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Tuesday, 17 February 1987
Page: 77

(Question No. 4832)

Mr Conquest asked the Attorney-General, upon notice, on 21 October 1986:

(1) Has the Security Appeals Tribunal decided that the Communist Party of Australia (CPA) is not a security risk.

(2) Is membership of the CPA no longer a ground for refusing public servants access to the most highly classified documents.

(3) Has the Australian Security Intelligence Organization discontinued surveillance of Communists.

Mr Lionel Bowen —The answer to the honourable member's question is as follows:

(1) In a decision given on 1 June 1983 the Security Appeals Tribunal (SAT) concluded that the CPA was not subversive within the meaning of the definition of subversion in s.5 (1) (a) of the Australian Security Intelligence Organization Act 1979 (as the Act then stood) and that mere membership of the CPA would not justify an adverse security assessment by ASIO. The definition of subversion in s.5 (1) (a) referred to activities that involve, will involve or lead to, or are intended or likely ultimately to involve or lead to, the use of force or violence or other unlawful acts for the purpose of overthrowing or destroying the constitutional government of the Commonwealth or of a State or Territory.

The Australian Security Intelligence Organization Amendment Act 1986 (which came into operation on 1 February 1987) repealed s.5 of the Australian Security Intelligence Organization Act 1979. Amongst other things, the term `subversion' is now deleted from the definition of `security' in favour of a concept of `politically motivated violence'. This covers the matters previously contained in the definition of `terrorism' and a more precisely defined and limited version of the matters previously covered by `subversion'. The matters previously covered by s.5 (1) (a) are now covered by a reference to acts that involve violence or are intended or are likely to involve or lead to violence and are directed to overthrowing or destroying, or assisting in the overthrow or destruction of, the government or the constitutional system of government of the Commonwealth or of a State or Territory.

(2) The responsibility for deciding whether to allow officers access to national security information lies with the head of each agency. ASIO assists the agency by furnishing security assessments. A security assessment expresses ASIO's recommendation, advice or opinion. Security procedures require the agency head to be satisfied on the basis of all availale information, including the ASIO assessment, that the person concerned is reliable and trustworthy. In considering whether to grant a security clearance, an agency head is not restricted to the requirements of security as that term is defined in the ASIO Act; for example, he or she may have regard to personal qualities, such as honesty, discretion, or loyalty.

(3) It has been the established practice of successive Australian Governments to neither confirm nor deny the activities of ASIO. However, the SAT in the decision referred to in (1) above, pointed out that its decision did not and could not in any way affect the exercise of ASIO's functions, under s.17 of its Act, to obtain, correlate and evaluate intelligence relevant to security.