Australia: Investigation after top-secret files turn up in second-hand shop
By: Sallyann Nicholls
The Australian government has launched an “urgent investigation” after hundreds of classified files were accidentally sold and obtained by the media.
Dubbing it ‘The Cabinet files’, The Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) exposed the controversy on Wednesday (January 31), calling it “one of the biggest breaches of cabinet security in Australian history”.
The documents were contained in two cabinets that were sold locked and without matching keys at an ex-government furniture shop in Canberra.
But it wasn’t until months later, when the locks were forced open with a drill, that the files were found. Almost all of them were classified, including some as “top secret” or “AUSTEO” – for Australian eyes only.
The documents spanned nearly a decade, revealing the inner workings of five separate governments in the country. The revelations included:
- Nearly 400 national security files were lost by the Australian Federal Police (AFP) in five years. The documents came from the cabinet’s national security committee, which controls security, intelligence and the defense agenda in the country.
- Security staff found nearly 200 top secret, code-word protected and sensitive documents in a senator’s office after their party lost national elections in 2013. The files detailed national security briefs, intelligence on Australia’s neighbours and counter-terrorism operations. According to a document in The Cabinet Files, the files should have been destroyed.
- The then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, his deputy Julia Gillard and two senior Labor ministers were warned about “critical risks” of a home insulation scheme before it was rolled out. The scheme was scrapped in 2010 after four installation workers died from electrocution and hyperthermia. Mr Rudd told an inquiry that the rollout would have been delayed had his cabinet been informed of the safety risk. He stated that he had only received two implementation reports from February 2009 and that he had “no record of receipt of others subsequent to that”.
But a cabinet report from April 2009 warned of “critical risks” linked to the programme, although it is not known if these were safety concerns.
The ABC has refused to reveal who bought the cabinets and found the trove of documents, insisting they would “protect their privacy at all costs.”
In response to the exposé, the Australian government released a statement confirming an “urgent investigation” had been launched.
“The Secretary of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet has initiated an urgent investigation into the circumstances around the disposal of two Commonwealth Government filing cabinets that allegedly contained classified material,” it said.
“Given that the investigation is underway it is not appropriate for the Department to comment further at this time.”
Kevin Rudd also stepped in to deny any assertion that he was warned about safety risks linked to the home insulation scheme.
He said in a statement to ABC: “The Royal Commission into the Home Insulation Program had unprecedented access to cabinet material and made no adverse finding against Mr Rudd.
“Any assertion Mr Rudd was warned about safety risks to installers, or failed to act on such warnings, is completely baseless and untrue, as determined by the commission.”