NBN says that it takes seriously “any potential crime or breach of employee code of conduct, such as the theft of company materials, and will continue to take a zero tolerance approach in the best interests of the company, its shareholders, and the Australian taxpayers.”
The comments came in the wake of a report issued yesterday by the Senate Standing Committee of Privileges. The reports supports a claim of parliamentary privilege by former senator Stephen Conroy in relation to documents seized during a series of raids conducted last year by the Australian Federal Police. (Conroy resigned as a senator in September last year.)
The AFP raids were sparked by leaked internal NBN documents circulated to journalists, including details of copper remediation costs to roll out for fibre to the node and an unflattering assessment state of the Optus HFC assets, which NBN had intended to use as part of the National Broadband Network (that plan has since been largely shelved, with the network builder deciding to roll out additional fibre to the curb connections instead).
Conroy invoked parliamentary privilege in the wake of AFP raids on his electoral office and the home of a Labor staffer. The AFP later raided the Department of Parliamentary Services seeking emails related to the leaks.
The Senate in August referred Conroy’s claim of privilege to the committee.
The committee has recommended that the documents seized be returned to Conroy and withheld from the AFP investigation into the leaks.
Conroy alleged that information covered by his privilege claim may have been used by the company to target alleged NBN leakers.
“NBN Co concedes that disciplinary action was, in fact, taken against two employees, but submits that it occurred independently of the AFP investigation, that it was taken solely as identified through its own internal investigation and that ‘the breaches relied upon did not include any communications with parliamentarians, their offices or their staff’,” the committee’s report notes.
Conroy’s allegation was based on the presence of an NBN employee during the raid on his office. During the raid, the employee photographed an NBN document in the office. NBN claimed that only the front cover of a document was photographed.
“However, elsewhere in its submission, NBN Co states that, during the execution of the warrant at the Brunswick residence, ‘certain emails were seen that appear to show that two nbn employees had been communicating with [the staffer] about matters pertaining to nbn’,” the Committee’s report states.
“The submission does not address who it was that saw the emails, nor how this information was communicated to NBN Co.”
The report states: “The committee notes that information discovered during the execution of the Brunswick warrant may have assisted in identifying persons of interest in the investigation. However there is conjecture as to the extent to which that material may have been used, and as to whether those persons would in any case have been identified without that information. NBN Co has assured the committee that, to the extent that any action was taken against employees, the information acted upon was identified through its own internal investigations and ‘the breaches relied upon did not include any communications with parliamentarians, their offices or their staff’.”
“Importantly, in relation to the raids, our staff followed the direction of the AFP at all times,” NBN’s spokesperson said. “We acknowledge the committee has conducted an investigation and arrived at a decision. Any ongoing investigation is a matter for the AFP.”
The full report is available online.