Mark Dreyfus: The raids are “extraordinary and unprecedented events”. Photo: ABC Lateline Up to ten plain-clothes officers raided a Brunswick house believed to be the home of a Labor staffer. Photo: Sky News

The federal shadow attorney-general has labelled the raids of Labor Party offices by the Australian Federal Police “unprecedented and extraordinary” in the middle of an election campaign and said the government has serious questions to answer about the matter.

In an interview with ABC’s Lateline on Thursday evening, as news of the raids was still coming to light, Mark Dreyfus said he was shocked to learn of the events in the second week of a federal election campaign.

“These are extraordinary and unprecedented events and the government has a great deal of explaining to do,” Mr Dreyfus said.

“I cannot think of any precedent for this occurring before … It’s a concern of course because we have a proud record in Australia of non-politicised security agencies.”

On Thursday, AFP officers searched the office of former communications minister Stephen Conroy, while later, two staffers of current communications spokesman Jason Clare were also set to be targeted, Fairfax Media reported. Labor says the raids are in relation to leaks about time delays and cost blowouts of the National Broadband Network (NBN) under the Coalition.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has strongly distanced himself and the Coalition from Thursday’s events, saying the AFP were operating entirely independently from the government.

“It’s entirely a matter for the AFP,” he said earlier. “As you know they operate entirely independently of the government so this is a matter for the AFP. The Labor Party know that as well as you and I do.”

Lateline host Tony Jones said he had received information that the government was only informed of the raids as they were happening, and the AFP said they were acting at the behest of the NBN, not the government. The host asked Mr Dreyfus whether he was suggesting that the AFP was acting in a political way or at the behest of the government.

“I am not saying that, Tony,” My Dreyfus said. “I am saying that all Australians are right to be concerned about the appearance of a raid being conducted on a Labor senator’s office and on the – potentially on the homes of Labor staffers in the second week of a campaign and because of the subject matter of these raids.”

“There’s guidelines that govern the way in which the Australian Federal Police is to carry out searches relating to parliamentarians and also guidelines relating to how the Australian Federal Police is to conduct itself in relation to political – politically sensitive matters.”

“They require that the government be briefed. We are in caretaker mode now. That should require that there be proper full-briefing of the opposition.”

Mr Dreyfus also appeared to question whether there was a double standard at play in the raids, saying there had been “more than 20 serious national security-related leaks under this Abbott-Turnbull Government and not one of them has resulted in an AFP investigation, still less raids conducted in this manner.”

The shadow attorney-general said Labor would be defending any staffers as they would parliamentarians in any criminal matters arising from the raids.

NBN Co confirmed to Fairfax Media on Thursday it was assisting the AFP with an “ongoing investigation”.

with James Massola

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