Coalition government spent $6m prosecuting Bernard Collaery and three other whistleblowers | Australian politics

New data shows that the former Coalition government spent almost $6m prosecuting Bernard Collaery, Witness K, Richard Boyle, and David McBride over their actions in exposing wrongdoing and misconduct.

Figures provided to the Guardian show the prosecutions’ costs have almost doubled in two years, leaving taxpayers with an outrageous legal bill before the cases have reached trial.

By March, the government had spent $4.42m on the external legal costs associated with the prosecutions of Witness K and Collaery, whose actions helped expose Australia’s bugging of Timor-Leste during commercial negotiations over access to resources in the Timor Sea.

The legal bill for the prosecutions is growing by $1m annually on average, from $2.47m in mid-2020.

The cost of the prosecution of McBride – a former military lawyer prosecuted for a leak that informed an ABC series on Australian war crimes – has now reached $1.3m.

The case against Boyle, a former tax official, has now cost taxpayers $76,747. Boyle was charged with a string of offenses after helping an ABC investigation into aggressive tactics employed by the taxation office to recover debts.

The external costs to the commonwealth – provided to the Guardian by the Attorney-General’s Department – total $5.8m. That figure includes the cost of the Australian government solicitor and external legal services such as counsel fees and legal disbursement costs. It also provides for payments to external counsel brought in by commonwealth prosecutors. However, it excludes the internal staffing costs of the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions (CDPP) staff working on the cases.

Bernard Collaery

In mid-2020, the cost of the four cases was about $3m.

The trials of Collaery, McBride, and Boyle are still months away.

Collaery is due to face trial in October, though his lawyers have protested setting a trial date while appeals they consider important to his defense are still active.

Boyle has a hearing on his attempt to use whistleblower protections next month before facing a criminal trial in October if charges remain.

McBride also attempts to use whistleblower protections in his case, and his trial has been repeatedly delayed.

Outgoing senator Rex Patrick said the costs to taxpayers were unacceptable and must be acted upon by the new government.

“The Morrison government has spent nearly $6m on these prosecutions, which are sadly and wrongly directed at the whistleblower instead of the perpetrators,” he said.

“The Albanese government must end these costly prosecutions, not in the public interest. Confidence must be restored in the ability for people to blow the whistle.”

Patrick wrote to the new Albanese government last month, urging it to drop the prosecution of Collaery.

The cases have prompted renewed criticism of the state of Australia’s government whistleblower protections and the former government’s failure to adopt a 2017 inquiry recommendation to establish a dedicated whistleblower protection agency.

The Public Interest Disclosure Act, which protects government whistleblowers, has lagged badly behind corporate whistleblower laws, which were reformed in 2019.

In response to the concerns, attorney general Mark Dreyfus told ABC that the government would “closely examine” the current protections to ensure their adequacy.

Human Rights Law Centre senior lawyer Kieran Pender said the almost $6m legal bill was “absolutely extraordinary”. Pender said the government could drop the prosecutions at any time.

“Whistleblowers should be protected, not punished,” he said. “Every day that the prosecutions of Bernard Collaery, David McBride, and Richard Boyle drag on are another day where democracy in this country is being damaged.”

Bella E. McMahon
I am a freelance writer who started blogging in college. I am fascinated by human nature, politics, culture, technology, and pop culture. In addition to my writing, I enjoy exploring new places, trying out new things, and engaging in conversations with new people. Some of my favorite hobbies are reading, playing music, making crafts, writing, traveling, and spending time with my family.