Respect media: Labor to home affairs boss

Marnie Banger
Home Affairs boss Mike Pezzullo says police are closing in on a leaker of classified information

Federal Labor is urging Home Affairs secretary Mike Pezzullo to show more respect for the media after he said the whistleblower behind a top-secret leak to a journalist should go to jail.

But coalition senator Eric Abetz says the opposition's attack is cowardly and that the powerful public servant handled himself appropriately.

Mr Pezzullo made the comments on Wednesday to parliament's intelligence and security committee, which is examining the impact of security laws on press freedom.

The Australian Federal Police in June raided the Canberra home of News Corp's Annika Smethurst as part of the investigation into the leaked information.

Ms Smethurst's story detailed an alleged government proposal to boost spying on Australians.

Police raided the Sydney office of the ABC the following day, over a separate leak.

Labor frontbencher Mark Dreyfus says Mr Pezzullo doesn't seem to understand the impact his words can have.

"He doesn't seem to appreciate ... the intimidatory effect of these raids occurring, or indeed the intimidatory effect of him speaking in the way in which he did at the hearing," he told ABC Radio National on Thursday.

"I think he should reflect on how he, as the senior national security bureaucrat in Australia, could show more understanding and more respect for the role that's played by media and journalists in Australia."

Senator Abetz said Mr Dreyfus' "cowardly" response was making a mountain out of a molehill.

"Michael Pezzullo handled himself appropriately," he told Sky News.

"If you're in charge of the department of home affairs, you come to a debate with a particular mindset, and from home affairs' point of view, of course any leak on it has a chilling effect on the whole bureaucracy.

"And therefore he, as the head of it, has to guard against any leaking."

Mr Pezzullo said there was "no whistle to be blown" in the story that led to the raid on Ms Smethurst's home.

The article included images of letters between the heads of the Home Affairs and Defence departments, discussing potential new powers for the Australian Signals Directorate.

In May 2018, Mr Pezzullo confirmed to senators he had asked whether his department could help disrupt cybercrime, in cases where criminal networks used Australian infrastructure.

He said on Wednesday the leak was about creating an impression the department wanted to establish authorities for onshore spying.

"That was a complete falsehood," he told the inquiry in Canberra on Wednesday.

The home affairs boss slammed the person who leaked the document, saying police were "closing in" on the suspect.

"They leaked a top-secret document, and frankly, subject to judicial process and fair process, they should go to jail for that," Mr Pezzullo said.