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Monday, 31 October 2005
Page: 136

Mr Melham asked the Prime Minister, in writing, on 8 February 2005:

(1)   Is it the case that the Cabinet Handbook, Fifth Edition, March 2004, provides that a record is to be kept of persons who have had access to each Cabinet document.

(2)   For each financial year since 1996-1997, how many times has his department been informed or become aware of the loss or disappearance of a Cabinet document created by his Government.

(3)   For each instance of the known loss or disappearance of a Cabinet document, (a) when was the loss or disappearance of the document reported to his department, (b) did the document have a security classification in addition to the classification of “Cabinet-in-Confidence”; if so, at what level, (c) was the document subsequently located or otherwise accounted for, and (d) was the person responsible for the safe custody of the document (i) a Minister or Parliamentary Secretary, (ii) a Member of the staff of a Minister or Parliamentary Secretary, (iii) the Secretary of a Department or an equivalent head of a statutory authority, (iv) an SES officer in the Australian Public Service (APS) or an Officer of equivalent rank in the Australian Defence Force (ADF), or (v) an APS officer or ADF Member.

Mr Howard (Prime Minister) —The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:

(1)   Yes.

(2)   I am advised that from time to time my Department, as custodian of Cabinet documents, does receive requests for replacement documents that have either been ‘mislaid’ or a hard copy inadvertently destroyed. I am further advised that, when the ‘loss’ of a Cabinet document is reported to my Department, the opportunity is normally taken to issue a strong reminder about the need for proper care in the handling and safe-keeping of Cabinet records as set out in the Cabinet Handbook. I am further advised that it has not been the practice of my Department to maintain a register of losses or disappearances of Cabinet documents reported by ministers’ offices or departments. Records in relation to any such reports are linked to the Cabinet document to which they relate. I am not prepared to authorise the extensive effort and use of resources that would be required to find the details of the small number of cases covered by the honourable member’s question.

(3)   See 2 above.