The Australian Federal Police (AFP) raided a media house and a journalist’s home this week over stories based on leaked government files but abandoned investigation into who leaked classified national security advice on medical evacuation (medevac) of asylum seekers to a newspaper months ago, reports say.
The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age said on Thursday that the AFP examined the referral on the leaked security advice from the Home Affairs secretary that said the proposed medevac bill would lead to the resumption of asylum seeker boats coming to Australia.
AFP dropped the case on the ground that the possibility of identifying a suspect appeared remote.
The leaked federal advice on the potential impact of the proposed medevac bill was published in The Australian before the Parliament session started and the legislation was put to vote in February.
Days after The Australian published the leaked material, the government released the original document.
The security advice leak caused massive outrage with Australian Security Intelligence Organisation saying it undermined the country’s top spy agency.
Labor said Prime Minister Scott Morrison engineered it to show the proposed medevac bill in poor light.
The bill was later revised to address concerns over protecting the borders and passed.
In a positive development after the passing of the bill, some 40 sick asylum seekers have been transferred to Australia for medical treatment from Manus Island, above, and Nauru.
But Morrion’s government, which retained power in the May elections, is hell-bent on repealing the medevac law.
Since the elections, cases of suicide attempts have gone up among asylum seekers in Manus Island and Nauru.
On Thursday, Labor wanted to know why some leaks of classified information lead to raids while others do not.
Responding to the Sydney Morning Herald report, an AFP spokesperson said they followed the standard procedure while examining the Home Affairs referral.
AFP is facing attack from the media and opposition after they raided the home of News Corp journalist Annika Smethurst in Canberra on Tuesday and searched the headquarters of the ABC in Sydney a day later over separate stories published in 2018 and 2017 respectively.
Smethurst’s report revealed the government’s plan to expand surveillance on citizens.
The ABC’s seven-part story based on leaked Defence files showed how Australia’s elite forces in Afghanistan killed unarmed men and children.
Denying any role in police raids on media, Morrison said his government is committed to press freedom. The AFP acts independently, he added.
So far, AFP have not decided on prosecuting News Corp and ABC journalists for publishing the leaked classified material in alleged breach of national security laws.
Acting AFP commissioner Neil Gaughan said while the government had been briefed about the plan to investigate the leaks more than a year ago, police never updated them on the progress of their inquiry.
Publishing leaked documents could be a crime unless they are of public interest, Gaughan said.
He denied reports that police are trying to intimidate journalists.
Asked why police searched Smethurst’s underwear drawer for a USB drive, Gaughan said that was standard procedure during the execution of search warrants.
The search was done by two female officers, he said.