Radio National transcript



FRIDAY, 20 MAY 2016


FRAN KELLY, HOST: The Federal Opposition has lashed out at the Turnbull Government over police raids which took place in Melbourne overnight. The AFP raided the office of Labor frontbencher, Stephen Conroy, at around 4 o'clock in the afternoon and that search lasted around five hours. Police also raided the home of a senior Labor staffer and that search continued into the early hours of the morning. The Federal Police aren't speaking publicly this morning but the AFP has released a statement, saying the raids relate to long-running investigations into who leaked confidential documents about the National Broadband Network. Mark Dreyfus is the Shadow Attorney-General. He's in our breakfast studios. Mark Dreyfus, welcome back to Breakfast.

MARK DREYFUS: Good morning, Fran.

KELLY: The AFP says this morning, quote: "these allegations were the subject of a referral from the National Broadband Network Company, received by the AFP on the 9th December 2015. This investigation has been ongoing since that date." Now you questioned the timing of these raids. The AFP says this investigation has been going for months.

DREYFUS: We have an election campaign and it is extraordinary and unprecedented, Fran, that there should be raids on the office of a Labor Senator and a Labor staffer's home, as you've just said in your introduction. This raid occurred at Senator Conroy's office in Melbourne. It wasn't completed until 9 or 10pm and the police then moved on to a Labor staffer's home. That raid wasn't completed until 5am this morning. It could hardly be more extraordinary. What we need to know is what the Government's full involvement in this matter was and what pressure did the Government put on the NBN to make this referral to the police, to complain to the police, to pursue whistleblowers. Because let's not be in any doubt about this, the documents in question are documents that reveal Malcolm Turnbull's mismanagement and incompetence in running the NBN.

KELLY: OK, let's go to those questions...

DREYFUS: They showed cost blowouts, they show delays and that's what Mr Turnbull wants to have investigated. Those are the whistleblowers he's going after.

KELLY: Well, there's no sign this has anything to do with Mr Turnbull. The police statement says, and this is a statement they've released at 5:17am this morning, "this investigation has been undertaken independent of government and decisions regarding yesterday's activity were made by the AFP alone. These allegations were the subject of a referral from the National Broadband Network Company received by the Federal Police on the 9th December 2015 and this investigation has been ongoing since that date.

DREYFUS: The National Broadband Network Company is not independent of government. It is owned by government. What pressure did Mr Turnbull put on the NBN Co to make this referral to the police? You've only got to contrast and compare, Fran, the way in which this alleged leak, because this is apparently what the investigation is about, was treated by the Australian Federal Police and the Government, compared to the way in which more than twenty leaks of national security information, leaks from the National Security Committee of Cabinet, which have not even been investigated. It's extraordinary.

KELLY: But doesn't that go to show that the police can't be easily leant on? I mean, you would know from your time as Attorney General, I'm sure, that the Federal Police aren't pressured by politicians, are they, to launch investigations and raids?

DREYFUS: And what a very good thing that is because at all times, we need to make sure that the Australian Federal Police and all our agencies are absolutely independent of political interference.

KELLY: But you're suggesting they're not. You're suggesting they'll buckle to pressure from Malcolm Turnbull.

DREYFUS: I'm not suggesting that for one moment, Fran. I'm saying we also need to be concerned about the appearance of police work. We need to be concerned about building confidence in our police and our agencies and for this raid to have been conducted, for the NBN Co to have pressed for an investigation and it to be brought in, in the way it which it has during an election campaign, that raises questions. It does undermine confidence in the independence of the police. I'm concerned with the Government's involvement here, Fran. I'm concerned with what the Government did to pressure the company that it owns, the NBN Co, to go after whistleblowers, to continue with the concealment of the mismanagement of the NBN Co by Mr Turnbull….

KELLY: So now you're saying that the pressure came from the Government on NBN Co, not on the Federal Police? You need to be clear about that.

DREYFUS: We need to know what the Government's full involvement is in this matter and quite -

KELLY: Well the Government says no involvement.

DREYFUS: Well, I don't accept that for a moment. Is it suggested that the Government knew nothing of NBN Co's complaint or that the Government never ever talked to NBN Co about whistleblowers about Labor's pursuit of the truth about the NBN Co that documents that these raids concerned are all going to cost blowouts, to delays, to embarrassment to Mr Turnbull.

KELLY: Yeah, that's one thing, knowing about that and complaining to the NBN Co might be one thing. But to be involved in pressuring the police to conduct a raid that ends up happening in the middle of an election - that's a very serious charge. The police say has been undertaken, this investigation, independent of government.

DREYFUS: These are questions for Mr Turnbull and the Government to answer. I don't know what dealings there have been between Mr Turnbull and NBN Co since he became Prime Minister or indeed before he became Prime Minister when he was Communications Minister.

KELLY: But are you implying there's discussions between Mr Turnbull and the police?

DREYFUS: I don't know what the current Communications Minister has been doing with NBN Co and it's for the government to explain its full involvement, exactly what pressure did the government bring to bear that has led to this investigation and I'm not commenting on the particular relationship with the Australian Federal Police because we simply don't know.

KELLY: But you are though, you are implying that the AFP is acting in a political way.

DREYFUS: I'm saying that Australians looking on here, towards the end of the second week of an election campaign would be aghast at the unprecedented nature of a police raid being conducted on a Labor Senator's office and a Labor staffer’s home by the Australian Federal Police. We must ensure that there is confidence in our police, we must ensure complete separation from political concerns. That's why there's a whole range of guidelines about political connotations of police work. That's why those guidelines say that the Minister has to be informed and frankly, I should have been informed as well at an earlier time than did in fact occur.

KELLY: I'll come to that in a minute but in a sense, doesn't this bear out exactly what you're saying; that the timing may be unprecedented but that doesn't make it wrong and if the AFP, as I understand, believe they need to be acting oblivious, in a sense, of external events when they're running an investigation. This absolutely goes to that to the fact that they are independent. They must have known, they're not idiots, they must have known how this would look.

DREYFUS: They can't be oblivious of external events. We are in an election campaign. We're in the second week of an eight-week election campaign. The police must know that, they should have - I think - thought more and been more cautious about what the appearance of this might have been because there are obvious political connotations. It is obviously something that is directed at a Labor Shadow Minister and a Labor staffer.

KELLY: So you're saying that it would be appropriate in the midst of an election campaign for the Federal Police to not push forward with raids and investigations even if that's the point of the investigation they're up to? It would be appropriate for them to put that off for a few weeks?

DREYFUS: It will be on hold in any event because these documents are covered by parliamentary privilege. These documents are protected because the Labor senator concerned, Senator Conroy, was participating in a Senate Committee inquiry inquiring into the maladministration, the mismanagement of the NBN inquiring into what Mr Turnbull did as Minister and that's of course absolutely appropriate in our Westminster traditions that parliamentarians inquire into government actions, hold government to account, that's why we have Senate inquiries and that's why we have parliamentary privilege to protect that work by parliamentarians who are pursuing the truth, who are working with whistleblowers. We need to have whistleblowers protected and we need to have the work of parliamentarians protected.

KELLY: Just to clear up one thing, I've checked on this, Bill Shorten says he only received news of these raids five minutes before they happened but I understand the government minister concerned, the Justice Minister Michael Keenan was only told just moments before that too.

DREYFUS: Yes, but we know that the government knew about - we assume - that the government knew that the NBN Co was making this referral. I don't think that happened independently of government.

KELLY: The referral last year?

DREYFUS: In December apparently. Some of the documents concerned go back to 2014, many of the documents concerned I have been told are already in the public domain. They're on the internet and one is driven to ask why is it that this matter has been resolved in this way with a police raid in the second week of an election campaign.

KELLY: And just on that, looking from the outside it looks odd. Everyone would agree with you on that. But there doesn't seem to be a national imperative on this, it's not national security, but these documents we believe are the ones reported back in the Herald back in February and the Herald says they were marked 'Commercial-in-Confidence' and 'For Official Use Only'. If they were stolen, if this was a theft, it does deserve police attention I guess.

DREYFUS: I'm not going to comment on the particular investigation here. I think what's clear though is that we've got Mr Turnbull going after whistleblowers, Mr Turnbull not wanting there to be investigation of his mismanagement, the massive cost blowouts of the NBN on his watch. That's the substance of this and that's what people should be focused on. We should not be concerning ourselves about whistleblowers, they are people who are to be admired for their work and we certainly should be protecting the work of parliamentarians who are holding the government to account.

KELLY: Mark Dreyfus, thank you very much for joining us.

DREYFUS: Thanks very much, Fran.