Yesterday, whistleblower David McBride had a chance to avoid 50 years in jail.1 Instead, Australia's broken whistleblower protection laws failed him, condemning him to a full criminal trial for exposing alleged war crimes in Afghanistan.2
It was extraordinary. GetUp staff joined Bernard Collaery and other activists at the ACT Supreme Court to witness McBride's hearing. But it was all over in just 20 minutes, after the Government invoked national security to exclude McBride's evidence, forcing his legal team to abandon their case.
It's devastating for David McBride, who has now become a symbol of Australia's broken laws at great personal cost.
But yesterday's events also prove something darker. McBride has now been refused access to our whistleblower protection laws with the full knowledge of Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus and the Government.
It shows the Attorney-General is not a passive bystander in this prosecution – he is simultaneously requiring whistleblowers like McBride to use a broken law to defend themselves, while overseeing the complete failure of that law in practice.
There's still hope – this case could be dropped before it reaches trial if the Attorney-General intervenes. That's why it's up to us to use this momentum to remind Labor that their legacy of integrity and trust relies on righting these wrongs.
Will you join 25,000 other Australians calling on the Attorney-General to stop the war on whistleblowers?
SIGN THE PETITION ❯
Multiple times, GetUp's campaign – and the actions of members like you – were praised, with David McBride himself thanking us for our commitment to the plight of whistleblowers like him. It comes after years of relentless work to protect press freedom, journalists, and their sources – from parliamentary inquiries, to rallies, to billboards.
Together, we showed a united front calling on the Attorney-General to intervene without delay. But now McBride is staring down the barrel of decades in prison, we can't stop now.
Will you sign the petition and call on the Attorney-General to intervene in David McBride's case?
So what actually happened yesterday?
On Thursday, McBride was set to start his defence under the Public Interest Disclosure Act, Australia's federal whistleblowing law. If successful, McBride would have avoided a criminal trial by showing his actions as a whistleblower were in the public interest and therefore protected.
But before his legal team could even mount their defence, the Government made it untenable. By excluding McBride's evidence on national security grounds, the government forced his legal team to abandon their defence under the Public Interest Disclosure Act.
Without a doubt, what happened is a devastating blow for Australian democracy. McBride now faces a criminal trial, which means the first person to be punished for alleged war crimes in Afghanistan could be the one who exposed them.
McBride isn't alone.
Whistleblower Richard Boyle is currently awaiting the outcome of his own defence under the Public Interest Disclosure Act, with the decision set to be handed down by a South Australian judge in the coming weeks. If it fails, he faces 161 years in prison for revealing unethical practices within the Australian Tax Office.3
Time is running out to urge the Attorney-General to protect – not prosecute – those on whose disclosures our democracy depends. Our petition already has over 25,000 signatures – but we need more if we're to show the Attorney-General just how strong opposition is to these cases.
Will you sign the petition and call on the Attorney-General to protect whistleblowers?
Tosca, Madeleine, and Raisa from the GetUp team
 Whistleblower David McBride withdraws immunity defence in ACT court after Commonwealth claims public interest immunity, The Canberra Times, 27 October 2022.
 See reference 1.
 Are Australia's whistleblowing laws fit for purpose? A former tax officer's hearing may tell us, The Guardian, 17 September 2022.