Australia

Selective AFP raids show 'bias' says Labor after medevac leak probe dropped

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Federal Labor says revelations that the Australian Federal Police dropped an investigation into a media leak on the medevac bill raises questions about the AFP decision to conduct two media raids earlier this week.

Federal Labor has questioned why some leaked documents to the media are being investigated and others are not after federal police dropped their probe into the Medevac leak.

This week the Australian Federal Police (AFP) launched raids on the offices of the ABC and a News Corp journalist over stories that were the result of leaked information.

ABC AFP raid
Executive editor of ABC News John Lyons is followed by an Australian Federal Police officer as they leave the office after the raid on Wednesday.
AAP

But in contrast, on Friday the AFP announced it would drop its investigation into the leaking of details of a classified briefing about the so-called medevac bill.

Opposition Home Affairs spokeswoman Kristina Keneally said it was "breathtaking" that - in view of these raids - the leaking of details of a classified briefing of the medevac bill to The Australian newspaper in February was not pursued further.

Senator Keneally said leaks of information that embarrass the government are getting investigated with "rigour and extraordinary warrants" upon journalists' homes and media organisations.

"But when it comes to a leak of information that would benefit the government there is not the same apparent vigour and rigour when it comes to that investigation," she told reporters in Sydney on Saturday.

"That is what is creating the perception of bias here."

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Australian Federal Police defend their raids on journalists
Australian Federal Police defend their raids on journalists

The Department of Home Affairs did request the AFP investigate the leak, but the AFP said there was limited prospects of identifying a suspect.

The leak suggested the medevac legislation would undermine Australia's regional processing system by making it easier for asylum seekers to be transferred to Australia for medical treatment.

Liberal backbencher Craig Kelly said the AFP's decisions are made independently from government.

"This is not the government making decisions or the government directing the AFP," he told ABC television.

"There is always going to be difficulty of where you draw the line, there will also ways be legitimate debate about where that line should be drawn about what the AFP should investigate, what they shouldn't investigate.

"They are the decisions made by the AFP."

But Labor Leader Anthony Albanese said the government's response was unacceptable.

"We had Scott Morrison as the prime minister essentially say, 'nothing to see
here. This is business as usual.'

"That was his initial response. I don't think that's acceptable," he told reporters.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison expects ABC chair Ita Buttrose will personally raise her concerns about Wednesday's unprecedented raid on the ABC's Ultimo headquarters when they meet in the near future.

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Albanese and Dutton clash over the AFP’s raids
Albanese and Dutton clash over the AFP’s raids

The AFP haven't ruled out laying charges following its raid on the ABC raid, and its raid on the Canberra home of News Corp journalist Annika Smethurst for a day earlier.

The ABC was raided over 2017 stories on allegations Australian soldiers may have carried out unlawful killings in Afghanistan, based on leaked Defence papers.

The warrant executed on Ms Smethurst's home was over the 2018 publication of a leaked plan to allow the Australian Signals Directorate to spy on Australians.

Ms Buttrose has already told Communications Minister Paul Fletcher the raid on the ABC and the "sweeping nature" of the information sought was "clearly designed to intimidate".

Ms Buttrose said she would fight "any attempts to muzzle the national broadcaster or interfere with its obligations to the Australian public".

"Independence is not exercised by degrees. It is absolute."

The prime minister, who returned from an overseas trip on Friday night, expects she will express similar sentiments when they next meet.

Australian Federal Police (AFP) investigators  are seen leaving the main entrance to the ABC building located at Ultimo in Sydney.
Australian Federal Police (AFP) investigators are seen leaving the main entrance to the ABC building located at Ultimo in Sydney.
AAP

Mr Morrison said the government was committed to press freedom as well as ensuring that no one is above the law.

He said the referrals to the AFP by senior public servants were "not extraordinary".

"This is the simple out-working of the legal system where a serious matter of complaint has been raised with police."

A number of parliamentary inquiries are being proposed.

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