Senate president concerned by 'improper' police raids and bugging

The Senate president says some past police raids on politicians' offices were "improper" and may have breached parliamentary privilege.

Liberal senator Scott Ryan, who presides over the upper house, also said his government's telecommunications-snooping laws fail to protect parliamentarians adequately from intrusion.

Senator Ryan told an estimates hearing on Monday that he and House of Representatives speaker Tony Smith had raised concerns with the federal police about its failures to comply with search-warrant guidelines, adding he believed the current guidelines were outdated.

The Senate's finance and public administration committee were discussing the right of the AFP and intelligence agencies to use "intrusive powers" against parliamentarians.

Earlier this month, AFP officers raided the Department of Home Affairs over information about minister Peter Dutton's decisions to grant visas to au pairs that was leaked to Labor.

Labor's Louise Pratt subsequently claimed parliamentary privilege over any evidence seized, saying it related to her work as a senator.

The principle of privilege prevents any arm of the executive government from undermining or interfering with the work of parliamentarians.

Liberal senator Scott Ryan, who presides over the upper house. Photo: Mick Tsikas

Liberal senator Scott Ryan, who presides over the upper house. Photo: Mick Tsikas

Although Monday's hearing did not discuss the Home Affairs raids, the Senate's privileges committees is considering whether those raids complied with a long-standing agreement between Parliament and the AFP.

Labor senator Penny Wong reminded the president of similar police raids on then senator Stephen Conroy's offices in the lead-up to the 2016 election, seeking evidence of leaked information about the national broadband network.

A privileges committee report tabled 18 months ago said the AFP's conduct amounted to an "improper interference with the Parliament", though the committee did not pursue those involved with charges of contempt.

Senator Wong said little had happened since to improve the way the AFP decided how to carry out search warrants in situation that involved privilege.

"It would be, I think, a disservice to democracy if negotiations between the executive and the Parliament were stymied for political reasons," she said.

"These reports have been before us for some time."

Senator Ryan agreed, saying he had "long been concerned" about the issue and had discussed it with colleagues and the police.

"I remain concerned about compliance with it [the search-warrant guidelines]," he said.

"This is a priority for me for the next few months ... to ensure that we get compliance."

The president added that his government's data-retention laws posed similar problems.

He said the "metadata laws ... in my view, do not provide protection for parliamentary privilege.

"Quite frankly, they went to Parliamentary multiple times over the past few years and they haven't provided for the work of parliamentarians."

This story Senate president concerned by 'improper' police raids and bugging first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.