news Communications Minister Mitch Fifield today admitted he was told about the Australian Federal Police investigation launched in December into leaks from the NBN company, in a admission which directly contradicts a statement by the AFP Commissioner yesterday that the Government did not know of the investigation.
Late on Thursday night AFP officers raided the Melbourne office of former Communications Minister Stephen Conroy, and the house of at least one Labor staffer working for Shadow Communications Minister Jason Clare, in an apparent attempt to ascertain the identity of whistleblowers who have leaked a series of key documents from within the NBN company.
Delimiter and a number of other media outlets have also been reportedly named as part of the search warrant issued on Thursday, although the AFP has not been in contact with Delimiter regarding the issue.
Although the AFP has denied any political influence on the investigation, Opposition Leader Bill Shorten subsequently blasted Malcolm Turnbull for what he said was the Prime Minister’s attempts to stop the public from knowing the “truth” about the National Broadband Network, which the Opposition Leader said had become a “national disgrace” under Turnbull’s watch.
Shorten said it was “inconceivable” that the Government would not have known of the AFP investigation.
AFP Commissioner Andrew Colvin said the Government had not known about the investigation until Thursday, and Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has also stated he did not know.
“Last year there were leaks of commercially sensitive information from NBN,” the Liberal Senator said. “The senior management of NBN initiated an internal review, which identified matters of concern.”
“The NBN senior management subsequently referred these matters to the AFP. I was advised by NBN that the matter had been referred to the AFP.”
Labor has intimated that there was political involvement in the AFP referral. In addition, The Australian reported that NBN chief executive Bill Morrow “repeatedly had to face the Minister on the subject as the leaks continued”.
However, Fifield denied any political involvement in the referral.
“The referral to the AFP was made by the NBN senior management. I did not instruct nor request them to do so,” the Minister said. “It was quite properly a matter for NBN.”
Fifield further stated that as an AFP investigation into the leaks was under way, he did not advise other Ministers or Turnbull of the matter.
“I have had no interaction with the AFP during their investigation. Nor did I have any knowledge of, nor involvement in, matters that occurred this week, as was confirmed by the AFP Commissioner yesterday,” he said.
It is not clear whether other staff within the Prime Minister’s office were aware of the AFP investigation, nor to what extent Fifield’s own staff were aware of the investigation.
Of course Fifield knew about the AFP investigation — it would have been farcical for him not to. Fifield is an extremely competent operator and would have a detailed idea of what was going on in his domain at all times.
This is pretty much what Bill Shorten said yesterday, and he was 100 percent correct. Kudos to the Opposition Leader for having the guts to say what most of already strongly suspected.
He was also competent enough to have kept the matter from his Prime Minister’s ear, allowing Turnbull to deny all knowledge of this sensitive matter (although I suspect there would have been staff within Turnbull’s office aware of the matter).
What is fascinating about this revelation is that the AFP appears not to have known that Fifield knew, or at least chose not to know.
If I was AFP Commissioner Andrew Colvin, I would not have made such a categorical statement yesterday that the Government had no idea that an AFP investigation was going on. Fifield’s direct contradiction of that statement today leaves Colvin in a … somewhat uncomfortable position.
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