AFP raids Home Affairs department as part of investigation into damaging au pair leaks
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AFP raids Home Affairs department as part of investigation into damaging au pair leaks

Australian Federal Police officers have raided the Department of Home Affairs in Canberra as part of an investigation into destabilising leaks against Peter Dutton over his ministerial interventions to save a number of foreign au pairs from deportation.

The government referred the leaks to police following a series of revelations concerning Mr Dutton's decisions to grant visas to a French woman linked to the politically connected family of AFL boss Gillon McLachlan and an Italian woman linked to a former Queensland police colleague of the Home Affairs Minister.

AFP commissioner Andrew Colvin and Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton.

AFP commissioner Andrew Colvin and Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton.Credit:Alex Ellinghausen

AFP officers entered Home Affairs headquarters in Canberra on Thursday morning and left early in the afternoon. Fairfax Media has been told they searched the workspace of a public servant at the department. They were seen departing with two cases of evidence.

In a statement, an AFP spokesman confirmed an investigation into an "unauthorised disclosure of information" following a referral from the department on August 30.

"The AFP has undertaken enquiries and conducted a number of activities in relation to this investigation," the spokesman said.

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A trove of Australian Border Force emails leaked to Labor senator Kimberley Kitching in late August suggested Mr Dutton acted against departmental advice in the case connected to the McLachlan family, with officials providing material "which does not support the minister intervening".

Labor has quickly claimed parliamentary privilege over the documents seized on Thursday, affording them special legal protection from investigation. The AFP will now hand them to the Clerk of the Senate and a committee will conduct an inquiry into whether the privilege claim should be upheld.

"I have written to the commissioner of the Australian Federal Police and the President of the Senate to claim parliamentary privilege over material seized by the AFP, which are relevant to an inquiry undertaken by the Senate legal and constitutional affairs references committee, which I chair," said Labor senator Louise Pratt.

"Parliamentary privilege is an incredibly important principle that enables the Parliament to hold the government to account and it must be respected."

AFP search warrant guidelines state that parliamentary privilege "applies to any document or other thing which falls within the concept of 'proceedings in parliament'". This may include a "document sent to a senator".

In early September, Michael Pezzullo, secretary of the Department of Home Affairs, said leaking of internal correspondence was "unacceptable and, indeed, probably in breach of the criminal law".

He said it was for the AFP to "establish – if this is what's occurred – both the exfiltration of the
information from our network, to whom it was exfiltrated and what, potentially, happened to it thereafter".

Mr Dutton has suggested someone inside the bureaucracy was seeking to damage him.

"Labor has tried to, or the Greens have tried to, or somebody frankly who's disaffected within Australian Border Force, has gone through and tried to find a way to throw some mud," he said last month.

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"I'm big enough, ugly enough to take care of myself and, as I say, I'm a person of high integrity. I pride myself in that. If there are cases where people can point to that I've done something illegal or immoral, point to them, but I've looked at cases where I think there's been an anomaly or I think there's been some injustice and I've acted on that."

He has consistently stated his actions were consistent with long-standing discretionary intervention powers held by immigration ministers.

The Labor and Greens-dominated Senate inquiry into the interventions found Mr Dutton misled Parliament by denying any personal connections to the cases. Liberal senators dismissed the findings, saying it was a "witch hunt" that had found no wrongdoing.

Former Border Force commissioner Roman Quaedvlieg emerged as a key figure in the saga when he said he had been asked by Mr Dutton's chief of staff to help a "mate" of the minister. He was then forced to amend his evidence after the details were called into question.

with Doug Dingwall

Fergus Hunter is a political reporter for Fairfax Media, based in Parliament House.