The Australian | Published: January 31, 2018
Hundreds of Cabinet documents spanning across five governments were obtained by the ABC after two filing cabinets were sold at a second-hand shop in Canberra.
Rosie Lewis Reporter Canberra
The head of Malcolm Turnbull’s department has launched an “urgent investigation” after two ex-government filing cabinets were sold at a second-hand furniture shop in the nation’s capital containing hundreds of cabinet documents.
The public broadcaster said most of the documents were classified, some “top secret” and others meant for Australian eyes only.
A spokesman for the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet said secretary Martin Parkinson had initiated an “urgent” inquiry.
“As this investigation has commenced it would be inappropriate to comment further,” the spokesman said.
The ABC said the locked filing cabinets were purchased at a shop selling ex-government furniture and opened months later with a drill, after which it acquired the papers.
“The ex-government furniture sale was not limited to Australians — anyone could make a purchase,” the ABC reports. “And had they been inclined, there was nothing stopping them handing the contents to a foreign agent or government.
“They (the filing cabinets) were sold off cheaply because they were heavy and no-one could find the keys. A nifty person drilled the locks and uncovered the trove of documents inside.”
Peta Credlin, a Sky News presenter who was former prime minister Tony Abbott’s chief of staff, said the way the papers had been managed was “pretty devastating” and PM&C had in her experience been “very, very careful with documents”.
“They routinely came to the prime minister’s office to chase up old cabinet papers that yet hadn’t made their way down to their offices outside of Parliament House,” Ms Credlin told Sky News.
The ABC said the cabinet files revealed the Australian Federal Police lost national security documents in five years and top-secret code word protected and sensitive documents were left in Penny Wong’s office after Labor lost the 2013 election.
“The breach (regarding Senator Wong’s office) is revealed in a series of emails between the Department of Finance and the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet from late 2013,” the ABC says.
“The emails reveal security staff found the documents left in the office after the election and oversaw their destruction.”
The AFP has been contacted for comment.
Senator Wong said today was the first time she had ever been made aware of the matter regarding documents left in her office during a change of government over four years ago.
“As a former cabinet minister who participated in national security meetings, a senior member of shadow cabinet and a current member of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security I always take my responsibilities seriously,” she said.
The ABC said it had “withheld documents if there are national security reasons, if the information is already public, or to protect the privacy of public servants’’.