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NBN leaks: What's the point of these AFP raids?

What point does the Coalition government hope to prove by having the Australian Federal Police raid the email accounts of Labor staffers in a search for the leaker of documents that led to stories about the catastrophic delay in rolling out the NBN?

The AFP, which was recently in the news over the fact that half its female staff have been subject to sexual harassment, carried out a second raid on Wednesday, trying to nail the leaker(s). But even if someone was found to be responsible, what would that prove?

The stories about the NBN are true. Of that there is no doubt. The reaction of the government and NBN Co shows that. When shadow attorney-general Mark Dreyfus points out that Malcolm Turnbull, when in charge of the communications portfolio, promised that all Australians would have access to the NBN by the end of 2016, he is speaking the unvarnished truth. Now that date has been pushed out by four years.

The NBN is a mess. It has become a political tool for all, and when someone like Barnaby Joyce goes around claiming that 25Mbps is sufficient for all and sundry, then you know that the whole thing has gone well beyond a joke.

If the AFP succeeds in pinning someone down, then it would be some minor Labor functionary, a staffer who would lose his or her job and be promptly rehabilitated by the party in some state or the other. True, the attraction (?) of working in a boring place like Canberra would not be there. But money will compensate for that.

A couple of NBN employees may have to walk the plank and join the Centrelink queue if the AFP succeeds – and one is not placing any sizeable bet that they will. They have bungled so many operations — remember the affair of the Bali Nine? that anyone who has confidence in this force would also be willing to trust their money to Wall Street hedge funds.

Further, if Turnbull really expects people to believe that his government had no hand in instigating the raids, then he must be thinking that we are a bunch who believe in the tooth fairy, Santa Claus and that the stork is the one who delivers babies.

Turnbull has repeatedly shown himself to be politically naive. Seven years ago, the Godwin Grech affair cost him his post as opposition leader. His recent decision to take the country to a double-dissolution election has left him clinging precariously to power and facing a Senate that one would only encounter in a nightmare and a particularly bad one at that.

The only thing that the AFP raids can engender is fear. There is no point in threatening whistleblowers – someone else will emerge who will blow the whistle much louder, longer and with more devastating impact. The AFP might like to ponder the fact that it's taken just one Edward Snowden to give the NSA, a body with influence and power that the AFP can only dream of, serious nightmares.

Raids will change nothing. They will only mark the AFP out as an organisation that tries to bully the public, one that is willing to dance to the tune of politicians, one that could well spend its time better in trying to sort out its internal problems. Like that sexual harassment issue, for example.

But Turnbull may end up as collateral damage as a result of this. The silver-haired one may well have to go back to his Point Piper mansion and ponder his mistakes over a glass of port. And probably muse on the title of his autobiography, "How to lose the prime ministership in a year."


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Sam Varghese

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A professional journalist with decades of experience, Sam for nine years used DOS and then Windows, which led him to start experimenting with GNU/Linux in 1998. Since then he has written widely about the use of both free and open source software, and the people behind the code. His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.