The police raids on the office and homes of a Labor parliamentarian and staffer last night are unprecedented and outrageous. This is not how we do business in Australia. At least it wasn’t until now.
The question that remains is whether they were politically motivated or simply the result of rank incompetence.
Consider this. On May 7 The Australian front page story on the NBN in its second paragraph said:
Government documents obtained by The Weekend Australian warn of a “negative impact” on the budget from ambitious upgrades to the National Broadband Network, putting Labor on notice…
These documents were never subsequently publicly released. They weren’t therefore what is called in the trade a “drop.” It is technically a leak.
But don’t worry, no one from Mitch Fifield’s office is going to have his office and home raided by the Federal Police because of this leak. No complaint will be made to the Australian Federal Police.
When Malcolm Turnbull was Shadow Communications Minister he and his office and friendly media mainlined on information out of NBN Co. Labor and NBN Co never made a complaint to the AFP.
Last night a staffer who was a colleague of mine in Senator Conroy’s office, and my successor in Jason Clare’s office, was not so lucky. His office was raided. His home was raided. He was read his rights as a suspect of the crime of being in receipt of stolen Government documents.
The Prime Minister tells us that the ALP should know that the AFP acts independently. But someone alerted the AFP to the potential crime. Someone “made a complaint.”
Sky News has reported that the complaint was made by NBN Co. Did NBN Co discuss the matter with the Minister before they made the complaint?
Back in February when leaked NBN Co documents surfaced that indicated that NBN Co was not on track to meet targets, the company said “We will not be drawn on alleged internal documents, we report quarterly and our results are audited.”
So “alleged documents” have now become ‘stolen documents’ that are the subject of complaints to the AFP resulting in multiple AFP raids.
And what was the conversation between the AFP and Michael Keenan yesterday?
When advised did Keenan think to say “Of course, your operations are your own decision. But I would ask you to reflect on whether conducting these raids on a shadow Minister in the middle of an election is appropriate. After all, these are not matters of national security.”
Even if the raids were already underway this should have been the message.
Let’s be clear. These were not documents that had national security implications or were commercially sensitive. Their only value was political.
The Labor staffer at the centre of today’s events isn’t the only person to have received those documents.Will all the others who received them get the same treatment? And will the journalist who received the document write the story?
Back in April 2013 Malcolm Turnbull was promising to deliver 25 Mbps NBN to all Australians by 2016.
Come May 2016 his government is overseeing a business enterprise that has been so ineptly managed over the last three years that it calls in the AFP to investigate leaks of its incompetence that it finds politically embarrassing.
Personally I find this a distressing story. Had I not resigned this would have been me. I would have behaved no differently to my successor. He was quite simply doing his job.
Every journalist in the gallery who has ever written a story off the back of anything other than an actual release should question their future. I am particularly interested in the reaction of David Crowe and his colleagues at The Australian. What will their stance be?
The entire NBN Co Board and the NBN Co CEO should resign for their company’s excessive response to public scrutiny. If they don’t resign they should be sacked.
The Prime Minister needn’t bother – the Australian people will get their chance to pass judgement on 2 July.