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AFP rules out charges against journalist Annika Smethurst

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Smethurst’s exclusive report, published in The Sunday Telegraph in 2018, exposed top secret emails between Home Affairs Department Secretary Mike Pezzullo and Department Department Secretary Greg Moriarty, discussing a plan to allow the cyber spy agency to snoop on Australian citizens.

The proposal would have given the Australian Signals Directorate powers to monitor the emails, bank accounts and text messages of Australians, with the approval of the relevant home affairs and defence ministers.

In early June last year, just weeks after the Federal Election, AFP officers raided the News Corp Australia journalist’s Canberra home.

The search, which was later ruled to be unlawful, was described by her employer – publisher of news.com.au – and the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance union as “intimidation” and “harassment”.

A large number of officers spent several hours inside her home, rummaging through her underwear drawer and flipping through every page of her recipe books, apparently in search of USB drives that would reveal her source.

RELATED:Annika Smethurst reveals personal toll of AFP press raids

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Annika Smethurst is a Walkley Award-winning journalist.Source:Supplied

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AFP officers rummaging through Annika Semthurst’s kitchen, including her cook books.Source:Supplied

MEAA Media section federal president Marcus Strom said it took almost a year for “common sense to prevail and for the AFP to rule out charging” Smethurst.

But the fate of two ABC journalists, Dan Oaks and Sam Clark, remains uncertain. The AFP is also investigating their 2017 reporting of alleged war crimes carried out by Australian soldiers and that probe remains “active”, the agency said.

The day after the AFP stormed Smethurst’s home, a group of officers raided the ABC headquarters in Sydney and spent several hours inside, seizing several thousand documents and emails.

Those raids spark outcry in the community and prompted Australian media organisations to band together to launch a press freedom campaign.

“The raids represent a clear indication that the government and its agencies have been pursuing a war on journalism using the powers of a police state,” Mr Strom said.

“It shows how Australia’s national security laws are being misused in order to criminalise legitimate public interest journalism, punish whistleblowers who seek to expose wrongdoing, and deny the public’s right to know the truth about what our governments are doing in our name.”

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The story about government plans to spy on Australian citizens that sparked the AFP raid.Source:News Corp Australia

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Federal police officers pictured after raiding the home of News Corp Australia journalist Annika Smethurst.Source:News Corp Australia

The laws that allow “these assaults on press freedom” still exist, Mr Strom said.

Two separate Parliamentary inquiries

“The laws that enabled these assaults on press freedom still exist. Two Parliamentary inquiries probing those powers have yet to report their findings.

AFP Deputy Commissioner Ian McCartney insisted the agency was just doing its job although he acknowledged the “complex” nature of the investigation.

“Firstly, I want to reiterate at all times our investigators have acted in good faith, and acted appropriately during this investigation,” he said.

“Investigating breaches of Commonwealth criminal law is the AFP's job. That's what we do. This was a serious breach of national security investigation that needed to be investigated. We did our job, we investigated.

“And moving forward, we'll continue to do our job, in the many thousands of investigations the AFP undertakes in serving the community interest.”

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Annika at home in Canberra after the extraordinary raid. Picture: Gary RamageSource:News Corp Australia

Mr Storm said the saga was a reminder of the need for statutes to be overhauled in order to protect the public’s right to know.

“Journalists will be jailed for doing their jobs, whistleblowers will be intimidated into silence, government information will be locked away and the public will be denied the right to know,” he said.

“In the current crisis, Australians need to be reassured that they are being kept informed – that’s how a healthy, functioning democracy should work."

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