Megan’s story: the most ethical environment I have worked in

As a kid growing up in Far North Queensland, the idea of working for the Australian Government, let alone an intelligence agency, felt remote. Even when I moved to Canberra, ASIO seemed like an enigma—I saw the striking building and wondered what was happening inside.

Now I’m an ASIO lawyer, supporting our operational and corporate functions. It’s without a doubt the best place I’ve worked. I have a much closer relationship to my clients than in a law firm—my focus isn’t on billable hours or schmoozing clients. I’m a trusted legal advisor who works collaboratively with operational and analytical areas to stop terrorists and catch spies.

Before joining ASIO, my first legal role was in a General Counsel’s area dealing with freedom of information requests and privacy complaints. While I liked the people I worked with, I wanted a new challenge. When I saw a recruitment advertisement for ASIO, I figured I had nothing to lose.

The recruitment process was intriguing. My first interview was in a hotel room, which felt a bit like a John le Carré novel. There were several stages, and the process was quite cryptic at times, but that seemed apt for an intelligence agency. When I was offered the job, I was excited but still apprehensive. I decided to take a leap of faith.

My first impression of ASIO confirmed I’d made the right decision. The induction was mind-blowing. The operational case studies were fascinating, and ASIO’s work was the difference between life and death in many cases. Crucially for me, the oversight is incredible, and everyone feels the weight of the powers that can be exercised. While I can’t tell my sceptical lawyer friends about my employment at ASIO, I wish I could at least say this: ASIO is the most ethical environment I have ever worked in.

Throughout my career at ASIO I have worked in a number of legal areas, including administrative and operations law. It’s stimulating and varied work. As any lawyer will tell you, legal advice turns on the facts, and the facts in ASIO are always interesting. Many of the legal issues are novel or complex, especially in untested or ‘grey’ environments. I’m not a spy—I’m a lawyer—but I know the work I do emphatically enables ASIO’s mission. A personal highlight was when I oversaw a complex legal matter that resulted in the removal of a foreign intelligence agent from Australia. The direct impact of my work on Australia’s national security has been deeply motivating.

As I reflect on my time in ASIO, I realise that the people have been a major reason I’ve enjoyed myself so much. They’re hard-working, fun, professional and ethical. They’re passionate about their work, and many have been here for over a decade. They’re not clichéd spies, they’re your neighbours and friends—ordinary people who do extraordinary things.