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Rex Patrick launches public advocacy fund to support defence whistleblower David McBride

The former senator Rex Patrick has launched a public advocacy fund in the hope of shining a spotlight on the federal government’s case against defence whistleblower David McBride.

McBride, a former army lawyer, will face a criminal trial in November for his alleged role in leaking defence documents to the media revealing alleged war crimes.

The trial will mark the first criminal trial related to allegations of war crimes being committed by Australian military personnel in Afghanistan.

Patrick, who will launch the whistleblower justice fund on Wednesday, said the upcoming trial could also result in McBride being jailed, if he is found guilty, despite his role in exposing the alleged wrongdoings.

“It sends a chilling message to anyone considering blowing the whistle, that if you do, you’re likely to end up facing, at the very least, long and protracted legal proceedings, and you might end up in jail,” Patrick told Guardian Australia.

“Who’s going to blow the whistle if that occurs?”

The fund had already raised a six-figure sum, Patrick said, and would run an “intense” social media campaign to inform the public about McBride’s case, along with the trial against former tax office employee Richard Boyle.

The fund will not be used for legal fees. That will be left to the Whistleblower Project, a recently-launched legal support service designed to help whistleblowers reveal and address wrongdoing under the protection of law.

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Boyle is fighting 24 charges relating to his actions prior to blowing the whistle. Boyle spoke out internally, then to an independent watchdog and then to the media in 2018 about the Australian Taxation Office’s aggressive pursuit of tax debts from small businesses.

The fund’s goal is to pressure the federal government – in particular, the attorney general, Mark Dreyfus – to intervene and end the prosecution.

Dreyfus has previously used the discretionary powers in the case against Bernard Collaery, a lawyer who helped reveal Australia’s bugging of ally Timor-Leste during oil and gas negotiations in 2004.

David McBride will face a criminal trial in November for his role in leaking defence documents to the media revealing alleged war crimes. Photograph: Mick Tsikas/AAP

Last week, a group of 30 crossbenchers and one Liberal MP urged the federal government to intervene, warning that if the pair were convicted and jailed it would leave “a stain on Australia’s international reputation”.

Boyle’s wife, Louise Beaston, has also written to Dreyfus and the prime minister, Anthony Albanese, urging the same, saying the pair’s “mental and physical health have both been devastated by this nightmare”.

Patrick called on Dreyfus to consider his legacy as the nation’s top law officer and intervene before it’s too late.

“We have to try to do something. The status quo is not working. The government is basically riding out time,” he said.

“We need to make sure that the public is fully informed about what’s happening here and the government needs to understand that its reputation will ride on how this is handled by them.”

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