Australian Federal Police Commissioner Andrew Colvin will not rule out charging journalists as part of the leak investigations. (ABC News: Andrew Kennedy)
The Australian Federal Police (AFP) will not rule out charging journalists who published stories based on leaked, highly classified information.
The AFP raided the Canberra home of News Corp political journalist Annika Smethurst earlier this year, after a story she published last year regarding a proposal to expand the powers of the nation’s intelligence agencies.
Less than 24 hours later, the AFP searched the ABC’s Sydney headquarters over a separate story based on leaked information, which exposed allegations of misconduct by Australian special forces in Afghanistan.
The raids prompted the Government to request Parliament’s intelligence and security committee examine whether there are appropriate protections for journalists and whistleblowers, or if too much ground has been ceded to national security.
During a hearing in Canberra this morning, Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus grilled police about one of the two cases.
“As we sit here, it remains the case that Annika Smethurst could be charged?” he asked.
“It remains the case that the investigation is ongoing, so I’m not drawing anyone in or out of who may have been determined, or who we may determine has committed a crime,” Commissioner Andrew Colvin replied.
Media bosses appeared before the committee in Sydney yesterday, while the nation’s law enforcement and security agencies are appearing in the nation’s capital today.
Last Friday, Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton issued a new directive to the AFP about how they should handle leak investigations that could result in media being drawn into inquiries.
It instructed the AFP to exhaust all other possible avenues of investigation, before involving journalists who published information.
Government departments and agencies asking the AFP to investigate leaks would also be required to explain exactly what damage has been caused by the information being in the public domain.
Australian Federal Police Deputy Commissioner Neil Gaughan said all current leak investigations were being reviewed. (ABC News: Andrew Kennedy)
Under questioning from Shadow Home Affairs Minister Kristina Keneally, the AFP revealed it had prompted a review of all current leak investigations.
“What we’re currently doing is we’ve gone back to the referring agencies and asked them to specifically provide us with a harm statement of some depth,” Deputy Commissioner Neil Gaughan responded.
Commissioner Colvin said he welcomed the direction being issued by the Minister, as it gave “certainty and clarity” to his officers.
The AFP chief, who is retiring at the end of September, said the AFP had received 75 referrals about classified leaks over the past five years, but only two had resulted in search warrants being used to search journalists’ homes and offices.
More to come.