Australian Federal Police commissioner Andrew Colvin has just spoken to media on the topic of the police group's overnight raids on Labor Senator Stephen Conroy's offices, saying that the raids — conducted during the start of a highly charged election period and ongoing battle over the NBN between Labor and Liberal parties — were not influenced by the incumbent government.
Making a statement before responding to media questions, Commissioner Colvin said that the investigation was started after a request by the government-owned but independently-run NBN company (styled 'nbn'), and did not involve any interaction with either the Liberal government or the Labor opposition until yesterday's raids had actually commenced.
"In relation to this investigation, this matter was referred to us in December 2015 by NBN Co. Since that time we have been conducting that investigation, we have also executed a search warrant at a parliamentary office in Melbourne and a private residence. Interviews were also conducted at NBN headquarters in Sydney.
"Leak investigations are difficult, and no two investigations are the same. I stress again that the AFP acts independently and within the law. There has been no influence on the AFP — the government became aware of the investigation shortly after its commencement. The AFP spoke to the government, the Opposition leader and Senator Conroy, whose office was raided as part of the operation. Timing is influenced not by external factors but.. by the AFP and the progress of the investigation.
"We believe the offending has been ongoing throughout the conduct of the investigation. The fact that the offending has continued throughout this investigation — which was not public — has helped us determine our operational strategy. We have a number of leak investigations ongoing at any time, and there has been no selective choosing of this investigation."
Watch: AFP Commissioner Andrew Colvin discusses overnight raids related to leaked NBN documents investigation https://t.co/YooVG1H1Zz
— ABC News (@abcnews) May 19, 2016
Some of the documents sighted and seized by the Australian Federal Police, which may be linked to the leaks themselves, are politically sensitive and have been protected by parliamentary privilege until Senate decides whether police should be allowed access to them.
"Privilege has now been claimed on the documents that have been seized at [Senator Conroy's] office and the [Conroy staffer's] private residence," Colvin told media. Those documents will be sealed, and forwarded to the Senate for "a process to be followed" where it is determined whether Parliamentary privilege will be invoked. After that, if the Senate decides that privilege is retained or not and that will determine their potential usefulness to the AFP's investigation.
Speaking to the ABC's Chris Uhlmann, government relations strategist Simon Banks said he presumed it was Conroy who invoked the privilege, which Parliamentary privilege is intended for Senators to maintain the integrity of their position and their inquisitorial role, including on committees like the Senate Select Committee on the National Broadband Network on which Conroy sits.
Commentator and former Liberal party staffer Greg Barns told the ABC that he believes it's unlikely that NBN Co's partners within the Liberal government did not know that an investigation was underway. "I find it very hard to believe that [Communications Minister] Senator Fifield wasn't aware of the raid. Senator Fifield would have known [of NBN's request to the AFP]."