The Morrison government is being urged to confirm whether journalists who published top secret documents will be prosecuted for breaking the law, amid revelations the Australian Federal Police asked Qantas to hand over the private travel records of a senior ABC reporter.
Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese on Monday challenged Attorney-General Christian Porter to explain whether he stood by a previous claim that there was "no evidence" journalists were the focus of law enforcement action following dramatic police raids in Sydney and Canberra last month.
The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age earlier revealed the AFP approached Qantas in March seeking details on two flights taken by investigative reporter Daniel Oakes, an ABC reporter who received and published top-secret government material containing allegations of misconduct by Australian troops in Afghanistan.
A document recounting the exchange between the AFP and Qantas is headlined "Statement in the matter of R v Daniel Michael Oakes", suggesting police could be building a case against the reporter in addition to pursuing the Defence whistleblower who has already admitted to leaking the information.
Mr Albanese said the document pointed to "a gap" between what the Attorney-General "says is happening and what is actually happening."
"He says that journalists aren't the target of these investigations, but the fact that there was a demand by the AFP for records of flights from a journalist from Qantas shows that that's not the case," the Labor leader said.
"And the government, and in particular Mr Porter, needs to explain exactly what the circumstances are here. We are concerned about freedom of the press."
While Mr Porter would need to sign-off on any move to prosecute reporters, overall ministerial responsibility for the AFP rests with Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton.
Mr Porter - who declined to comment on Monday - has previously said he is "seriously disinclined" to authorise the prosecution of journalists.
According to the AFP document, a Qantas legal officer received an email on March 15 "regarding a request from the AFP for information concerning the travel bookings of Mr Daniel Michael Oakes".
The officer accessed the internal booking system three days later in search of the two flights, in June and September 2016, that police were interested in.
"I captured and printed the booking information and confirmation of travel once received."
The AFP appeal to Qantas occurred roughly six months after former military lawyer David McBride was arrested for leaking the information to the ABC.
Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance chief executive Paul Murphy said the request to Qantas "underlines the seriousness of the situation we're facing".
"It seems incredible that the federal police can just, without any thought, go and request private travel information of a journalist from Qantas," he said.
"It's yet another example of the culture that's been created in this country of an absolute disregard for the role of journalists in an open liberal democracy, and absolute contempt for whistleblowers."
A spokesman for Qantas on Sunday said: "Like all airlines, Qantas receives numerous requests for information from law enforcement agencies and we comply with these requests in accordance with our legal obligations and privacy legislation."
The airline's policy statement notes it can disclose a customer's private information to "law enforcement agencies, regulatory authorities and governments around the world and their service providers in connection with their investigations, screening or other functions."
The journalists' union and media chiefs are pushing the Morrison government to change laws to better protect press freedom in Australia.
Mr Murphy said some reporters might have to reconsider how they book travel given the Qantas matter.
AFP acting commissioner Neil Gaughan has not ruled out charging journalists or their employers for the publication of confidential documents.
- SMH/The Age