In January 2018, the Australian Broadcast Corporation (ABC) reported that a trove of highly-classified Australian government files were found in two filing cabinets that had been sold by a secondhand store in Canberra, the nation’s capital. ABC explained how the cabinets, which had been sold for just $10 each, sat for months in a dusty shed outside Canberra, fastened shut with padlocks. However, when the new owner – an unnamed outdoorsman – took a drill to the padlocks, he discovered scores of documents that had first-hand accounts of the Howard, Rudd, Gillard, and Abbott governments. 

The vast majority of the documents were classified, with some marked “top secret” or “AUSTEO,” which stands for Australian eyes only. As the outdoorsman read the material, he noticed several instances of politicians declaring one thing and doing another, so he passed the documents to ABC’s Michael McKinnon, a journalist known for advocating government transparency. 

After careful consideration, McKinnon published numerous revelations. For example, Tony Abbott’s government considered banning anyone under 30 from receiving unemployment benefits. Also, John Howard’s coalition, which governed from 1996 until 2007, gave “serious consideration” to removing citizens’ right to remain silent when questioned by police. Alarmingly, another document disclosed that the Australian Federal Police (AFP) lost nearly 400 national security files in five years. McKinnon said, “I remember looking at these documents and thinking this is the real deal … it was clear to me there was a public interest in the public knowing this material.”