Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee
Tuesday 18 October 2011
Senator WRIGHT: I have two questions. I understand that in the past ASIO has indicated concern and undertaken activity in the field of illegal fishing operations. Can you describe your efforts in this area over the last year?
Mr Irvine: I cannot think of any operation activities that have been conducted in relation to illegal fishing in the last year, if ever. In fact, I am pretty sure that is actually outside our remit.
Senator WRIGHT: I am basing this question on information that I was given that one of the justifications for expansion of ASIO powers at one point was that there was a need to have surveillance over illegal fishing operations. I might ask you to take the question on notice.
Mr Irvine: I do not think I need to take the question on notice at all. We have not conducted any activities in relation to fishing.
Senator WRIGHT: I understand that you have not been doing that in the last year, which is the answer to my question, but you are also repudiating the background to my question, which is that there were some suggestions that that was a function of ASIO. I am wanting to see whether you want to clarify that or not. I cannot at this stage clarify where my question came from, but I can do that.
Mr Fricker: There was a hypothetical example given during the explanation for the changes to the definition of foreign intelligence under the ASIO Act. It was a hypothetical, I believe, not provided by ASIO. It was a hypothetical example of where a foreign intelligence collection requirement might require the assistance capabilities of ASIO. It is not an ASIO function to collect intelligence on illegal fishing. That function does not come under the definition of security under the ASIO Act.
Senator WRIGHT: I apologise for not being better briefed. This was a question that I had at the last minute, but I think it is important to clarify that. I understand that one of the bases of the Intelligence Services Legislation Amendment Act was to look at ASIO's operations in relation to Australia's economic interests. Is that where that came from?
Mr Irvine: Perhaps I could give a brief explanation of what I think is the key element that you are getting to in recent changes made. ASIO is empowered under its act, and in relation to the Intelligence Services Act under which other foreign intelligence agencies collect, to collect foreign intelligence using technical means within Australia. It does so at the request usually of the Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Minister for Defence. The reason the amendment was introduced in the past was that the definition of foreign intelligence as it appeared in the ASIO Act and the Intelligence Services Act under which the foreign collectors operate was different. Therefore, it was thought sensible to align the two definitions. As a result of that change to the act, there has actually been very little change, if any at all so far anyway, in what ASIO does on behalf of the foreign intelligence collectors in Australia.
Senator WRIGHT: Thank you. My second question relates to the ASIO annual report, which states:
Subject to authorised exemptions for the protection of national security, a list of consultancy contracts let to the value of $10,000 or more (inclusive of GST) and the total value of each of those contracts over the life of each contract may be made available to members of Parliament as a confidential briefing or to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security on request.
I would like to avail myself of that offer of a confidential briefing to learn which companies are benefiting from ASIO consultancies and for what. I guess that is a request on notice.
Mr Irvine: We would be delighted to oblige.
Senator WRIGHT: Thank you, Mr Irvine.