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'Unprecedented' AFP raid on Labor offices over NBN leaks

Australian Federal Police have raided the offices of Senator Stephen Conroy and other Labor staff overnight hunting for leaked National Broadband Network documents.

Scott Barbour/Getty Images

It's not often a 'gate' hashtag actually makes sense, but when political office raids are involved it comes close. On Thursday night in Melbourne, raids were conducted on Labor Party offices by the Australian Federal Police to investigate the leaking of documents related to the National Broadband Network.

While the AFP has reiterated that it operates independently of Government, the timing in the second week of the Federal election campaign has not gone unnoticed, particularly considering the heavily politicised history of the NBN.

Labor's Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus has questioned whether the Government put "pressure" on the AFP to conduct the raids on the offices of former Communications Minister Stephen Conroy and two Labor staffers, while Government frontbencher Christopher Pyne has retaliated, saying the opposition has "chosen to politicise" the actions of police.

In a statement released early Friday morning, the AFP confirmed two search warrants were carried out in Melbourne "as part of an investigation concerning allegations of the unauthorised disclosure of Commonwealth information."

"These allegations were the subject of a referral from the National Broadband Network Company received by the AFP on 9 December 2015. The investigation has been ongoing since that date," the statement read.

"This investigation has been undertaken independent of government, and decisions regarding yesterday's activities were made by the AFP alone."

While the AFP says investigations are ongoing, The Guardian reports that the warrant for the raids related to the email accounts of Labor staffers, including one staffer Ryan Hamilton, who currently works in the office of Shadow Communications Minister Jason Clare.

Fronting a press conference this morning, AFP Commissioner Andrew Colvin emphasised that Police acted "independently and within the law" and that the raids were not compelled by the Government or timed to coincide with campaign activity.

"The timing of these investigations is determined not by external factors, but by the progress of the investigation," Commissioner Colvin said.

But Shadow Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus has questioned the targeting of Senator Stephen Conroy's offices.

Senator Conroy was the Minister for Communications when the original NBN plans were created and in opposition has sat on the Senate committee that has overseen ongoing work related to the NBN.

"Tonight's events are unprecedented -- we have never witnessed such an extraordinary action during a Federal election campaign," Dreyfus said.

"There have been many other serious leaks out of Government -- including relating to national security, defence, and the Federal Budget -- and none of them have resulted in Federal police raids."

The NBN has been heavily politicised since its earliest days when Labor planned a full Fibre To the Premises network, with consistent attacks from both sides of politics on the network's plans, its costs and its rollout schedule.

Since the Coalition took office the NBN has been re-engineered to become a mixed technology network with a majority of Australians expected to receive Fibre to the Node.

This was argued to be a cheaper and faster option, but recent leaks (the very reason for action by the AFP) suggested the FTTN option was costing more and taking longer than expected, due to extra work required to remediate old copper networks and make connections to the power grid that FTTP did not require.

Commissioner Colvin also would not comment on whether ISP metadata records had been used to investigate the NBN leaks, saying he would not be drawn on operational tactics or strategies.