Several officers arrived at the Canberra house of award-winning political editor Annika Smethurst on Tuesday with a search warrant and spent several hours inside rifling through her personal items, including her underwear.
The News Corp Australia journalist, who works across the publishing company’s Sunday newspapers, including The Sunday Telegraph, was subjected to what her employer and the union has dubbed “intimidation” and “harassment”.
Speaking to reporters in the United Kingdom overnight, the Prime Minister declined to be drawn on the matter multiple times.
“It’s an ongoing matter for the AFP, they’re the best to comment on that matter,” Mr Morrison said. “I support the powers that the agencies have under our laws.”
When asked if he was troubled by the overbearing nature of the raid, in which a number of officers picked through Smethurst’s belongings, including her undies drawer, oven and cookbooks kept in her kitchen, he again refused to comment.
“It never troubles me that our laws are being upheld,” Mr Morrison said.
“I couldn’t comment on (the underwear search), if that’s what you are putting to me. But these are matters for the Australian Federal Police and you should direct those questions to them.”
Mr Morrison also refused to comment on proposed changes to domestic espionage laws which were the subject of Smethurst’s original report in April last year.
In an exclusive for News Corp Australia, she revealed top secret emails between Home Affairs Department Secretary Mike Pezzullo and Department Department Secretary Greg Moriarty, discussing a plan to allow the cyber spy agency to snoop on Australian citizens.
The proposal would give the Australian Signals Directorate powers to monitor the emails, bank accounts and text messages of Australians, with the approval of the relevant home affairs and defence ministers.
“Look, I don’t make comments on security matters,” Mr Morrison said today when asked if he supported the plan.
The PM’s tepid response has sparked renewed fury from the Canberra press gallery, with The New Daily’s political editor Samantha Maiden describing it as “complete BS”.
Bevan Shields, Canberra bureau chief for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, said of Mr Morrison’s comments: “Does that really cut it?”
The Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance has condemned yesterday’s raid, raising questions about why it occurred more than 12 months after the publication of the story.
It has also expressed concern that the search was of her private home — not her office at Parliament House.
The union’s president Marcus Strom said the search, which lasted for seven hours, was a clear example of intimidation and harassment by the government
“It is an outrage that more than a year after the story was reported in April 2018 but just days after the federal election result, the Federal Police are now raiding a journalist’s home in order to seize documents, computers and a mobile phone in order to track down the source,” Mr Strom said.
News Corp Australia, which publishes news.com.au, slammed the actions of the government and the AFP in a strongly-worded defence of Smethurst.
“This raid demonstrates a dangerous act of intimidation towards those committed to telling uncomfortable truths,” a spokesperson said.
“The raid was outrageous and heavy handed.
“News Corp Australia has expressed the most serious concerns about the willingness of governments to undermine the Australian public’s right to know about important decisions governments are making that can and will impact ordinary Australian citizens.
“What’s gone on sends clear and dangerous signals to journalists and newsrooms across Australia. This will chill public interest reporting.”
The raid of Smethurst’s home sparked worldwide media attention, with reports in The New York Times and on CNN.
I was fairly stoic today until I read this message from my grade six teacher. Thank you Mr Flanagan, you were one of the best teachers I had right at the time I needed it https://t.co/xOxcJ18lSD
— Annika Smethurst (@annikasmethurst) June 4, 2019
Smethurst is a decorated and high-profile reporter, whose has won two prestigious Walkley Awards for her work.
The Federal Parliamentary Press Gallery said all Australians should be concerned by her treatment and the “outrageous” overreach of the AFP.
“Democracy suffers when journalists are raided for reporting on governments,” the organisation said in a statement.
“The police raid is an attack on press freedom and a danger for the wider freedoms of all Australians. It must be halted.”
The Australian Lawyers Alliance described the raid as an attack on press freedom and a threat to democracy.
“Annika Smethurst’s story was clearly within the public interest,” ALA criminal justice spokesman Greg Barns said.
“This intimidating behaviour by the police poses a serious risk to our democracy, and undermines the accountability of the government to the people that it serves.
“Scrutiny of government agencies by the media is critical to a democracy, and it is very concerning that these security agencies seem to want to avoid any examination.”
News.com.au has put a number of questions to the Department of Home Affairs, including when the referral was made and why there was a 14-month delay in conducting the search.
A response has not yet been received.
A number of questions have also been put to Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton, who has refused to comment on the raid since it occurred yesterday.
This morning, Attorney-General Christian Porter conceded that Mr Dutton would’ve been given a head’s up about the raid.
Just hours after the raid on Smethurst’s home, popular broadcaster Ben Fordham revealed he was also the subject of a probe by Home Affairs.
“The timing of this raid is interesting to me because only yesterday afternoon I found out I was potentially facing a similar raid,” Fordham told listeners of his 2GB Drive show yesterday.
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On Monday, he reported that up to six asylum seeker boats were making their way to Australia, citing a source from within the department.
An hour later, Fordham’s producer was contacted by Home Affairs officials who said the information was highly confidential and asked to assist in an investigation.
He was contacted twice more in the following 12 hours by senior figures and while they said he was not the subject of a potential criminal investigation, they wanted his help in identifying the leak.
“The chances of me revealing my sources is zero. Not today, not tomorrow, next week or next month. There is not a hope in hell of that happening.”