Director-General Statement: ASIO Amendment Bill 2020

Mr Mike Burgess, Director-General of Security

10 December 2020

I welcome the passage of Australian Security Intelligence Organisation Amendment Bill 2020. The Bill contains strong safeguards, imposes rigorous oversight, and will meaningfully assist us to protect Australia and Australians from threats to their security. I anticipate circumstances will require us to use some of the new powers within months.

The Bill repeals ASIO’s more intrusive detention powers, and replaces them with a significantly less intrusive compulsory questioning warrant framework. ASIO already has the power to compulsorily question suspected terrorists; allowing us to compulsorily question suspected spies will close a critical intelligence gap. There have been multiple occasions already this year when compulsory questioning would have assisted ASIO investigations into alleged espionage or foreign interference.

As national security threats evolve, ASIO’s ability to respond must also evolve. The Bill ensures ASIO has the tools it needs to keep Australians safe in a complex, challenging and changing security environment:

  • Attempts at foreign interference and espionage are at extreme levels – foreign spies and their proxies from a range of countries are trying to steal our secrets, undermine our sovereignty and intimidate diaspora communities;
  • The terrorist threat remains PROBABLE;
  • Extremists such as neo-Nazis are more organised, sophisticated and ideologically driven than before;
  • Battle-hardened foreign fighters are seeking to return to Australia;
  • Multiple convicted terrorists are due to be released from jail; and
  • Australians are being radicalised at ever-younger ages.

I acknowledge ASIO is granted extraordinary powers – but they are rightly subject to strict safeguards and oversight. Australians should be confident that ASIO acts in a targeted, proportionate, ethical way, and wherever possible, uses the least intrusive method available to collect security intelligence.

We do not just do what is legal, we do what is right.