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Today a whistleblower goes on trial - by

Updated: Nov 18, 2023

(UPDATED 18 Nov) The prosecution of war crimes whistleblower David McBride will deter whistleblowers and undermine press freedom, a coalition of civil society groups and unions have said on the opening day of McBride’s trial.

McBride is on trial for leaking documents to the ABC that formed the basis for the ‘Afghan Files’ which detailed war crimes in Afghanistan. McBride is the first person on trial in relation to these war crimes – a whistleblower, not an alleged war criminal.

The Albanese Government has resisted calls to intervene. McBride pleaded a defence under whistleblowing law, but had to withdraw it last year following a national security intervention by the government.

The trial in the ACT Supreme Court is expected to run for three weeks. If convicted, McBride could be sentenced to imprisonment.

Kieran Pender, Senior Lawyer, Human Rights Law Centre, said:

“There is no public interest in prosecuting whistleblowers. Today is a dark day for Australian democracy. The truth is on trial.”

Rex Patrick, former Senator and founder, Whistleblower Justice Fund, said:

“The Albanese Government had the power to stop this – and yet they didn’t. We may now see one brave whistleblower behind bars and thousands of prospective whistleblowers lost from the community. There was no public interest in this prosecution and that things have come to this is a blight on this Government’s pre-election commitment to foster and protect whistleblowers.”

Rawan Arraf, Executive Director, Australian Centre for International Justice, said:

“The prosecution of David McBride significantly undermines the important work of accountability and redress following the Brereton Report. How can it be that a whistleblower, not an alleged war criminal, is the one on trial?”

Kobra Moradi, Legal Analyst, Afghanistan Human Rights and Democracy Organization, said:

“David McBride’s whistleblowing helped shine a light on the reprehensible conduct of Australian forces in Afghanistan. He should be commended for exposing war crimes – not prosecuted for doing so.”

Peter Greste, Executive Director, Alliance for Journalists’ Freedom, said:

“There can be no press freedom without robust protection for journalists’ sources. The prosecution of David McBride will have a chilling effect on public interest journalism.”

Beth Vincent-Pietsch, Deputy Secretary, Community and Public Section Union, said:

“Strong whistleblower protections are critical to an effective APS that operates with transparency and integrity. Prosecuting whistleblowers sends the entirely wrong message. The Robodebt saga only underscored what happens when public servants cannot speak up or suffer when they do.”

Daniela Gavshon, Australia director, Human Rights Watch, said:

“The prosecution of whistleblowers for speaking up in the public interest undermines the right to freedom of expression. This case damages Australia’s international reputation as a rights-respecting democracy.”

Jeff Morris OAM, whose whistleblowing sparked the Banking Royal Commission, said:

“It is tragic to see a fellow whistleblower going on trial for telling the truth. It sends a dark message to potential whistleblowers – speak up and go to jail.”

“David McBride is being prosecuted by the Australian Government for telling the truth about the Australian Government. This would be just as absurd as the Commonwealth Bank being able to prosecute me because the Commonwealth Bank didn’t like what I had to say.”

Clancy Moore, Chief Executive Officer, Transparency International Australia, said:

“The ongoing prosecution of whistleblowers underscores the need for urgent law reform to ensure whistleblowers are protected, not prosecuted. The Australian government must commit to robust, comprehensive reform and the establishment of a whistleblower protection authority.”

Larissa Baldwin-Roberts, CEO, GetUp!, said:

“This prosecution is a stain on our democracy. It is well past time for this sorry saga to come to an end – and it is unconscionable that the Albanese Government has refused to act.”

Bill Browne, Director of the Australia Institute’s Democracy & Accountability Program, said:

“Whistleblowers make Australia a better place. Australia Institute and HRLC polling research consistently finds that Australians want stronger whistleblower protections and an end to the prosecution of whistleblowers.”

Karen Percy, President – Media Section, Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance, said:

“Whistleblowers are crucial to the work of journalists. Raids on the media and the prosecution of whistleblowers undermine Australia’s reputation for press freedom and make it harder for journalists to do their jobs.”

Media Opportunities

9am: Rally outside ACT Supreme Court 9.30am: Civil society press conference outside ACT Supreme Court 10am: Trial begins 11am: MPs press conference at Mural Hall, Parliament House

The Human Rights Law Centre has developed an explainer monitoring the McBride case and the prosecution of tax office whistleblower Richard Boyle – it can be found here.

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