Secret Australian government files 'found in second-hand filing cabinet'

Casey Dawson
February 1, 2018

The ABC has obtained hundreds of documents, some labelled "top-secret", stretching right back to the Howard Government.

"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.

"Nearly all the files are classified, some as "top secret" or "AUSTEO", which means they are to be seen by Australian eyes only", the website said.

One document refers to an audit that revealed that the Australian Federal Police had lost nearly 400 national security files over five years ending 2013.

Rory Medcalf, head of the Australian National University's National Security College, described the discarded documents as "very weird and embarrassing" from a national security and political perspective.

Senior minister Penny Wong left almost 200 top-secret "code word protected and sensitive documents" in her office after her Labor Party lost the 2013 election, documents showed. It also did not reveal the nature, nor the content of the missing NSC documents.

Some of the documents have been released by the ABC, which published reports on what it found.

Abbott ignored the advice of the AGS, and that of his own department.

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The documents which were left in the office - but not included in the old filing cabinets - included Middle East defence plans.

"We consider that producing cabinet-related documents to any court or tribunal ... would not accord with legal practice and principle".

One of the file stated that Former Prime Ministers Kevin Rudd and Julia Gillard were warned about risks of a home insulation scheme that later claimed four lives. The decision followed the wrongful arrest of Indian doctor Mohammed Haneef on terrorism charges.

After controversial commentator Andrew Bolt was successfully accused of breaking the Racial Discrimination Act in 2011, the Cabinet later asked Bolt about changing the law's "unreasonably restrictive" reach - and "was the only person specifically named as having been consulted", the ABC says, citing draft legislation that is part of the files.

The ABC didn't reveal how it received the documents.

One discovery, for example, was that "former Prime Minister Tony Abbott's government had considered denying welfare to people under 30", the BBC reported. The options included cutting off under-30s from income support entirely, cutting off under-30s in areas with employment opportunities and limiting income support to young people with a work history. Mr Rudd told an inquiry that the rollout would have been delayed had his cabinet been informed of the safety risk.

"If you are going to throw out a filing cabinet that has got a whole lot of sensitive and confidential information in it you have got to make sure it is empty before it goes out of the building", he said Wednesday.

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