Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee
Australian Security Intelligence Organisation

Australian Security Intelligence Organisation


CHAIR: Welcome, Mr Lewis and Ms Hartland. Thank you for joining us. Do you wish to make an opening statement?

Mr Lewis : Can I begin by thanking you, Chair, and the secretariat and members of the committee for indulging us with this time adjustment today. I recognise the difficulty of finessing the program of this committee, and I do appreciate it. We have not appeared before the committee since May of last year, and much has happened since then. Terrorism continues to be the most obvious and the most immediate challenge for our organisation. The broader security environment remains challenging, in respect of both international conflict and the international terrorist threat—and in fact the domestic terrorist threat. I note that the threat of terrorist attack here in Australia stands as probable.

Since September 2014 there have been three attacks and six major CT disruption operations in response to imminent attack planning here in Australia. Each of the—

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: Sorry, Mr Lewis. I am having difficulty hearing you. And the acronym you just used—CT?

Mr Lewis : CT is 'counter-terrorism'—I beg your pardon.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: Okay. Thank you.

Mr Lewis : Each of the six major disrupted terrorist plots was initially identified and investigated by ASIO and our police and law enforcement partners. Then, as we normally do, we pass the action to be taken upon discovery of those plots to law enforcement. We have a very tried-and-tested process now for passing from intelligence to law enforcement.

The conflict in Syria and Iraq continues to resonate here in Australia. There remains a small number of Australians that are influenced by the twisted rhetoric espoused by groups such as ISIL. I can give you something of a snapshot—and I have made a practice of doing this at each of these hearings—of where we currently are. There are approximately 110 Australians that are currently fighting or engaged with terrorist groups in Syria or Iraq. This is a minor decrease on the last time I spoke to you, but the figures are regularly changing and it does not represent an overall decrease in interest shown by individuals travelling to join the conflict. In fact, at least 45 Australians are confirmed killed in the conflict, and it could be anywhere up to 49 Australians.

Untrained and naive young Australians have been drawn into the conflict and found themselves in what I would describe as highly expendable and highly dangerous positions of low importance amid the ISIL effort. There are about 190 people here in Australia that are actively supporting the extremist group in Syria and Iraq, and they are doing that through fundraising, and in many cases seeking to travel to join these groups. There are about 40 Australians that have returned from the Syria and Iraq conflicts and the majority of those were involved in the earlier Syrian civil war, prior to the advent of ISIL.

In concert with other Australian agencies, we are working to identity the issues each of these individuals who have returned might present. We are actively working to ensure that they are managed effectively and according to our law, and counter-terrorism investigations continue to remain an absolute priority for ASIO.

While foreign fighters and the conflict in Syria and Iraq remain a significant focus of our effort, our counter-terrorism investigations are conducted in relation to a range of potential threats and politically motivated violence. The exact number of high-interest counter-terrorism investigations ASIO has underway at any time fluctuates as investigations are closed or as new ones are identified, so it is a dynamic figure. The level of priority given to any particular investigation can change markedly as new information comes to hand.

It is true to say that in the past 18 months there has been a period of heightened tempo with more counter-terrorism investigations underway than at any time in the preceding decade. To date, ASIO has issued adverse security assessments recommending the cancellation or refusal of 156 passports for Australians linked to extremist groups that are involved in the conflict in Syria and Iraq. ASIO remains committed to preventing travel by would-be fighters as the best outcome for Australia and our security needs.

As recently as two weeks ago ASIO was involved in coordinating searches of premises of individuals here in Australia. These individuals are of security interest. The nature of this threat requires continuous focus by ASIO, and this was particularly true over the Australian summer period; the summer holiday season saw officers continue to apply pressure and vigilance to our terrorist targets around the country.

Internationally we have seen numerous terrorist attacks on soft targets. The jihadists undertook multiple attacks—as you all know—across Paris under the banner of ISIL on 13 November last year. Those attacks killed 130 innocent people. Jakarta was targeted on 14 January this year, resulting in the deaths of at least eight people, four of whom were the perpetrators of the attack. ISIL also claimed responsibility for that attack.

The Syrian and Iraq conflicts have and continue to generate significant humanitarian concerns, as we are very aware. The increase in refugees fleeing the region continues to be widely reported, and the Australian government has committed to accept 12,000 Syrian refugees. From our point of view regarding ASIO's responsibility, we will progress the security assessment of this particular group with our established risk management and intelligence processes.

I would like to conclude with a few remarks about espionage. With such a strong emphasis on counter-terrorism we need to be careful not to overlook the espionage threat. I am sure the members of this committee will appreciate that we do not generally provide detail about the enduring espionage threat, due to a range of sensitivities that it obviously excites. It is important to be clear that this lack of exposure does not mean in any way that the espionage threat to Australia or our interests is any less significant.

What I can say is that espionage poses an insidious threat and it continues to pose a challenge to ASIO. The perpetrators of espionage are utilising a range of trade craft and capabilities to target strategically important Australian interests. ASIO is and will continue working closely across government and with industry to ensure that we remain alert to this threat and that we have the infrastructure and systems to combat it.

Chair, thank you for the opportunity to make those opening remarks and, again, I thank you for accommodating our timing request.

CHAIR: Thanks very much, Mr Lewis. I might just ask you a couple of brief questions. To compete in a modern world with organisations that have much more money than you could ever hope to have, or dream of having, do you find that you are not disadvantaged in the latest technological aids and equipment that you can get? Are you constrained—by money—in getting some enhancements that might otherwise help in the very important and crucial task that you and your people undertake?

Mr Lewis : I think it is very true to say that the cost of our business is increasing, and part of that increase is driven by the acceleration in technology. We are not of course the only sector to be impacted by that. I think we do very well with the resource that we have in terms of combatting the technology of what I would describe as Australia's adversaries, if you like, those people who have an adversarial point of view to our security interests. We are spending a good deal of time, money and human resources on developing our capability. They have advanced significantly over the last decade. Your question related, I presume, to some of our international partners who do indeed have significantly more resources, and I am pleased to say that we are engaged very closely with those partners in order to make sure we are a bit like boats rising on a tide, all able to rise together.

CHAIR: I was more saying 'the bad guys'.

Mr Lewis : Yes, well it is true.

CHAIR: Money that you could only dream of having.

Mr Lewis : It is true that technology is principle-neutral in that sense. It provides a positive and useful platform for people who would wish us harm in the same way as it provides a platform for us as we try to counter those threats to the community. It is neutral in that sense.

I think we are travelling reasonably well. You could always spend more money and do more, but I think, when compared to the threat that we face, we are travelling reasonably well in that area. I am not complacent in any way about this, because it is a daily grind to make sure that you are staying one step in front of the people that you are targeting. It is a constant process.

CHAIR: Of the 190 Australians who you believe are supporting ISIL, and who you have got your eye on, are you able to tell me how many were not born in Australia but have Australian citizenship?

Mr Lewis : I cannot give you a precise figure, but I can assure you that the overwhelming majority of those people were born in Australia and would have Australian citizenship. I do not have the precise numbers, but a distinct majority are Australian citizens and born here.

CHAIR: Of course you will not tell me anything that would help those against whom you are forever vigilant, but of that 190—just using that group—is there an age cohort? Are most of them between 20 and 30, or is that not a statistically useful figure for you to have?

Mr Lewis : Perhaps I can assist with that question. Rather than just looking at the 190 Australians, if we also include the 110 people who are currently overseas—essentially those Australians who are either in the Middle East or supporting those in the Middle East—it would be true to say that the demographic is young. If I was talking to you a couple of years ago typically we would have been talking about people in their late 20s, early 30s. If I was speaking to you a year ago, that had dropped down to early 20s. By the start or the middle of last year we were, as you are probably aware from press coverage, down to the teens. What is distressing is when we see the very young age of some of the people. If you asked me for a median, without being precise, I would say it is in the early 20s but the trend is down, and at the bottom end of that spectrum we do have some people of astonishingly young ages.

CHAIR: Mr Lewis, I assume that because you say there are 190 Australian supporting ISIL they have either not committed an offence or you do not have the evidence to support any prosecutions and that is why, I assume, they are at large but are known to be supporting ISIL. How does that all work?

Mr Lewis : Some of those of course, are facing prosecution.

CHAIR: I see.

Mr Lewis : There is another group, obviously, for whom we do not have sufficient information at this stage to precede to prosecution, but there is a big difference in ASIO's role between going to prosecution and pursuing a security intelligence investigation.

Senator Brandis: If I may add to the director-general's remarks, it may well be that those people have committed an offence but there is not a prosecution brief in a position to initiate a prosecution against them. What ASIO does, as a security intelligence organisation, is different from what the police do, of course, in assembling evidence that is admissible in court. In all these offences under the Criminal Code, the standard of proof is still the criminal standard beyond a reasonable doubt. So one should not infer from the fact that they have not been arrested that they may not have committed a crime. They may have but the evidence may not be there to mount a prosecution.

CHAIR: Finally from me, with the 156 passports that you recommended cancellation of, again, are they mainly for Australian-born passport holders? Again, I do not want specific details.

Mr Lewis : They are Australian passports, of course. It is true to say that the overall majority would be Australian born. There would be some that were not, but the overwhelming majority would be Australian born. The figure 156 I think is a week or two old. It may well be 158 by today. There is a fairly constant turnover of this figure. Almost every day it is ticking up by one or two.

CHAIR: And the impact of the cancellation is that if those people are overseas they cannot get back; or, if they are in Australia, they cannot go overseas.

Mr Lewis : They break down into two categories. About 100 of 150—the last figure I saw was 99—are Australians that are here that are now prevented from departing. The other 50-some are Australians that are overseas who are not prevented from returning home; it just means that, should they try to return to Australia—or, as importantly, if they try to move from wherever they are now to some other place where there is a passport control—they would not be able to do so without special arrangements.

CHAIR: Special arrangements being?

Mr Lewis : Through the Department of Foreign Affairs. They would need to get the necessary documentation to return to Australia without a passport. That is technically possible, but there is an administrative hurdle, if you like, over which an individual must get in order to re-enter Australia or in fact to move around between any second and third country.

CHAIR: The decision to cancel a passport is made on recommendations. By whom are they made? And are there appeal provisions?

Mr Lewis : Yes. Because we are in the security intelligence business, we provide a security assessment on the individual, and that assessment might go to what we judge to be the individual's likely actions immediately or into the future. That security assessment is then passed to the foreign minister. It is the foreign minister's authority under which the passport is cancelled. The foreign minister cancels the passports. There is, indeed, the ability for of review. The individual can seek review, and we do have cases that are under review currently.

CHAIR: Thanks very much.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: Mr Lewis, thank you indeed for your request that we ensure that you are accommodated within the program. I was conscious that we had not had a detailed report since May 2015. I could not hear all of your opening statement, unfortunately, because of some cross-conversation at the time. You mentioned at the commencement of your statement that since September 2014 there have been three attacks. Then you referred to counter-terrorism. But I missed what you said around it.

Mr Lewis : Since September of 2014 there have been three attacks that have actually been launched. They are well documented. The young man Haider in Victoria, Monis in the Lindt Cafe, and more recently the shooting in Parramatta of Mr Cheng. On top of that, there have been six thwarted attempts. That is, with the intelligence that we have provided and working in conjunction with our police colleagues we have been able to disrupt six other attacks that were in the final stages of planning and execution.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: I am conscious—as was Senator Macdonald—not to seek from you information that might compromise any element of our national security. But—please, to the extent that you think it is appropriate—I will ask you to answer these questions. When you say that there were six thwarted attacks, is there a way you can describe for us the nature of those attacks?

Mr Lewis : They are fairly consistent with the attacks that were actually launched. I have made this point in previous hearings of this committee. We are talking about low-tech. That is, they are not particularly sophisticated. It is typically the notion of acquiring a weapon with a blade—a knife, for instance—and attacking people at random. There is always the attempt to try to assemble some explosive devices, but it is fairly unsophisticated and not of the sort of magnitude that you might imagine with large, vehicle-born incendiary devices or explosive devices and so on—so fairly low tech. To go to Senator Macdonald's earlier question with regard to the age: the age of these people who are involved in the planning is very young.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: You said 'low tech'. I have just returned from Kabul, where you can do an enormous amount of damage even with a low-tech device. I am looking for some description of the potential magnitude of what we have successfully interfered with.

Mr Lewis : I think when I spoke on 7.30 a couple of months ago, I made the comment that it was not assessed by us that a Paris like attack—that is, one of enormous sophistication and coordination—was likely here in Australia. The nature of the attacks that we have seen have all been of this rather unsophisticated, rather quickly put together planning.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: And likely to impact on a small number or an individual?

Mr Lewis : Yes. That is how we would assess it, rather than being a mass-casualty attack. Having said that, you can never discount, quite obviously, something happening here, but I think I made it very plain to the Australian people at that time—we were obviously coming off the back of a Paris attack—to say that an attack of that nature was not expected here in Australia. I mentioned the terrorist alert level currently is that an attack in Australia is probable.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: Or, indeed, the potential for attack of Australians in Indonesia is now heightened.

Mr Lewis : Indeed. I think that the issue of the security in the archipelago to our north is an enduring one.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: Would you describe that as going beyond Indonesia?

Mr Lewis : Yes. It is probably more extensive than that through the archipelago. Indonesia, of course, has been the scene of our most tragic experiences nationally. There is a particular problem with returning fighters into South-East Asia. Their problem is not dissimilar to ours except that the scale is bigger. That, together with the circumstances on the ground there, and I mentioned the attack in Jakarta on 14 January, have meant that we anticipate that further attacks in the archipelago are most likely.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: When you are talking about the characteristics of, say, the 300-odd people, apart from age, are there other characteristics you would highlight?

Mr Lewis : Predominantly male—

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: Has that changed or is it much the same still?

Mr Lewis : No, it is much the same. You might recall at a former hearing of this committee where I mentioned that the numbers of females appeared to be increasing quite significantly—about 18 months ago. It was not long after I took over this appointment.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: I recall.

Mr Lewis : That has actually plateaued. That is not the case anymore. They are still predominantly male, young males.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: Is there any explanation as to why you believe that it has plateaued? Are we succeeding in some area, in counter-terrorism?

Mr Lewis : That is true of not just the female population. It is true of the entire demographic that we are talking about here. Why that is the case is very difficult to quantify. Part of it is that there is only, of course, a certain number of young people who would be attracted to what I describe as criminal lunacy in the first place. It might be that we are starting to get towards not saturation point; we have probably taken up the obvious candidates.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: Which may also be an explanation for why it is moving down age.

Mr Lewis : It may well be, although I must say that the descent in age appears to be a very deliberate move on the part of those in the Middle East who are targeting our young people and trying to recruit them. Again, I have said in front of this committee before that the demographic we are talking about, because of their age, are enormously connected in a social media sense; they are therefore vulnerable to being preyed upon through the social media vector.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: And indeed the potential for success with young men in that younger group, before they have other established non-familial networks, may be more likely.

Mr Lewis : It is possible.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: You also mentioned searches of premises. I was interested if you could quantify that in any way.

Mr Lewis : The two I mentioned were specific cases. As you know, I am not really in a position to speak about the specific cases that we face. We do, on a fairly regular basis, conduct searches of premises if there is sound reason to believe that there is something there that is of security interest. This is a longstanding part of ASIO's function really.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: I am not interested in the cases. I am more interested in how much activity has occurred in that area and what success has been born.

Mr Lewis : Very successful.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: Are searches of premises assisting us in prevention?

Mr Lewis : Yes.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: So it is helping prevent people from travelling overseas?

Mr Lewis : Yes.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: I am just asking if you are able to quantify any of that for me.

Mr Lewis : No, I cannot really quantify it, but all of those things it assists in prosecution. It assists in a range of what I would describe as measures to counter the security threat that our community faces.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: I would also like to go to your comments about espionage. How important is it for senior office holders of the government—ministers, senior public servants—to comply with security protocols when they are dealing with sensitive or secret information across electronic communications such as the telephone or the email? Is this a real risk to us?

Mr Lewis : Oh yes. There is no question. It is not just senior office holders; it is the Australian community at large. We were talking about social media, but in this day of electronic connectivity, where we are obviously operating on electronic systems, you have an increasing number of pieces of official information that are on electronic databases around the place that can be retrieved through cyberespionage or other forms of espionage. So it is something which we as a community need to be alive to.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: I am particularly interested in that issue of official information, or Australian government information, that we might want to keep secure. To the extent that you are able, could you provide us with a description of what should be the basic protocols for communication of sensitive or secret materials across electronic networks?

Mr Lewis : I am probably not the best person to speak technically about that. I might commend that that question be directed to the Australian Signals Directorate, which has formal responsibility for setting the standards and setting the various parameters around how we protect our electronic information.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: I will do that, but, from what you were saying earlier, I gather that there is a significant risk that would arise from communication of secret information across non-secure networks in breach of our established protocols. I will get that information from the directorate.

Mr Lewis : Of course, if you communicate secure—that is, classified—information over an insecure line, that is a breach. That is a breach in every sense.

Senator JACINTA COLLINS: But I am relating it to your earlier comments about the real risk of espionage that we should not take for granted.

Mr Lewis : No. It is very real and alive.

Senator McKIM: Could you run the committee through the role that ASIO plays in screening humanitarian entrants? I am specifically asking in relation to the 12,000 Syrian humanitarian entrants that we are going to accept or are in the process of accepting into our country?

Mr Lewis : Let me begin by saying that the 12,000 which is the point of your question are no exception, and now let me go to the general proposition. People that come to this country in the humanitarian caseload will be screened by the department of immigration, and where that department expresses or has any concern with regard to security of the individuals those individuals will be referred to ASIO for screening. We will then conduct the screening and an assessment will be made, which will go back to the department of immigration, where they will then continue with whatever departmental decision-making processes they have. Our role in this is purely to do the security assessment on those cases that are referred to us. With respect to the 12,000 Syrians, coming back to where I started, that particular group will be treated in exactly the same way as anybody else coming into the country.

Senator McKIM: Do you have any historic data around what percentage of humanitarian entrants are referred to you by the department? And of those how many are refused entry on the basis of the department's decision based on the information you provide?

Mr Lewis : I do not think I could usefully give you a figure, not that I am trying to avoid it in anyway. It is just that each case load will be different, depending on their background and where they have come from and what the circumstances of their arrival are and so on, so the figure would not be in any way uniform.

Senator McKIM: Are you currently in the process of assessing any of the Syrian humanitarian entrants?

Mr Lewis : Yes we are. I cannot give you a precise figure, but the process is underway and we have cases we are examining now.

Senator McKIM: Could you take on notice the figure in terms of how many of those 12,000 the department has asked you to assess?

Mr Lewis : I would like to speak with the department of immigration first.

Senator McKIM: I appreciate that.

Mr Lewis : But assuming that there is no impediment to that then perhaps I can come back to you with a figure.

Senator McKIM: I will place the question on notice and you can respond subsequent to your—

Mr Lewis : It might be that the department of immigration is in a better position because they have control over which ones they are bringing forward to us. There are other considerations which that department can and does take which are beyond ASIO's competence and so the figures may be a little skewed as a result of that, but I understand the point you are making.

Ms Hartland : It is also a process where we are working continuously with the department of immigration as well, so we have deployed staff in working with them. So in terms of numbers and where they are at, as the director-general said, it will depend on whether they have actually been alerted through the system when they come to us. So whether there has actually been any that have come through in that way, we will need to take that on notice.

Senator McKIM: I appreciate that. And perhaps you could pick a date around about now, because I understand that more may be referred on any given day and you will obviously complete some assessments and put that back to the department. So if you could pick a date, maybe even today's date, just for ease of picking a date. Is there an average length of time that it would take ASIO to assess humanitarian entrants? Are you able to provide a rough figure?

Mr Lewis : Again, it is very hard to give you a figure because, and of course you will appreciate this immediately, who the individual is and what their background is will determine precisely how long it takes.

Senator McKIM: That is why I asked for an average and whether you have that information.

Mr Lewis : Not a useful figure that I could produce. Some are very quick, because they are immediately traceable, they have all the documentation that one would require, and they are able to be identified and traced quickly. Others are more complex. It is not necessarily any fault of theirs. It might just be the circumstances.

Senator McKIM: Just to be clear, ASIO is not a decision-making body here. It is the department that makes the decision. ASIO provides information that informs the decision.

Mr Lewis : We provide the security the security assessment on the individual. The department then makes the decision on what administrative action may or may not be taken as a result of that.

Senator McKIM: Based on your previous answers, I acknowledge that some of my next series of questions you would need to answer on notice, if you were able to answer them. I will place that on the record first. I am interested in how many screenings have been completed. I think I asked that earlier, but if I did not, I ask that.

Mr Lewis : Are we talking about the 12,000?

Senator McKIM: I am specifically asking about 12,000. Certainly in my state of Tasmania there is a general expectation in the community that they are about to arrive. They have not. I am trying to explore what some of the delays might be. I am certainly not suggesting that you should not be conducting your work diligently. I encourage you to do so, not that you need my encouragement. I am wondering whether there are any blockages—perhaps blockages is not the right word—any reasons for the delay in this process. How many screenings have been completed, in relation to the 12,000? How many, if any, have been cleared? Okay, that is not your role.

Mr Lewis : We understand the questions you are asking. We will try to provide answers. Most of this lies with the Department of Immigration. For example, the answer may be affected dramatically by the way in which the immigration department is presenting the cases to us in terms of the degree of concern that that they may or may not have about them. For instance, are they taking people about whom there is absolutely no concern and who appear to be very simple cases first? If that were the case, our figure would be correspondingly low. I am not sure that it is a useful figure for you. It will have a whole lot of conditionality around it.

Senator McKIM: I appreciate that.

Mr Lewis : The department is actually the authority for making most of those decisions.

Senator McKIM: Does ASIO simply provide an assessment of a security risk—perhaps high, medium or low, although I am sure it is more sophisticated than that—or do you actually provide advice in terms of, 'Yes, this person is okay' or 'No, don't let this person in.' What is the level of your communication with the department on that?

Mr Lewis : We only have one bar height. That is whether the individual presents as a risk to the security of Australia—whether they are security risk.

Senator McKIM: So you will advise the department that in your opinion either yes they do or no they do not.

Mr Lewis : If we find that they are security risk to Australia, we will provide that advice to the department.

Senator McKIM: And likewise, if you find that they are not a security risk you will provide that advice?

Ms Hartland : As I said earlier, we are working with the Department of Immigration on a constant basis and sharing data holdings. So if there is information there it might have already been put through to the Department of Immigration, where that would raise a flag that then would come to us to do an assessment. It is a pretty seamless process. It is hard to give a point in time number because it is a constant, rolling process

Senator McKIM: I appreciate that. I am happy for you to take this on notice: I am interested in how many, if any, there are of the 12,000 of the Syrian cohort that you have advised do present a risk to national security, as of today, for example?

Mr Lewis : I understand the question. We will see what we can provide.

Senator McKIM: I asked about the average time to complete an assessment. You have responded in broad terms around that. Thank you for your response to those questions. I want to turn to another topic now. The Attorney is not there.

Senator Brandis: Yes, I am.

Senator McKIM: This question lies somewhere between you and Mr Lewis. It is a specific question around the organisation that claimed responsibility for the Peshawar school shooting, that terrible shooting in Pakistan in December 2014, the Tehrik-i-Taliban. Why are they not a listed terrorist organisation given that they have been listed in New Zealand and in the United States?

Senator Brandis: That is a question for the Director-General. The practice of the government is to rely upon the advice of ASIO. I list terrorist organisations under the Criminal Code but invariably I rely on the advice of the professional officers in making that decision so perhaps the Director-General can assist you.

Mr Lewis : Just bear with me for one moment.

Senator McKIM: They are known as the TTP.

Mr Lewis : Could I ask you to repeat that organisation that you mentioned that either did or is asserted to have conducted that attack.

Senator McKIM: What I said, Mr Lewis, was that they claimed responsibility for that shooting. I obviously have no knowledge of whether or not it was them. They are the Tehrik-i-Taliban, known as the TTP.

Mr Lewis : They are not on the list of prescribed organisations.

Senator McKIM: I understand that. My advice is that they are listed in both New Zealand and the United States.

Senator Brandis: We will look into that.

Senator McKIM: So you will provide a response?

Senator Brandis: I think we have given you a response, really, but thank you for drawing that to my attention and we will look into it.

Senator McKIM: I am sorry to push the point but the response from ASIO was that it is not listed. I know that it is not listed; that is why I am asking the question. I appreciate your commitment to look into it. Could I ask you to communicate with me or the committee in some way, if it is possible to do so without compromising national security—

Mr Lewis : It is a matter for me and my organisation, in that sense, to make recommendations. I will have a look at it and I will speak with the attorney. I understand the point of your question.

Senator McKIM: Could I ask Mr Lewis whether ASIO organisationally found the 2010 counter-terrorism useful?

Senator Brandis: 2010?

Senator McKIM: There was a counter-terrorism white paper.

CHAIR: I think that might come within the category of asking for an opinion on a matter of government policy.

Senator McKIM: I am not sure about that. I am asking whether organisationally—so I am not asking Mr Lewis for his personal opinion—ASIO found it useful.

CHAIR: You are really asking the officer if he thought the government's white paper was any good, which is not a very fair question to put to an officer.

Senator Brandis: The hesitancy I have, first of all, is we are talking about a 2010 document, which was years ago and under a previous government, so it does not immediately relate to the estimates. I do not want to avoid the question at all but it is not, as I am advised, a document that was prepared by my department. I believe it was prepared by PM&C.

Senator McKIM: That is my understanding also but my presumption is that Australia's intelligence agencies would have been consulted by PM&C as part of that process.

Senator Brandis: I am sure that is true. I just wonder if we could focus on something a little more recent; it might be more useful.

Senator McKIM: Okay, I will bring that question up to date then. Isn't it time for another counter-terrorism white paper so that we can strategically assess the human and civil rights that I am sure most of us would accept we are trading away and whether or not that is making us any safer as a community, and have a strategic assessment about all of the legislative changes that have been made since 2010, including potential legislative changes that you have flagged may be made into the future which will further reduce the human and civil rights that many of our ancestors fought and died to protect in world wars and other conflicts. The intent of my first question was to explore whether or not that was a useful process and then follow with a supplementary as to whether or not it is time for another one, or an update of the previous one.

Senator Brandis: Indeed. Another reason for my hesitancy about the 2010 document is that it was the document of a previous government. Ordinarily a successor government does not necessarily adopt or endorse the views of a previous government. I recall there was one white paper published by the previous government that observed, erroneously, that a decade after the twin towers attacks in New York—I cannot remember whether this is the one you were referring to or not—domestic terrorism threats were of less significance in the security environment, or words to that effect. That was of course quite wrong. I can tell you though, Senator McKim, that in July of last year the Council of Australian Governments endorsed and released a more contemporary document, obviously—Australia's Counter-Terrorism Strategy. I suggest that one would look to that as the most recent expression of the views of all Australian governments, federal, state and territory, in relation to counter-terrorism.

Senator McKIM: Were security agencies including ASIO consulted in the development of that strategy?

Senator Brandis: Yes they were.

Senator McKIM: I will have a look at that, Attorney. I appreciate that.

Senator LAMBIE: Mr Lewis, royal commissioner Heydon said he had discovered grave threats to the power and authority of the Australian state. Have you been made aware of those threats by the royal commissioner?

Mr Lewis : I am aware of the royal commission. I have had no contact with the commissioner at all. The matters that I understand were addressed were in the area of the law, and they are really law enforcement issues—they are not issues that impact on ASIO.

Senator Brandis: The Heydon royal commission, as the Director-General rightly says, was about law enforcement, or what we might broadly call rule of law issues. The inquiry was quite specific to matters within its terms of reference, and those terms of reference did not advert to the two principal activities for which ASIO was responsible, namely counter-terrorism and counter espionage.

Senator LAMBIE: So given that the power and authority of the Australian state is under threat from a number of different sources, do you expect to have access to the secret volumes of the Heydon royal commission, Mr Lewis?

Mr Lewis : No. I could get them, I guess, but I do not intend to—

Senator LAMBIE: I am just a little concerned about the grave threat to the power and authority of the Australian state. I would have thought that ASIO, since it was such a grave threat, would be involved.

Senator Brandis: Threats to the state can also take the form of threats to the rule of law by systemic criminality, which is what Mr Heydon found in aspects of Australia's workplaces and industrial practice. That is not the subject matter that ASIO was created to deal with.

Senator LAMBIE: No, but it would be there to deal with a grave threat to the power and authority of the Australian state—those words are quite outstanding.

Senator Brandis: Not necessarily, because ASIO is not a criminal law enforcement body. It deals with terrorism or other aspects of national security, and it deals with espionage by foreign actors. What Mr Heydon's royal commission was looking at was domestic criminality, which is not ordinarily what we would consider to be an issue of national security. What Mr Heydon—who, of course, is a very eminent jurist—rightly observes is that—

Senator LAMBIE: So it is not a grave threat to the power and authority of the Australian state? Is it is or is it not a grave threat to the power and authority of the state?

CHAIR: Senator Lambie, you have asked a question. You must leave the minister to answer the question.

Senator Brandis: If I may say so, systemic criminality can also be, and is, a threat to the state, just as organised crime is a threat to the state. But ASIO does not deal with organised crime; that is a matter for the police.

Senator LAMBIE: Okay, so it is not a grave threat.

Senator Brandis: No, it is a grave threat, but it is not a grave threat of the kind that ASIO was established to deal with, because it is neither terrorism nor espionage.

Senator LAMBIE: But Heydon did not say, 'I find a grave threat from systematic criminality,' though, did he, Attorney-General?

Senator Brandis: I think if you look at the report—even just the public volumes of the report, which are the vast bulk of it—that is precisely what he found.

Senator LAMBIE: Mr Lewis, does your agency have concerns about the legitimacy of the money coming from mainland China?

Mr Lewis : I am sorry, Senator. I cannot comment. What money?

Senator LAMBIE: Media reports say that the amount of illicit funds estimated to be flowing out of China is mind boggling, and Global Financial Integrity puts the figure at approximately US$139 billion. Is that illicit money a threat to Australia's national interests, especially when the Chinese Communist Party says Australia is in the top three destinations for corrupt Chinese money? Is that on ASIO's radar at all?

Mr Lewis : The issue of money—illicit money—flowing in is something that really would have been better directed to one of your previous witnesses here, in AUSTRAC. It is again—I am sorry to repeat myself here—largely a matter of criminality, as opposed to the issues for which ASIO is responsible and which it pays attention to. We are, of course, interested in any foreign influence in Australia, from wherever it comes, and to that extent, yes, we do pay attention. But, specifically, your question is something that I just cannot answer. It is not in my domain.

Senator Brandis: AUSTRAC, the Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre, is the agency that is specifically set up to deal with those issues. It is a shame you were not here a moment ago, when they were at the table. The agencies do cooperate, of course. There is a financial dimension to counter-terrorism too, because the financing of terrorist activities is something, of course, which ASIO takes an interest in. But primarily these cash flows, if they are unlawful cash flows, are in the arena of organised crime and money laundering.

Senator LAMBIE: So ASIO does not cooperate with the Australian Transaction—

Senator Brandis: No, I just said it did. I said that agencies cooperate.

Senator LAMBIE: You mentioned that you are monitoring 190 Islamic State supporters in Australia. Can you describe their behaviour which led you to label them as supporters. Can you characterise that.

Mr Lewis : I think I said in my opening remarks that the characterisation of these people is through their activity of raising funds, recruiting, exhorting young people to join the cause and espousing the virtues of the ISIL message.

Senator Brandis: And facilitating.

Mr Lewis : And facilitating. Yes, I think I mentioned most of that in my opening remarks.

Senator LAMBIE: Are there any terrorists that you are aware of who are not Islamic?

Mr Lewis : There are many terrorists around the world through history that have not been Islamic.

Senator LAMBIE: No, I am asking you about now, in Australia. Are you aware that any of the terrorists that you are monitoring are not Islamic? What is the percentage of them that are Islamic?

Mr Lewis : The majority are. I think that, if I look back over recent history, we certainly have had terrorists in this country that are not Islamic, recently.

Senator LAMBIE: What is the ratio there? How many are Islamic? How many are not?

Mr Lewis : I cannot be specific on percentages. I do not know. The overwhelming issue currently, of course, is about the violent Islamic extremism that is driving the terrorists—ISIL in particular.

Senator LAMBIE: How much does it cost to monitor or keep under surveillance 190 Australian terrorist supporters?

Mr Lewis : I cannot answer that question, because we are not the only people, obviously, that are involved. There are law enforcement agencies, federal and state. There are other Commonwealth agencies that are involved. So I could not put a precise figure on it.

Senator LAMBIE: Do you know the precise figure, or a roundabout figure, Attorney-General?

Senator Brandis: I cannot really add anything to the director-general's answer. He is in charge of operational activities. The resources that are deployed by ASIO, or by state or territory police, or the Australian Federal Police, or other agencies, will depend on the circumstances of the particular case.

Senator LAMBIE: Would I be able to put that on notice, please, so I can have a costing for that.

Mr Lewis : No, I would not be able to give you a precise answer on that, because we would be one component part of the whole. In our own organisation, I am not prepared to break down publicly where we are spending our money in terms of the specific missions.

Senator LAMBIE: To you, Attorney-General, I just want an overall rounded figure for what it is costing—

Senator Brandis: Senator Lambie, ASIO produces an annual report which is tabled in parliament, and that annual report has annexed to it ASIO's financial statements—and also a breakdown, by the way, of its staffing establishment and other relevant financial data. So those financial statements will give you an overall sense of the magnitude and the cost of the work that ASIO does. But you asked about particular cases and, as the director-general and I have pointed out to you, it is really not possible or indeed appropriate to give that information. So we will not take the question on notice, because we have nothing more to say in answer to you.

Senator LAMBIE: So you cannot give me a roundabout costing—

Senator Brandis: I have pointed you to the annual report.

Senator LAMBIE: of what it is costing you for 190 suspects. How incompetent is that, Attorney-General, on your part?

Senator Brandis: No, it is not.

Senator LAMBIE: It is taxpayers' money. They would like to know how much it is costing them to monitor these 190 suspects, and I think that is a fair question.

Senator Brandis: Senator Lambie, there are three things I would say to you. First of all, you can get an idea of the cost of ASIO to the taxpayer from the annual report. Secondly, in relation to particular cases, it is not possible to generalise, because every case depends on its own particular facts and circumstances, and the requirement of resources will vary from one case to another. Thirdly, as the director-general has pointed out, there are actually security reasons why it would not be appropriate to break down those figures and place them in the public domain in any event.

Senator LAMBIE: Nobody asked you to break them down. I just want an overall figure.

Senator Brandis: No, I think you did, Senator.

Senator LAMBIE: No, I asked you for an overall figure. That is all I am asking you for.

Senator Brandis: Then I point you to the annual report.

Senator LAMBIE: I would like it on notice. I am putting it on notice, please, and I would like an answer.

Senator Brandis: I have given you the answer. I am not taking anything on notice. The annual report will tell you the cost of ASIO, the size of its staff establishment and so on. All those figures are available to you.

Senator LAMBIE: Can you give me a breakdown state by state of the number of traitors and terrorist supporters?

Mr Lewis : No, I would not be prepared to give you that.

Senator LAMBIE: Can you confirm there are 12 currently in Tasmania?

Mr Lewis : I said I would not be prepared to confirm where these cases lie.

Senator LAMBIE: Which state has the most terrorist suspects or supporters?

Mr Lewis : You are asking me the same question.

Senator LAMBIE: No, I asked you which state has the most terrorist suspects or supporters.

Mr Lewis : I am not prepared to comment on that.

Senator LAMBIE: I have no further questions, thanks.

CHAIR: Thank you very much, Mr Lewis and Ms Hartland.

Mr Lewis : Thank you very much, ladies and gentlemen, and thank you again for accommodating our time request.

CHAIR: It is the least we can do.