Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull on Friday Photo: Andrew Meares Opposition Leader Bill Shorten on Friday. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen
Nanjing Night Net

Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus (right) and Labor’s communications spokesman Jason Clare after the AFP raids on Labor offices on Thursday night. Photo: Steven Siewert

The AFP raid on a Labor staffer’s house in Brunswick on Thursday night. Photo: Nick Toscano

Australian election: full coverageComment:NBN leaks were of public interestExplainer:Why are the police raiding Labor?

Late-night raids on Labor offices over the alleged leaking of documents by staff members atthe National Broadband Network sparked a day of extraordinary political debate on Friday, with the opposition accusing the Turnbull government of seeking to muzzlewhistleblowers and restrict press freedom.

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten effectively accused Malcolm Turnbull of lying by saying it was “inconceivable” the Prime Minister was not aware of the Australian Federal Police investigation before the raids in Melbourne on Thursday.

Mr Turnbull, who denied any prior knowledge of the investigation, in turnsaid Labor should be “ashamed” of itself forquestioningthe integrity of the AFP and trying to politicise its work.

In a remarkable turn of events on Friday afternoon, Labor’s legal representativeswrote to the AFP to complain that an NBN employee participating in the raids had taken photos of seized documents and sent them to his colleagues.

The revelation came to light during a meeting between AFP CommanderPaul Osborne and lawyerPaul Galbally on Friday. The NBN employee – who participated in theraid at the office of former communications minister Stephen Conroyas a “constable assisting” – later deleted all 32 photos fromhis phone and it is believed they cannot be retrieved.

These documents were supposed to be held under seal by the Clerk of the Senate because Senator Conroy is claiming they are protected by parliamentary privilege.

“During our meeting I was advised by you that [the NBN officer] disseminated images of documents obtained in the execution of the warrant to NBN Co Limited in circumstances where a claim of parliamentary privilege had been made to NBN Co Limited,”MrGalballysaid in a letter to Commander Osborne, obtained by Fairfax Media.

“This act was wrong and, amongst other things, clearly had the potential to undermine my clients’ claim for privilege.”

Labor is demanding to know why the NBN employee was allowed to disseminate the photos and under whose authority.

AFP CommissionerAndrew Colvin had earlier said it was normal operational procedure for the NBN officer to be at the raids.

“Those people donot search,” he said.

“What they are there foris to be shown documents we believemight be relevant and provideexpertise as to the authenticityand origin of those documents.

“I know my officersoperate professionally in allcases.”

A spokesperson for the AFP said that the NBN Co staffer was “under the direction of AFP officers at all times during the search warrant” but did not say why the staffer was allowed to send the pictures to colleagues. But Fairfax Media understands theNBN Co has agreed to delete all material it received. Letter (1) by Orietta

Shadow attorney-general Mark Dreyfusinitially questioned the AFP’s decision to launch the raids during an election campaign, saying it should have been “more cautious” giventhe political connotations involved.

Mr Shorten later said he accepted the AFP’s insistence the policehad acted with complete independence from government.

“Theintegrity of the AFP is not theissue here at all,” Mr Shorten said.

“But let us not fall forthe idea that somehow the NBN Co is operating in this marvellousuniverse independent of thegovernment.

“We know thatthese revelations have shownmassive NBN cost blowouts andunacceptable delays for millions ofAustralians.

“This is about theright ofthe public to know thetruth.”

The AFP on Thursday nightexecuted search warrants atthe Treasury Place office of SenatorConroy and the Brunswick home of Labor staffer Andrew Byrne. The search at Mr Byrne’s house lasted until around 5am on Friday.

The warrant states police believe a Commonwealth officer leaked NBNdocumentstoMr Byrne between August and February. The warrant said police were seekingdocuments relatingtoThe Sydney Morning Herald, The Australian Financial Review, The Australian and technologywebsite Delimiter.

These outlets have published a series of damaging stories, based on internal NBN documents marked “commercial in confidence”, about thethe poor state of the cable TV and broadband networkit purchased from Optus and ofthe copper network purchased from Telstra.

Senator Conroy has claimed the documents are covered byparliamentary privilege, meaning they will be sealed until after the election if the Senate approves their release.

A spokesman for the NBN said:”Our staff have followed and complied with instructions from the AFP at all times.

“NBNhas been assisting the Australian Federal Police with an investigation into the ongoing theft of intellectual property after reporting the matter in December 2015.”

Mr Turnbull, who was campaigning in Launceston, said: “Thefirst I heard of the AFPinvestigation was [on Thursday]when Iwas advised by the Justice Ministershortly after he’d been advised bythe Commissioner.

“We aredealing here with a matter of lawenforcement, we’re dealing herewith a matter of the AustralianFederal Police.

“NBN Co made a referral of a matterof concern, of illegal leaking ofconfidential commercialinformation.”

Mr Turnbull said Labor had sought to attack the integrity of the AFP.

“Labor should beashamed of themselves,” he said.

Mr Colvin said:”The timing is completely determined by the AFP, it’s determined by the status and progress of the investigation, not by any external factors and not by any government influence.”

He said the AFP believed the leaking thatsparked the investigation had been”ongoing” and that this had influenced the timing of the raids.

Mr Colvin rejected claims the AFP had been selective in taking action on leaks from NBN, rather than leaks from inside the Turnbull government’s national security committee of cabinet.

Mr Turnbull said in March the AFP would investigate the leaking of sections of a draft Defence white paper that formed the basis of a newspaper story in which former prime minister Tony Abbott was quoted.

A spokesman for Mr Abbott said on Friday he had not been interviewed by the AFP, nor approachedregarding that leak investigation.

A spokeswoman for former Defence MinisterKevin Andrewsdeclined to say whether the former minister had been interviewed.

“It is understood from media reports there is an investigation, which is a matter for the AFP,” the spokesman said.

A spokeswoman forCommunications Minister Mitch Fifield did not answer questions aboutwhether he knew about the investigation before Thursday.

Government sources pointed out that the Rudd government made 32 referrals to the AFP over leaks in its first three years in office.

In 2011 Senator Conroy called in police to investigate leaks detailing how an independent tender panel had favoured Sky News over the ABC to run Australia’s international broadcasting service.

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