Senate Estimates: Finance and Public Administration Legislation Committee (Prime Minister and Cabinet)

Finance and Public Administration Legislation Committee




Office of the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security


Senator RHIANNON: Considering Minister Brandis, in explaining to parliament about the ASIO raid on the Canberra office of lawyer Bernard Collaery, omitted vital information, including three critical developments—(1) the allegation that ASIS had bugged the Dili offices used by the East Timor government in order to spy on negotiations regarding the Timor Sea developments; (2) that an ASIS employee had received approval to speak to Collaery about complaints and concerns; and (3) that the lawyer whose office was raided had been a long-approved lawyer in acting for ASIO, ASIS and other security officers—has IGIS considered the minister's statement and has IGIS considered the raid on Mr Collaery's office? 

Dr Thom : Let me say at the outset that my office doesn't have the jurisdiction to oversee actions of any minister, so it wouldn't be appropriate for me to make any comment on any minister's statement. In terms of the second matter, whether I have looked at the issues relating to the execution of ASIO's search warrant, I have requested a briefing from ASIO and reviewed the warrant documentation, as I usually would for sensitive cases, and I didn't identify any concerns in that matter. 

Senator RHIANNON: It has also been reported that the director-general of ASIS and his deputy instructed a team of ASIS technicians to travel to East Timor and to use Australian aid programs as cover to insert listening devices into the wall of the government cabinet office constructed under an Australian aid program. Have you considered these developments. 

Dr Thom : I can't comment on whether any particular activities have or have not occurred. I think that by giving any answer to that question I would be commenting on the operational activities of an intelligence agency, which I can't do. 

Senator RHIANNON: Looking at it in a general context, has IGIS considered the impact that intelligence agencies that use overseas aid organisations or aid programs to assist with their security operations or as cover for their security operations have on the safety and security of people in those organisations or associated with aid agencies? 

Dr Thom : I think that by providing any comments to that question I would be providing comments on the assumption related to that question, which I can't do. I am sorry, I think, again, operational matters are beyond my comments. 

Senator RHIANNON: That was in no way an operational matter. It really is a policy issue with regard to the possible interaction between aid agencies and intelligence agencies, which has come up periodically in the past decade. Is this an issue that you have ever given any consideration to? 

Dr Thom : Again, I believe it is an operational matter of the agency. I can't comment on any particular activity of the agency. 

Senator RHIANNON: You regard it as an operational matter because of what has happened in East Timor? 

Dr Thom : Again, I can't comment on the assumptions you are making in your questions. 

Senator RHIANNON: Do you have any position on using aid programs or aid organisations in terms of any interaction with intelligence operations? 

Dr Thom : Again, it is an operational matter; but my office does undertake regular inspections of ASIS operational matters. If I do have concerns they are reported in my annual report, but I cannot comment on any particular activity of any agency. 

Senator RHIANNON: Is ASIO operations with regard to Australian mining companies in Africa an issue you have given attention to? 

Dr Thom : Could you repeat the question, please? 

Senator RHIANNON: Have you given attention to the work that ASIO undertakes with Australian mining companies operating in Africa? 

Dr Thom : I haven't paid particular attention to that particular issue but I am aware of ASIO's business liaison work. 

Senator RHIANNON: I am interested that you used the term 'business liaison work', because that is certainly the emphasis that comes through where it is advertised on the BLU section of the ASIO website—BLU referring to Business Liaison Unit. It states many times about being more productive, which is the term comes through. The emphasis that is given by ASIO—what we are continually told about ASIO—is that it is about security. Have you looked at whether ASIO is going outside its brief in assisting Australian companies operating mining operations in Africa, looking to assist their economic development rather than looking after the security aspects? 

Dr Thom : I haven't looked into that particular matter. 

Senator RHIANNON: Is it something that you think will come under your brief? 

Dr Thom : I would have to consider that further.