A motion to refer the Witness K spying saga to a parliamentary committee has been pushed back, with Labor instead promising it will launch a full inquiry if elected.
Independent senator Rex Patrick introduced a motion on Wednesday night to refer the Australian government's involvement in the bugging of a building in Timor-Leste nearly two decades earlier.
Classified information publicly revealed in 2013 showed the espionage operation gave the Howard government an advantage in negotiations with its close neighbour over lucrative oil and gas resources.
Instead, Labor will opt to launch an inquiry if elected to government, and has promised to amend intelligence legislation to allow parliamentary committees to look into foreign intelligence agency the Australian Secret Intelligence Service.
The spying saga was disclosed in 2013 after Timor-Leste took its concerns about the bugging operation to the Permanent Court of Arbitration in The Hague.
The former Australian intelligence officer, known as Witness K, was invited by Timor-Leste to give evidence.
Then-attorney-general George Brandis ordered the confiscation of Witness K's passport to prevent him giving evidence. The office of his lawyer, Bernard Collaery, was also raided.
Mr Collaery, who is a former ACT attorney-general, is fighting five charges alleging he breached the Intelligence Services Act by sharing protected information and conspiring with former spy Witness K to do so.
Senator Gallagher said her party would call on former attorney-general Christian Porter to explain his decision to prosecute the two men in 2018.
"The attorney-general's unexplained decision to prosecute Witness K and Mr Collaery, and his attempts to have the trial of Mr Collaery conducted in secret, appear to be part of a broader shift towards more secrecy and less accountability in government," Senator Gallagher said.
"That shift began with the election of the Abbott government seven years ago and has escalated rapidly under Prime Minister Morrison, who, despite multiple scandals on his watch, has never held any of his ministers to account."
Senator Patrick said the "disturbing set of circumstances" needed scrutiny in order to explain Australia's actions against an impoverished neighbouring country.
"What happened as a result of this indiscretion, this awful abhorrent conduct of Australia, is that we've taken our neighbour and we've put them offside," Senator Patrick said.
"Part of the problem here is that we simply won't even admit what we've done."
The senator provided "some hints" about the secret case under parliamentary privilege on Tuesday evening, adding he believed former foreign affairs minister Alexander Downer and former prime minister John Howard would be called by the court to provide evidence.
"We need to watch this case. I hope the court opens up the case, because the only thing that's really secret that will be talked about, and it's not secret, is the fact that the operation took place," he said.
The Greens' deputy leader, Senator Nick McKim, who supported the motion, said the two whistleblowers should be celebrated for exercising their democratic rights.
"[Charging them] was a political decision," Senator McKim said.
"Bernard Collaery and Witness K are Australian patriots of the highest order. We should have stamped some medals for them, not charged them."
Independent National Security Legislation Monitor Grant Donaldson, who is conducting a review of a section of the National Security Intelligence Act, said he was considering further inquiries into the Collaery and Witness K cases.
"I will be considering that matter at the appropriate time," Mr Donaldson said in a Senate estimates hearing in March.
"There has been a great deal of disquiet concerning the invocation of the NSI Act in the circumstances of the Collaery matter."
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