Turnbull wafts into Conrovia as Labor demands transparency around NBN raids

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has accused Senator Stephen Conroy of bullying the Australian Federal Police over its raids on his offices.
Written by Chris Duckett, Contributor

An extraordinary performance from Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has exemplified an extraordinary day at Parliament House in Canberra, where the Australian Federal Police (AFP) executed search warrants on the Department of Parliamentary Services.

The prime minister has accused former communications minister and now Shadow Special Minister of State Senator Stephen Conroy of meddling in the course of justice and bullying the AFP.

"We've all seen him disrespect senior military officers in the Senate, we've seen him attack the integrity of the Australian Federal Police before, and now he is doing it again," Turnbull told reporters on Wednesday.

"As for him trying to use political influence to stop an investigation ... he should know better."

Turnbull then said the senator should throw his support behind the AFP.

"These are the men and women that keep us safe, and I can tell you, speaking on behalf of my government and I believe the overwhelming majority of Australians, we support our police and security forces because we know they stand between us and danger," the prime minister said.

The danger, if the PM is taken at face value, is over the leaking of documents that show the rollout of the NBN has been hit with delays and cost overruns.

"Senator Conroy this morning was showing yet again that he operates in a parallel universe. I used to describe it as Conrovia, another sphere, another universe," Turnbull said.

By issuing a call to rally around the troops, and tie a ribbon around your local tree for the feds, it is Turnbull who is more likely in danger of taking residence in Conrovia.

This is not a matter of national security. The NBN documents lie somewhere between corporate espionage and whistleblowing, with history more likely to show the latter is the correct interpretation.

The raid conducted today by the AFP has seen yet more documents seized, sealed, and handed to the Clerk of the Senate, pending a determination on whether parliamentary privilege applies to them.

"It's of vital importance that parliamentary privilege is honoured," Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus said. "It is vital to the way in which parliamentarians go about doing their work.

"It protects parliamentarians both communicating with each other and communicating with all of the Australian community. It protects documents that they obtain or documents that they create as part of doing their work, which, in the present situation, is work that concerns the accountability of a government-owned corporation which is spending billions and billions of dollars of public money."

Drefyus said it is disappointing that Communications Minister Senator Mitch Fifield appeared not to understand that parliamentary privilege is not a political plaything, and that the government had been duplicitous on what it knew about the raids on the offices of Senator Conroy during the election.

"The Australian people have been misled previously about how much this government knows about this investigation. Let's hope we are not misled again," he said.

"Turnbull needs to make a full disclosure of all of his dealings with the NBN Co board and all of this dealings with the NBN Co management about exactly what he knows and when he knew it about this investigation."

Speaking at the National Press Club, Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said the government is overreaching on the issue.

"I cannot believe the extent to which this government will go to cover up its NBN stuff-up," Shorten said.

"At the end of the day, the public have a right to know if billions of dollars are being wasted."

Editorial standards