NBN staffers suspended over leak investigation

After it was revealed that an NBN staffer had taken dozens of pictures of seized documents during the raid, NBN has confirmed that two employees have been suspended.
Written by Corinne Reichert, Contributor on

The National Broadband Network (NBN) company has confirmed that two NBN staff members have been suspended pending further investigation after the Australian Federal Police (AFP) investigation into leaked confidential documents.

The investigation, which culminated in the execution of two search warrants on Thursday night on the office of former Communications Minister Senator Stephen Conroy and the home of one of Shadow Communications Minister Jason Clare's communications staffers, was kicked off in December after NBN referred the matter to the AFP.

Late on Friday, it was revealed that an NBN employee who was enlisted by the AFP as a temporary "special constable" to assist in identifying allegedly leaked documents took 32 photos of secret documents during the raid.

It is understood that the AFP had instructed the NBN staffer to take the photos -- which are now sealed under a claim of parliamentary privilege until the Senate sits again after the federal election on July 2 -- to send to other NBN employees.

In a letter to the AFP, Labor lawyer Paul Galbally said he had been advised that the photos of the documents were disseminated prior to the staffer being forced to delete them due to the privilege claim.

"This act was wrong and, amongst other things, clearly had the potential to undermine my clients' claim for [parliamentary] privilege," Galbally's letter said.

The photos were downloaded onto a USB and handed to the Senate clerk who holds the sealed documents, Galbally was advised. Since being deleted, the photos cannot be retrieved, according to Galbally's letter.

The seized documents cannot be analysed by the AFP until the Senate decides whether parliamentary privilege does apply.

On Saturday, amid questions from Labor members over how much the government knew about the ongoing AFP investigation, Communications Minister Senator Mitch Fifield admitted that he had knowledge of the investigation from the beginning, but said he did not tell any other ministers or Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull.

"Last year, there were leaks of commercially sensitive information from NBN. The senior management of NBN initiated an internal review, which identified matters of concern. The referral to the AFP was made by the NBN senior management. I did not instruct nor request them to do so," Fifeld said in a statement on Saturday.

"As an AFP investigation was under way, I did not advise other ministers or the prime minister of this matter.

"I have had no interaction with the AFP during their investigation. Nor did I have any knowledge of, nor involvement in, matters that occurred this week, as was confirmed by the AFP commissioner yesterday."

The raids followed a number of leaks over the past six months: In November, a leaked document revealed that Optus' HFC network is "not fully fit for purpose", with 470,000 premises in the footprint needing to be overbuilt; and in December, a leak divulged that the cost to replace or repair the legacy copper network would amount to AU$641 million.

In February, a document alleged that the rollout was seriously delayed and costing more to connect each premises; in March, a document stated that NBN had conducted trials of fibre to the premises (FttP) with skinny fibre that had found FttP was no more expensive than fibre to the node (FttN); and in April, a leaked document alleged once again that 40 FttN areas were behind schedule.

Editorial standards