ALL SMILES: Foreign Minister Alexander Downer (seated, second from left) signs the Timor gap agreement in Timor on July 5, 2001.
ALL SMILES: Foreign Minister Alexander Downer (seated, second from left) signs the Timor gap agreement in Timor on July 5, 2001. ROD MCGUIRK / AAP

Ex-Asio agent prevented from leaving Australia

A CROSSBENCH call for Foreign Minister Julie Bishop to hand back a former intelligence officer's passport appears to have fallen on deaf ears in Canberra.

Senators Nick Xenophon, John Madigan and Andrew Wilkie on Thursday called for Ms Bishop to give the former agent's passport back, after it was seized in an ASIO raid on his home in 2012.

The agent, known as Witness K, was expected to give evidence before the Permanent Court of Arbitration at The Hague about an operation to bug East Timor's Cabinet rooms during negotiations over an offshore oil and gas treaty with Australia in 2004.

East Timor has been hoping to get the treaty revoked on the basis the bugging operation that Witness K reportedly ran at the time was illegal.

But Witness K's lawyer, Bernard Collaery, said his client had been unable to leave the country to give evidence at The Hague after Ms Bishop rejected his application on national security grounds.

He said the case raised serious concerns about the future ability of intelligence officers to give evidence, and Witness K had not been given his passport back despite his evidence not being related to national security.

Sen Madigan said every Australian had a right to a fair trial and that "when you erode the rights of one, you erode the rights of all".

Sen Xenophon said he was concerned Ms Bishop's move to prevent Witness K's passport being reinstated might be related to the alleged role of former Liberal Foreign Minister Alexander Downer in the bugging operation.

Mr Collaery said intelligence agencies had assessed Witness K as not posing a security threat - potentially allowing him to give evidence in the case before the court. He described Ms Bishop's decision as a "political" one.

Ms Bishop's office has previously told media organisations it does not comment on individual cases. It did not respond to ARM Newsdesk's requests for comment yesterday.


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