POLITICS

AFP Raids Labor Offices In Melbourne Over NBN 'Leaks'

Labor claims foul play during an election campaign.

20/05/2016 7:05 AM AEST | Updated 15/07/2016 12:52 PM AEST
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The leaked documents concerned delays and cost blowouts to the National Broadband Network rollout.

Documents seized by the Australian Federal Police have now been sealed, and the AFP will have to wait for a Senate decision on whether they will be unsealed, after parliamentary privilege was claimed.

Leaked documents which revealed the National Broadband Network was behind schedule and over budget prompted the Thursday night Australian Federal Police raid on the offices of Labor senator Stephen Conroy, the former communications minister under the Gillard government. The home of a Labor staffer for opposition communications spokesman Jason Clare was also targeted and up to 20 NBN Co employees had also been interviewed.

Speaking to media on Friday morning, AFP Commissioner Andrew Colvin said the claim of parliamentary privilege meant the documents would now be sealed, pending a Senate determination. This potentially leaves a cloud of doubt hanging over the entire election campaign, until the Senate meets again following the July 2 poll.

"Parliamentary privilege has been claimed on the documents that were seized last night at both the Commonwealth parliamentary office and at the private residence... As documents are sealed, the AFP does not have access to the documents," he said.

"They will be lodged in the Senate and a process will be put into play by the Parliament to determine if parliamentary privilege is afforded to those documents. It is not necessarily the case that parliamentary privilege will be afforded to those documents."

"Extraordinary" raid slammed by Labor

Labor has suggested the overnight federal police raid upon its offices in Melbourne was politically motivated, while pressuring the government to reveal its level of involvement in the operation which was conducted during an election campaign.

Shadow attorney-general Mark Dreyfus called it an "unprecedented" and "extraordinary" action to come during an election campaign, and on Friday went on the attack.

"We need to know what is the Government's full involvement in this matter and what pressure did the Government put on the NBN to make this referral to the police, to complain to the police, to pursue whistleblowers," he told ABC's Radio National.

"We need to be concerned about building confidence in our police and our agencies and for this raid to have been conducted for the NBN Co to have pressed for an investigation and it to be brought in, in the way in which it has during an election campaign, that raises questions, it does undermine confidence in the police. I'm concerned with the Government's involvement."

Fellow Labor frontbencher Penny Wong also asked about the timing of, and circumstances surrounding, the raid on Sky News.

Liberal MP Christopher Pyne scoffed at the suggestions that the raids were politically motivated, calling the claims "loopy".

"Rather than the Labor Party playing a straight bat, they have chosen to politicise the Australian Federal Police. Now, that is the extraordinary decision that Mark Dreyfus and the Labor Party have chosen to take, rather than simply cooperating with the police and doing the right thing, they have tried to politicise an Australian Federal Police investigation into the leaks," he told TODAY.

"The truth is the Australian Federal Police make their own decisions about when they launch investigations and how they operate."

For its part, the AFP released a statement on Friday saying, "This investigation has been undertaken independent of government, and decisions regarding yesterday's activity were made by the AFP alone". Read the full statement below.

All sides left surprised

While the raids were underway on Thursday evening, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Opposition Leader Bill Shorten were attending a gala event held by The Daily Telegraph in Sydney.

Mr Turnbull said the raids were "entirely a matter for the AFP", while Mr Shorten said, "We'll have more to say in coming days", News.com.au reported from the venue.

Shadow Finance Minister Tony Burke seemed to break the news the raids were happening on The 7:30 Report on Thursday night, saying the documents caused "immense damage" to the Prime Minister.

There appeared to be initial confusion about the raids. Ordinarily, when the AFP is involved in a high-profile operation involving government or parliament, the Justice Minister would be notified.

But Finance Minister Mathias Cormann said he had not heard about the raids until it was raised live on on the program on Thursday night.

"It is the case that those raids are happening," Burke said on the program, while also playing down the number of times document leaks have been referred to the AFP.

"There are allegations floating around about documents that were leaked from the NBN. There's no doubt the leaks that came from the NBN caused immense damage, immense damage to Malcolm Turnbull when they showed the cost blowout of the NBN; the fact it was slower and going to be delayed."

It has also brought into question the caretaker arrangements during an election campaign, but a Government spokesman on Friday told Sky News the matter had been referred to the AFP by NBN Co, and not the government.

Early on Friday, the AFP released a statement about the raids.

The Australian Federal Police can confirm that it executed two search warrants in Melbourne yesterday evening as part of an investigation concerning allegations of the unauthorised disclosure of Commonwealth information.

These allegations were the subject of a referral from the National Broadband Network Company (NBN Co), received by the AFP on 9 December 2015. This investigation has been ongoing since that date.

This investigation has been undertaken independent of government, and decisions regarding yesterday's activity were made by the AFP alone.

Search warrants conducted in East Melbourne and Brunswick are part of a phased approach that the AFP has undertaken regarding this investigation. The next phase of this investigation involves the examination and analysis of material collected during these search warrants.

The federal government and opposition were appropriately notified and advised of operational activity regarding this matter after it commenced yesterday.

The AFP has received assistance from the NBN Co in this investigation, which included facilitating interviews with a number of NBN Co employees as part of yesterday's activity.

This investigation remains ongoing, and the AFP will provide further detail when it is appropriate to do.

In February, news reports revealed the detail of an internal progress report suggesting the NBN rollout was running behind schedule and costing far more than the Federal Government originally claimed.

On Thursday night an AFP spokesperson confirmed the raid to Fairfax media but would not comment further on the investigation.

"The AFP can confirm it is conducting operational activity in Melbourne this evening," the spokesperson said.

"As this activity is related to an ongoing investigation, it is not appropriate to comment any further at this stage."

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