|Australia defiant over intimidatory raids on lawyer’s office, citing national security
Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott defended intelligence raids on the offices of a lawyer representing East Timor in a spying case against Canberra, saying they were necessary for national security.
Abbott's government is under fire after lawyer Bernard Collaery's offices were raided by the domestic spy agency, the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation, on Tuesday and a range of material seized on a secret warrant, AFP reports.
Collaery is representing East Timor's government in an arbitration at The Hague accusing Australia of espionage over a controversial Timor Sea gas treaty, and has described the raids as “intimidatory'' tactics ahead of a hearing in the case Thursday.
The Labor-Greens opposition called for an explanation from Attorney-General George Brandis, with Labor Senator Penny Wong saying the raids brought into question the “integrity of the rule of law.’’
But Abbott defended the move as in Australia's national interest.
“We don't interfere in cases but we always act to ensure that our national security is being properly upheld – that's what we're doing,'' the prime minister said.
“One of the important things that government does is protect national security.''
He later assured lawmakers that “no one's phone can be tapped, no one's conversations can be listened into without a specific warrant.’’
“Our intelligence services both here and abroad operate under the very strictest of safeguards,'' Abbott said.
In a statement to parliament, Brandis confirmed that premises belonging to Collaery and an unnamed former officer of the Australian Secret Intelligence Service, the country's foreign intelligence agency, were raided on Tuesday and “documents and electronic data'' seized.
“The search warrants were issued on the advice and at the request of ASIO to protect Australia's national security,'' Brandis told the Senate.
The retired ASIS officer-turned-whistleblower is Collaery's key witness, and will allege that the spy agency used an Australian aid project renovating East Timor's cabinet offices as a front to install listening devices in the walls during crucial gas treaty talks in 2004.