The ABC has lost a legal challenge to the AFP Raid of last June.
The broadcaster had challenged the validity of the warrant, which was issued two days before the June 5 raid on its offices in Ultimo. As part of the court action it sought the return of all material seized by police.
The Federal Court this morning dismissed the ABC’s legal bid to overturn the warrant and ordered the broadcaster to pay costs.
The court heard the AFP advised the ABC months before the raid that it would seek a search warrant to obtain a variety of documents.
Justice Abraham said the AFP asked the ABC to provide the documents that met the search conditions of the warrant but they declined. She said the ABC had failed to prove the police search warrant was invalid.
The AFP tried not to be too intrusive in the execution of the warrant and allowed the ABC’s lawyers to be present throughout the search.
“No other search of the premises was conducted,” she said.
Abraham said the federal police agreed to keep all the seized documents on sealed USB sticks, and not to access them pending a challenge to the validity of the warrant.
In a statement ABC Managing Director David Anderson said, “Today’s ruling is further evidence of the urgent need for explicit protections for public interest journalism and for whistleblowers.
“When the AFP executed its search warrant here at the ABC last June 5th, its raid was seen – internationally – for exactly what it was: an attempt to intimidate journalists for doing their jobs.
“Not just the journalists named on the search warrant, but all journalists.
“The ABC challenged the validity of the AFP’s search warrant and we’re disappointed by today’s ruling. It’s a blow for public interest journalism and a blow for the Australian public’s right to know. It’s a win for further secrecy and lack of accountability.
“This ruling highlights the serious problem with Australia’s secrecy laws. Australia has by far the most onerous secrecy laws of any comparable western democracy – the UK, US, Canada, New Zealand.
“This is at odds with our expectation that we live in an open and transparent society.
“We are not saying journalists should be above the law, we’re saying the public’s right to know should be a factor that is taken into account – and legitimate journalism should not be criminalised.
“The stories that prompted this raid, the Afghan Files, reported allegations of unlawful killings and misconduct by Australian special forces in Afghanistan.
“The accuracy of this reporting has never been challenged. No one has been able to demonstrate a direct threat to national security as a result of those stories.
“Yet almost three years after those stories were published investigative journalists Sam Clarke and Dan Oakes remain in limbo. They could be charged and prosecuted at any time for doing their jobs.
“The ABC calls on the AFP to resolve this issue as a matter of urgency and drop its threat against our journalists.”
The ABC is considering appealing the judgment.