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'NBN leak' documents sent to Jason Claire are privileged, says House of Reps committee

Senate still deciding about Police raids on plods' raids on Stephen Conroy

By Richard Chirgwin, 28 Nov 2016

Some of the “NBN leak” documents seized by the Australian Federal Police (AFP) are covered by parliamentary privilege, says the House of Representatives Privileges Members' Interests Committee, which yesterday published its report into the documents.

After a complaint by nbn™ over documents passed to the opposition's former communications spokesperson Jason Claire and now-retired former communications minister Senator Stephen Conroy, the AFP raided first Conroy's offices (in May, during the election campaign) and then Claire's offices (in August).

Yesterday's report (published here) relates to the raid on Claire's office and needs to be formalised by a vote in the House of Representatives. Since the committee is dominated by the government and there were no dissenting reports, this should be a formality.

The Senate privileges committee is still preparing its report into the raid on Conroy's offices. Since Conroy requested the committee add contempt into its terms of reference, that inquiry could stretch into next year.

+Comment: The committee says it was considering a particular question for the first time. In sending Jason Claire's complaint to the committee: “The Speaker acknowledged that this would be the first occasion on which such a ruling had been sought from the House, following the execution of a search warrant under the AFP National Guideline. He stated further that he would undertake consultations to determine the way in which the claim could be considered.”

If there was precedent to be set, however, the committee didn't find it hard to do so.

The terms of reference given to the committee gave it scope to set up a separate house inquiry, complete with public hearings and submissions; the standing of the documents was so obvious, the committee didn't bother:

“In the circumstances, the committee has concluded that it need go no further with the available inquiry procedure as it is satisfied that it is able to make a unanimous recommendation to the House about how it should rule on the claim of parliamentary privilege by the Member for Blaxland,” Claire's formal designation in the Parliament.

Instead of criticising the AFP, the report gives the plods a pat on the head and a biscuit – but with a sting:

“[T]he committee acknowledges the success of the AFP National Guideline in providing members with the opportunity to raise claims of parliamentary privilege in accordance with an agreed formal process when a search warrant is executed in relation to their records, documents and other material. Indeed, to the extent that the seized material has been preserved from disclosure to anyone, without the agreement of the Member for Blaxland, the AFP National Guideline has been a successful safeguard for the member until the matter is finally resolved” (italics added by The Register).

As we noted, there's a separate Senate privileges inquiry into the May raid on then Senator Stephen Conroy's office, which sharpens the phrase “preserved from disclosure to anyone”.

In the Conroy raids, an nbn™ staffer accompanying the AFP used a smartphone to photograph some of the seized documents and posted the pics to Snapchat – a far cry from “preserved from disclosure”.

If, as nbn™ claimed at the time, the staffer was acting under the instructions of the AFP “at all times”, some re-education seems in order.

After all, that disclosure was followed in short order by nbn™ taking action against two unnamed staffers it presumably believed were the leakers. ®

The Register - Independent news and views for the tech community. Part of Situation Publishing