Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee Wednesday 25 May 2011
Senator LUDLAM: Thanks, Mr Irvine, for your opening statement. I might pick you up on something that you mentioned there particularly with regard to online security. Is there anything you are able to tell us about attempts to compromise the security of this very building? Do you have anything you would like to add on the subject?
Mr Irvine: I am sorry, I do not have anything I would like to add on that. It is government policy that ASIO not comment on operational matters.
Senator LUDLAM: I have heard you say that to me a couple of times so I should have known that is where you would go. Maybe we will start off then before Senator Hanson-Young gets here on the fortress that is under construction down on the lake. I wonder if you can give us an update. In this budget it appears on my reading that there is another $69 million increase from 2010-11 for capital outlays. Is that unexpected expenditure-could you account for that for us please?
Mr Irvine: My knowledge is that the project as a building project is running within the current budget of $589 million. It is on schedule and it is expected to be handed over to ASIO on target in the middle of next year. With regard to the additional funding I will hand over to my colleague who can explain exactly what that means.
Mr Fricker: It does not represent new funding. It does not represent a budget overrun if that was the implication in the question.
Senator LUDLAM: I guess it was.
Mr Fricker: It is on schedule as the director-general has just said and that is according to the schedule of the construction.
Senator LUDLAM: Has that funding been brought forward then? Page 241 of the PBS says that the $69 million is primarily relating to that building. Is that funding that has been brought forward unexpectedly?
Mr Fricker: There has been some rephasing of some of the running costs of the building to pick up on when we actually move into the building and those running costs are incurred. The equity injection for the new equipment in the building remains in accordance with budget predictions. What we have done to maximise the cost-effectiveness of the move is prolong the life of some of our existing equipment and so some of the funding for replacement of existing equipment has been pushed out one year. I will have a look in the PBS in a moment, but the funding you may be referring to there is the cost of replacement. I think there is $19 million for the cost of replacing existing equipment. That is being timed so that we can retire equipment in the old building and have new equipment in the new building rather than replace the equipment now and then have to move it.
Senator LUDLAM: Maybe that is the breakout I was referring to. Stating that that $69 million is primarily relating to that structure, I am wondering what else it relates to, but perhaps that is what you mean-it is equipment rather than construction costs per se.
Mr Fricker: That is right. So of the $61 million, $19.2 million is for replacing existing assets and $41.5 million represents equity and equity injection for the new building.
Senator LUDLAM: Thank you.
Senator LUDLAM: No problem. Unfortunately, Senator Hanson-Young is not able to make it now. On the subject of the security checks and clearances that ASIO does on asylum seekers, my understanding is that you do two different kinds, broadly. The initial one is to briefly ascertain that somebody is okay to be released into the community while the longer term review occurs. The other is the longer term security review. Let us just test that that is the case.
Mr Irvine: With regard to irregular maritime arrivals, yes, that is the case.
Senator LUDLAM: Are those tasks substantially performed by the same people?
Mr Irvine: We work closely in cooperation with the Department of Immigration and Citizenship in that there is a partnership in those processes.
Senator LUDLAM: But they are delegating the actual security task to ASIO?
Mr Irvine: No, it is not a question of delegation. It is our function to manage the security process for those people. I wonder whether it would help if I were to give you an understanding, from our point of view, of the visa security assessment process. Would that be useful?
Senator LUDLAM: I think it probably would, but I just want to pre-empt you with the main question that I wanted to ask, which is how long those brief checks actually take. So please bear that in mind as you step us through the process.
Mr Irvine: I think it might be useful if I went into it a bit because, as you know, there has been quite a bit of speculation and I think some confusion about ASIO's role in this process. The fact is that ASIO and DIAC have a longstanding arrangement for the referral of visa applications to ASIO for security assessment purposes. These apply whether we are talking about irregular maritime arrivals on Christmas Island or elsewhere, or claimants for protection visas or any other visa types. The criteria under which that referral process takes place have beendetermined by ASIO. It is an ASIO managed process right across the board. It is an intelligence led process, it is a risk managed process and it involves close cooperation with DIAC. If you do not mind, I will not go specifically into what the criteria are that we set within that process because to talk about it publicly would compromise the integrity of the process.
The next thing to say is that the nature of the security checking is on a case-by-case basis. It is not determined solely by nationality, by ethnic origins or by religious or other reasons. The checking that we carry out varies according to the purpose for which we have been asked to make the check. This comes into the question you have asked. We make two types of assessment in respect of IMAs, as you have said. The first one is to determine suitability for community based detention and the second one is to determine the suitability for an individual to reside permanently in Australia. The level of checking that we undertake is commensurate ultimately with the level of risk we assess the individual to have.
This referral process has been developed in consultation with DIAC. What it has done, particularly recently, is enable us to streamline security checking for what I will call non-complex cases and that is commensurate with the level of risk that they present. What it does is allow us to focus our most intensive security investigation effort into the groups or individuals of most security concern. The result is, I believe, particularly in recent times, that our security checking has become more thorough and more effective. In fact, this is evidenced in the number of adverse security assessments, which have increased as a result of our ability to focus on these complex cases.
The final point to make is that, prior to this year, it was government policy that all irregular maritime arrivals be subject to the full ASIO investigative process. In other words, every one was treated as a complex investigation. This was proving particularly difficult for everybody, partly because of the complexity of the investigations themselves and because of the numbers involved. Therefore, at the end of last year, the government agreed on two significant decisions. The first was that ASIO would refer to us for complex security checking, while it would security-check only those people who had already been accorded refugee status. In the jargon it is known as '1A met'; in other words, their refugee claims could be accepted. Prior to that, we had been conducting full investigations on every IMA, even on those people who were unlikely to be or ultimately not accepted. So we were wasting a lot of effort on that. That decision has relieved the pressure to some extent. The second decision was to streamline the process, use greater risk management and align the process much more closely with the process that we apply to every other visa applicant.
So what we have now is an ASIO managed process in which ASIO and the Department of Immigration and Citizenship cooperate to assess a person's security relevance. If it is considered that there is an area of concern, ASIO then conducts a fuller and more complex investigation.
Senator LUDLAM: And you conduct that initial check to see whether this is a simple or complex case?
Mr Irvine: We are working together with DIAC in an ASIO managed process to do that.
Senator LUDLAM: What I am most keen on asking is: firstly, how long does it take to do that initial check to determine whether or not a case is simple or complex?
Mr Irvine: It can take as little as a couple of days.
Senator LUDLAM: Once you have assessed that somebody has a simple case, how long does the actual test take to determine their eligibility for community based detention?
Mr Irvine: The community based detention one can be determined very quickly-again, within a couple of days.
Senator LUDLAM: So it is possible within 24 to 48 hours? I am trying to pin you down now.
Mr Irvine: Sometimes you run into issues and you get into real problems quoting average figures, but let us say that, of the 900-odd cases that have been referred to us, we have been able to get back to Immigration very quickly. Without giving you an exact figure, I do not believe that that is a significant element in the time consumed by this process.
Senator LUDLAM: That is what I was most interested in. So that initial check to determine whether somebody is free to go into community based detention while the longer term work is carried out can be a matter of a day or two in many instances. I will ask you to provide on notice any statistical information that you can, recognising that the system has only been on its feet for a couple of months.
Mr Irvine: I can give you a couple of statistics. The complex cases are going to take longer and some quite a considerable time. At the moment I can say to you that, of the 6,250-odd people currently in detention, only seven per cent of those are awaiting ASIO security assessments.
Senator LUDLAM: The question as to what the rest of them are doing there is for another portfolio.
Mr Irvine: That does not mean that we are going to be able to rush through those assessments willy-nilly. These are the complex ones; they will take longer.
Senator LUDLAM: I understand. Thank you. I would like to change the subject, if I may.
CHAIR: We continue with our examination of the budget estimates of the Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee. We have before us an officer from ASIO, Mr Irvine. Senator Ludlam has the call.
Senator LUDLAM: I am going to pick up where Senator Barnett left off before the dinner break, which is on the subject of the WikiLeaks organisation. I understand you said it is not strictly within the current meaning of the ASIO Act that you would necessarily be able to surveil a civil society organisation like WikiLeaks. Is that the correct rendering of what you said?
Mr Irvine: There are no restrictions on the subjects of ASIO investigations except those prescribed in the act. It does not matter whether they are civil organisations, individuals or states. If there is a suspicion or a concern that there is a threat to security as defined in section 4 of the ASIO Act then ASIO can investigate that matter. It does so according to its perception of the seriousness of the potential threat, the imminence of that threat eventuating and so on.
Senator LUDLAM: In the instance of WikiLeaks, which we understand ASIO did give a bit of time to, did your assessment of the threat posed by that organisation meet those criteria?
Mr Irvine: I would not want to comment in any way on that. That is an operational matter. I would leave the answer there.
Senator LUDLAM: Can you tell us when ASIO started monitoring the work of WikiLeaks?
Mr Irvine: I am not even confirming that we have monitored WikiLeaks.
Senator LUDLAM: Is the capacity of ASIO to advise the government or to protect Australia's security limited, in your view, by your current legislation in relation to an organisation like this, which operates in a bit of a grey area?
Mr Irvine: No, I do not believe if WikiLeaks or any similar organisation were considered to be a threat to security that there would be any limitation on our ability to investigate that organisation.
Senator LUDLAM: Okay, and again just to test your view: you are not necessarily acknowledging tonight that you do believe they are a threat to Australia's security?
Mr Irvine: I am not confirming or denying; no, I am not acknowledging that.
Senator LUDLAM: That is what I thought. There was reporting in the media earlier this week, I think it was a piece in the Sydney Morning Herald, referring to a so-called 'WikiLeaks amendment' in the proposed legislation that is currently before the legal and constitutional affairs standing legislation committee, which effectively broadens the range of activities that ASIO would be able to undertake. Are you aware that officers of the department are referring to a specific amendment within that piece of legislation as a WikiLeaks amendment?
Mr Irvine: I read that article, frankly with some bemusement. The amendments to the legislation were considered long before WikiLeaks arrived on the scene in the way it did.
Mr Wilkins: Senator, were there officers of the Attorney-General's Department who called it that?
Senator LUDLAM: That I was referring to then? Yes. I do not think there is any suggestion that ASIO officers were referring to it in that way, but it was officers of the A-G's Department.
Mr Wilkins: I would not have referred to it as that.
Senator LUDLAM: Nobody is named in the article. Does everybody need to set on the record that they have never referred to the amendments in that way? Minister?
Mr Wilkins: No, I am just saying it is not the departmental view, let me put it that way.
Senator LUDLAM: Maybe the department might be able to help us out because you will not be in a position where you are compromising ASIO's operational secrecy as to whether it is the view of the department that the range of ASIO's activities need to be broadened so that they can directly assess the activities of an organisation like WikiLeaks.
Mr Wilkins: Our view would probably be that they have powers to do that if they need to already.
Senator LUDLAM: Based on whether they think the traditional definitions that have been there for a long while about whether our national security is being compromised?
Mr Wilkins: Based on section IV of their act.
Senator LUDLAM: Okay. The thing is that that bill proposes to expand the range of things that ASIO can investigate based on, for example, Australia's economic wellbeing, and that considerably broader range of activities could conceivably be encompassed under the framework of our economic wellbeing. That is much broader than national security, I hope you would agree.
Mr Wilkins: It is a component now of what we think of as national security. National security has expanded, as you have seen from the national security statements that the government has been putting out. There is now a much larger range of threats that would impinge on issues which we would refer to as national security.
Senator LUDLAM: Okay, so national security now refers explicitly to commercial-well, it does not yet, but it will if the bill goes through.
Mr Wilkins: It can. Not every commercial matter is going to be in that league.
Mr Irvine: Equally importantly, foreign intelligence can include all of those matters. The purpose of this bill is to align the definition of foreign intelligence given that ASIO has the power to collect foreign intelligence in Australia at the formal request of the Minister for Defence or the Minister for Foreign Affairs.
Senator LUDLAM: Mr Irvine, have you read the Law Council's submission to this committee on that bill?
Mr Irvine: No, I have not.
Senator LUDLAM: I commend it to you. They have used unusually strong language for the Law Council, which is a reasonably conservative organisation, in relation to these particular amendments that I am referring to that say, 'We'll give you virtually unfettered power which has two effects'. Firstly, it makes it very difficult for the parliament to know what ASIO is up to because at the moment, as we have discussed before, you are constrained to a relative narrow range of activities and these are to be substantially broadened, and, secondly, it also makes it difficult for the parliamentary joint committee and the IGIS to assess whether or not you are meeting your benchmarks because the benchmarks will henceforth be-
Mr Irvine: May I interrupt there? It does not make it difficult for the IGIS; the IGIS has unfettered access to all ASIO records, files and activities.
Senator LUDLAM: But what the IGIS does is assess whether you are in compliance with your act or not.
Mr Irvine: Exactly.
Senator LUDLAM: That is their job and the act henceforth will say: you can do more or less anything you like as far as the Law Council's reading and seriously undermines the role of the IGIS. If you have not seen the submission, I know it is going to make it slightly difficult to comment on, but it is very, very strong language, and only they have unfettered access to your records but they cannot do anything if there is no apparent breach because you are operating virtually unfettered.
Mr Wilkins: Senator, can I perhaps get Tony Sheehan to address that.
Mr Sheehan: Thank you. Going back to Mr Irvine's point: the amendment to which the senator is referring in relation to the definition of foreign intelligence will not give ASIO unfettered powers; it relates to the definition of foreign intelligence that allows a request to come through for ASIO to collect in accordance with all the current limitations that are otherwise honoured in respect of collection of foreign intelligence, which includes the requirement for the Attorney to issue a warrant for that purpose. It does not provide unfettered powers to ASIO in that respect.
Senator LUDLAM: Have you reviewed the Law Council's submission or any of the submissions that have come through to this committee on this?
Mr Sheehan: I am aware of it. Mr McDonald knows the Law Council review in more detail.
Mr Wilkins: Do you want to pursue it?
Senator LUDLAM: It looked as though Mr McDonald was going to address that question.
Mr McDonald: I think one of the main things to note is that this definition is not used. It has been used previously in other contexts such as with other intelligence and security agencies. It needs to be understood that this is not for any sort of willy-nilly circumstance; it is actually to do with our national economic wellbeing, so it would have to be something of considerable importance.
Senator LUDLAM: I am sorry: importance to who?
Mr McDonald: In terms of our national economic wellbeing, Senator.
Senator LUDLAM: What kind of criteria would you use to gauge that?
Mr McDonald: An example of that would be-and this is something that people do have in mind with these amendments-is major cyberattacks, for example. Nowadays much of our industry and much of our economic infrastructure, which is very, very connected to our national security, is owned by the private sector as well as the Australian government, the state government and the like and they can be targeted by individuals, not other countries, who could threaten our national economic wellbeing. A major organised crime syndicate which had been effective in attacking, say, our banks could cause a loss of confidence in the banking system and then do considerable damage to our economy. That would be an example of something major of that nature.
Another one, which is particularly important, is to do with the proliferation of nuclear biological, chemical and conventional weapons technology. In the old days, everyone would think: that would have to be controlled or initiated by a foreign power, which is the traditional side of it; however, there is a lot of money in it. There is a lot of money in these sorts of activities, and so you could have individuals threatening our national economic wellbeing in that way.
Another final area, which is important, is the environment side such as illegal fishing operations or wiping out whole species of fish and the like. You could have a situation where you had individuals doing that and affecting our national wellbeing in that way. So they are just three examples of the sort of thing we are talking about. It is not like minor-
Senator LUDLAM: You gave me examples but not criteria. The fishing example in particular was interesting. Which of those things could ASIO not currently intervene in?
Mr G McDonald: There would be circumstances where they would not be able to intervene in all three of those.
Mr Sheehan: As we are talking here about the definition of foreign intelligence collection, it is a key point that we make consistent the definition of foreign intelligence with the other relevant legislation.
Mr Irvine: If I could just add a little bit there: section 17 of the ASIO Act specifically authorises ASIO to collect foreign intelligence within Australia on behalf of the government. This is done under warrant at the request of the Minister for Foreign Affairs or the Minister for Defence. So it is not ASIO rushing off and doing things in this foreign intelligence area off its own bat. It does it in collaboration with other authorised foreign intelligence collectors in accordance with their acts as well. Where we have a difficulty-and why this amendment is actually important-is where the definition of foreign intelligence under the Intelligence Services Act, which governs the activities of DSD and ASIS, is different from the definition of foreign intelligence under the ASIO Act. The reason for this is they were written at different times with different circumstances in mind. Why we are now concerned to align that definition is because we increasingly have to deal with the threats to security or other foreign intelligence collection requirements of the government in regard to non-state actors as well as to state actors. Currently, where the Minister for Foreign Affairs or the Minister for Defence would require us to collect foreign intelligence in Australia on subjects where the perpetrators or the subjects of that collection are non-state actors, we cannot do so.
Senator LUDLAM: I might leave this topic. I wonder-if it is not out of order, Madam Chair-whether I could invite Mr McDonald to review the two submissions that I have referenced-one from the Law Council and the other from Patrick Emerton from Monash University-and then direct correspondence to this committee on that bill. Both submissions are very strongly worded. If you do not already have something-Mr McDonald?
|Mr G McDonald: I might be able to-
CHAIR: In relation to what inquiry, Senator?
Mr G McDonald: The inquiry that is afoot at the moment on the bill that is directly relevant to ASIO.
Senator Ludwig: Chair, I think we are now using estimates to further-
Senator LUDLAM: That's all right. I put the question through the chair, Minister.
CHAIR: I am just about to go there.
Senator Ludwig: It does seem a little-
CHAIR: If we have a current inquiry into that legislation, that is probably the best place. I am not trying to avoid your questions being answered but this witness will no doubt come before us in a public hearing and we will just gather all the information together on the transcript on one day in a consolidated form for all of us to use. So the legislation is-
Senator LUDLAM: If there is going to be a public hearing, then I will-
CHAIR: The legislation into the-
Mr G McDonald: We have already written a full submission to that committee which covers all these issues, including the Law Council's submission. So we have already written a full submission on it for the committee.
CHAIR: We knew you would. That is great.
Senator LUDLAM: I will move onto another topic, if I may. Has ASIO cooperated with the Egyptian intelligence services in the past?
Mr Irvine: ASIO has quite a considerable number of foreign liaison relationships. We do not make those relationships public.
Senator LUDLAM: Okay. You might have to take the following question in a general sense. Has the recent turn of events in Egypt affected cooperation with security services there?
Mr Irvine: I would answer that in the way you would expect.
Senator LUDLAM: Okay. There is an inquiry underway by the IGIS into the actions of relevant Australian agencies in relation to the arrest and detention overseas of Mamdouh Habib, from 2001 to 2005. Has ASIO been called on to cooperate with that inquiry?
Mr Irvine: ASIO is cooperating fully with that inquiry.
Senator LUDLAM: Can you please sketch for me, to the degree that you are able, what that means? Is it documents, meetings? What is underway?
Mr Irvine: That means that the Inspector General of Intelligence and Security, in pursuing that inquiry, has sought access to documents and ASIO officers, and we have been cooperating fully.
Senator LUDLAM: If the IGIS inquiry finds that the relevant agencies-but I will confine this question to ASIO-did know about Habib's whereabouts during the period into which IGIS is inquiring, what kind of sanctions would apply to those who told parliament otherwise?
Mr Irvine: I think that is an entirely hypothetical question. I would prefer to await the report of the inspector general.
Senator LUDLAM: Has IGIS indicated how long that inquiry is expected to take?
Mr Irvine: I think the inquiry was due to finish by the middle of the year. That was the original conception, but I think it might be expanding out. That is really in the hands of the inspector general.
Senator LUDLAM: I understand. Are you aware of the contents of an 840-word statement by an Egyptian intelligence officer that names an Australian official who witnessed the torture of
Mamdouh Habib in Guantanamo Bay?
Mr Irvine: I have read the press report of that.
Senator LUDLAM: Have you seen the original source document?
Mr Irvine: I have not, no.
Senator LUDLAM: Has ASIO had any contact with the intelligence officer from Egypt who is mentioned in the press statement?
Mr Irvine: That is a leading question, because it assumes that there was an Australian intelligence officer involved.
Senator LUDLAM: No, it was an Egyptian one. I do not think it was an Australian intelligence officer.
Mr Irvine: I do not know, because I do not know who the so-called Egyptian intelligence officer was.
Senator LUDLAM: So you do not acknowledge that he necessarily exists? You have seen the press reporting of that?
Mr Irvine: I have no corroboration of that at all.
Senator LUDLAM: Has ASIO done anything to investigate the allegations that he has made?
Mr Irvine: There is an entire inquiry going on.
Senator LUDLAM: Not by ASIO-by IGIS. Has ASIO done anything to investigate the allegations?
Mr Irvine: In the process of assisting the inquiry, we are providing all documentation to the inspector general, so we are letting the inspector general conduct the inquiry.
Senator LUDLAM: But ASIO has not done anything directory to corroborate, confirm or deny, or otherwise, that report?
Mr Irvine: I am sure that there are views in ASIO on the subject, but that really is a subject for the inspector general.
Senator LUDLAM: I recognise that there would certainly be views. That was a reasonably straightforward question as to whether you have done anything to corroborate the reporting.
Mr Irvine: I cannot answer that off the top of my head.
Senator LUDLAM: Did you want to comment, Mr Fricker?
Mr Fricker: I was just going to comment that there has been a great deal of information put before this committee, at previous estimates hearings, which has been quite a thorough and forensic description, with a time line presented and what information was known over that period. I was simply going to say that a great deal has been put on record. Everything we are able to put on record has been put on the record. We do not have anything further to add to that information. And of course, as the director-general has just said, this is the subject of an inspector-general's inquiry at the moment.
Senator LUDLAM: It does not actually go to the nature of the question that I am putting to you. Since the last estimates hearing this information has come to light. These allegations have been made, and what I am trying to work out is what action ASIO has taken since then, of your own motion, to confirm or deny the reporting.
Mr Irvine: The short answer is that we are relying on the independence of the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security to examine the whole issue of Mr Habib's claims, and we are making all the information available to her.
Senator LUDLAM: So you have not attempted to independently verify that information?
Mr Irvine: I am not sure how we would.
Senator LUDLAM: You are a spy agency. That is what you do. I am not asking you to spell out how you would do it, I am just asking whether you have.
Mr Irvine: I rest my answer on the previous response.
Senator LUDLAM: Which is 'maybe'.
Mr Irvine: Which is: the inspector-general is inquiring into this matter; the inspector-general has all of the files, and access; and that, I think, will be conclusive one way or the other.
Senator LUDLAM: Are you aware that the alleged document was shown to government solicitors three days before they suddenly paid Mr Habib an undisclosed amount to drop his lawsuit claiming that Australia was complicit in his CIA engineered rendering in 2001, his transfer to Egypt and his subsequent torture?
Mr Irvine: I am not aware of that, no.
Senator LUDLAM: Is anybody interested in providing some info on this one?
Mr G McDonald: Yes, I can assist. I can assure this committee that decisions about the settlement were made prior to and without reference to such statements. I can absolutely assure you of that.
Senator LUDLAM: It's a total coincidence? Events occurred in 2001 and within three days of that document coming to light a payment was made? That is remarkable
Mr G McDonald: I can absolutely assure you that that document was not taken into account or anything with that settlement. The interesting thing about these settlements is that there is a process leading up to them which takes some time to crank up. It is certainly the case that-
Senator LUDLAM: How long had this one been going for?
Mr G McDonald: This had been going on many weeks before. I do not have the precise dates before me but I know that it certainly went earlier than December.
Senator LUDLAM: Anything further to add?
Mr G McDonald: No.
Senator LUDLAM: Some time prior to December. Was a proposition put to Mr Habib or did he approach the Australian government for a settlement?
Mr G McDonald: I am in a position where the settlement and the whole discussions about that are subject to a confidentiality agreement. I think if we start going into details like that I might be in danger of creating difficulties there with that agreement.
Senator LUDLAM: All right. Just tell us as much as you are able, without trespassing on the confidentiality agreement, about the process that led up to and resulted in that settlement being offered and then accepted.
Mr Wilkins: I think it is probably a decision made by ministers in the context of cabinet based on legal advice from various quarters, and I do not think we can go further into it than that, actually. Certainly the material that you are interested in, to the best of my recollection, was never involved in it and never put before ministers and did not form any part of their reasoning. But it was a cabinet process and therefore there are very strict limits to where we can go on that. Besides, as Mr McDonald has said, some of the clauses of the agreement itself preclude opening up processes because of the confidentiality that we agreed.
Senator LUDLAM: That is very neat indeed. I wonder then if you could tell us-and maybe if you would like to, because some of this I am getting just from open-source reporting-whether, as to the reports that the document was shown to government solicitors prior to the settlement being reached, that was the case or not.
Mr Wilkins: I do not know.
Senator LUDLAM: It was reported that it was. Could you just confirm whether that is true or not.
Mr Wilkins: I cannot confirm that that is true. I do not know.
Senator LUDLAM: Mr McDonald, have you got anything that would shed some light?
Mr G McDonald: I would have to take that on notice. I do not know.
Senator LUDLAM: I have just got one or two other questions, so I will let you keep researching that one. Are you aware of the investigation of this parliament's Privileges Committee relating to information that was provided to this legal and constitutional affairs committee on the question of allegations of torture and the rendition of Mr Habib in 2008?
Mr G McDonald: Excuse me; I did not hear that question because I was checking my notes about the earlier question. I do have something in the note here to suggest that the Government Solicitor did have a copy of that statement. So I will just confirm that now. While I was looking that up I was not listening to your question properly, so I am sorry about that.
Senator LUDLAM: That is okay. Let us just confirm that, though. So in fact the government solicitors who are referred to in that reporting had cited the document referred to before the settlement was signed, but they had been in the process of reaching some kind of agreement for weeks before they had seen it?
Mr G McDonald: Yes.
Senator LUDLAM: My final question is on the Privileges Committee report that was related to evidence that was tendered to this committee years ago now-2008, I think; no, actually, it was well before that-on the question of allegations of the torture and rendition of Mr Habib.
Mr G McDonald: I am aware of the fact that there was a Privileges Committee report, yes.
Senator LUDLAM: I will come back for two other brief issues. One of them is the review of the intelligence community that was announced right before Christmas last year. The government announced the terms of reference for the 2011 independent review of the intelligence community. It covers the six security and intelligence agencies in Australia. Mr Irvine, can you just tell us how ASIO has been engaged with this review and what you are required to make available?
Mr Irvine: ASIO certainly fully supports the independent review of the intelligence community. We have been heavily involved in IRIC and activities related to the review. We have prepared a number of submissions for the review. I and my officers have met the two reviewers on several occasions. We have been able to show the reviewers aspects of our work that they have requested to see. I am not sure there is much else I can say, beyond the fact that, as I said earlier, we welcome the review and we are working closely with them to respond to questions and issues they raise with us.
Senator LUDLAM: Would you be required to make available materials to reviewers? Normally the only person who gets to see that kind of stuff outside your agency is the inspector-general.
Mr Irvine: I am not sure if we are necessarily required to, but we certainly would. If this review is going to be independent, objective and effective then they have got to see everything they want to see.
Senator LUDLAM: Okay. So there is-
Mr Irvine: If they were not, I would be explaining to them the nature of the sensitivity, and I would leave it to them to cite. Obviously, for example, the names of our sources and so on they would not be interested in.
Senator LUDLAM: I suspect not. For the establishment of the Counter Terrorism Control Centre in the last budget there was $9.1 million over four years, and that will be shifting into your headquarters. Is that correct?
Mr Irvine: It is in our current headquarters at the moment.the moment.
Senator LUDLAM: It will remain co-located when you move into the gigantic palace?
Mr Irvine: Yes.
Senator LUDLAM: Is the staffing still 10, or has it expanded since we last spoke about it?
Mr Irvine: I think the nominal staffing is 10; I do not think we have quite got to that number yet.
Senator LUDLAM: I think you said before that there would be seven from ASIO and one each from DSD, ASIS and the AFP. Does that still sound about right?
Mr Irvine: Yes, that is right. DSD, ASIO and the AFP have provided senior, high-quality offices to that control centre.
Senator LUDLAM: Nothing but the best. What is the control centre actually doing?
Mr Irvine: The purpose of the control centre this to ensure that the government's counterterrorism effort both at home and overseas is properly coordinated between the various agencies who conduct Australia's counterterrorism effort-between the collectors of intelligence and between the consumers. It is responsible not simply for assisting in the coordination of the federal government effort but also for ensuring that the cooperation and coordination in the flow of intelligence backwards and forwards between federal and state authorities is optimal. One of the big problems in intelligence, particularly in relation to counterterrorism, is ensuring that the right piece of information gets to the right person at the right time; that is part of its job.
The other key element of the work of the CTCC is to establish the priorities for our counterterrorism effort, both at a strategic level and at what I will call a granular level in terms of individual investigations and so on. It is designed to ensure that the collectors of intelligence are collecting according to the right priorities, that we are coordinating the collection and that the collectors can look at those priorities and plan their resource dispositions accordingly. It also performs a role in evaluating the quite granular intelligence that comes in to ensure that the collectors are in fact meeting real, genuine requirements.
Senator LUDLAM: Thanks very much. I think that is probably the most expansive statement that we have heard on that to date, so I appreciate that. Mr MacDonald, I have one final question for you on the subject we were discussing a few moments ago. You just confirmed for us, I think, that the Australian Government Solicitor cited that document a short while before-you did not acknowledge a time period-the settlement was reached. At what point did they become aware of the existence of the document?
Mr G McDonald: That is all I know about it, actually. I think they probably received it after we had organised the meeting to discuss the settlement, so it was provided to them very close to that meeting.
Senator LUDLAM: What I am interested to know is at what point they became aware that such a document even existed as opposed to when they saw it.
Mr G McDonald: I do not know the answer to that. I think it was at that time. I can check with the Government Solicitor as to whether they were aware of it before then, but I imagine it would only have been then.
Senator LUDLAM: I do not know that that is necessarily a safe assumption, so can you take that on notice for us, please.
Mr G McDonald: Yes. That is why want to take notice.
Senator LUDLAM: Did they become aware of it at the point that it was presented-'here it is'-or had they been aware of it for weeks, perhaps even as early as December.
Mr G McDonald: Certainly my knowledge is that they were aware of it only then, but I will check.
Senator LUDLAM: Much appreciated. Thanks for your time.