Home dept head: leakers should be ‘jailed’

The head of the government agency responsible for Australia’s police and intelligence agencies is standing by his views leakers should face the full force of the law.

“If that involves a term of imprisonment, so be it,” Department of Home Affairs secretary Michael Pezzullo said.

On Friday, Mr Pezzullo fronted a parliamentary inquiry reviewing the impact of police and intelligence powers on press freedom.

The committee also heard Australian Federal Police treated unauthorised disclosures of classified Commonwealth information as corruption.

Mr Pezzullo said going to the media with information should be a last resort, with internal mechanisms already in place in government agencies as well as the opportunity to refer it to the police.

He said he supported the media exposing illegal operations by defence forces or intelligence agencies, but Australia didn’t do that.

“We don’t run off-the-book programs that are not known to this parliament,” Mr Pezzullo said.

Shadow attorney-general Mark Dreyfus grilled Mr Pezzullo and other department heads why they couldn’t quantify the number of journalists currently under warrant.

In written responses to the inquiry, the department said finding out the number of specific warrants out on journalists would be an “unreasonable diversion of resources”.

Mr Pezzullo said he believed there were fewer than two dozen journalists who he believed had experience in reporting on national security, and that would be able to show judgment on what to and not report.

“I think, though, there is an issue around media and government engagement,” Mr Pezzullo said.

Earlier on Friday, the committee heard from officials from the Australian Federal Police who said the unauthorised disclosure of classified Commonwealth information was considered corruption.

They also said their procedures around contacting Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton’s office before they executed search warrants had changed after they were “probed” by a parliamentary privileges committee.

The police had contacted the office in the lead up to raids regarding leaks involved in the au pairs fiasco.

But after they were put before the privileges committee, they didn’t do the same before they raided the ABC or the home of News Corp journalist Annika Smethurst.


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