Dutton Denies Involvement In 'Disturbing' AFP Raids On Journalists
Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton has denied involvement in two Australian Federal Police (AFP) raids on journalists in as many as days, which have been described as an "outrageous" and "chilling" attack on press freedom.
Officers raided the ABC offices in Sydney on Wednesday over a series of investigative stories exposing special forces misconduct in Afghanistan.
On Tuesday, the AFP thoroughly searched the home of News Corp journalist Annika Smethurst over a 2018 article reporting new powers for Australian intelligence agencies to spy on citizens.
In a statement released on Wednesday afternoon, the AFP confirmed there was no link between the execution of both search warrants. It said both relate to separate allegations of publishing classified material, contrary to provisions of the Crimes Act 1914.
“The AFP received two separate referrals from agency heads in relation to these serious matters,” the statement said.
“The AFP’s actions have been independent and impartial at all times.”
The Home Affairs minister said he was made aware each search warrant had been executed but had no involvement.
"Following the execution of each search warrant on 4 June and 5 June respectively, my office was informed that search warrants had been executed," Dutton said.
"I have had no involvement in the AFP’s investigation into these matters."
The AFP confirmed in a statement that Dutton was not notified prior to the execution of the warrants.
The raids have been widely panned by news organisations including the ABC and News Corp, alongside press freedom advocates and the federal opposition.
Managing director of the ABC David Anderson said the raid on the public broadcaster is "highly unusual" and "raises legitimate concerns over freedom of the press and proper public scrutiny of national security and defence matters".
"The ABC stands by its journalists, will protect its sources and continue to report without fear or favour on national security and intelligence issues when there is a clear public interest," he said.
Marcus Strom from the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance (MEAA) said the consecutive raids showed police raiding journalists is becoming normalised and "has to stop".
"These raids are about intimidating journalists and media organisations because of their truth-telling," he said.
The federal opposition has asked for a briefing on the matters. Labor leader Anthony Albanese said democracy relied on freedom of the press.
"The government has questions to answer here about what they knew," he told reporters in Mackay, saying the initial News Corp story was in the public interest.
"It is quite frankly outrageous that seven officers spent seven-and-a-half hours in her (Smethurst's) home," he said.
The Home Affairs minister said he too believes in freedom of the press but called Albanese's "attacks" on the AFP "inappropriate".
"I have the utmost confidence in the hardworking officers of the AFP who dedicate themselves to working to protect Australia’s interests at home and abroad," he said.
"If Mr Albanese has any evidence of wrongdoing by the AFP he should produce the detail. If not, he should immediately apologise for his comments about the officers.
"Like all Australians, I believe in the freedom of the press. We have clear rules and protections for that freedom of the press and we also have clear rules and laws protecting Australia’s national security."