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Friday, 1 June 1984
Page: 2379

Senator GARETH EVANS (Attorney-General) —Mr President, I claim to have been misrepresented and seek leave to make a personal explanation.

Leave granted.

Senator GARETH EVANS —In the parliamentary page of the Age this morning, in the course of a short piece on the Parliament House telephones affair, the following paragraph appeared:

The Attorney-General, Senator Evans, who is responsible for ASIO, said it seemed ASIO was determined to perpetuate its stumblebum image.

In fact I said nothing of the kind. The words were apparently those of an Age reporter and were mistakenly attributed to me as a result of a fault in the sub- editing process. I have not been averse to giving the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation a caning when I think it deserves it but I have no reason whatever for believing that the Organisation does deserve a caning on this occasion. With that in mind I seek leave to incorporate in Hansard a copy of a letter which I wrote to you, Mr President, yesterday following your statement in the House on the subject of suggested ASIO responsibility for telephone malfunctions in this place.

Leave granted.

The letter read as follows-

Senator the Hon. Gareth Evans, Q.C.

Attorney-General Parliament House, Canberra, A.C.T. 2600

31 May 1984 GE: CMAM

Senator the Hon. Douglas McClelland,

President of the Senate,

Parliament House,

Canberra, A.C.T. 2600

Dear Mr President,

I refer to my letter of 14 May, 1984 in which I indicated that I had sought comment from the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) on the report received by you from the Parliament House Security Controller of complaints from the Telecom technician in Parliament House of damage to Telecom switching equipment in the building allegedly caused by ASIO technicians checking the equipment for surveillance devices.

I have now received a report from the senior ASIO officer in Canberra responsible for the security checks carried out on telephones at Parliament House.

In relation to the requirement for prior approval by the Presiding Officer before such tests are carried out by ASIO officers, I am advised that since November 1983, ASIO technical officers required to conduct tests for surveillance or listening devices at Parliament House have as a matter of course sought the prior approval of the relevant Presiding Officer through the Security Controller or his deputy.

There was a recent exception when, as has been publicly reported, I requested a check of my own office. Attempts were made to obtain prior clearance from the Security Controller or his deputy but neither could be contacted. The Deputy Security Controller was ultimately contacted on the day after the tests had been carried out and advised accordingly.

With regard to the allegations of damage having been caused by ASIO technical officers, I am advised that the allegation is without foundation. I quote the relevant passages of the ASIO report to me:

''The officers who carry out the ACM (Audio Counter-Measure) tests are most competent and highly qualified. They have undertaken specialist training with Telecom on the telephone system in use at Parliament House and I believe the level of their expertise to be higher than that of most Telecom technicians.

''Following receipt of your letter, the Security Controller, Parliament House, was contacted to try to determine the exact nature of the complaint. He was not able to specify the damage alleged to have been caused, but said that following the visits by ASIO technical officers to carry out ACM tests, a large number of complaints of equipment malfunction had been received. Pressed for details, the Security Controller said the malfunctions ranged from ''boards'' (presumably printed circuit boards) being inoperative to integrated circuits being ''blown up''.

''The Security Controller is aware of the dates of the visits by ASIO technical officers and I am at a loss to understand why he has made no effort to consult or report these matters to ASIO.

''I am satisfied that ASIO technical officers were not responsible for damage to, or malfunction of, the telephone system at Parliament House. If such damage and equipment malfunction has occurred, there may be an urgent need to investigate the telephone systems within Parliament House. This, of course, is a matter for Telecom, not ASIO.''

There is nothing which I can usefully add to the ASIO report. I trust that this satisfactorily answers the matters you raised.

Yours sincerely,