Australia foreign minister Julie Bishop likely exposed 'highly sensitive' material to partner: Report

Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop may have exposed "highly sensitive" documents to her partner during a UN meeting in New York last year, according to a media report.
Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop may have exposed "highly sensitive" documents to her partner during a UN meeting in New York last year, according to a media report.PHOTO: AFP

CANBERRA (Xinhua) - 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 meeting in New York last year, a media report said on Wednesday (May 4).

In September 2015, Bishop caused a stir back home in Australia when property developer and long-time partner David Panton was permitted to sit alongside her during the Sustainable Development Summit.

The Australian media initially criticised Bishop on the grounds it may have breached UN protocol. But on Wednesday a report by News Corp suggested Panton may have also saw sensitive documents while sitting alongside the foreign minister.

Photos of the pair seated together clearly show 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 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," Thistlethwaite told News Corp on Wednesday.

A spokeswoman for Bishop said on Wednesday the folder was "for the foreign minister's use" only, and denied that Panton was "provided with any classified documents at any time".

However, the photograph shows the secretive 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 Mebarak.

The material did not carry a formal national-security classification, but DFAT has rejected public access to the document.