National

Nationals MP blocks release of information over AFP travel probe

Nationals MP blocks release of information over AFP travel probe
Jetsetting Nationals MP George Christensen has blocked the release of information about a federal police probe into his frequent travels to the Philippines during a four-year period.
The Queensland MP has used his right to deny the release of key documents relating to the year-long police "assessment" of his pattern of travels in southeast Asia. 
About 57 folios of information containing who referred him to police and when, and also why the assessment ended, were set to be released at least in part by the Australian Federal Police.
Nationals MP George Christensen has blocked the release of information about a federal police probe into his frequent travels to the Philippines during a four-year period. (AAP)
But an investigation by Nine News, The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald  has been stymied because "a third party has objected to the disclosure of those documents".
Mr Christensen, who was re-elected in May with an 11.2 per cent swing towards him despite the controversy, has always labelled scrutiny, questions and concerns over his travel as a "vile smear".
He was dubbed the "Member for Manila" by colleagues after it emerged earlier this year he had taken 28 trips, spending almost 300 days in the Philippines between 2014 and 2018.
Federal police looked into his travel for more than a year including visits to areas known for their active nightlife and bar districts.
Mr Christensen, who was re-elected in May with an 11.2 per cent swing towards him despite the controversy, has always labelled scrutiny, questions and concerns over his travel as a "vile smear". (AAP)
For five months Nine News, The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald has been trying to access police records, and a letter sent by the AFP to Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton in mid-2018 under Freedom of Information laws.
Sources familiar with the contents of the letter have said it stated the "assessment" of Mr Christensen's travel had finished.
But amid a campaign pushing for greater transparency from government agencies, the AFP has refused to release the letter on the grounds it would "involve the unreasonable disclosure of personal information" and "that the information is not on the public record or available from publicly accessible sources".
The Office of the Information Commissioner is reviewing the AFP decision, but has told Nine it could take another seven months to decide if that letter should be in the public domain, even though Parliament has been advised of its existence by the AFP.
The AFP told Senate estimates earlier this year it began assessing information in early 2017.
Several sources have said when a referral was made to police by a Labor MP, Mr Christensen's travel was already being scrutinised by police.
George Christensen and his wife April Asuncion. (9News)
So concerned were officers, former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull received six briefings from then Commissioner Andrew Colvin.
The then Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet secretary Martin Parkinson, Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack, former Nationals leader Barnaby Joyce and Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton were all briefed on the police probe.
Ultimately it concluded no crime had been committed under Australian law.
Mr Christensen was also advised by the AFP in mid-2018 his travel could put him at risk of blackmail.
In April, Mr Colvin told an estimates hearing said inquiries had found "no evidence of wrongdoing" and "no evidence of criminal behaviour".
"So I want to be very careful and show the same respect I would show to any member of the public who has been found to have done nothing wrong," he said.
A letter sent by the AFP to Mr Christensen's lawyers late last year said at no time was Mr Christensen formally interviewed in relation to "child abuse material, unlawful videos, child abuse allegations or any other criminal matter".
Mr Christensen says he met his now wife April Asuncion while in the Philippines in early 2017.
The pair were engaged in mid-2018 after the police probe ended and they wed last month.
The MP and his office have ignored questions and repeated attempts for comment for a week, including a letter handed in person to his office at Parliament House.