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Thursday, 14 August 2003
Page: 18592

Mr JULL (2:57 PM) —My question is addressed to the Attorney-General. I refer to public claims regarding the resourcing of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation. Are those claims correct, and what is the government doing to ensure that ASIO can meet its counter-terrorism responsibilities?

Mr WILLIAMS (Attorney-General) —I thank the member for Fadden for his question and commend him on his continuing role as Chairman of the Joint Statutory Committee on ASIO, ASIS and DSD. I am aware that this week's Bulletin cited claims by the opposition's alternative leader, the member for Brand, that Australia's extra investment in intelligence in recent years has been relatively modest. The member for Brand, Labor's alternative leader—

The SPEAKER —The Attorney-General will come to the answer.

Mr WILLIAMS —alleged that Australia's extra investment in intelligence in recent years has been relatively modest. This was apparently backed up by ASIO staffing figures obtained from a research paper obtained by the Parliamentary Library. But the member for Brand's claims are simply wrong. The figures included in the research paper are out of date. The figures do not come close to ASIO's current staffing levels.

Let us first look at the astounding claim that this government's funding of intelligence has been modest. The government takes its responsibilities for security very seriously and has significantly increased funding for intelligence and security agencies since 11 September 2001. Since that time, we have increased funding for national security and border protection measures by nearly $2 billion over a five-year period. Two billion dollars on top of existing funding can hardly be described as modest.

Mr Danby —What about ASIO?

Mr WILLIAMS —We will get to that point. In fact, the Director-General of ASIO, Mr Dennis Richardson, said on 30 April this year that, since September 11, ASIO has received all the additional funds it has sought. It is true that, in the early to mid-1990s, ASIO's resources were decreased. This downsizing between 1991 and 1995 was of course a result of decisions of the Labor government. Over that period, staff numbers decreased from 727 to 585. The fact that ASIO was downsized in that way, as a result of Labor decisions, seems to have escaped the memory of the member for Brand. But that is not an issue for scoring cheap political points on. The decision to downsize in the 1990s followed the end of the Cold War and was consistent with the downsizing of similar organisations in the United Kingdom and Canada. However, the staff of ASIO, both temporary and permanent, has been growing since 1998. ASIO currently has around 670 staff. Clearly there have been significant changes in the world security environment in recent times, and the pace of recruitment within ASIO has increased. ASIO continues to grow as quickly as its capacity to recruit and train new staff will allow. It is commonsense that you just cannot pull effective intelligence officers out of the air. They need to have appropriate selection processes and training, and that takes time.

ASIO anticipates that, over the next two years, the number of staff will grow to about 780 or 790. Contrary to the claims made by the member for Brand, this will bring ASIO back to its size of the mid-1980s. ASIO has received a significant increase in its funding to support the challenges of this new security environment. ASIO's budget—the question that was raised by interjections earlier—has increased by more than 50 per cent since September 11. For the record, it should be noted that the government also increased funding for ASIO in the 2000-01 budget before September 11. The government takes its responsibilities for the safety and security of Australians very seriously. The Howard government's record on security speaks for itself. The member for Brand's latest attempt at relevance is transparent and it is wrong.