that do not have clear investment returns. Above all, diversifying the economy so that it can employ a significant number of the young population would be critical for Timor-Leste's long-term peace and stability.
As the AMP has a majority in parliament and Ruak is popular, it could get things done and pass the budget. However, its success will depend on a number of factors. First, the internal dynamics within the coalition: Ruak has advocated more prudent spending, but his party has only 8 seats out of the 34 that the AMP has in parliament, while Gusmao's CNRT has 21 seats.
This coalition had worked together well as the opposition in the last parliament but has not had experience in running the government.
Second, the two leaders' differing views on spending priorities could result in further delays in implementing policies that can effectively address Timor-Leste's challenges. Third, the role of the opposition Fretilin party: A constructive opposition would provide a necessary check on the government, but a confrontational stance could result in government paralysis and further instability.
David Dixon They just couldn't leave it alone could they? The Attorney-General's decision to approve charges against "Witness K" and his lawyer, Bernard Collaery, for telling the government of East Timor that their offices had been bugged by Australia is a crude act of political revenge against a whistleblower. Their real offence was not breaching secrecy, but embarrassing Australia and encouraging East Timor to push for the treaty on maritime boundaries which was signed earlier this year.
The spark for the incident leading to the charges was Alexander Downer's appointment to a lucrative consultancy with Woodside (the company seeking access to the Greater Sunrise oil and gas field) when he finished as foreign affairs minister.
Anger at this cosy relationship between government and commercial interest provoked the disclosure that, during refurbishment of the East Timorese government's offices in Dili in 2004, notionally as part of an AusAid development program, Australia had taken the opportunity to install listening devices.
These had been used to spy on East Timor's preparation for negotiations over maritime boundaries and exploiting resources in the Timor Sea. There was already resentment in sections of the Australian Secret Intelligence Service that the Dili operation had improperly diverted resources from investigation of the terrorist bombing of Australia's embassy in Jakarta.
Using aid work to camouflage espionage was highly irresponsible. As The Age commented at the time, it "runs the risk of endangering all legitimate aid workers who seek to help the disadvantaged... To deploy intelligence agents under the cover of aid workers is to exploit the fragile trust that aid agencies must forge with their host country. It weakens their security because it discredits their altruism."
The government claims that Witness K's action endangered ASIS officers and their families. But the real threat was to development workers as a result of ASIS espionage.
Australian security officials responded by raiding Witness K's home and Collaery's premises and seizing various documents. This led to international embarrassment for Australia when East Timor initiated international legal action over the affair.
The International Court of Justice made Australia the subject of a humiliating interim order neither to use the material seized nor to obstruct contact between East Timor and its lawyers. (Australia returned the papers and the case was discontinued.)
A lasting effect of this affair was to allow East Timor to take the moral high ground in arguing for new maritime boundaries, not least to deflect persistent claims about corruption and misconduct within its own government. Australia was eventually brought, kicking and screaming, to compulsory conciliation.
When these proceedings could not be avoided, Australia changed its tune, co-operating with a process which produced a treaty that is very favourable to Australia and which, crucially, allows Australia to trumpet its commitment to "international legal order" in contrast to China's activities in the South China Sea. The hypocrisy is brazen and shameful.
No doubt fearing that action against Witness K and Collaery would jeopardise the treaty, the Australian government waited until it was signed, then sought revenge. It did so just as the Parliament passed the National Security Legislation Amendment (Espionage and Foreign Interference) Bill, which includes "economic relations with another country" within its expansive definition of national security, further restricting public access to information.
The prosecution is a disgrace. Witness K and Bernard Collaery deserve to be honoured, not charged.