The leakage of hundreds classified documents, many of them top-secret, as a result of extremely shoddy form by our public servants today raises concerns about the security of information which could put our national security at risk.
It turns out that it isn’t too hard to obtain top government secrets. In fact, you can do it at a second-hand furniture shop in Canberra.
Several months ago, two heavy filing cabinets were sold to such a shop for a cheap price, as the cabinets were locked and the keys missing. When these filing cabinets were recently drilled open, thousands of pages of Cabinet Documents, dating back to the Howard Era, were found inside and acquired by the ABC. Cabinet documents are meant to remain secret (by law) for at least 20 years so Senior Ministers can speak openly about the matters disclosed in the cabinet room. Most of these documents are classified, and some were even listed as top secret.
Some of the papers reveal the Australian Federal Police lost nearly 400 documents between 2008 and 2013. These documents were from the National Security Committee, which controls the security, intelligence and defence agenda, as well as deploying our military and approving kill, capture or destroy missions. The leaked cabinet papers do not reveal the nature or content of these documents, but it is likely that they pertain to crucial decisions made about deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan, counter-terrorism operations, foreign relations and border protection over the five-year period during which they were produced. Concerningly, the cabinet papers do not mention the initiation of any investigations into how they were lost, who was responsible and where they currently reside despite how egregious the incident was.
195 top secret documents were also left in the desk of Penny Wong after the 2013 Elections, despite a requirement that these documents be destroyed. These documents, including Defence plans to protect the United Arab Emirates from Iranian hostilities, national security intelligence priorities, counter-terrorism intelligence planning documents, details of missile upgrades, profiles of terror suspects, issues with Australian Defence Force operations in Afghanistan, intelligence on Australia’s neighbours and deficiencies in Defence security vetting were eventually found and destroyed by security staff. The Department of Finance investigated the security breach, but failed to take further action as they were unable to find conclusive evidence about who left the documents in the desk.
Other documents that were found revealed:
- That the NSC under the Howard Government giving serious consideration to removing the ability of a terror suspect to remain silent,
- That Andrew Bolt was consulted on potential changes to 18c of the Racial Discrimination Act,
- The NBN Co.’s secret strategy to negotiate with investors in 2009
- That Former PM Kevin Rudd, Julia Gillard, Wayne Swan and Lindsay Tanner were warned that their later infamous home insulation scheme carried “Critical risks” in 2009, before the deaths of four young installers who participated.
- That Tony Abbott ignoring advice from his department and the Australian Government Solicitor when he handed confidential cabinet documents to the Home Insulation Royal Commission,
- That Former Immigration Minister, Scott Morrison asked ASIO to delay asylum seekers visas
- That Tony Abbott’s “razor gang” considered cutting under-30s from income support and welfare.
The stories which have made it to the press are matters of national interest and it is good to have them revealed to the public. However, the leakage itself is still concerning as the ABC has noted that the content of the documents also include matters of national security which could put our soldiers’ lives at risk. We are extremely lucky that one of the largest security breaches in our history became a story for our national broadcaster who have decided not to release documents falling under this category, rather than intelligence for a hostile power who could use the information against us should it have fallen into their hands.
Ministers and the public service need to be held to an even higher standard than the private sector when it comes to protecting confidential information since the lives and interests of the Australian public and those who risk their lives for our country are at stake rather than simply the reputation of those to whom the secrets pertain.
Action must be taken to ensure the people responsible are held to account to ensure that such information is not compromised by irresponsible behaviour in the future. Information that pertains to the public interest or helps hold government to account for its failures or misdeeds is best obtained with the aid of whistleblower protection laws rather than poor procedure.
This security breach and other examples of incompetence revealed in the documents are an affront to hard-working Aussie taxpayers who pay for Canberra’s salaries through one of the highest tax burdens in the developed world.
Kyle Williams is a Research Associate with the Australian Taxpayers’ Alliance.