In this Feb 13, 2019 file photo, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison addresses the media at Parliament House in Canberra. (ROD MCGUIRK / AP)
CANBERRA - The Australian government has denied any involvement in federal police raids on journalists.
These are matters that were being pursued by the AFP operationally, at complete arm's length from the government, not with the knowledge of the government, not at the instigation of government ministers
Prime Minister, Australia
Officers from the Australian Federal Police (AFP) on Wednesday entered the headquarters of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) with a warrant for the seizure of documents relating to a story published in 2017 about alleged war crimes committed by Australians in Afghanistan.
Asked about the raid after an event commemorating the 75th anniversary of D-Day in Britain, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison told reporters that he had no prior knowledge of the AFP operation.
"These are matters that were being pursued by the AFP operationally, at complete arm's length from the government, not with the knowledge of the government, not at the instigation of government ministers," Morrison said.
"These were matters that had been referred to the federal police some time ago, last year, preceding even my time as coming to be prime minister," Morrison said.
"I can understand why these issues can cause great anxiety, particularly to members of the press," Morrison added.
The Canberra home of one of Australia's leading political journalists, News Corp Australia's Annika Smethurst, was raided by the AFP on Tuesday morning over a report in 2018 that the Australian Signals Directorate (ASD) could be given the power to spy on Australians.
News Corp has reported that further raids were planned for Thursday but have been put on hold.
Minister for Home Affairs Peter Dutton, whose portfolio includes the AFP, also distanced himself from the investigations.
"The AFP have an important job to undertake and it is entirely appropriate they conduct their investigations independently and, in fact, it is their statutory obligation," he said.
"I have had no involvement in the AFP's investigation into these matters. Following the execution of each search warrant on June 4 and June 5 respectively, my office was informed that search warrants had been executed," he said.
The raids have been condemned by the ABC, News Corp and other media organizations.
"We stand by Annika and we will not resile from our campaign to protect the public's right to know about important decisions governments are making that can and will impact ordinary Australian citizens," Michael Miller, News Corp Australasia executive chairman, said in a statement.
Leader of the Australian Labor Party (ALP) Anthony Albanese said that the government had "serious questions to answer" about the investigations.
"It is quite frankly I think outrageous that seven officers spent seven-and-a-half hours in her home, going through everything throughout her home, in the kitchen, in all of the rooms," he said about the raid on Smethurst's home.
"I would find it extraordinary if no one in the government knew anything about this," Albanese said.
In a statement, the AFP said there was no link between the investigations other than both being alleged breaches of the Crimes Act for the publication of classified material.
It said that it had received referrals about the alleged breach from government agency heads and had sufficient suspicion that a criminal offence had been committed.
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