AFP to raid Parliament over NBN leaks: Conroy

Former communications minister Stephen Conroy says he has been advised federal police will conduct a raid to access the emails of Labor staff over the NBN.
Written by Chris Duckett, Contributor

Australian Federal Police (AFP) will conduct a raid to access the emails of Labor staff members at Parliament House in Canberra as part of an ongoing NBN investigation, a senior Labor senator has been advised.

Former communications minister Stephen Conroy said he has been told of the raid on the Department of Parliamentary Services on Wednesday morning.

The investigation into leaked NBN documents, which culminated in the execution of two search warrants in May on the office of Conroy and the home of one of then-Shadow Communications Minister Jason Clare's communications staffers, was kicked off in December after NBN referred the matter to the AFP.

Senator Conroy claimed parliamentary privilege over all of the correspondence -- a claim that will be tested when Parliament resumes.

"All of the information they gained when they raided my office back during the election campaign is currently in the safe of the parliamentary clerk of the Senate," he told ABC radio.

"What is at stake here is the ability of members of parliament to protect the whistleblowers who come to them and give them information that demonstrates that the government of the day is not actually achieving what it is claiming in public."

Senator Conroy claimed the AFP was simply acting on the request of NBN Co, "with Malcolm Turnbull's mates on the board who are desperate to provide cover for him".

"The whole investigation is about covering up Malcolm Turnbull's incompetent administration of the NBN and its rollout and its cost," he said.

Senator Conroy also questioned the legal justification of the company's action in asking the AFP to investigate, given it was not a public authority.

"NBN Co initiated this investigation based on a claim that it is entitled to special protections from disclosure of information about its operations because it is part of the Commonwealth," Conroy said in a statement.

"However, this is contrary to its own enabling legislation which clearly and unambiguously states that NBN Co is not a public authority, not part of the Commonwealth and not entitled to any of the immunities or privileges of the Commonwealth."

Communications Minister Mitch Fifield said it was outrageous for Senator Conroy to seek to besmirch the reputation of the AFP.

"I think it's bizarre for a member of parliament to say that they should have the right to determine what is and what is not within the AFP's jurisdiction," he told ABC radio.

The minister denied it was an investigation into whistleblowers.

"This is a case where NBN is alleging that there is theft of material which is of commercial in-confidence and I think any organisation is within its rights to call in the appropriate authorities," he said.

Senator Fifield was not aware if the AFP was conducting the raids on Wednesday.

Conroy has previously called for an apology from Fifield, and for the resignation of NBN chairman Ziggy Switkowski over the matter.

"I won't be apologising to Stephen," Fifield said last month.

"I didn't raid Stephen's office; the Australian Federal Police did. The referral from the NBN to the AFP was a matter for NBN, and the AFP determine what is and is not within their jurisdiction. I'm someone who has confidence in the integrity of the AFP. It's something that's been called into question by the Australian Labor Party.

"It's entirely a matter for the Australian Federal Police; they have national independence, and to question the AFP and their motives is to question the integrity of that organisation, which is something that Labor continues to do."

In June, Secretary of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet Martin Parkinson found an opinion piece by NBN chairman Switkowski defending the AFP investigation had been a breach of the caretaker conventions that dictate how government departments and businesses are to behave during an election.

"When dozens of confidential company documents are stolen, this is theft. The process is a form of political rumourtrage -- the circulation of misinformation to diminish an enterprise for political gain," Switkowski wrote.

"One rationalisation has appeared that this theft is the action of whistleblowers. No, it is not."

The leaked documents from NBN showed the Optus HFC network is not fit for purpose, the cost to replace or repair the legacy copper network would amount to AU$641 million, and the rollout is seriously delayed with 40 fibre to the node areas behind schedule.

NBN last week posted an earnings before interest, tax, depreciation, and amortisation loss of AU$1.572 billion, a 39 percent increase on last year's AU$1.13 billion loss. Revenue for the 12-month period was AU$421 million, a year-on-year increase of 157 percent from the AU$164 million reported in the year prior.

With AAP

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