Attorney General investigates alleged cabinet leak in book exposing Morrison's ministry secrets

Prime Minister and Cabinet Department says alleged leak could face criminal investigation

The prime minister's department has found a book revealing Scott Morrison's secret ministry containing classified cabinet information and has referred the matter to the attorney general for a possible criminal investigation.

The Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet (PMC) has referred the possible leak to the attorney general's department to consider whether "relevant criminal provisions" have been violated, Senate estimates revealed on Friday.

Plagued, written by Simon Benson and Geoff Chambers and revealing how Morrison appointed himself to several ministries in his government, also contains details of the cabinet's Australian national security committee (NSC) deliberations. This includes discussion of the government's approach to dealing with China, the decision-making process behind closing Australia's borders in early 2020, and discussions around Australia's defense posture.

The book details comments made by Morrison at the NSC meeting in April 2020, where tensions with China were discussed.

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"Don't doubt China's capacity and will to exploit Covid-19," Morrison said at the meeting, according to the book.

In the next NSC meeting on April 20, 2020, “Morrison took the decision to up the ante with Beijing”, saying at the meeting “it is time to be more vocal in his language about China's behavior”.

"'We need a lot of points to push this counter-attack,' he told them."

On Friday, PMC's first assistant secretary, John Reid, said the department had reviewed the books and the information on them "to determine whether they are accurate or otherwise".

"We have referred the information to the attorney general's department," he told the Senate estimate.

"Our conclusion is that it clearly discloses information which, until disclosed, is cabinet material, and would normally be protected under the principle of cabinet secrecy."

Reid said he was "not aware" if other agencies were investigating the matter, but explained that it had been referred to the attorney general's department for setting out "relevant criminal provisions" relating to disclosure of protected information.

"Any action taken in relation to this will be within their scope," Reid said. Asked if the PMC would cooperate with the criminal investigation, he replied: "Absolutely."

"Clearly, the government in general has observed a strong convention that such cabinet discussions take place and should remain confidential," he said.

"[But] it is a matter for the prime minister of the day to decide that various information should be released."

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