Two whistleblowers appear in Australian court over leaks

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Two whistleblowers appeared in a Canberra court yesterday charged separately with leaking classified government information that alleges Australia bugged East Timor’s Cabinet and potential war crimes committed by Australian troops in Afghanistan.

Free speech demonstrators rallied outside the Australian Capital Territory Supreme Court during preliminary hearings for lawyer Bernard Collaery and former army officer David McBride.

Both are at the centre of a new campaign in Australia to wind back national security laws that infringe on press freedom and to provide legal protections for whistleblowers who expose government wrongdoing.

Collaery is charged with conspiring with a former spy to reveal classified information about an allegation that Australia illegally bugged East Timor’s government during negotiations over the sharing of billions of dollars in oil and gas revenue in 2004.

He made his first appearance in the court yesterday a week before Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison flies to East Timor to ratify a new treaty to share Timor Sea energy riches.

East Timor leaders have called for Australia to drop the case.

Collaery intends to plead not guilty and will face a three-day hearing starting December 11 that will determine what if any of the evidence can be heard in open court.

McBride appeared on charges relating to the leaking of classified documents about Australian Special Air Service involvement in Afghanistan to journalists.