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Cabinet Files comedy is Wes Anderson-worthy

  • 01 February 2018


The first, honest reception to the news that hundreds of classified government documents were obtained by the ABC via secondhand cabinets would be: laughter.

It is hilarious, almost deus ex machina in contrivance, except it did happen. One or a few people in the not-distant past, likely clearing out an office, discover a couple of locked filing cabinets. The keys cannot be found.

Somehow, the items get carted to a Canberra op-shop, where they are 'purchased for small change'. According to ABC reporters who go on to unpack their contents, it took nothing more than a drill. I would pay for Wes Anderson to direct this movie.

There is something exquisite about the human foible that lies at the heart of the story. The incompetence of bureaucracies is ultimately about and because of the people that run them. It also far from the first time that confidential information was breached or leaked.

In 2014, the immigration department inadvertently leaked an online database containing personal details of thousands of asylum seekers in detention. Last year, an investigation by The Guardian found Medicare details were being sold by a darknet vendor. Staff passwords and credit card accounts at the social services department have also been compromised. Lest we forget, a writer had her personal details provided to a journalist by Centrelink after she criticised its debt recovery process.

Too few inversions of this dynamic of power ever come along. So we are allowed to laugh at the incongruities of the moment: that a) despite our digital milieu, some careless handling of furniture can still go a long way toward embarrassing people, and b) that those same people have expanded surveillance mechanisms and presided over lapses in data security. It schadens our freude, for sure.

What is far less funny are confirmations of what we already know or suspected. That politicians regard young people as expendable. That proposed amendments to discrimination laws included input from a columnist who had breached those laws.


"There is nothing shocking here. The only people feeling scandalised are those being named, and their mortification is far less about ethics of behaviour than exposure."


That antagonistic counter-terrorism measures would erode lawful norms, if unchecked. That executive power means that a prime minister with a partisan vendetta could still override advice from government lawyers and his own department. That the politicisation of immigration potentially compromises security agencies, as shown by ministerial bids to jeopardise protection claims.

There is nothing