The Australian Federal Police (AFP) raided the Department of Home Affairs office in Canberra on Thursday morning as part of an investigation into leaks about Home Affairs minister Peter Dutton intervening to grant visas to two foreign au pairs.
Multiple media outlets reported that the raid took place on Thursday morning, with officers looking to search workplaces and personal devices.
In a statement, the AFP said it received a referral from the Department of Home Affairs to investigate the leak at the end of August, and subsequently decided to investigate the matter.
"The AFP has undertaken enquiries and conducted a number of activities in relation to this investigation," an AFP spokesperson said in a statement. "As this investigation is ongoing, it would not be appropriate to comment further."
The Department of Home Affairs referred all questions to the AFP.
A collection of emails from within the department was leaked to the parliamentary committee investigating Dutton's decision to grant visas to two au pairs – an Italian woman in Brisbane, and a French woman in Adelaide – in 2015.
The emails, which were provided to BuzzFeed News, showed the quick turnaround between the women being initially denied visas and Dutton overruling his department's visa decision to grant the two women tourist visas.
The French woman was going to stay with a cousin of AFL CEO Gillon McLachlan, while the Italian woman was set to work for a former Queensland Police Service colleague of Dutton's, Russell Keag.
Department of Home Affairs secretary Michael Pezzullo told the committee he had asked the AFP to investigate, and he was disturbed that the leak had occurred. He said it was potentially a criminal act.
But then Labor senator and chair of the committee, Louise Pratt, reminded him that witnesses before the committee are given protections for what they provide to the committee.
Pratt: Mr Pezzullo, you're aware that protections do apply to witnesses that give information to Senate committees?
Pezzullo : Of course.
Pratt: And that penalties apply to anyone who seeks to punish such a witness?
Pezzullo : Absolutely.
Pratt: You are aware of the findings of the Senate privileges committee, in relation to the AFP investigation into the leaking of documents within NBN Co?
Pezzullo : Yes.
Pratt: Are you aware that the privileges committee found that both the AFP and NBN Co were guilty of improper interference with the Senate, because they failed to respect parliamentary privilege?
Pezzullo : I am aware that was a finding that was applicable in that circumstance.
Pratt: Yes. I want to be clear that you are taking steps to ensure that the investigation you referred to earlier has due regard for the powers of this committee.
Pezzullo: It'll be in the investigation, should the referral be accepted by the Federal Police commissioner. I'm sure commissioner Colvin is well seized of the privileges of the parliament.
In a statement on Thursday afternoon, Pratt confirmed that she had claimed parliamentary privilege over the documents seized in the raid.
"I will ask for my claim of privilege to be dealt with by the Senate," Pratt said in a statement. "Parliamentary privilege is an incredibly important principle that enables the parliament to hold the government to account, and it must be respected."
The Senate privileges committee will decide whether the privilege claim should be upheld, and then the Senate will decide whether the documents should be covered by privilege or released back to the AFP.
Dutton has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing in the au pairs saga, and has accused Labor of mounting a witch hunt against him.
Almost one year ago, the media was tipped off about AFP raids on the Australian Workers' Union in relation to payments made to GetUp while opposition leader Bill Shorten was head of the union.
The employment minister at the time Michaelia Cash has repeatedly refused to answer questions about whether she has been interviewed by the AFP about the leaks from her office.
Prosecutors are now considering whether to lay charges over the leak.