Political Insider: Sign up for our newsletter
The immigration department has declined to investigate how sensitive CCTV footage from Manus Island became known to conservative commentator Andrew Bolt despite the department’s refusal to release it publicly.
A group of asylum seekers, accused of “leading” a boy into the compound on April 9, have urged Immigration Minister Peter Dutton to release CCTV footage of the incident, claiming it would clear them of wrongdoing.
The department refused Fairfax Media’s request to see the footage on Tuesday, despite Australian Border Force commissioner Roman Quaedvlieg confirming at Senate estimates it was not classified material.
A spokeswoman said it would be “inappropriate” because the matter had been referred to PNG police.
The footage was the property of contractors Broadspectrum and Wilson Security but was also possessed by the department and Mr Dutton’s office, Mr Quaedvlieg said.
On April 26, Bolt told his Sky News viewers the footage showed the boy was “walked well inside the camp” with one man’s hand “on his shoulder”. The men left the boy outside a dormitory tent, gave him a bag of food and then took a “selfie” with him, Bolt said.
He also referenced the contents of an ABF report on the incident, while Mr Quaedvlieg provided on-the-record quotes to Bolt’s program.
On Tuesday, Mr Quaedvlieg told the estimates hearing it was “in the detriment of the public interest to be commenting on [the video] in public” and said: “I’m not going to discuss it and prejudice a potential criminal investigation.”
Mr Quaedvlieg also said he had not followed Bolt’s commentary but confirmed the apparent leak was not under investigation by the department.
“We’re not investigating,” he said. “I don’t know whether Andrew Bolt actually has possession of the footage. I certainly haven’t shared it with him.”
The department took a different view on leaks of classified material, having last year called in the Australian Federal Police after the ABC’s Lateline program obtained sensitive department documents.
A Fairfax Media story on visas and citizenship also became the subject of an AFP investigation after referral from the Department of Human Services.
Immigration boss Mike Pezzullo told the estimates hearing it was “regrettable” journalists were not required to adhere to the same secrecy provisions as public servants.
“We don’t refer journalists to the Australian Federal Police because they don’t have obligations – unless they’ve broken the law otherwise – to protect official secrecy,” Mr Pezzullo said.
“Which is regrettable at times because it used to be the case that more weight was placed on the protection of official secrecy. But that doesn’t seem to be the fashion.”
Bolt never confirmed whether he had physically seen the CCTV footage or sighted the ABF report. He declined to comment Tuesday.