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The man conducting an “independent review” into “missing” cabinet documents from the secret 2003 meetings of Australia’s National Security Committee — was at those meetings.

Dennis Richardson was Director-General of Australian intelligence agency ASIO from 1996, when he was appointed by the newly-elected Howard Coalition Government, until 2005.

The Howard Government committed Australia to the US-led invasion of Iraq in March 2003.

According to a National Archives of Australia document, the National Security Committee held “64 meetings” in the 2002-03 financial year – with the ASIO Director-General present at all of them.

Last week, in an unprecedented event, the department of Prime Minister & Cabinet (PM&C) announced it had not handed over all of the 2003 cabinet papers to the National Archives of Australia, citing “administrative oversights”.

On January 1 each year, cabinet records from 20 years earlier are released by the National Archives, which obtains them from PM&C three years in advance.

Yet in a January 1 statement, PM&C announced a “small number” of cabinet records had not been handed over in 2020.

There had been “apparent administrative oversights” by PM&C, as well as, it said, “the Archives and security agencies”.

In the same statement, PM&C said it had appointed a “Mr Dennis Richardson” to complete an “independent review”.

“The Secretary of the Department [PM&C secretary Glyn Davis] has appointed Mr Dennis Richardson to undertake an independent review of the 2020 transfer process and confirm that all relevant records have been transferred to the Archives,” it says.

The National Archives of Australia’s “cabinet papers in context” explainer, which it publishes each year alongside its January 1 release of cabinet papers, sets out the National Security Council’s 2003 structure.

A small number of senior government officials, including the head of ASIO, “attended all meetings”, with “ministers on one side of the table and officials on the other”, says the document.

“Senior officials…(including the head of) ASIO — attended all meetings” — National Archives

Dennis Richardson was ASIO boss in 2003. Source: ABC


“The NSC consisted of senior ministers whose discussions ranged over defence, security, intelligence matters and some foreign issues,” it states.

“Senior officials – the Chief of Defence Force, the secretaries of Defence, Prime Minister and Cabinet, Foreign Affairs and Trade, and the heads of the Office of National Assessments (ONA) and the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) – attended all meetings, with ministers on one side of the table and officials on the other”.

The National Security Committee (NSC) held 64 meetings in the 2002-03 financial year, the document states.

“The NSC held 64 meetings in the 2002-03 financial year” — National Archives

PM&C’s January 1 statement makes no mention of Richardson’s public service past, including as ASIO boss, and does not state how the review is “independent”.

Richardson left the public service in 2017. He has been engaged by PM&C as a private citizen.

(As previously reported, Richardson has been given more than $1 million worth of Federal Government contracts since 2018, including a $50,000-a-month contract from PM&C between August and October last year).

PM&C has refused to respond to written questions from The Klaxon for over a week.

Richardson did not respond to written questions, including whether he considered a potential conflict to exist between him conducting the “review” into the “missing” papers, and having also been present and involved in the relevent NSC meetings.


Dennis Richardson

1996–2005: ASIO Director-General

2005-2010: Australian Ambassador to US

Jan 2010-Oct 2012: Secretary of DFAT

Oct 2012-May 2017: Secretary of Department of Defence


ASIO is predominately responsible for intelligence gathering inside Australia, while the Australian Secret Intelligence Services (ASIS), is predominately responsible for intelligence gathering outside Australia, although the operations of both overlap.

“ASIO does operate internationally, and in special situations, ASIS will gather intelligence domestically”, ASIS says.

ASIO’s annual report for the year to June 30, 2003, states its roles include “foreign intelligence”, including “collecting foreign intelligence in Australia” and collecting foreign intelligence “through ASIO’s security intelligence investigations and liaison with overseas partners”.

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Questions The Klaxon put to ex-ASIO boss Dennis Richardson.


The NSC is high-powered and secretive arm of cabinet, whose decisions do not require the approval of the full cabinet.

(The cabinet is comprised of all Federal ministers and assistant ministers, while only a small number of select senior ministers, including the Prime Minister, are part of the NSC).

“The NSC considers the highest-priority, highest risk and most strategic national security matters of the day,” it states.

“Decisions of the NSC do not require the endorsement of the Cabinet”.

“Decisions of the NSC do not require the endorsement of the Cabinet”

On March 18, 2003, Howard committed Australia to the US-led invasion of Iraq, under the premise it was harbouring “weapons of mass destruction”.

The invasion has been described as one of the worst foreign policy failures in Australia’s history.

Iraq had no weapons of mass destruction. The invasion kicked off a sectarian civil war, with more than 200,000 people killed.

The cost to Australia has been estimated at $2.4 billion.

Unlike the UK, where the Chilcot inquiry delivered highly-damning findings, Australia has never had a proper inquiry into how it entered the war.

Just one document regarding Iraq was released by National Archives on January 1.

It is a six-page note that shows in the morning of March 18, 2003, Howard had spoken with then US President George W Bush, who had formally requested Australia join in “military action” to “disarm Iraq of its weapons of mass destruction”.

Later that morning, the full cabinet met and agreed Iraq’s “weapons” posed a direct risk to Australia’s security. Hours later Howard went to parliament with the plan to join the invasion and within two days Australian troops were on the ground in Iraq.

Howard has since suggested “intelligence” failures were to blame.



Fronting media on January 3, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese, who is the responsible minister for PM&C, said “documents for what occurred in 2003” were “provided in 2020 by the then Morrison Government to the National Archives of Australia”.

“It’s clear that there were some Cabinet records missing from that transfer from the Government,” Albansese said.

“Some 78 Cabinet records were not transferred to the National Archives.

“The head of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet has commenced an independent review that will be conducted by Dennis Richardson, as to how this failure in 2020 to provide all the appropriate documentation occurred,” Albanese said.

Albanese also did not mention Richardson’s public service past, including as the head of ASIO, and also did not state how the “review” was “independent”.

In 2020 PM&C was overseen by then Coalition Prime Minister Scott Morrison.

The Coalition was in power from 2013 to 2022, when Albanese’s ALP came to power.

It was one of, if not the most, corrupt governments in Australian history.

According to Transparency International, from 2012 to 2022 Australia fell faster toward corruption than any other OECD nation, except for Hungary, with which it tied.

When he fronted the media last week, Albanese said invading Iraq was “an issue which did not have bipartisan support”, with the ALP opposed at the time.

Asked whether he was concerned there had been a “cover-up” regarding the “missing” cabinet papers, Albanese responded: “Well, that’s why we have asked Dennis Richardson to do the review. I’m not aware of the circumstances, obviously”.

“There is no public servant in Australia who is more respected than Dennis Richardson,” Albanese said.

He said there was a “need for transparency” and “a need for the release of these documents”.

Richardson would “report within the next two weeks about these circumstances”, Albanese said.

The January 1 PM&C statement, and Albanese’s January 3 press conference, are the only public comments the Federal Government has made on the affair.

Richardson was given a $50,000-a-month contract by PM&C just months ago. Source: The Klaxon


Andrew Wilkie, who has been an Independent Federal MP since 2010 and is a former intelligence analyst, has accused the government of a cover-up.

“The government…has done a masterful job, we see, at burying the hard evidence of what went on within the NSW paperwork,” Wilkie told SBS News.

“The public needs to know the basis for the decision-making, what people were thinking, what advice they were getting, why they did what they did”.

Wilkie is a former analyst of the Office of National Intelligence (ONI), another key Australian intelligence agency. He resigned from the ONI in March 2003, over the decision to go to war.

“Federal MP Andrew Wilkie, an intelligence analyst in 2003, has accused the government of a cover-up”

Wilkie told SBS News the Office of National Intelligence (ONI) had become politicised and “fallen into line”.

Yet, he said, in 2003 the intelligence community was divided, with the Defence Intelligence Organisation, another key Australian intelligence agency, believing there “was quite a bit of uncertainty about the situation on the ground”.

Regarding the “missing” cabinet papers, Wilkie said: “Until we see this paperwork, we can’t hold people to account, and we can’t learn from what was a shocking error in Australian foreign and security policy”.

Robert Hill, the defence minister in 2003, told SBS News the NSC had been central to the decision to invade Iraq.

Hill said the NSC had been “regularly briefed by the heads of intelligence agencies in the lead up to the invasion”, SBS News writes.

“The NSC had been “regularly briefed” by the heads of intelligence agencies”

Last week’s National Archives explainer states there were 64 meetings of the NSC in the 2002-03 financial year and 32 NSC meetings in 2003-04.

“The large jump in the business of the NSC in 2003 coincided with the Iraq War,” it states.


Dennis Richardson

Richardson was ASIO Director-General from 1996, Howard’s first year in power, to 2005.

He was then appointed to the plumb position of Australian Ambassador to the US, position he held until 2010.

From 2010 to 2012 Richardson was the head of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), the department that houses intelligence agency ASIS.

From 2012 to 2017, when he retired from the public service, Richardson was the Secretary of the Department of Defence.

Richardson is a director Linfox. Source: Linfox


Richardson is currently a director of Linfox, the trucking and logistics empire owned by Melbourne multi-billionaire Lindsay Fox.

From 2018, not including the most recent PM&C “independent review”, Richardson has been given three Federal Government contracts.

In 2018, under the Morrison Government, the Attorney-General’s department awarded Richardson a two-year contract for $800,000.

In May last year the Department of Defence awarded Richardson a contract for $81,700, and in August last year PM&C awarded Richardson a $148,000 contact — or $50,000-a-month — between August 2 and October 31.

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More than $1m in contracts to Richardson. Source: AusTender


Key Questions

In its January 1 statement, PM&C described the 2020 failure to hand over the documents as “oversights” and “likely a result of Covid-19”.

“The 2020 transfer of a small number of additional 2003 Cabinet records did not take place as it should have due to apparent administrative oversights by the Department, the Archives and security agencies,” it said.

“These oversights were likely as a result of COVID-19 disruptions at the time”.

“These oversights were likely as a result of COVID-19 disruptions at the time” — PM&C

No explanation was given as to how Covid-19 could be to blame for at least 78 “missing” cabinet papers.

The PM&C statement does not state who wrote it and it quotes no individuals.

Albanese is the responsible minister for PM&C.

The PM&C statement said:

“The additional records were located by the Department on 19 December 2023, and the Department and the Archives jointly inspected the records on 22 December 2023. These additional records have now been transferred to the Archives”.

PM&C has refused to respond to questions put to it by The Klaxon more than a week ago.

Unanswered: Questions The Klaxon put to PM&C on January 1.


We have asked when PM&C first became aware cabinet documents had not been handed over.

The PM&C statement says “the additional records” were “located” by PM&C on December 19 — but not when PM&C first became aware of the matter.

Last week Albanese said the “current head of PM&C”, Glyn Davis, “was only notified of the failure to forward the 78 documents just before Christmas”.

Yet Albanese did not say when “PM&C” first became aware of the matter.

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Anthony Klan

Editor, The Klaxon

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