Australian Federal Police have raided the Melbourne office of senior Labor MP and former communications minister Stephen Conroy over suspected leaks to journalists about the National Broadband Network (NBN).
Labor has described the raids as “unprecedented” and said two party staff members were also named in related warrants.
A spokeswoman for the NBN Co has confirmed to Business Insider that it referred the leaks to the AFP. It’s believed that the leaks were reported 6 months ago, and investigations have been underway ever since.
The AFP said this morning that the raids were in relation to a referral from the NBN Co on 9 December 2015.
“The investigation has been undertaken independent of government, and decisions regarding yesterday’s activity were made by the AFP alone,” it said in a statement.
“Search warrants conducted in East Melbourne and Brunswick are part of a phased approach that the AFP has undertaken regarding this investigation.”
Addresses raided included shadow defence minister Conroy’s CPO office at Treasury Place and the home of a staffer of shadow communications minister Jason Clare.
The AFP has confirmed this morning that the raids relate to stories published in Fairfax Media in February, which said that the NBN as conceived by Malcolm Turnbull, while he was communications minister, was “facing mounting delays and rising costs, according to a damning internal progress report“.
A clearly angry Labor frontbencher Tony Burke also confirmed raids were underway during an interview on ABC TV’s 7.30 program last night.
“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,” Burke said.
He accused government staffers of handing out cabinet-in-confidence documents to press gallery journalists and claimed Labor had raised concerns about leaks from all parts of this government, “right through to the National Security Committee of cabinet”, 23 times.
“I don’t know how many of those inquiries have resulted in police raids. I don’t know how many times they’ve been referred to the AFP,” he said.
The Guardian Australia says separate offices belonging to one of shadow communications minister Jason Clare’s staffers are also being raided.
The shadow attorney-general, Mark Dreyfus, said “we have never witnessed such an extraordinary action during a Federal election campaign”.
In a statement, he said:
I can confirm the office of Labor Senator Stephen Conroy has this evening been searched by the AFP. I understand two Labor staff members have also been named in warrants relating to this matter.
I understand these searches are in relation to documents relating to NBN Co.
I have no further information about these documents.
There is no doubt there would be many, many documents that would be of major embarrassment to Malcolm Turnbull.
What we also know is that there have been many other serious leaks out of Government – including relating to national security, defence, and the Federal Budget – and none of them have resulted in Federal police raids.
Tonight’s events are unprecedented – we have never witnessed such an extraordinary action during a Federal election campaign.
Prime Minister Turnbull addressed reporters late last night, saying the raid was a matter for the Australian Federal Police.
“This is entirely a matter for the AFP. You know they operate entirely independently of the Government… the Labor party know that as well as you and I do,” he said.
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said it was “an extraordinary development”.
“It relates to his embarrassment over the fact that there was a massive blow out of costs of billions and billions of dollars, and of course huge delays in the roll out of the NBN,” Shorten said.
The CEO of the journalists’ union, Paul Murphy, added that the AFP raid “makes protection of journalist sources and our disgraceful data retention legislation an election issue”.
So yet again a public interest news story prompts a hunt for sources rather than a policy response to the issues raised.
— Paul Murphy (@thegreenmurphy) May 19, 2016
Disclosure: Business Insider Australia’s publisher, Allure Media, is 100% owned by Fairfax Media.
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