OPINION: Speaker David Carter's admission that Parliament supplied a ministerial inquiry with Fairfax Media journalist Andrea Vance's phone records is a bombshell.
It comes on the back of Parliament's admission that Vance's movements were also tracked as part of the Government's efforts to find the "mole" who leaked her a report on the Government Communications Security Bureau.
Fairfax Media got wind something was up when Vance was hastily summoned to the Speaker's office yesterday morning.
A deeply embarrassed Carter owned up to the breach and offered Vance an extraordinary apology.
Only days ago, Carter gave Parliament an assurance that the phone records were not handed over.
The admission raises more questions than it answers - including why it has taken so long for the truth to come out.
The other burning question - on whose say-so was the information handed over - has also gone unanswered.
In the case of the phone records, Carter says that the information was supplied by a low-level contractor without first checking with either himself or Parliamentary Service general manager Geoff Thorn.
Carter says he can't explain why it happened when apparently the inquiry - headed by former public servant David Henry - never asked for Vance's telephone records.
That suggests either an extraordinarily cavalier attitude towards media freedom, or a culture in which reporters are considered a fair target for investigation.
The latest, equally sinister, revelations that the Defence Force lumped journalists in with subversives and extremists such as al Qaeda suggest the latter.
That should be deeply disturbing to everyone. Journalists working in the parliamentary precinct deal regularly with sensitive information provided by confidential sources.
Their ability to hold MPs and the Government to account would be seriously compromised if neither they nor their sources can have any faith that their every move and phone call is not being tracked.
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