Andrew Colvin has expressed the sentiment to the powerful intelligence and security committee, which is investigating recent raids on journalists.
“If there is an imbalance between national security and press freedom, then that imbalance has to be addressed through law.”
The inquiry comes two months after AFP raids on the Canberra home of a News Corp journalist and the Sydney office of the ABC over separate investigations into government leaks.
The AFP has received 75 referrals relating to unauthorised leaks of Commonwealth material to the media in the past five years, but those were the only two instances where it followed up with raids.
We make it an option of last resort because we know the implications, particularly in relation to a journalist,” Mr Colvin said.
Deputy Commissioner Neil Gaughan said the two separate raids were conducted on consecutive days in June to ensure the AFP had the computer forensics resources that it needed available.
Mr Colvin could not say whether the News Corp journalist, Annika Smethurst, might be charged as part of the investigation involving her.
“It remains the case that the investigation is ongoing,” he said.
He stressed the AFP does not target any particular sections of the community, such as the media, nor does it act politically.
“We do understand the magnitude and the nature of any interaction between the police and a journalist.”
A dozen senior media executives presented a united front to the inquiry on Tuesday, demanding changes to national security laws they say will protect journalists.
ABC managing director David Anderson said whistleblowers were increasingly reticent to come forward.
Home Affairs Department secretary Michael Pezzullo is also appearing before the committee on Wednesday, along with senior representatives of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation.
Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security Margaret Stone, Attorney-Generals’ Department and the Office of National Intelligence will also face questions.
Before the public hearings, Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton gave new directions to the AFP on investigations into journalists and media organisations.
He expects them to give more weight to press freedom concerns before seeking and executing a search warrant.
However, media companies want something stronger than a ministerial directive to ensure journalists aren’t targeted for doing their jobs, especially when their stories pose no national security risk.