Overview of ASIO

ASIO protects Australia and Australians from threats to their security.

Our functions are set out in section 17 of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation Act 1979(ASIO Act).

‘Security’ is defined in section 4 of the ASIO Act as the protection of Australia and its people from:

  • espionage;
  • sabotage;
  • politically motivated violence;
  • promotion of communal violence;
  • attacks on Australia’s defence system; or
  • acts of foreign interference;
    whether directed from, or committed within, Australia or not; and
  • the protection of Australia’s territorial and border integrity from serious threats.

ASIO achieves its purpose by obtaining, correlating, evaluating and communicating intelligence relevant to security. Our anticipatory role means we pursue intelligence which enables the detection of adverse security events at their earliest stage.

We protect Australia and Australians by:

  • understanding Australia’s security environment and identifying security threats;
  • hardening the environment against future threats; and
  • disrupting threats to reduce harm.

We communicate and advise to inform operational action, government decision-making, policy development and community resilience. We work with other agencies and authorities to achieve outcomes that reduce harm to Australia’s national interest.

The Director-General of Security is an independent statutory office holder with specific responsibilities under the ASIO Act to ensure the work of the Organisation is limited to what is necessary to discharge ASIO’s functions.

The Director-General is responsible for ensuring ASIO is free from any influences or considerations not relevant to its functions, and to ensure nothing is done that might suggest that ASIO seeks to further or protect the interests of any particular section of the community.

In 2020–21, ASIO pursued its purpose to protect Australia and Australians from threats to their security through five key priorities:

  • counter-terrorism;
  • counter–espionage and foreign interference;
  • border security;
  • ASIO’s reform program; and
  • governance and accountability.

Part 4 of this report summarises our performance in relation to these key activities during 2020–21.

Commitment to legality and propriety

ASIO operates in proportion to the threats Australia faces, within the letter and the spirit of the law, and in line with the standards and expectations of the Australian community. We are subject to a comprehensive oversight and accountability framework which underpins and supports our commitment to legality and propriety.

ASIO’s accountable authority

Period as the accountable authority within the reporting period

Name Position title/
Position held
Date of commencement Date of cessation
Mike Burgess Director-General of Security 15 September 2019 N/A

Mr Mike Burgess, Director-General of Security, was ASIO’s accountable authority during the 2020–21 reporting period.

Mr Burgess commenced as Director-General of Security on 15 September 2019.

Ordinary Australians who do extraordinary things

ASIO is an Organisation with a clear mission—to protect Australia and Australians from threats to their security. ASIO’s people are its most important asset for achieving its mission—they are ordinary Australians who do extraordinary things. In a complex, challenging and changing security environment, our success is built on the imagination and intelligence of our team.

ASIO’s staff routinely do things that seem impossible, but after work they face the same challenges, worries and duties we all have. They are your neighbours, friends and members of your community. They pay mortgages, coach sporting teams, care for loved ones, and volunteer to fight fires or patrol beaches. They are former nurses, teachers, trades specialists, musicians, engineers, athletes and journalists. They are proud Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. They are introverted, extroverted and neurodiverse.

Agility and ingenuity are at the core of ASIO’s operations. ASIO’s staff need to be able to out-think and out-manoeuvre Australia’s adversaries. Our people are creative, lateral and critical thinkers. They are problem-solvers and committed team members who want to make a difference.

ASIO requires and desires diversity. We have a diverse and inclusive environment where all staff are valued, respected, included and safe. We want all ASIO officers to bring their whole selves to work, to contribute their unique skills, experiences and perspectives.

In 2020–21 we recruited 116 new staff, and we will continue to build on this over the next 12 months. With diverse roles in analysis, communications, human resources, information technology, intelligence, languages and law, ASIO offers exceptional careers for exceptional people.

Join the mission

Organisational structure

Figure 1: ASIO’s organisational structure at 30 June 2021