Labor asks Turnbull to confirm national security emails are not on private server

The shadow attorney general, Mark Dreyfus, has called on the prime minister to confirm he has never used his private email server for national security matters, after lengthy delays by his office to respond to freedom of information requests.

In October the Australian reported that Malcolm Turnbull had been operating a separate email server outside the parliamentary email system, provoking questions over both the security implications and the potentially limited public access to the records under freedom of information and archive laws.

Concerns over the use of the private server echo similar debate over US presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server during her time as secretary of state. Her private emails are now being periodically released by the State Department.

Dreyfus lodged a freedom of information request in November seeking access to documents on his email server pertaining to national security, international relations or national security cabinet meetings.

But Turnbull has not responded to his request within 30 days, putting the prime minister in breach of the FOI Act.

A letter to Turnbull from Dreyfus, seen by Guardian Australia, said: “Despite my office following up with your department repeatedly, your response is now some two and a half months overdue.”

“It is extraordinary that you are unable to promptly confirm that no official documents dealing with sensitive national security and foreign relations matters are held on your private email server.”

“I ask for your assurance that I will receive a response to my request as soon as possible and clarify this matter, which is of obvious concern from a security perspective.”

Separately, Guardian Australia also sought access to some types of emails on the private server in November. The prime minister’s office did not respond to correspondence about the delays in December, and the case has been appealed to the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner.

The FOI Act now considers both requests as “deemed refusals”, although the prime minister is still under an obligation to process the requests.

In October the deputy secretary of national security in the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, Allan McKinnon, wrote an advisory relating to the use of alternative systems of communication, following a request from Turnbull.

In McKinnon’s response he wrote that information may be conveyed on a range of devices where the information is unclassified or not sensitive.

“Any documents in your possession that relate to your ministerial duties are subject to the Freedom of Information Act 1982 regardless of what system they are held in. The FOI Act does not apply to documents of a party political nature, documents held in your capacity as a local member, or your personal documents,” he wrote.

The prime minister’s office has not responded to a request for comment.

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