Prime Minister Tony Abbott.
Prime Minister Tony Abbott. Vicki Wood

Brandis defends ASIO raid on lawyer in spy case

UPDATE: ATTORNEY-GENERAL George Brandis has defended spy raids on a lawyer and former intelligence agent, saying they were not intended to interfere in an imminent international court case.

Senator Brandis made a statement to the Senate on Wednesday, in an effort to dispel concerns about the raids overnight on lawyer Bernard Collaery's Canberra office.

Mr Collaery last night alleged on ABC TV that Australian intelligence agents had bugged a cabinet meeting room in East Timor during crucial trade talks over gas projects in 2004.

The lawyer is working with Timor-Leste on an imminent court case over the gas projects and alleged surveillance, which is expected to come before The Hague in the next fortnight.

Sen Brandis said he had signed warrants approving the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation raids on Tuesday, where data and documents were seized in relation to security matters.

He said he was satisfied the information sought in the raids met the legal test to approve the warrant, "on the basis of intelligence" put forward by the ASIO.

Sen Brandis said while he did not know what information was specifically seized, it would be analysed by the intelligence agencies "in coming days".

His comments followed a defence of the raid by Prime Minister Tony Abbott on Wednesday, who said the government did not interfere in such cases.
However, Mr Abbott said "We always act to ensure our national security is being properly upheld".
The Greens deputy leader Adam Bandt earlier on Wednesday urged the government to come clean on the nature of the raid and any relation it may have had to the case.

EARLIER: PRIME Minister Tony Abbott has defended a spy raid on the offices of a lawyer for East Timor, who alleged Australian intelligence agencies listened in to negotiations over gas licences.

ABC on Wednesday reported lawyer Bernard Collaery, working for Timor-Leste, had alleged Australia had tapped the East Timor cabinet room in 2004 during sensitive talks over gas projects in the country.

It is understood Timor-Leste is taking a case over the spying and its oil and gas treaty with Australia to The Hague next week.

The public broadcaster reported ASIO had raided Mr Collaery's Canberra offices and cancelled the visa of a former agent expected to act as a witness in the case.

Greens Deputy Leader Adam Bandt demanded a "full explanation" from the government over the issue.

While Mr Abbott told reporters in Canberra the government did not "interfere" in such cases, he said "we always act to ensure our national security is being properly upheld".

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