CANBERRA • Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop may have inadvertently allowed her partner to view "highly sensitive" documents by inviting him onto the floor of a United Nations (UN) meeting in New York last year.
In September last year, Ms Bishop caused a stir back home in Australia when property developer and long-time partner David Panton was permitted to sit with her during the Sustainable Development Summit, reported Xinhua.
The Australian media initially criticised Ms Bishop on the grounds that it may have breached UN protocol, but a report surfaced yesterday suggesting that Mr Panton may have also gazed on sensitive documents while sitting there.
Photos of the pair seated together clearly show Mr Panton sitting in front of a white folder, which a former senior diplomat told News Corp would have definitely contained "personal details" about diplomats and world leaders.
The source said the information, gathered by Australian authorities, could be "reasonably expected to endanger life or physical safety" if it fell into the wrong hands.
Labor frontbencher Matt Thistlethwaite said Ms Bishop had "serious questions" to answer if her actions led to a breach of private, politically sensitive information.
"As Australia's chief diplomat, the Foreign Minister has access to highly sensitive material, the handling of which requires the utmost discretion and professionalism," Mr Thistlethwaite told News Corp yesterday.
A spokesman for Ms Bishop said yesterday that the folder was "for the Foreign Minister's use" only, and denied that Mr Panton was "provided with any classified documents at any time".
However, the photograph shows the folder open to a page with images and information regarding UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon, as well as Unicef goodwill ambassador and Colombian singer Shakira, said Xinhua. Other tabs included the "World Bank".
The material did not carry a formal national security classification, but the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade has rejected public access to the document as it could "cause damage to the international relations of the Commonwealth".
The agency said: "It could raise doubts about Australia's ability to protect information, including the subject matter of high-level discussions.... The exempt material comprises personal details of private individuals which... would involve the unreasonable disclosure of their personal information."