Bernard Collaery

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Bernard Collaery
Collaery (centre) in 2015
Member of ACT Legislative Assembly
In office
4 March 1989 – 15 February 1992
2nd Deputy Chief Minister of the Australian Capital Territory
In office
7 December 1989 – 29 May 1991
Preceded byPaul Whalan
Succeeded byWayne Berry
2nd Attorney-General of the Australian Capital Territory
In office
7 December 1989 – 29 May 1991
Preceded byRosemary Follett
Succeeded byTerry Connolly
Personal details
Bernard Joseph Edward Collaery

(1944-10-12) 12 October 1944 (age 76)
Caversham, England, United Kingdom
Political partyResidents Rally
Spouse(s)Ann McHugh
ChildrenMatthew, Caitlin, Lucy, and Brigid
Alma materSydney Law School at the University of Sydney
ProfessionBarrister and solicitor

Bernard Joseph Edward Collaery (born 12 October 1944) is an Australian barrister, lawyer and former politician. Collaery was a member of the Australian Capital Territory's first Legislative Assembly for the Residents Rally party, from 1989 to 1992. He served as Deputy Chief Minister and Attorney-General from 1989 to 1991 in the Kaine Alliance Government.

Early life[edit]

Collaery was born in Caversham, England, four months after his father, Flying Officer Edward Collaery (RAAF) was killed in action. Collaery arrived in Australia in 1945[1] and was educated at the Christian Brothers College in Wollongong, New South Wales and at the Sydney Law School at the University of Sydney[2][self-published source] where he graduated with a Bachelor of Laws.

Political career[edit]

Prior to entering politics, Collaery was a First Secretary in Australia's Embassy in France.[3]

Collaery was elected to the Assembly at its first general election, held in 1989[1] and was leader of the Residents Rally Party,[4] "a community-based urban green party".[5] The life of the first Assembly, a multi-member single electorate unicameral body, was characterised by a hung parliament and significant political instability. Confidence was waning in the minority Follett Labor government. On 5 December 1989, Collaery moved a motion in the Assembly:[6]

That this Assembly no longer has confidence in the Chief Minister of the ACT and the minority Labor Government and has confidence in the ability of Mr Kaine to form a government.

— Bernard Collaery, 5 December 1989.

The vote was resolved in the affirmative (10 votes to 7 votes), and Trevor Kaine was elected as Chief Minister as leader of an Alliance Government, comprising members of the Liberal Party and the Residents Rally. Collaery was subsequently appointed Deputy Chief Minister and Attorney-General in the Kaine Liberal government with responsibility for welfare and community services; housing; sport and recreation; and youth.[7]

On 29 May 1991, Kaine announced to the Assembly that members of Residents Rally had met the previous evening and decided to advise the Chief Minister that they wanted a review of some planning decisions relating to ACT Government school sites that had been taken without the involvement of Collaery as the Deputy Chief Minister and Leader of the Rally.[8] Those concerns had been conveyed to the Chief Minister in a letter delivered on 28 May 1991, which indicated that if the Chief Minister tabled variations to the plan, the Residents Rally members would be forced to vote against them.[9] That account of events was supported by comments from Rally member Dr Hector Kinloch.[10] The debate that followed showed that Collaery had been removed from his position as Deputy Chief Minister and Attorney General because he and the two remaining Rally members in the Assembly (Norm Jensen and Dr Hector Kinloch) could not support planning decisions affecting school sites.[11] Comments by Mr Duby, one of the three ministers involved in the decisions in Collaery's absence, confirmed that account of the reason for the fall of the Alliance Government.[12]

On 6 June 1991, a motion of no confidence in Kaine, as Chief Minister, was passed, with Collaery voting in favour.[13] Rosemary Follett resumed the Chief Ministership, and Collaery sat on the backbenches. He was unsuccessful in seeking re-election to the Assembly at the 1992 general election.[14]

In the 1993 federal election, Collaery was an independent candidate for election to the Australian Senate, representing the Australian Capital Territory, but was unsuccessful.[15]

Legal career[edit]

Collaery is the principal of Collaery Lawyers, a Canberra-based law firm with an international law division embracing international maritime and treaty law, refugee and civil rights law. The civil division embraces catastrophe law, principally catastrophic personal injury cases and high level dependency claims arising from catastrophic multi-victim cases, and medical negligence. The criminal division embraces all forms of trial work including coronial law. Collaery has appeared as counsel in various jurisdictions.[2][self-published source]

As a barrister, Collaery has represented plaintiffs in a number of high-profile cases, including:

Witness K Trial[edit]

Collaery has represented the interests of the people of Timor-Leste over a long period of time. Collaery advocated on behalf of Timor-Leste and was legal advisor to the National Congress for Timorese Reconstruction (CNRT) in the critical period up until formal independence in 2002.[21][22] In 2013 Collaery alleged that two agents from the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation raided his Canberra office and seized electronic and paper files. Collaery was representing a witness in a case brought by the Timor-Leste government against the Australian Government over the bugging of the Timor-Leste cabinet offices during the negotiations for a petroleum and gas treaty in 2004. The case was before the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague in the Netherlands.[23] The Australian Attorney-General, George Brandis, confirmed that he authorised a request by ASIO for a search warrant on Collaery's office, to protect Australia's national security.[24]

In June 2018, the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions filed criminal charges against Collaery and his client known as "Witness K" in the Australia–East Timor spying scandal.[25] Collaery and "Witness K" are accused of conspiring to communicate secret information to the Government of Timor-Leste some time between May 2008 and May 2013. Mr Collaery is also accused of sharing information with ABC journalists about the 2004 bugging operation. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) has reported that former Victorian premier and adviser to Timor-Leste, Steve Bracks called the prosecution "political". The ABC also reported that one of Australia's most senior lawyers, Nicholas Cowdery QC, questioned whether the prosecution is in the public interest and described the long delay between the 2013 raid and the prosecution as highly unusual.[26]

In a court hearing on 6 August 2019 Collaery advised that he is pleading not guilty to all charges. "Witness K" advised that he will plead guilty to breaching the Intelligence Services Act, however details of his plea are being negotiated with the prosecution.[27]

On 26 August 2019 a Four Corners report entitled "Secrets, Spies and Trials" was aired examining the Witness K trial. The report found that the cause of the delay in bringing charges against "Witness K" and Collaery was the reluctance of former attorney-general George Brandis to give consent to the prosecution. His consent was necessary due to the nature of the charges. Brandis still had not given his approval when he stood down in 2017 but his successor, Christian Porter, gave consent to prosecute within six months of taking office.[28]

The Four Corners report also contained an interview with former prime minister of Timor Leste, Xanana Gusmão, who said he would give evidence in court on behalf of "Witness K" and Collaery if their prosecution was not a secret trial. He said his evidence is likely to embarrass previous Australian governments.[29]

The prosecution of Collaery and "Witness K" is under the National Security Information (NSI) Act which was introduced in 2004 to deal with classified and sensitive material in court cases. The NSI Act allows certain evidence and information to be heard in a closed court. When the parties to a case cannot agree on what is of national security importance and what is not, a court must decide.[30] The Four Corners report revealed that Christian Porter has issued a secret certificate limiting the disclosure of certain information and evidence in court that is considered prejudicial to national security. Collaery said that the use of the Act had interfered with his defence and ability to instruct his lawyers as he is not sure what can be revealed in court and is restricted in what he can tell his lawyers. [29]

In June 2020, the ACT Supreme Court held a week-long closed hearing to determine which material would be considered classified during the trial. The Court ruled in the government's favour and decided that the material identified by the Attorney-General as sensitive should remain classified in Collaery's future trial. As a result, part of Collaery's trial will take place in secret.[30]

Porter revealed in Parliament that "[a]s at 3 June 2020, external legal costs incurred by the Commonwealth in the prosecutions of Witness K and Mr Bernard Collaery total approximately $2,063,442.86".[30]


Collaery has written a book, Oil Under Troubled Water: Australia's Timor Sea Intrigue which is due to be published by Melbourne University Publishing in 2020.[31] Its subject is Australia's relations with Timor-Leste since World War II. According to the publisher and CEO of Melbourne University Publishing, Dr Nathan Hollier, it will raise important questions about "the integrity of systems of government in Australia". The Australian Government Solicitor sent Collaery a letter dated 2 March 2018 in which it provided a warning that, if he disclosed secret information about the Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS) in his book, he could face "a maximum penalty of 10 years' imprisonment". The letter points out that Collaery is bound by the provisions of the Intelligence Services Act (2001) due to his arrangement with ASIS that was made in order for him to represent "Witness K". The letter was sent at the request of the Director-General of ASIS.[26][32]


  1. ^ a b c "Members of the First Assembly" (PDF). Legislative Assembly for the Australian Capital Territory. September 1990. Retrieved 4 December 2013.
  2. ^ a b "Resume of Bernard Joseph Edward Collaery" (PDF). Collaery Lawyers. 8 April 2008. Retrieved 4 December 2013.[permanent dead link][self-published source]
  3. ^ "Cold Wind from East Timor". Radio National – Background Briefing. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. 27 July 1997. Archived from the original on 3 October 1999. Retrieved 14 August 2010.
  4. ^ "20 Years of Self Government". Stateline. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. 8 May 2009. Archived from the original on 11 November 2012. Retrieved 14 August 2010.
  5. ^ Collaery, Bernard (2004). "Community policing – an ACT perspective". Australian Institute of Criminology. Retrieved 3 September 2010.
  6. ^ "Assembly Debate – 5/12/1989" (PDF). ACT Hansard. ACT Legislative Assembly. 5 December 1989. pp. 2987–2993. Retrieved 14 August 2010.
  7. ^ "Assembly Debate – 7/12/1989" (PDF). ACT Hansard. ACT Legislative Assembly. 7 December 1989. p. 3087. Retrieved 14 August 2010.
  8. ^ Hansard1991 p. 2125
  9. ^ Hansard1991 p.2139
  10. ^ Hansard 1991 p.2155
  11. ^ Hansard1991 p.2167-2165
  12. ^ Hansard1991 p.2161
  13. ^ "Assembly Debate – 06/06/1991" (PDF). ACT Hansard. ACT Legislative Assembly. 6 June 1991. pp. 2167–236. Retrieved 14 August 2010.
  14. ^ "List of candidates". 1992 Election. ACT Electoral Commission. 1992. Archived from the original on 30 September 2009. Retrieved 3 August 2010.
  15. ^ Carr, Adam (1993). "Senate – ACT – Results". 1993 Federal election results. Australian Electoral Commission. Retrieved 14 August 2010.
  16. ^ "The day the earth fell on Thredbo". The Age. Fairfax Media. 30 July 2002. Retrieved 3 August 2010.
  17. ^ Francis, Adrienne (10 March 2010). "Chief Justice inspects bushfire victim's farm". ABC News. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 3 August 2010.
  18. ^ Reynolds, Fiona (5 November 1999). "Increasing pressure on ACT Chief Minister". AM. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 3 August 2010.
  19. ^ Nairn, Jessica (27 May 2011). "Judgement on ACT police shooting case". ABC News. Australian Broadcasting Corporation. Retrieved 10 June 2011.
  20. ^ Andrews, Louis (10 June 2011). "$8m payout for man shot by police". The Canberra Times. Fairfax Media. Archived from the original on 12 June 2011. Retrieved 10 June 2011.
  21. ^ "AusTimorFN welcomes H.E. Abel Guterres (back) to Australia". Friends of Balibo. 2 June 2010. Retrieved 14 August 2010.
  22. ^ Gibbs, Adrian (29 July 1998). "East Timor independence rally". Green Left Weekly. Retrieved 14 August 2010.
  23. ^ "Lawyer representing E Timor alleges ASIO agents raided his practice". PM. ABC Radio. 3 December 2013. Retrieved 4 December 2013.
  24. ^ Massola, James (4 December 2013). "Raids approved to protect 'national security': Brandis". The Australian Financial Review. Retrieved 4 December 2013.
  25. ^ Green, Andrew. "'Witness K' and lawyer Bernard Collaery charged with breaching intelligence act over East Timor spying revelations". ABC News. Retrieved 2 July 2018.
  26. ^ a b Cannane, Steve (28 August 2018). "'Witness K' lawyer Bernard Collaery got jail warning from Government over book months before being charged in Timor-Leste spy case". ABC News. Retrieved 10 September 2018.
  27. ^ "Witness K to plead guilty to breaching intelligence act as lawyer Bernard Collaery committed to trial". ABC News. 6 August 2019. Retrieved 27 August 2019.
  28. ^ Cannane, Steve; Cronau, Peter (26 August 2019). "Former attorney-general George Brandis had 'misgivings' about prosecuting Witness K and Collaery". ABC News. Retrieved 27 August 2019.
  29. ^ a b Cannane, Steve; Cronau, Peter (26 August 2019). "Xanana Gusmao offers to give evidence that could embarrass Australia in Witness K trial". ABC News. Retrieved 27 August 2019.
  30. ^ a b c Byrne, Elizabeth; Doran, Matthew (26 June 2020). "Part of Witness K lawyer Bernard Collaery's trial will be heard in secret". ABC. Retrieved 26 June 2020.
  31. ^
  32. ^ "Letter from the Australian Government Solicitor". Retrieved 10 September 2018.
Australian Capital Territory Legislative Assembly
New title Member of the ACT Legislative Assembly
Served alongside: Berry, Connolly, Duby, Follett, Grassby, Humphries, Jensen,
Kaine, Kinloch, Maher, Moore, Nolan, Prowse, Stefaniak, Stevenson, Wood, Whalan
Multi-member constituency
Political offices
Preceded by
Paul Whalan
Deputy Chief Minister of the Australian Capital Territory
Succeeded by
Wayne Berry
Preceded by
Rosemary Follett
Attorney-General of the Australian Capital Territory
Succeeded by
Terry Connolly
Preceded by
Ellnor Grassby
Minister for Housing and Community Services