Pezzullo says document-leaker was playing a forbidden ‘Canberra game’ and should ‘go to jail’


Department of Home Affairs secretary Michael Pezzullo

Home Affairs secretary Michael Pezzullo has argued the person who leaked a top secret document should go to jail, at the parliamentary inquiry into press freedom.

A screenshot of the document in question was published in News Corp articles last year. The news stories of journalist Annika Smethurst implied that the Australian Signals Directorate could spy on Australians by secretly accessing emails, bank accounts, and text messages with approval from the Defence and Home Affairs ministers.

The Australian Federal Police raided Smethurst’s Canberra home in June this year, under a warrant to investigate the “alleged publishing of information classified as an official secret,” which they argued could compromise Australia’s national security.

At the parliamentary inquiry in Canberra, Senior AFP officials were asked about the raid on Smethurst and a separate raid on ABC offices.

Assistant Commissioner Neil Gaughan would not say whether Smethurst was under investigation, and did not rule out her prosecution.

Pezzullo said he wasn’t aware the leak investigation was ongoing until the AFP informed him of the raid on Smethurst’s home, which “heartened” him.

“The fact they have a suspect and they are closing in fills me with optimism that the law will be applied in this case,” he said.

Pezzullo wrote the leaked document, which was sent to Defence Secretary Greg Moriarty. He argued the disclosure of any document with that classification would be considered a crime.

“It is completely unacceptable for someone to have given the journalist this document, or passed on a screenshot or some sort of imagery of it,” Pezzullo said, brandishing a copy of the newspaper.

“It is a crime and, as Mr Gaughan said, the concerns they have and the reasons why that investigation is ongoing is they are particularly concerned about the likely location of that person within the bureaucracy.”

“The person who gave her the document broke two confidences,” he continued. “One is they leaked a top secret document and frankly, subject to judicial process and fair process, they should go to jail for that.

“And secondly, it was designed to play into a Canberra game about which agency is asking other agencies to expand its powers or remit and its completely unacceptable for public servants to be playing in that way.”

Pezzullo added the leak could destroy trust between his colleagues, the government and the public service. 

The AFP cautiously approached the committee’s questions about the live investigation, with Gaughan telling them there is “significant concern about where that person sits within the bureaucracy”, before Commissioner Andrew Colvin cut off the response.

Managers from Nine, the ABC, News Corp, Free TV Australia, the Sydney Morning Herald, and the Age told the inquiry that Australia’s security regime and the public’s right to know need to be balanced.

About the author
Premium

The essential resource for effective public sector leaders

Special offer on now: Subscribe for a year to Mandarin Premium, get two outstanding books free.

Get Premium Today