Australia accused of waging a ‘war on whistleblowers’

There are calls for the federal government to drop its case against whistleblower David McBride.

There are calls for the federal government to drop its case against whistleblower David McBride. Photo: AAP

Australia was once a world leader in investigating war crimes in Afghanistan before, critics say, it began doggedly pursuing whistleblowers, rather than perpetrators.

In 2017, former defence lawyer David McBride leaked hundreds of documents on alleged war crimes committed by Australian soldiers during the war in Afghanistan.

Three years later, the Inspector-General of the Australian Defence Force reviewed his claims and found evidence members of Australian special forces were involved in the murder of 39 civilians and prisoners.

Afghanistan Human Rights and Democracy Organisation co-founder Hadi Marifat, who has witnessed warring forces and the Taliban tearing apart his home, hoped the revelations could kickstart a healing process for his community.

“We were hoping Australia could set an example so that other countries would follow suit,” he told AAP.

“But now we have the whistleblower being prosecuted and put on trial before the alleged perpetrators.”

McBride is due to face court in November, charged with unauthorised disclosure of information, theft of commonwealth property and breaching the Defence Act.

But Marifat said he stood in solidarity with the lawyer because “he has seen what I have seen”.

The revelations should have been a launching point for the Australian Defence Force to provide better transparency to victims and prompt the government to eventually pay compensation and reparations, Marifat said.

But the government and ADF’s failure had denied Afghan civilians the ability to heal.

“Truth and acknowledgement is important to the process of healing for Afghan victims,” Marifat said

“It is sad to see the focus is not on that.”

McBride’s case could set an alarming precedent for future whistleblowers, Human Rights Law Centre senior lawyer Kieran Pender said.

“Whistleblowers are central in speaking up about misconduct. They can stop it before it happens or stop it before it’s too late,” Pender told AAP.

“But people aren’t speaking up because in Australia at the moment there is a war on whistleblowers.”

The Human Rights Law Centre has previously called on the government to drop its cases against Mr McBride, tax office whistleblower Richard Boyle and Bernard Collaery.

Collaery was accused of leaking classified information about an alleged Australian spying operation in East Timor.

Although the Labor government ended the commonwealth’s pursuit of Collaery, it has not intervened in the two other matters.

“We see whistleblowers being prosecuted, whistleblowers losing their jobs for speaking out, whistleblowers being sued by their employers,” Pender said.

“If one of them goes to jail for telling the truth, that will have a real chilling effect on transparency and accountability in our democracy.”


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