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Dutton savages key Senate crossbencher in brawl over press freedom remarks

Illustration: Matt Golding

Illustration: Matt GoldingCredit:

“Secretary Pezzullo and I discussed the matter this morning. Like me he is disgusted at some of the outrageous lies and slander he and I are regularly subject to, but nonetheless I advised the Secretary it was inappropriate to contact Senator Patrick even if just to point out the inaccuracies in the Senator’s press release,” he said.

“Further I advised it was counter-productive because I have always found Senator Patrick to be a person of the sort of character who would seek to misrepresent the Secretary’s words, and the Secretary agreed the contact was not appropriate and that is where the matter ends.”

Minister for Home Affairs Peter Dutton took aim at Rex Patrick's character.

Minister for Home Affairs Peter Dutton took aim at Rex Patrick’s character.Credit:AAP

Senator Patrick, who along with Centre Alliance Party colleague Stirling Griff is among the six crossbench Senators who hold the balance of power in the upper house, indicated his negotiations with the government on legislation would be unaffected.

“I don’t think his comments are helpful,” Senator Patrick said. “I work constructively with ministers and government departments all the time. Nonetheless, I understand Mr Pezzullo has been counselled and for me, that is the end of the matter.”

The war of words came as ABC chairwoman Ita Buttrose said Prime Minister Scott Morrison had “taken on board my comments” following a meeting between the pair during which last week’s police raids on the ABC were discussed.

Two former Defence department heads, Dennis Richardson and Paul Barratt, both backed current chief Greg Moriarty by saying they would similarly refer the leaks of “Top Secret” documents to the Australian Federal Police if it had happened during their tenure.

ABC chairwoman Ita Buttrose and Scott Morrison met on Tuesday and discussed the AFP raids on the ABC.

ABC chairwoman Ita Buttrose and Scott Morrison met on Tuesday and discussed the AFP raids on the ABC.Credit:Jessica Hromas

Ms Buttrose and ABC managing director David Anderson met with Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Communications Minister Paul Fletcher on Tuesday.

In a statement, a spokeswoman for the ABC said Ms Buttrose and Mr Anderson had raised concerns about the implications for media freedom in Australia.

“The ABC looks forward to working constructively with other media companies to pinpoint areas of concern and to pursue the case for legislative review,” the spokeswoman said.

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The Morrison government has expressed openness to a review of the status of press freedom in Australia, a move that Labor is still weighing up while crossbenchers are agitating for it.

Meanwhile, former Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce dismissed claims of a threat to press freedom from the police searches of journalists, calling it “a load of rubbish” to say the media was under attack.

Mr Joyce, in a provocative intervention, argued the national interest was served in keeping government deliberations private and investigating leaks.

Asked if he believed press freedom was under threat, Mr Joyce said: “What a load of rubbish. The freedom to print is your right. The crime resides in the person who gave you the information.”

David Wroe is defence and national security correspondent for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.

Fergus Hunter is an education and communications reporter for The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.

David Crowe is chief political correspondent for the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.

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