The documents seized by the Australian Federal Police in their extraordinary raid in the basement of Parliament House in August should be considered to be protected by parliamentary privilege, according to a parliamentary committee.

The third raid in late August was on the servers in Parliament House to secure emails related to leaks from NBN Co to Labor and ultimately the media that embarrassed the company about the state of the rollout of the NBN. Labor MP Jason Clare, then shadow communications minister, claimed the documents were protected under parliamentary privilege.

The House parliamentary privileges committee said yesterday that — go figure — any documents about the NBN held by a staffer for the shadow communications minister were likely to fall within the shadow minister’s parliamentary duties and would be covered by parliamentary privilege.

Interestingly the committee also noted that the AFP guidelines around claiming of parliamentary privilege were a “successful safeguard” in this instance. This can be seen in emails the committee referred to, which were released under FOI law earlier this month when privilege was claimed.

privilege

While privilege was fully respected in the Parliament House raid, it remains to be seen if it was in the first two raids. Labor was critical of the first raids, during which an NBN Co staffer was taking photos of the documents seized and sending them back to the company while privilege was being claimed.

If Parliament accepts the recommendation of the committee, the AFP will be unable to use the documents as part of its investigation into the source of the NBN leaks. This is separate to a claim for parliamentary privilege made by former senator Stephen Conroy just before he retired. That claim will be determined by the Senate privileges committee.

The raid led to new rules in Parliament banning media from taking photos in the basement.

Peter Fray

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