Guilty Your Honour – of fighting for democracy and transparency

by | Sep 16, 2020 | Government

Under the foreign interference legislation, Ian Cunliffe, a lawyer with 50 years’ experience, faces many decades in jail for daring to influence public policy with his campaigning. His fate now rests in the hands of Attorney General Christian Porter.

My criminal career is finally taking off as I enter my eighth decade. I have until now had a spotless record, which was pretty important given my legal career for the past 50 years.

But just this year alone I have committed numerous offences under the foreign interference legislation. Furthermore, each offence carries a maximum of 20 years in prison.

I must confess my crimes are pretty sordid.

  • I have signed dozens of online petitions;
  • I have failed to disclose to the targets of those petitions that I am acting in collaboration with a foreign principal;
  • I have been critical in an article published in the Guardian Australia of the secret prosecutions of Witness K and Bernard Collaery; and
  • I have come up with the idea of an open letter “Project K”, hopefully to be funded by Gofundme, on the subject of those secret prosecutions.

To commit the crime of foreign interference, three boxes have to be ticked: The accused has to:

  1. engage in conduct on behalf of, or in collaboration with, a foreign principal;
  2. engage in that conduct with the intention to influence a political or governmental process or to influence the exercise of an Australian democratic or political right or duty; and
  3. any part of the conduct has to be covert or involve deception, or to involve the accused failing to disclose to the target that they are acting on behalf of, or in collaboration with, a foreign principal.

So to my first offence. is a US company, a “foreign principal” so signing the company’s online petitions ticks the first box. encourages people to start online petitions and facilitates those petitions. Popular topics of petitions are economic and criminal justicehuman rightseducationenvironmental protectionanimals rightshealth, and sustainable food , which all come under Point 2. Petitions circulating in Australia have called for Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews to resign, for the Victorian Parliament to be dissolved, to allow beauty salons to reopen in Victoria, for people to be released from immigration detention and for certain items to be provided on the pharmaceutical benefits scheme. These petitions all tick the second box.

The third box is ticked because I have failed to disclose to the targets of the petitions I signed that I am acting in collaboration with a foreign principal –

As to my article, Guardian Australia is foreign owned – a foreign principal. My article attacked the secret prosecutions of K and Collaery. It also suffered the third strike because I didn’t tell readers I was publishing my article in collaboration with a dreaded foreigner.

My idea of “Project K” to be funded by Gofundme would also raise concern because Gofundme is another US corporation. My cause is plainly political.

How can I ensure that my conduct in promoting the Open K open letter doesn’t tick the third box – that no part of my conduct is covert or involves deception, or a failure to disclose? For starters I’ll probably need to buy a double-page spread – one for the letter, and one for a comprehensive list of all the people who have contributed to the funding. Will I have to reject donors who want to be anonymous? I’ll have to be absolutely transparent with everyone as the project develops – I can’t tell my boss or my wife that I am playing golf if I’m actually working on Project K.

I am hopeful that I and the hundreds of thousands who have signed petitions and those who contribute to Project K won’t be prosecuted – prosecutions can only happen if Christian Porter gives his consent.

I would have more faith if Porter didn’t have such a poor track record of being vindictive when it comes to using his powers in the way an Attorney-General should – judiciously and even quasi judicially, without fear or favour, transparently and demonstrably in the public interest.

But his track record is appalling – he has stacked the Administrative Appeals Tribunal with political mates, he has relentlessly pursued Witness K and Bernard Collaery for revealing the shameful bugging of the Timor-Leste cabinet in 2004, he has failed to pursue the true criminals responsible for that disgraceful episode – mostly his current and former political mates, and he has rammed through Parliament bad laws that seriously undermine the rule of law in Australia.

Attorney General Christian Porter breaches law over three years, claims it was a mistake


Ian Cunliffe

Ian Cunliffe

Lawyer, formerly senior federal public servant (CEO Constitutional Commission, CEO Law Reform Commission, Department of PM&C, Protective Security Review and first Royal Commission on Intelligence and Security; High Court Associate (1971) ; partner of major law firms. Awarded Premier's Award (2018) and Law Institute of Victoria's President's Award for pro bono work (2005).


  1. Avatar

    Well done Ian,
    The hypocrisy of Australia taking aim at judicial processes, in say China, while the pursuit of witness k and Bernard Collaery is breathtaking. It reminds me of the USSR. We must continue to agitate for open justice
    Paul Tocchini

  2. Avatar

    See you in jail, Ian.

  3. Avatar

    And News Limited, owned by a family of foreigners is not a engaged in conduct on behalf of a “foreign principle”?
    Likewise, Liberal politicians promoting the interests of transnational corporations in the mining and energy fields are not doing the same?

  4. Avatar

    Thanks Ian for this clever but disturbing overview.

  5. Avatar

    You’re only youthful petty crim Ian! I opened my account with the wallopers outside the US embassy during the Johnson tour, and entrenched my career of crime at the early Vietnam marches. so keep up the good work.
    But it has rarely been to any avail, when the early internet edition of today’s SMH publishes a piece under M Knott’s byline about how there has been 30% drop in Aussie satisfaction with the “septic tanks”, only to lift it from the publication before the rest of Australia had risen for their first sip of coffee and make space for another reactionary diatribe.

  6. Avatar

    Brilliant – can Porter take out a class action against us? Or is that reserved to schoolchildren trying to fight against the government for a survivable future.

  7. Avatar

    I think we are basically flucked!

  8. Avatar

    Collaery has published his
    reasons for concluding the DG ASIS conspired with others to commit fraud
    in breach of the ACT Criminal Code.

    But the conspiracy to defraud Timor is the least of the sins committed.
    The conspirators have defrauded Australians of their share of $10-12bn in
    Greater Sunrise gas including helium. If there were elected Members among the
    conspirators, that goes close to the wider definition of treason.

    As you rightly point out Ian, there is a huge amount at stake and it includes
    the Rule of Law. It includes our foreign aid program. It includes our
    international reputation. And it may include the susceptibility of the
    treaty to being found invalid for failure of bona fides.

    How dare we seek to influence public policy? Is it the government’s wish that its public policy be handed down engraved on tablets to be merely revered by citizens? What next: will we be prosecuted for voting and seeking thereby to express a view of public policy?

  9. Avatar

    We should all aim to have an ASIO file and wear it as a badge of honor. How dare the spooks and their political lap dogs neuter our democracy!

  10. Avatar

    Does that mean that anything Newscorp (a foreign owned entity )prints that influence govt policy is illegal and anyone who gives them information can be prosecuted?

  11. Avatar

    Perhaps I missed it, but so far as I can see no-one has mentioned Alexander Downer. He conducted (at least part of) the Greater Sunrise negotiations with the East Timorese government. A journalist present reported that Downer quipped “let me show you how this is done” or something similar. Obviously he knew their cabinet rooms were bugged, had that intelligence & used it to advantage.

    This same silver spoon contemptuously suggested, about a week ago, that Julian Assange should place his faith in the judicial system developed over hundreds of years in which he would be guaranteed a fair trial. Downer also said that Assange had the best lawyers… but omitted to mention they have been denied access to Assange for six months.

    Downer triggered the 2016 FBI into Trump’s Russian connections too.

    Downer describes himself as “a warrior for the western alliance”. It is a nice euphemism for spy. Nice work if you can get it.

    Obviously Witness K, his lawyer Mr Collaery & anyone else willing to expose his professional establishment representations is likely to share East Timor, Assange, Witness K & Collaery’s glorious opportunity to cast their fate to Downer’s vaunted legal ‘system’.

    I went to a public primary school with Alexander Downer in 1963. Yes… public. His father was then Australia’s External Affairs Minister (a post Alex later held himself, as Foreign Minister). The ‘debate’ over state aid to public schools was then raging. It was important that he appear on the right side of it. I liked Alex then. He was (& is) intelligent & funny. He was also the best Aussie Rules high mark taker in our school. I do wish he would retire from public life though. Enough ‘service’ already.

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