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Wednesday, 29 March 2017
Page: 2604


Senator REYNOLDS (Western Australia) (15:18): I too rise to take note of the minister's answer on this issue. Listening to the two speakers opposite, I concur with the Attorney-General that this is probably one of the most disgraceful issues under attack here. No matter how much fancy footing and words that Senator Cameron and Senator O'Neill use, this is clearly an attack on the integrity of the AFP. The investigation is still ongoing, as they well know. Again, despite the verbal contortions, there is no other conclusion that any of us in this place can draw than that they are attacking the integrity of the AFP. In fact, Senator O'Neill just went through a list of issues in relation to AFP procedures—

Senator O'Neill: I did not. I went through the procedures of the NBN.

Senator REYNOLDS: in relation to the raid as part their inquiries as well. I would like to remind those opposite of the danger of playing politics with the AFP, who must always be beyond reproach. In May last year, the shadow Attorney-General, Mark Dreyfus, said:

… at all times, we need to make sure that the Australian Federal Police and all our agencies are absolutely independent of political interference.

…   …   …

… we also need to be concerned about the appearance of police work. We need to be concerned about building confidence in our police and our agencies …

Such is the behaviour from those opposite on this question this afternoon. He went on to say:

It does undermine confidence in the independence of the police.

If you want to attack the government, attack the government, but don't be so cowardly and so wrong to actually use the AFP to try and shield your attack because it is just disgraceful.

Let's have a look at some of the facts here that those opposite have conveniently ignored in this whole process. Despite the fact that this is still a matter under AFP investigation, which those opposite know we cannot go into any detail, I was chair of the committee when this incident occurred and I have quite a different recollection. I know the Hansard record would have quite a different recollection of events from those opposite. What they have not told the Australian people is that the NBN operates critical national infrastructure and like any company it is completely within its rights to refer suspected threats of criminal activities or matters to the Federal Police. Similarly, they are also able to pursue potential code of conduct breaches internally. The government and the Attorney General have already acknowledged the work of the privileges committee and has also noted that the final report did find former Senator Conroy's claim of privilege of material seized by the AFP should be upheld. But, significantly, the Privileges Committee did not recommend that a content be found in respect of these matters.

It is utterly appalling that Labor continues to question integrity of the Australian Federal Police and the NBN. The AFP does act independently of this government. They determine what is within their jurisdiction to investigate and carry out their duties according to the law of this land. When those opposite suggest otherwise, despite their protestations that they are not, there is simply no conclusion any of us in this place can reach, considering the comments of those opposite and the nature of the question, other than that they are querying the integrity of the Australian Federal Police. There is no basis to their claim that the government in any way directed or attempted to influence the AFP on their investigation into this matter. They do act independently.

Additionally, in relation to Labor's comments about potential whistleblowers, these are also completely unfounded. So, before rushing to make wild allegations, those opposite should note that the NBN does have a well-established process for responding to information from whistleblowers, with a notification process managed by an independent third party. I understand that the NBN has advised that those protocols have never been accessed. The protocols do fully comply with the Public Interest Disclosure Act, which seeks to protect public officials.

Senator O'Neill interjecting

Senator REYNOLDS: On the opposition's baseless claims that the NBN is behind schedule and over budget, Senator O'Neill sits in on these estimates hearings almost as much as I do, as does Senator Dastyari, and they both know, from the clear evidence provided time and time again to the committee, that those claims are simply untrue. Just asserting them over and over again does not make them true, and neither does suggesting that this government is in any way interfering with the AFP inquiry. (Time expired)