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The Cabinet Appears To Have Its Own WhatsApp Groupchat

There's also probably a WhatsApp group just for the Australian cabinet.

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The prime minister's cybersecurity adviser has confirmed Malcolm Turnbull and senior cabinet members communicate via WhatsApp, despite no specific security clearance for the chat app.

Lukas Coch / AAPIMAGE

The messaging app was at the centre of a heated debate in Senate estimates on Monday as Labor's Penny Wong asked for confirmation that WhatsApp was not on the Australian Signals Directorate's list of approved platforms for sensitive communication.

"Yes, senator," said the PM's cybersecurity adviser Alastair MacGibbon, who suggested Turnbull knew which types of communication could be sent over the app and which types could not.

MacGibbon said he and others in government regularly communicated over WhatsApp, which sends its messages with an encrypted protection.

"[Turnbull] has communicated with me on WhatsApp and nothing at all of a national security nature. It would be the same as if he sent me a text message to ask me to go to his office, or a phone call."

It emerged last week that ministers and staffers had taken to using the app within the highest levels of the government, but Allan Mckinnon from the department of prime minister and cabinet said Turnbull understood that he couldn't use the app for sensitive information.

"He is well aware of what he can use on apps and what he can’t," said Mckinnon.

Along with the app, prime minister Turnbull uses a private email server to communicate with government colleagues and non-government people.

Wong then asked attorney general George Brandis whether the ministers in cabinet had their own specific WhatsApp group.

Mick Tsikas / AAPIMAGE

"Well... that’s a definitional issue I think," replied Brandis.

"No no no, on WhatsApp you can set up a group where you can communicate, do you have a cabinet group?" asked Wong.

Brandis didn't want to provide a "technical description", which suggested the cabinet did indeed have its own group.

The PM's cybersecurity adviser said that just like text messages, WhatsApp conversations were subject to Freedom of Information laws.

The attorney general said the communication on the app was "nothing of public sensitivity ", so was pushed by Wong to release his WhatsApp conversations.

"Are you prepared to give us a copy of your cabinet WhatsApp chat? You can export it as a text file," said Wong.

"It is entirely unremarkable," replied Brandis.

Wong asked again, "well then why don't you give us a copy of the chat?"

Brandis then sat in silence for several seconds and did not reply.

Mark Di Stefano is a Media and Politics Reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.

Contact Mark Di Stefano at mark.distefano@buzzfeed.com.

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