No charges will be laid following a federal police investigation into the “unbelievably negligent” disappearance of hundreds of classified documents from Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull’s department.
The country’s most senior public servant, Martin Parkinson, is under pressure to explain how the documents disappeared from within his department inside a locked cabinet sold at a second-hand furniture sale in Canberra, ultimately winding up in the hands of ABC journalists.
Mr Turnbull has said he wants heads to roll over the incident, which he described as “a disgraceful, almost unbelievable act of negligence” that beggared belief.
That will now be an internal matter for his department after the Australian Federal Police confirmed it had finished investigating the issue and would not lay charges.
“The AFP has conducted a thorough investigation into this matter, which is now concluded, and we will be taking no further action,” a federal police spokesman told Fairfax Media.
The nature of the AFP’s findings remains a mystery, including the exact timing of the files’ disappearance. The Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet confirmed it had received the report and was considering a response. It refused to say how long it had been sitting on the report, but Fairfax Media understands the investigation finished more than two weeks ago.
Described as one of the biggest national security breaches in Australian history, the Cabinet Files revealed secret cabinet discussions during the Howard, Rudd, Gillard and Abbott governments.
The furniture was bought on the cheap by a “bushie”, who discovered the documents that lurked within and handed them over to the ABC, which subsequently published nine stories covering refugee policy, welfare cuts, the NBN and other lost documents.
Mr Parkinson has already conceded that losing the documents, including many “top secret” files, has cast his department “in a poor light” and reflects badly on the rest of the public service. He has initiated an internal review of the department’s security processes and culture.
Commonwealth officers are criminally liable if they disclose secret government information without authority. Mr Turnbull had harboured high hopes for the AFP investigation.
“We want to see that completed, and we want to see those responsible for this negligence identified and dealt with appropriately,” he told the ABC’s Insiders program in early February.
“The idea that public servants entrusted with highly confidential documents would put them in a safe, lock the safe, lose the keys and then sell the safe without checking what was in it – it beggars belief.”
On Sunday, Mr Turnbull’s office said it was a matter for the department.
The ABC controversially agreed to hand the documents back to the government after publishing its stories, a decision the broadcaster has since defended, saying that it had no further use for the documents.