PM&C’s efforts didn’t really halt ABC’s ‘The Cabinet Files’ stories after all

By Harley Dennett

Wednesday April 11, 2018

Former Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull speaking during a Cabinet meeting.

The ABC was already done with the leaked cabinet papers and planned to hand them over before Dr Martin Parkinson called to seek the surrender of the sensitive documents, it was revealed in an estimates spillover session earlier today.

Alan Sunderland, ABC’s editorial director, was dismissive of the great and powerful Senate under questioning at the estimates hearing, telling Senator Kristina Keneally that “with the greatest of respect, I’m not particularly interested in proving to the Senate” that the ABC’s version of events that caused so much security concern in Canberra was true.

Nor did he budge on any question that might reveal the individual who provided the papers to ABC freedom of information editor Michael McKinnon — a brother to three senior public service officials — other than to confirm contact was made via a phone call.

Nor was there much fear at the ABC about retaliation by officials from the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, with Sunderland confirming that journalistic public interest was the key criteria for deciding what would and would not be published. He rejected any comparison to Wikileaks, which thinks “every document should be published”. ABC managing director Michelle Guthrie added that national security implications were also a consideration.

The source of the stories was not revealed until the ninth publication in the ABC series — that story about the source being a lost filing cabinet from PM&C — by which time they had already published everything they wanted to from the source materials. After that revelation, PM&C croaked into action. But by the time Dr Parkinson called “we were finished with them,” Sunderland told the hearing.

Why only nine stories, out of so many cabinet records, Keneally asked. “This is not a Pentagon Papers leak designed to uncover a scandal,” Sunderland said. “These were routine documents … it became fairly clear the vast majority were about decisions that have since been made public. We did not leave important stories untold.”

Click through to this tweet for a thread on what Senator Keneally took away from the hearing:

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