Secret Australian government documents found in filing cabinet at second-hand shop


The Australian government has launched an urgent investigation into the loss of thousands of classified documents that were sold with two second-hand filing cabinets. They were both locked and no set of keys was provided with them.

All discussions inside Cabinet are considered confidential and documents on Australian Cabinet decisions are supposed to remain confidential for at least to 20 years.

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) obtained the cache of documents and published some of the files on Tuesday.

Among the revelations contained in the documents were details on former immigration minister Scott Morrison's treatment of asylum seekers' visa applications, former PM Tony Abbott's proposed welfare cuts and claims that Rudd and his successor (and predecessor) Julia Gillard knew of critical risks to the insulation scheme that killed four installers.

Experts suggested to AAP the filing cabinets could have only come from one of two departments - Finance and the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet (DPMC).

The existence of the documents and their unlikely discovery was revealed by ABC Wednesday in a series of shock articles.

Among the revelations are that nearly 200 sensitive documents were left in the office of a former senior minister after the Australian Labor party lost power after the 2013 election.

The documents detail a number of security breaches including the results of an audit showing that the Australian federal police lost almost 400 national security files between 2008 and 2013, while Labor was in government.

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"The cabinet secretariat's general practice was to give up searching and write off lost documents if they could not be found" after repeated attempts.

"We think it would be highly undesirable (and legally confounding) if the Commonwealth were to simply produce cabinet-related documents to the royal commission on the basis of a purported waiver of public interest immunity", read the advice from Tom Howe QC, chief counsel at the Australian Government Solicitor.

The filing cabinets in question were sold off especially cheaply, because they were clearly full, and no-one could find the keys.

The locks were eventually opened with a drill, revealing the documents inside.

The cabinets and their contents were bought "for small change" in a sale that could have been made to anyone, the network says.

ASIO officers have locked up thousands of top secret and classified Cabinet files at the ABC in an early morning operation.

The ABC isn't releasing any names or details about who bought the old, information-rich cabinets, or how it learned about them.

"Journalism like this relies on courageous confidential sources and we'll protect their privacy at all costs".