Bernard Collaery is the defence lawyer for Witness K, the pseudonym given to a former Australia Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS) agent. Witness K was involved in an illegal operation to bug the cabinet room of the East Timor government in 2004 during treaty negotiations with Australia regarding oil and gas in the Timor Sea. Witness K first revealed the bugging operation after learning that former Foreign Minister, Alexander Downer, had gone on to work as an adviser for Woodside Petroleum. Woodside Petroleum were working "hand in glove" with the Australian government to reach the optimum deal with East Timor's government and significantly benefited from the outcome of the treaty.
In 2013, Mr. Collaery alleged that ASIO agents raided his Canberra office, seizing both physical and electronic evidence. Proceedings against both both Bernard Collaery and Witness K began in June 2018. The proceedings have been taking place in closed-courts as the prosecution falls under the National Security Information Act 2004.
The pair were accused of conspiring to communicate secret information with the government of Timor-Leste between 2008 and 2013, with Mr. Collaery being additionally accused of sharing information regarding the 2004 bugging operation with the ABC. In August 2019, Mr. Collaery plead not guilty to all charges, with Witness K pleading guilty to breaching the Intelligence Service Act by conspiring to reveal classified information in June of 2021. Witness K received a 3-month suspended sentence while Mr. Collaery's case is ongoing.
The delay in charges being brought against Mr. Collaery and Witness K was revealed in an ABC Four Corners report which detailed then-attorney general George Brandis' reluctance to consent to their prosecution. His successor, Christian Porter, began the prosecution of the pair within 6 months of taking the office in 2017. By June 2020, government legal costs related to the prosecution of Mr. Collaery and Witness K had reached more than $2 million.