Last week the Federal Government found itself in a very sticky situation. Top Secret confidential files on the NBN were found to be located at the offices of the ABC. The ABC had located them in a Secondhand Furniture Store trading in ex-Government Furniture. Two filing cabinets full of documents remained open and available for months.
Read about it here:
Classified government documents accidentally dumped in Canberra
The Prime Minister’s office has ordered an “urgent” investigation into the dumping of thousands of sensitive documents in old filing cabinets, the contents of which have embarrassed governments past and present.
After days of teasing listeners and fuelling conspiracy theories with cabinet leaks related to both the Rudd and Abbott governments, the ABC revealed it obtained thousands of documents that were found in two old filing cabinets sold to a Canberra shop which sells ex-government furniture.
The filing cabinets sat in the second-hand shop for months. There was no key and the documents were only discovered when the purchaser opened them with a drill.
Found inside the cabinets were thousands of pages related to the inner workings of the five past governments. The leading but unconfirmed theories were the cabinets belonged to either the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet or a bureaucrat who handled Freedom of Information requests.
[img2: The Cabinet documents were found in a cabinet sold by the government ]
The ABC reports nearly all papers were classified, many as “top secret” or AUSTEO, meaning they were to be seen by Australian Eyes Only.
The head of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, Martin Parkinson, ordered an immediate and “urgent” investigation into the security lapse. The ABC has not published some due to national security reasons or to protect the privacy of public servants.
Those published reveal, for example, the Australian Federal Police lost almost 400 national security files between 2008 and 2013.
A review by the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, itself included in the cache, shows the documents came from the National Security Committee of Cabinet, many marked “top secret” or for Australian eyes only.
An email exchange does not reveal what the documents detail, how they were lost or who is responsible.
Another revelation is that in 2013, when Labor lost the September election, almost 200 top-secret national security documents were left behind in the office of Labor Senate leader Penny Wong, instead of being destroyed.
The ABC reports the 195 documents “included Middle-East defence plans, national security briefs, Afghan war updates, intelligence on Australia’s neighbours and details of counter-terrorism operations”.
Emails between the Department of Finance and the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet from late 2013 reveal security staff found the documents left in the office after the election and oversaw their destruction, the ABC reports.
A spokesman for Senator Wong said the document safe was knowingly left behind in the office because a staffer with the key had departed some weeks earlier. The safe was handed over to the Finance Department and the documents destroyed.
Senator Wong said “this is the first time I have ever been made aware of this matter, which relates to 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 PJCIS I always take my responsibilities seriously.”
Some of the oldest material dates back to the Howard government, including revelations the National Security Committee of cabinet gave serious consideration to removing the right of individuals to refuse to answer questions from police when facing terrorism charges.
Then-attorney-general Philip Ruddock pushed for a range of new offences while an investigation was under way into Indian-born doctor Mohammed Haneef, who was wrongly accused of providing assistance in a 2007 terror attack in Scotland.
The Australian Federal Police and ASIO supported Mr Ruddock’s proposal, but it was rejected by the majority of the senior ministers in the National Security Committee. Current ASIO director-general Duncan Lewis, then an adviser to Mr Howard, argued strongly against the proposal.
Other documents confirm that right-wing political commentator Andrew Bolt had been consulted by the Abbott government on proposed changes to water down section 18C of the Racial Discrimination Act.
The ABC reports the documents reveal Mr Bolt was asked how to stop the act’s “unreasonably restrictive” reach that led to a successful claim against him for breaching the Act in 2011.
Others reveal Mr Abbott ignored the advice of his department and the Australian Government Solicitor in ordering confidential cabinet documents be handed to the royal commission into the home insulation scheme.
Then-secretary Ian Watt told Mr Abbott and his chief-of-staff Peta Credlin the move would break longstanding and strong conventions, which the Abbott government itself had previously reaffirmed.
Already, the blunder has caused embarrassment for Mr Abbott, Scott Morrison and Kevin Rudd.
The ABC has already revealed that as immigration minister, Mr Morrison agreed his department should intervene in ASIO security checks to prevent some asylum seekers from being granted permanent protection visas.
The documents also led to revelations Tony Abbott’s budget committee considered removing eligibility for people under 30 for all income support ahead of the controversial 2014 budget.
On Wednesday, it was reported Mr Rudd was warned about “critical risks” from the deadly home insulation scheme, despite the former prime minister telling a royal commission into the program he would have stopped the rollout if he had been warned of safety risks.
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