The head of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s department has developed a new system to digitally track the movement and disposal of filing cabinets to avoid a repeat of the “extraordinary lapse of security” that saw top-secret Cabinet documents accidentally sold at a second-hand furniture shop.
Normally kept secret for 20 years, the cache of highly sensitive Cabinet records was unwittingly bought, along with the two locked filing cabinets they were stored in, at an ex-government furniture store in Canberra.
The ABC exposed the bureaucratic bungle in February after it obtained the hundreds of pages of documents, which related to five government administrations over the course of a decade, from a source that had discovered them in the filing cabinets.
After an investigation of the incident, the Australian Federal Police probe concluded a “culmination of human errors” in the record-keeping, movement, clearance and disposal of the cabinets by the department in 2016 were to blame.
Revealing its findings in a statement yesterday, Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet secretary Martin Parkinson said he was “deeply concerned” that such an extraordinary security breach could occur.
He said he had “personally dealt with” and sanctioned a number of officers over their roles in the leak.
“Given the personal nature of sanctions, I will not be commenting further on these,” Dr Parkinson said.
“The department has put in place a system to digitally track the movement, custodianship and disposal of secure cabinets, supported by a revised protocol for handling secure cabinets and an audit program to monitor and ensure compliance.”
The breach was not motivated by criminal or malicious intent, the AFP found.
Dr Parkinson said he had also received a report on security practices by former top public servant Ric Smith and “wholeheartedly” accepted all its recommendations.
His department was now taking steps to digitally track secure cabinets, train officers in security risk management and drive cultural change.
The Smith review said the filing cabinets contained about 300 documents that were collated in the year to mid-2014 and likely left the department’s control between January and March 2016.
With the cabinets not checked for records because the keys were missing, the report recommends that the Federal Government considers simply destroying secure containers.
Other agencies across the public service have also reviewed their security arrangements.