Australia’s security services delivered safes Thursday to a national broadcasting company to secure hundreds of top-secret Cabinet documents that had been found in two filing cabinets sold at a secondhand store in Canberra.
Just hours after the Australian Broadcasting Corp. revealed that three days of stories damaging to both sides of the political system came not from leaks but from papers inside the locked cabinets found at the resale shop in the capital, officers of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation moved to secure the documents at the ABC’s Parliament House bureau and Brisbane studios about 1 a.m. local time Thursday.
“They were sold off cheaply because they were heavy and no one could find the keys,” the ABC said in its story revealing how it obtained the files. “A nifty person drilled the locks and uncovered the trove of documents.”
The documents, spanning at least four administrations and revealing the inner workings of the government, would normally have been kept secret for 20 years.
The ABC said it still has access to the trove, which is now in the safes, while negotiations continue between the media outlet and Australia’s Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet (PM&C).
The mystery turned into a week that started off like “House of Cards” and ended up more like “Veep.” It was “not so much a Cabinet leak as a leaked cabinet,” said Parliament Member Tony Abbott.
Australia’s politicians spent the start of the week plagued by damaging stories from the national broadcaster until the ABC revealed the less-than-scandalous source of its information.
One of the stories revealed a plan from a former immigration minister to delay security checks on refugees so they would miss the deadline to apply for residency in Australia.
Then there was a floated idea to ban anyone under 30 from accessing welfare payments.
One former prime minister, Kevin Rudd, has initiated legal action after a story was aired about a insulation scheme.
News Director Gaven Morris said that once the story about how the broadcaster got the information was published, the ABC worked with the government on what to do with the papers.
“This was an agreed process with the government. We wanted to ensure that, as the national broadcaster, we were doing all we could to work to ensure the documents were safe,” Morris said. “We haven’t gone anywhere near stories or issues that may have a national security implication.”
In a statement, the PM&C said securing the documents was the “outcome of a cooperative arrangement between the ABC and the Australian Government.”
“It was not a raid,” the statement said. “The documents remain the property of the Commonwealth of Australia,” adding that the department is working closely with ASIO and the Australian Federal Police to find out how the cabinets ended up for sale.
Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce told ABC radio Thursday that there had been a serious breach of security. “Obviously someone’s had a shocker, and the investigation will find out exactly how this happened.”
“In the process of running a country, there are things which go awry. This is one of them.”