World News

Australian government secrets revealed after confidential files sold by accident

Posted January 31, 2018 3:24 a.m. EST

— An urgent investigation has been launched by the Australian government after a pair of locked filing drawers containing top secret Cabinet documents were accidentally sold as second-hand furniture.

The thousands of files, which were discovered at a furniture store in the Australian capital of Canberra and later obtained by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), are alleged to contain confidential Cabinet notes covering five separate Australian governments.

In a statement after the revelation Martin Parkinson, secretary of the Australian Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, said an investigation would be undertaken into the disposal of the two sets of drawers.

"Given that the investigation is underway it is not appropriate for the Department to comment further at this time," he said.

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

Among the revelations reported by the ABC from the documents were allegations Australia's then-immigration minister Scott Morrison intervened in 2013 to demand extra checks on a group of asylum seekers to stop them getting permanent protection visas in Australia.

Former Prime Minister John Howard's government was also alleged to have discussed removing Australians' right to remain silent in custody around 2007, according to ABC reporting.

The Cabinet is the top decision making body in a parliamentary system, composed of the prime minister and his or her most senior ministers.

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

A number of other prominent Australian leaders were also the target of embarrassing domestic allegations, including former Prime Ministers Kevin Rudd and Tony Abbott.

Abbott told Sydney radio station 2GB someone needed to "pay a price" over the blunder.

"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.

According to the ABC, the two sets of drawers were sold at a second-hand furniture store in an undisclosed neighborhood in Canberra. They were both locked and no set of keys was provided with them.

They were eventually bought and left unopened until the purchaser used a drill to break off the locks. The ABC did not identify who bought the drawers and how the documents found their way to the news organization.