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Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee
Australian Security Intelligence Organisation

Australian Security Intelligence Organisation


CHAIR: Mr Lewis and Dr Southern, welcome and thank you very much for joining us. I indicate that our committee advice is that there will be questions for you from the ALP, the Greens, Senator Patrick and Senator Hume, and we'll come to them in due course, but would you like to make an opening statement, Mr Lewis?

Mr Lewis : Thank you very much. If it pleases the committee, I would like to make a few opening remarks.

CHAIR: Sure. Go right ahead.

Mr Lewis : First of all, good afternoon, and thank you for the opportunity to make some comments this afternoon. In several weeks ASIO will celebrate and commemorate our 70th anniversary as our nation's security service. It's at times like this that we should all quite properly reflect on how fortunate we are in this country to enjoy the social and the legal stability that provides us with a security service that's bound by the rule of law while at the same time being empowered to provide the security so necessary for a thriving democracy. ASIO continues to operate at the centre of our national security arrangements, and I'm very grateful for the wonderful work done by my officers to protect our country every day.

My last appearance before this committee in October was our first as part of the Home Affairs Portfolio. The substantial change of moving ASIO from its position within the Attorney-General's Portfolio to the Home Affairs Portfolio, having sat in Attorney-General's for 70 years, has presented some challenges and opportunities and we continue to engage with those—particularly the opportunities. In keeping with our mission, there continues to be substantial goodwill and cooperation between portfolio agencies. For ASIO, critical relationships—particularly with intelligence and law enforcement agencies within the portfolio—remain as strong as ever. I want to stress that ASIO maintains its statutory independence, and our day-to-day operational activities and business remains the same. We remain committed to delivering on our mission to protect Australia, its people and interests from the threats to security.

We recognise that our security intelligence advice is unique and that it is only one input drawn on for policy development advice. In this context, I'd like to make two direct comments about ASIO and our officers. Firstly, ASIO does not and will not use its position to influence the national debate on security-relevant issues through unauthorised disclosures. I have the greatest confidence that ASIO officers work with integrity and do not leak information to third parties, as has been repeatedly implied in the media. Secondly, ASIO does not finalise policy or provide running public commentary on the effectiveness of policy proposals. These are important considerations, because they go to the trust that the parliament and ultimately the Australian people have in the effectiveness of their security service and the confidence that they have in ASIO. I scarcely need to remind senators of the important limitations placed on intelligence services in successful democracies such as ours. When reporting wrongly attributed advice from ASIO or where our classified advice is leaked, it undermines all that we stand for. I want to make this point, as it is often difficult for me as the Director-General of Security to correct the public record: we do not want to enter into a running commentary on every reporting error. ASIO's advice is provided to agencies to assist with policy development, and there are strict controls on how that advice is managed and disseminated and breakdowns in these controls are seriously damaging.

Moving onto the subject of the security environment, I'd like to make some brief remarks with regard to counterterrorism. Since my last appearance before this committee in October, we have seen one politically motivated attack in Melbourne: the Bourke Street attack. Generally the security environment remains largely unchanged. Australia's national terrorism threat level remains at 'probable'. Since the national threat level was raised on 12 September in 2014, there have now been seven terrorist attacks and 15 major disruption operations in relation to imminent attack planning. As illustrated by the Bourke Street attack, the most likely form of terrorism in Australia remains an attack by an individual or small group using simple attack methodologies. While this methodology has been demonstrated, the possibility of more complex attacks of course cannot be ruled out. Extremist groups involved in the conflicts in Syria and Iraq, particularly ISIL, continue to inspire, to radicalise and to direct individuals in Australia to support and engage in politically motivated violence. ISIL's military losses in Syria and Iraq, while great, will not eliminate the threat it poses to this country and to our interests and those interests globally. We expect the threat from ISIL-inspired lone actors will endure.

I don't propose to go into detail about individuals, but I note that around 100 Australians are currently in Syria and Iraq and have fought for or otherwise supported extremist groups involved in the conflict. With the military and territorial demise of ISIL, which has resulted in the dispersal of foreign fighters, including Australians, there is less certainty about what to expect of their return. However, we do not expect to see a large-scale influx of these travellers and, across government, we are working hard to ensure that they are managed and dealt with appropriately. Government agencies have a comprehensive process in place for Australians with terrorist connections seeking to leave the conflict zone, and I have every confidence that identified returnees will continue to be managed appropriately on a case-by-case basis by the relevant organisations.

I might say a few words on counterespionage and foreign interference. I reiterate my previous comments to this committee that the current scale of foreign intelligence activity against Australian interests is unprecedented. Hostile intelligence activity poses a real and existential threat to Australian security and sovereignty. The harm from this threat may not manifest for many years, even decades, after the activity has occurred. We work cooperatively with relevant operational and policy agencies to deliver a cohesive national strategy.

As the Director-General of Security, I am concerned at reporting in Australian, foreign and foreign-language newspapers over this weekend just gone wrongly asserting that the Australian-Chinese community is a target for a ASIO and the national intelligence community at large. This is simply not so. These assertions and concerns were triggered by the removal of the permanent residency status of one individual and ASIO does not comment on individual cases. I have previously stated that ASIO does not investigate people based on their ethnicity, religion or cultural background. ASIO's investigative focus is on individuals and their activities of relevance to security. Our investigations are conducted discreetly, with great security and on a case-by-case basis. Across all investigations, ASIO is focused on the most critical threat and ensuring that we and our intelligence and law enforcement partners are positioned to counter them.

In Australia, we have many millions of residents from many ethnic backgrounds. This includes ethnic Chinese citizens, residents and other visa holders. These citizens and residents and their families make a major contribution to the Australian community and to our economy. They have established their homes, established their lives and established the lives of their children here in Australia. It's critical that we avoid commentary that will instil fear and taint a community that makes such a positive contribution to Australian life, our economy and our culture. As the D-G of Security, I can say categorically that, from a security point of view, the overwhelming majority of people with Chinese heritage here in Australia are of no investigative interest to ASIO as they are not of any security concern. We should not impugn the many for the actions of a few.

Finally, I have a couple of comments on transformation of our organisation. Senators, you are aware that the ongoing and ever-evolving challenges of our security environment are complex, and we expect these challenges to present at an increasing tempo. That requires that ASIO transforms and refreshes the way it does business. To meet the challenges ahead, we are adjusting our business and organisational model. We are transforming from a small, relatively self-contained agency to an enterprise much more closely integrated into the national security apparatus.

I come back to where I started. On the 16th of next month we will celebrate 70 years of ASIO's existence since its establishment back in 1949. We have come a long way from the commencement and we are proud of the endeavours and accomplishments of our organisation. As we enter our 70th year, we remain as committed as ever to being fit for purpose and being appropriately equipped to respond to enduring and future challenges. I thank you for permitting me to make these remarks.

CHAIR: Thank you very much, Mr Lewis, and congratulations to you and your team on your 70th anniversary.

Mr Lewis : It will be a very big cake, I suspect!

CHAIR: Yes! Again, fortunately and appropriately, very few Australians know exactly what you do. Sometimes they equate you to James Bond movies, but I'm sure it is nothing that glamorous. But we do very much appreciate, from our understanding, the very significant work ASIO does. So, on behalf of all of us and the parliament, congratulations and thanks for what you have done.

Mr Lewis : Thanks, Senator.

CHAIR: I also note your comments, and I'm pleased that the estimates, in this reasonably controlled environment, allow you to make some comments about why you don't comment on popular matters in the press. I think it's a timely reminder. I suspect that, more often than not, that will fall on deaf ears, but it's good you've had the opportunity to make that position clear, so I thank you for that.

Senator KIM CARR: Could we have a copy of that statement, Mr Lewis? Is that possible?

Mr Lewis : Senator, if it pleases you, could we just take it from the Hansard. I've made some editorials as I've been going along there.

Senator KIM CARR: So you don't have any notes?

Mr Lewis : I have notes, but they don't represent exactly what I said.

Senator KIM CARR: I just wanted to quote you accurately in questions. That's all.

Mr Lewis : I would prefer if we could take it from Hansard.

Senator KIM CARR: You don't have them in a form you could give the committee?

Mr Lewis : No. As I say, I've made some editorials along the way, so I would rather not be misquoted on things that I did not say.


Senator HUME: My questions are about advice that ASIO have provided to both the government and the Labor opposition on the Home Affairs Legislation Amendment (Miscellaneous Measures) Bill. That was advice in the last week or so, I think. Mr Lewis, did you personally attend a briefing on the Labor opposition's amendments to the miscellaneous measures bill last week?

Mr Lewis : Yes, I attended a briefing.

Senator HUME: And you provided advice at that briefing?

Mr Lewis : Yes, I did.

Senator HUME: Can I ask what that advice was?

Mr Lewis : No, Senator, you may not ask what that advice is?

Mr Lewis : I thought I'd be pushing my luck!

Mr Lewis : But what I would like to say is that the advice that ASIO has given throughout the process of the miscellaneous measures legislation has been constrained entirely to the issue of the legality of the ASIO Act and the application of the ASIO Act as a component part of the miscellaneous measures bill as it was put forward. So we have constrained ourselves to legal advice only. I'm sorry—there is also the issue of what was originally the 24-hour provision, which has now, I think, spun out to 72 hours. That is the challenge for an organisation such as mine, which habitually issues adverse security assessments or qualified security assessments on people—which, I might add, are a very serious issue and are not something that can be arrived at quickly, particularly given the demographic that we are speaking of here, where the background of those individuals may be more challenging in terms of identifying the details.

Senator HUME: I have some very specific questions for you on that particular issue, but before I get to them—

Mr Pezzullo : So as to avoid confusion later, through the course of the day, I think your question, Senator, referred to prospective Labor amendments to the miscellaneous measures bill. Just to be abundantly clear, the director-general and I and a number of other officers did brief Mr Shorten and his various senior colleagues on the Senate-amended bill. There was no discussion of, nor were we able as public officials unless otherwise authorised by the government to engage with the opposition on, what alternative constructions of the legislation might look like—in other words, 'Were Labor to move certain amendments, what would you think of that?' As beneficial as that discussion might well have been, in a Westminster system you brief and advise the government of the day. You're not in a position, unless otherwise exceptionally authorised, to work through amendments with the opposition. I think your question went to Labor's amendments.

Senator HUME: Yes, it did.

Mr Pezzullo : I wanted to be really clear about that, because the briefing was about the Senate-amended bill.

Senator HUME: I thank you very much for that clarification. It is very important. Mr Lewis, I wonder if you—obviously without telling me exactly what that advice was—can confirm that the advice you provided at the briefing was in accordance with the advice you provided to the government. So the advice to the opposition is the same as the advice that you gave to the government?

Mr Lewis : Yes. We gave one set of advice on several occasions, and that advice was constrained to the application of the ASIO Act to the intended legislative package.

Senator HUME: So did the Labor opposition move amendments with security advice from you on them or not?

Mr Lewis : I have no idea.

Senator HUME: So, the Labor Party amendments, as Mr Pezzullo said—

Mr Pezzullo : Respectfully, Senator, I don't think that's a matter for the Director-General. And, as I made clear in my intervention—which was precisely designed to perhaps anticipate this line of questioning—the opposition in the Westminster system makes up its own mind about what amendments to pursue. And they did so in this case, I would infer—because it happened after our briefing—on the basis of the briefing Mr Lewis and I provided, along with several of our colleagues. I want to stress again that the briefing was on the miscellaneous measures bill as amended by the Senate.

Senator HUME: Yes. All right. Thank you. I will ask a slightly different question. Mr Lewis, how does ASIO provide security advice to the minister now? Earlier you mentioned adverse security assessment, I think it was. Can you advise the Senate of the process you go through now to give advice to the minister?

Mr Lewis : I don't think it's appreciably different to what it has been historically. That is, we are able to, at the most extreme end of the scale, provide an adverse security assessment on an individual whom we consider to be a threat to security. That adverse security advice would then go up in briefing form. It could go up in terms of administrative action that is going to be taken or contemplated—the loss of a passport or the loss of other issues, administrative action that can be taken.

Similarly, there is a qualified security assessment, which is a slightly different order, but it's a very formal process. Again, administrative action in this case may not be taken on the basis of ASIO's security advice, but our security advice may add to other things which might cause a minister to contemplate administrative action. Second to last, we provide ministerial briefs which may go from time to time, which relate not to individuals; this would be more systemic issues that might confront us. And then finally, like all senior officials, I have a direct relationship with the minister and may raise with him in oral briefings from time to time concerns I might have.

Senator HUME: Can I ask you specifically about the QSAs or an ASA? For an Australian citizen, on average—and I know it's very hard to generalise—how long would a QSA or an ASA take ASIO to put together?

Mr Lewis : I don't think I can be specific here—and I'm not trying to be evasive. It just depends very much on the circumstance and the background of the individual. If a person was imminently traceable—they had a full history here, someone like, dare I say it, myself—where you could go back several generations and know exactly where the person came from, we would move through that fairly promptly. But if a person has a different kind of background, where they've come from someplace else, and the records may not be complete, it can take months and months and months.

Senator HUME: That's really the issue I wanted to get to. If a person's a foreign national who's lived a substantial part of their lives overseas, there would be some difficulty turning around the advice for a QSA or an ASA from ASIO's perspective—getting that advice to a minister in a timely manner?

Mr Lewis : There could be, yes. We would typically have to go to second and third countries to test their holdings on the individual, and that takes time.

Senator HUME: You say 'that takes time'; can you give us an indication of how long that takes?

Mr Lewis : It can be several months.

Senator HUME: Months—so, not 24 hours and certainly not 72 hours.

Mr Lewis : Again, it depends entirely on the circumstances. We can from time to time get very quick turnaround if it were some sort of national emergency, if there was a terrorist that was about to cross our border or something of that nature. But for what I would describe as more-routine administrative checks, then obviously prioritisation cuts in and it can take a considerable amount of time.

Senator HUME: So, for somebody who is currently on Manus or Nauru, does it concern ASIO that the expectation is that you will be able to turn around an ASA or a QSA within 72 hours?

Mr Lewis : Without going into the detail of the content of the brief—because that is not appropriate—we have advised on concerns that we have with regard to the application of the ASIO Act as it stands in the legislation as it was contemplated.

Senator HUME: Does that—I'm sorry; I'm translating—suggest that you think this particular part of the amendments that have been passed to this bill are potentially unworkable for your agency?

Mr Lewis : I'm not saying that. I have just said that we have restrictions because of the wording of the ASIO Act. There will obviously be limitations on how fast we can respond, and the speed of response would depend entirely on the information that we might already have on the individual. Obviously if we had a full picture on somebody we could respond instantaneously, but it depends on whether you have that or not.

Senator HUME: And this concern is something you have expressed to both the government and the opposition in briefings?

Mr Lewis : I have expressed to them that the ASIO Act as it is currently written, and the processes that we follow as a result of that act, would make the invocation of the ASIO Act of limited value, and not complete, if what I understand to be the intention of the act was correct.

Senator WATT: That being the original bill that was passed by the Senate—

Mr Lewis : That's correct.

Senator WATT: rather than the Labor amendments?

Mr Lewis : I haven't passed any comments other than on the original bill—

Senator WATT: I just wanted to make that clear.

Mr Lewis : and I wouldn't share any further advice that I have given on that.

Senator HUME: My understanding is that the original bill required a turnaround of 24 hours. The Labor amendments required 72 hours. But from what you are telling me, Mr Lewis, sometimes the work that ASIO does to provide a QSA, or to provide an ASA, could potentially take months?

Mr Lewis : Sometimes it could, indeed.

Senator PRATT: The Prime Minister and the Minister for Home affairs announced on 22 November that the government would lower the bar to strip Australian dual citizens with terrorist convictions of their citizenship. On 28 November the government introduced a bill into the parliament. Did ASIO ever provide specific advice to the Minister for Home Affairs, or the department, about the desirability of amending section 35A of the Australian Citizenship Act?

Mr Lewis : Yes, ASIO was consulted on the citizenship amendment bill. But I would say that questions in relation to this are better directed to the department. The department has carriage of that bill. We were consulted and made a number of suggestions and some technical observations relevant to ASIO's remit.

Senator PRATT: It is important I separate these questions out. These things get politicised—about the nature of who supports what—and, as you know, people take great weight in what you have provided advice on. The advice you were asked to consider was specifically about making it easier to cancel the citizenship of convicted terrorists?

Mr Lewis : I won't go to the detail of the advice we gave, I'm sorry.

Senator PRATT: So you won't go to the detail of which parts of that bill you did give advice on?

Mr Lewis : I just said that it was only in relation to that part that impacted ASIO.

Senator PRATT: Does amending section 35A of the Citizenship Act impact on ASIO?

Mr Lewis : I don't know. I don't have the details in front of me. I would have to take that on notice, unless the department is able to answer later on. I just don't have the information in front of me.

Senator PRATT: When did you first find out about the citizenship bill?

Mr Lewis : I don't know. I have no idea personally when that would have been. I know it was before Christmas, as you've described.

Senator PRATT: Were you are specifically to comment on the drafting of this legislation?

Mr Lewis : I just said we were consulted and we made a number of suggestions and technical amendments to the department with regard to that.

Senator PRATT: If the minister says the bill was drafted on the advice of agencies would that be accurate insofar as ASIO is concerned?

Mr Lewis : I'm not sure what was put in front of the minister, so I can't comment on that. The advice we put into the mix may or may not have been taken. I don't have an understanding of that.

Senator PRATT: So it's not correct for the minister to say that the version of the bill that was put forward to the parliament, including the section of the bill that lowers the threshold for stripping someone of citizenship, was drafted based on ASIO's advice?

Mr Lewis : No, I don't think that's what I said, Senator. You've cited the minister. I'm not sure what he said, but I understand you're saying that he said it was done on the advice of agencies. I'm sure that's correct. What I don't know is to what extent the advice that ASIO put into the drafting process was or was not taken.

Mr Pezzullo : I can add to that. As the department with carriage of the relevant legislation—and I'll check the records and you can ask me during the evidence of the department proper—if ASIO had any views, objections, caveats or concerns, they would have been expressly drawn to the minister's attention.

Senator PRATT: Yes. I don't dispute that, but what I do worry about is where the minister has a particular political objective in mind, which might be to politicise the removing of the rights of citizenship, and then says it was because ASIO gave us advice that it was the right thing to do—

CHAIR: Senator, this is to ask questions, please, not to make political statements.

Senator PRATT: Mr Lewis, you do understand why I'm asking the questions, don’t you?

CHAIR: Hang on. Can you frame your questions without reference to politicians? You can get to the same result and make it easier, can I say, for officers at the table, particularly ASIO, who are not involved in the political process. You can ask the same question but in a way that doesn't involve the officials having to be seen to be commenting on what politicians on both sides might or might not say.

Senator PRATT: Okay. Did you comment specifically on the drafting of the legislation? Mr Lewis, did ASIO do that?

Mr Lewis : You asked me whether we commented and I said that we were consulted on the citizenship amendment bill and we made a number of amendments and technical amendments relevant to ASIO's remit. It's probably important to note that citizenship cessation is one measure among a number to protect Australia and Australians from terrorism, but it doesn't necessarily eliminate the threat posed by those who are subject to citizenship loss.

Senator PRATT: Before I move on to other topics, if the department says 18 people might be under question for assessment in terms of lowering this threshold, surely that's not correct if any of those 18 are known not to be dual citizens. Did you provide advice on the extent to which that was taken into account?

Mr Lewis : No. It's a curious question, Senator, but, no, not on matters of citizenship. ASIO would not have given advice on that.

Senator PRATT: Is the minister correct to say there are 18 people of concern?

CHAIR: No—not, 'Is the minister correct'; 'Is it a fact that such and such—

Senator PRATT: No. It's fine. I will move on because—

CHAIR: I don't want officials to be—

Senator PRATT: I do understand that we don't want to get dragged into it. I'll move on to other issues to help the committee. Can I ask, please, about the classified advice from the Department of Home Affairs regarding the Phelps bill which was leaked to journalist from The Australian? Was that advice wrongly attributed to ASIO?

Mr Lewis : I think I said in my opening remarks, Senator, that the advice that ASIO gave in relation to the bill you refer to as the 'Phelps bill'—the miscellaneous measures bill—was confined to the application of the ASIO Act as it was a trade in the original bill that was put forward.

Senator PRATT: Yes, but was it wrongly attributed to ASIO as a result of that? In other words, you're saying it wasn't your advice that was leaked?

Mr Lewis : I'm saying we gave advice on the narrow interpretation of the ASIO Act. If The Australian newspaper or any other media organisation has gone beyond that, then that is not correct. We constrained ourselves to the issue of the legislative provision of the ASIO Act and how that could either assist or, in fact, obstruct the intention, as we understood it, of the miscellaneous measures bill.

Senator PRATT: Thank you. So, if you've reviewed what's in The Australian, clearly you're saying that advice can and should not be attributed to ASIO?

Mr Pezzullo : I can assist, perhaps, because it goes to the question of the referral I subsequently made. I think it might have been on the day of the publication, perhaps the day after, but I'll refresh my memory before we move to the department. I think the headline—Mr Lewis might have made reference to ASIO advice. But in fairness to Mr Benson, the journalist, when one actually unpacked the article and read—some people I suppose only read the headline and some read the whole article—it said something like—I will get the construction not precisely right—that in advice from the Department of Home Affairs, based on contributions or advice from ASIO, and I think possibly the Australian Border Force might have been named as well, the government has been advised of the following factors: X, Y, Z. That was the Benson article. So, if you actually read down the column it would have become transparently apparent that the advice was from the Department of Home Affairs, which drew on, in part, advice from ASIO. The Director-General has made clear that advice was confined to one particular matter. He has described the matter; I don't need to repeat it.

Senator PRATT: Mr Lewis, when did ASIO see the advice and was ASIO ever asked to review the advice before it was sent to the Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs?

Mr Lewis : I don't have that detail in front of me. I can take that on notice and get back to you. We did see the advice, but I don't have the precise timing.

Senator PRATT: Can I ask if you agree with the analysis and the security assessment that was attributed to ASIO in the leaked advice, and more broadly?

Mr Lewis : You can ask, but really it is not a matter where ASIO is asked for advice or has the lead competency. The issue that you are referring to—what were the implications of the legislation—is a matter that is assessed by others, not by ASIO. That is something that is done elsewhere within the department and elsewhere within the security community. But, no, and I am not prepared to discuss my private views on that. It is irrelevant. So, no.

Senator KIM CARR: Mr Lewis, following your reading of this material in The Australian, which was headed 'Phelps bill a security risk: ASIO', you assured yourself that no officer from your agency was responsible for communicating any information from ASIO, did you not?

Mr Lewis : Yes I did.

Senator KIM CARR: And you are satisfied that there was no leak from ASIO?

Mr Lewis : Yes, I am.

Senator KIM CARR: Given what you said in your opening statement, this is the sort of behaviour that you think actually undermines confidence in ASIO as an agency in which the parliament has confidence and trust. Is that the thrust of your remarks?

Mr Lewis : Yes, it is.

CHAIR: Senator—

Senator KIM CARR: Just let me finish this.

CHAIR: No, Senator Pratt had finished her time. We'll come to you—plenty of time.

Senator PRATT: Do I have any time left.

CHAIR: No, you don't.

Senator PRATT: That's fine. I have two minutes of questions left.

CHAIR: You started at 2:36—

Senator KIM CARR: If I could just make this point. Your opening remarks—

CHAIR: Which means that your time has finished, Senator Pratt. I'll now go to Senator Molan.

Senator MOLAN: I have only one question. Director-General, as you are considering the issue of conducting assessments over a 72-hour period in relation to the migration bill miscellaneous issues, will this become for you an issue of more resources or of re-allocating resources? What is the resource impact on you, should there be, in that 72 hours, one person or 300 people?

Mr Lewis : If we were to be hit by 300, as you just described, that would be something that any amount of resources wouldn't resolve, in all probability, because of the timeframes involved. It really goes to the point, I think, I was making to Senator Hume earlier: it would depend on the information that we had on the individuals concerned. The more information we had, obviously, the quicker the turnaround time; and the less information we have, then you would very quickly move outside the 72-hour time frame.

Senator MOLAN: Nauru, I think, has a population of IMAs of about 500-plus; and on Manus Island it is about 400. Of that population of just under 1,000 people, are you able to say what proportion of them you have been looking at in detail for a long period of time, and who may come in very, very easily?

Mr Lewis : Senator, the bottom line on that is, no, I wouldn't comment on individual cases, but let me give you something here because I think this is important. When an IMA person arrives on Nauru, Manus Island or wherever they have arrived over the last many years, those individuals are run against the national intelligence holdings—that is, the Movement Alert List and other areas. So, they are run against national intelligence holdings. If the individual registers then, obviously, we will do follow-up investigations. If the individual does not register, they are not referred to ASIO by the immigration department and nor should they be.

Senator MOLAN: By registering, I assume you mean a red flag goes up?

Mr Lewis : That's correct. The only other time that they are run then against those national intelligence indices is if there is a prospect—and, Secretary, you might just confirm this—of them then being moved from one of those offshore processing centres to Australia, then they would be run again.

Senator MOLAN: Is it possible to say that 40 per cent of them have had red flags against them or 10 per cent—

Senator MOLAN: No, Senator. Chair, that's all I've got, thank you.

CHAIR: You've got another 6½ minutes. I might use some of your time, Senator Molan. For assessments of people on Nauru, you only look at them if asked by the Department of Home Affairs?

Mr Lewis : That's correct, yes. If they ping against the intelligence indices and are referred by the Department of Home Affairs, then we will begin an ASIO investigation into those individuals.

CHAIR: Were you saying earlier that you find it much easier to investigate people who have papers—passports and travel documents—than people who have absolutely nothing?

Mr Lewis : That would be true, Senator. If an individual had a very traceable and auditable background, it is quite clear to me that our investigators would move more quickly through that case than if they had to go and find that documentation, as I say, generally, through second and third countries.

CHAIR: Are you able to say that the countries of origin of people that have been investigated that have no papers are somewhere where you could get to Indonesia or Sri Lanka without a flight?

Mr Lewis : I don't think I could comment on that Senator; I'm not sure.

CHAIR: I'd ask you to take it on notice, only I'm not quite sure what you would take on notice—how you would become involved. You would only become involved if the Department of Home Affairs asked you to?

Mr Lewis : If it was referred to us, yes.

CHAIR: I will leave it at that. Senator Carr.

Senator KIM CARR: Mr Lewis, you were commenting in your opening remarks about the fact that ASIO has a very long history—70 years, you said. You were saying how important it was to maintain public confidence in ASIO, particularly in this parliament, by which I took you to mean—and perhaps you could correct me if I'm mistaken—across-the-board support, bipartisan support, for the work of ASIO. Was that correct?

Mr Lewis : Yes, Senator, I spoke about the support of the parliament for ASIO.

Senator KIM CARR: And that included a broad cross-section of the parliament and, when I say bipartisan, I mean both the government and the opposition.

Mr Lewis : I think 'the parliament' implies that it's everybody sitting in either house of this place.

Senator KIM CARR: Would it be fair to say that throughout the history of ASIO that has not always been the case?

Mr Lewis : Absolutely. Sadly, a cursory read of our official history will show you some of the awkward times that we've had as an organisation, and I for one would never want to return to those times.

Senator KIM CARR: Exactly. From what I know of your work after working with you in government, I would understand exactly what you mean, and that's why I might offer a view to you that I'm sure you would be very concerned—

CHAIR: No, offer a question.

Senator KIM CARR: I put this to you: that's why I understood you to be saying why you are so concerned about the report that appeared in The Australian identifying ASIO as the source of the material—a classified report—appearing on the front page of The Australian newspaper. Is that a fair reading of your response?

Mr Lewis : Yes, and I hope I made it plain in my opening remarks that the advice that ASIO gave was not what was represented on the front page of The Australian newspaper.

Senator KIM CARR: So the report was inaccurate; that's the first point. The second is that it is absolutely counter to your purpose in the political system in this country to provide partisan advice of the type that was presented in that report.

Mr Lewis : I just go back to what I said before: it is very important that the parliament, everybody in it and all those people that parliamentarians represent—the whole of the Australian community—have confidence in the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation. It is unhelpful, in my view, when inaccurate reports circulate. As you know, they can gather momentum through time.

Senator KIM CARR: Yes.

Mr Lewis : I just want to make sure that the record is put straight: the advice that ASIO gave in this particular case was confined to the application of the ASIO Act in the miscellaneous measures bill.

Senator KIM CARR: The history of this bill is quite an interesting one. It was actually a tidy-up bill, a non-controversial bill.

CHAIR: Do you have a question?

Senator KIM CARR: I'm just reinforcing what the director-general's saying.

CHAIR: No. As I said at the opening, we're here to ask questions and leave the political statements somewhere else.

Senator KIM CARR: Thank you, Mr Chairman. I'll do my very best to get through this as quickly as I can, and perhaps you could do the same. Mr Lewis, the report was subsequently declassified. Were you consulted about the declassification of that material?

Mr Lewis : I feel confident we were consulted. I don't recall personally, but I'm fairly confident the department did come to us and say, 'Look, this is going to happen; do you have any concerns?' because, quite obviously, the department would rightfully have been concerned about putting out something that was in fact still classified from an ASIO point of view.

Senator KIM CARR: Yes. I'm just trying to remember a precedent for the events that we saw with this particular matter, with a document being presented to a journalist claiming, it would appear from the report, to be based on a confidential and classified briefing from you—from ASIO, not you personally—which was subsequently declassified. Can you indicate to me whether or not there has been a precedent for that.

Mr Lewis : I don't think I've been around long enough to know that.

Senator KIM CARR: You've read the history. You know the history of your own organisation.

Mr Lewis : Yes.

Senator KIM CARR: You were a security adviser prior to this particular role that you're in now. You have a long and distinguished history in terms of your contribution in these fields. Do you recall an incident of this type?

Mr Lewis : I don't off the top of my head, but I hesitate to confirm that that's the case. Something may well have happened with leaked ASIO information in the past. I wouldn't want to give you an incorrect answer on that.

Senator KIM CARR: Thank you very much.

Mr Pezzullo : Senator Carr, could I add to the director-general's answers, because I think it reinforces a very important point that is premised in your questions about ASIO's independence and its standing in both the community and the parliament.

Senator KIM CARR: Yes.

Mr Lewis : The director-general was the only officer or official with whom I consulted before I made the referral. I notified Dr Parkinson that I intended to do so, but I'd already made that decision by that stage. Having read not just the headline—I think, as you've mentioned, the headline draws attention to ASIO—but also the body, it very clearly purports to be about a Department of Home Affairs submission which draws from, amongst other places, ASIOs advice. In my judgement one of the tipping points that warranted a referral to the federal police commissioner, which was covered this morning, was the fact that it put ASIO in the spotlight of, if you like, a legislative argument around a bill. It was one of the factors that I added to my set of factors that led me to refer the matter. As I said, I consulted with the Director-General contemporaneously. He and I were mutually dissatisfied about the representation, potentially—we are not criminal investigators—of classified advice and, therefore, I decided to proceed. It goes to your point about the importance—

Senator KIM CARR: Yes, it does. Mr Pezzullo, I was going to ask you who did you discuss the matter with?

Mr Pezzullo : Mr Lewis.

Senator KIM CARR: That's right. You've confirmed that you did not seek permission of any government minister?

Mr Pezzullo : No.

Senator KIM CARR: You acted on your own authority, as you are required to do, I would expect?

Mr Pezzullo : Indeed. I suspect ministers and their advisers found out about it as the referral was going.

Senator KIM CARR: But you are required, in terms of your legislative responsibility, to actually refer a leak of this type?

Mr Pezzullo : I think strictly speaking it is under administrative direction—the public's protective security framework, which binds all secretaries and agency heads to make such referrals. I think, from memory, it is an administrative instrument issued under the authority either of the Attorney-General or the Attorney-General's secretary. I will get that confirmed. But generally, as well, our job is to uphold the law. The law says you don't leak, in an unauthorised fashion, classified information.

Senator KIM CARR: That's right, even if you are a cabinet minister.

Mr Pezzullo : I don't know how to respond to that.

Senator Reynolds: Senator Carr, you weren't here this morning. That was canvassed at some length with the AFP Commissioner, and I might point you to his testimony. Again, he confirmed that it's still under evaluation—

Senator KIM CARR: Senator, I watched the proceedings. I am not arguing the toss about what the AFP has done. I am interested in the response of ASIO to what I regard as a highly offensive act by this government.

Senator Reynolds: Senator Carr, if you just let me finish, I understand that. But the point I was going to make is that, because it is still under evaluation he doesn't characterise it as a leak, because that has yet to be proven and that's part of the categorisation of this.

Senator KIM CARR: We are not going to there. We are going to the fact that this appeared. It is a classified document that appeared on the front page of The Australian newspaper.

CHAIR: This is not a debate. We are here to ask questions. Senator Pratt, do you have a question in the next minute?

Senator PRATT: Yes, I do. Noting that you might be constrained in terms of what you can say, the Prime Minister, in the House of Representatives this morning, referred to the cyberattack on the parliamentary system. How would you categorise the attack in terms of seriousness and is the integrity of our system still intact?

Mr Lewis : I would describe the attack as being sophisticated, which I think is the word that the Prime Minister used and, in fact, the Leader of the Opposition. It is a sophisticated attack on, in the first instance, the parliamentary services, and in the second instance on the three major political parties and their systems. Beyond that, I wouldn't comment other than to say that in terms of the electoral machinery which we have in this country, that is the Australian Electoral Commission and the various state electoral commissions that work with the federal system, there is no evidence that they have been compromised.

Senator PRATT: Is there any compromise of the systems overall? So you are saying the electoral systems remain intact. Does that mean there are other systems that are not intact?

Mr Lewis : I think I have just said that there were penetrations of the parliamentary system, of the DPS—the Department of Parliamentary Services—and the different systems that support the three major political parties. Beyond that, I would not be prepared to go. The investigation is underway. We are very busy at this time, together with our colleagues in the Australian Signals Directorate and the Australian Cyber Security Centre.

Senator PRATT: Was it a knock on the door or a significant compromise?

Mr Lewis : I am not going to comment, Senator. I am sorry.

Senator PRATT: Has the attack now been neutralised?

Mr Lewis : I won't comment on that. I describe it as 'being managed'. I don't want to go into the detail of exactly what has been stopped and started and so forth, but I am satisfied that it is being managed within an inch of its life.

Senator PRATT: Thank you.

Senator McKIM: I'd like to ask a couple of questions on the Australian report of 7 February. Has the AFP been in touch with ASIO in regard to its evaluation of Mr Priscilla's referral?

Mr Lewis : No, they've not been engaged with me. I can't comment about anyone else in the organisation—that's a question possibly for the police to answer—but, no, not with me.

Senator McKIM: They told us morning, by the way, that they're still evaluating the matter. You've expressed concerns about some of the things that led up to this report. Just to be clear, Mr Pezzullo gave evidence this morning—he's here, so he can correct me if I paraphrase him inaccurately—that he formed the view that on face value there may have been a leak of classified material. I'll pause there to give Mr Pezzullo a chance to—

Mr Pezzullo : That it appeared on face value that the journalist in question—who is a senior and distinguished writer for The Australian and is very careful in how he sources information—and I'm not the police, that information had either been summarised and paraphrased to him or that he potentially had sighted a document. The latter obviously being of more concern. All I can do is go off appearances. It satisfied my threshold of concern. Going back to my answer to Senator Carr, the fact that ASIO had been thrown into the mix—I think we all have a special obligation and duty to support the director-general, because of ASIO's powers and its role in our community, to ensure that it is absolutely beyond question in terms of its involvement in day-to-day politics—those two factors coming together warranted a referral.

Senator McKIM: I will come back to you, Mr Lewis. Mr Pezzullo, by using the words 'ASIO had been thrown into the mix', you're referring to the fact that the advice, which you have given evidence about this morning was actually advice from the department, borrowed from—or 'drew from', I think was your expression—advice from ASIO.

Mr Pezzullo : It drew upon advice from a number of agencies, including ASIO. As the director-general has said, and I don't want to summarise his evidence—he can speak for himself—his advice was particularly pertinent, in fact, solely confined to but particularly pertinent, on the applicability of the ASIO security definition in the ASIO act.

Senator McKIM: So it's fair to say that you're very concerned about this circumstance, Mr Lewis?

Mr Lewis : Yes.

Senator McKIM: I think you used the term 'seriously damaging' in your opening statement; is that right?

Mr Lewis : I think I said, 'Instances like this can be seriously damaging to the reputation of an organisation such as mine.' We will obviously move on, but I want to make sure that senators are aware of my unease with this sort of leak. It's not a good place to be.

Senator McKIM: There is no argument from this chair, at least, Mr Lewis, and I'm sure other committee members would feel the same. Mr Pezzullo called you to discuss this prior to him making the referral to the AFP?

Mr Lewis : Yes, as he just described.

Senator McKIM: I'm not asking you to go into the detail of the conversation, but did you concur with his decision to refer the matter?

Mr Lewis : Yes. It seemed very sensible to me, and since I was satisfied that the leak had not come from inside ASIO then I thought it was most appropriate that Mr Pezzullo took the action that he did and refer it to the Federal Police.

Senator McKIM: Thanks for that. Senator Pratt asked you about the recent hack of Parliamentary servers and servers of political parties in Australia. It has been placed on the record that it's likely to have been the result of hostile intelligence activity from foreign countries. Are you able to confirm that?

Mr Lewis : I think the words that were used by the Prime Minister and I think the Leader of the Opposition were that it was likely to be a foreign state—state-based, might have been the words they used; I actually have the words here somewhere. The expression that was used was 'a sophisticated state actor'.

Senator McKIM: And how many sophisticated state actors are there in the world that could conduct attacks such as these?

Mr Lewis : There is a number.

Senator McKIM: Would you care to name them?

Mr Lewis : No.

Senator McKIM: Does this remind you of Russia's hacks on the US election, specifically the hacks on the Democratic Party? On the face of it, there are pretty significant similarities.

Mr Lewis : It doesn't remind me particularly of any actor. What it does, of course, is cause you to think about the frequency with which there have been penetrations of political parties and the discourse that goes around that in various countries in largely the Western world, but not exclusively, over the past three or four years.

Senator McKIM: So, this is I guess a recent phenomenon that has occurred particularly in democracies around the world?

Mr Lewis : Yes, I think that's true. It's not all democracies, but there have been enough to be of concern to us, and it caused us some months ago to set up the Electoral Integrity Task Force, which is a cross-government task force. It's not run by us, but the Australian Electoral Commission is of course central to all of that, and ASIO certainly supports that task force. It is of core interest to me to ensure that there is no foreign interference in our electoral process. And as I said, mercifully we have no evidence to show that the electoral mechanics, if you like—the electrons that go around our election—have been impacted in any way. It is purely confined to a limited attack on this building, the Department of Parliamentary Services and then an attack on the three major political parties of the country: Liberal, Labor and Nationals.

Senator McKIM: Understood, but would you concur with a statement that in order to interfere with elections in a democracy it's actually not necessary to hack the Electoral Commission in the context of Australia, that you can actually interfere in elections through the dissemination of information obtained from other sources—for example, political parties?

Mr Lewis : I agree with that. There are a number of ways this can be done, and of course attacks would be very dependent on what the local circumstances were. For example, is there compulsory voting or not? That would obviously impact how you were going to try to influence the election. So, it's kind of horses for courses, is what I'm saying.

Senator McKIM: Sure. Thanks. And I think this is going to be my last question on this issue. Has ASIO or anyone else on the task force that you mentioned, to your knowledge, had a look at some of the attacks that have happened around the world and tried to use the other processes that are underway in places like the UK and the US to inform yourselves as to how to better defend our democracy against attacks like this?

Mr Lewis : I can answer half of that question. It would also be profitable I think to put that to the department when the coordinator is available. But from ASIO's point of view the answer is yes—that we have of course been engaging our intelligence partners where we think there has been intrusion or interference to understand what lessons they have learnt in order that we can bring that back here and ensure that we steel ourselves against those kinds of problems.

Senator McKIM: And they would include your Five Eyes colleagues?

Mr Lewis : Yes.

CHAIR: Mr Lewis, you indicated that the attacks were on the major political parties. Is there any significance in that at all, that you can mention to this committee?

Mr Lewis : I don't quite understand the purpose of your question. It would be very significant, obviously, for organisations that have been subject to penetration. That's a matter of concern. And I might add that we are working I think very effectively with all those organisations that I mentioned now to ensure that the matter is handled expeditiously, that there is no further chance of the problem metastasising, and we're working to try to understand what has happened.

CHAIR: You mentioned three political parties. Were they the only three attacked? There's a fourth political party in Australia—well, and a fifth and a sixth and a seventh, I guess—but none of them were attacked?

Mr Lewis : Not to our knowledge.

CHAIR: Would you know only if those political parties then contacted you or someone contacted you and said, 'Hey, we've been hacked as well'?

Mr Lewis : I'd rather not go into the techniques that are used, but you can be assured that, once three political parties have been attacked, our checks then incorporate other related organisations to make sure that if there is any peripheral penetration that's gone on we would have an understanding of it.

CHAIR: Okay. That's particularly interesting. There was some evidence—and I think we've mentioned it in this committee before—about Russian bots. I'll get the terminology wrong, because I struggle to know what a bot is. But there have been some newspaper reports, and I think evidence in this committee, about foreign countries signing up as followers to a number of Australian—well, one only, but an Australian politician. Is that in the same category as attacks on the cyber system?

Mr Lewis : In a generic sense, yes. I mean, they are all attacks. If it would assist, I do have a young ASIO officer who is a full bottle on bots. She has just finished educating the Director-General on this subject.

CHAIR: Then I've asked you at the right time!

Mr Lewis : I'll confine my comments to just a few minutes, but no; that is another technique, which is very public, of using that sort of technology in order to metastasise messages.

CHAIR: We did mention this in previous estimates. Has ASIO been involved in following up those bot attacks or bot sophistications?

Mr Lewis : I wouldn't comment on our operations and what we've done in response to those. That is an operational response.

CHAIR: Okay. But, as you indicated, you have been looking at the attacks on the political parties and parliament. Have you been looking at the bot issue in relation to people—in this context, politicians?

Mr Lewis : Long pre-dating the current attacks that we're talking about.

CHAIR: It was just before the last estimates, actually. So, really my question was—and if you can't answer it I won't pursue it—you have said, 'Yes, we're looking at attacks on the parliament and the political parties.' You're just looking into them; you're not telling us anything more. But I'm just asking you: did you look into those bot issues where a particular politician, according to the papers and I think mentioned here, was the subject of an attack, or whatever you would call it, from Russian or other bots? Did you look into that?

Mr Lewis : Again, that is an individual case, and I would rather not comment on it. But I can assure you that the issue of bots and the threat that they pose to our electoral process and all of our partner countries' electoral processes is increasingly well understood. It has been a matter of interest to my organisation for some time, predating this current attack on the DPS and the three parliamentary parties.

CHAIR: Can we as politicians find out from someone? Do you lecture or give information on how to identify if we have bots on our system? Or should someone do that, if not you?

Mr Lewis : The Australian Cyber Security Centre is the organisation that is best positioned to engage with either industry or the parliament or the parties or in fact any external agencies. That is why the cyber centre was established, in order to make that interface between what I might describe as the very dark business of cyber work and engaging with the community, which is vulnerable. So the Cyber Security Centre: I would encourage you that that is the place to go and the people to ask.

CHAIR: Thanks, good advice. Are there other questions for ASIO?

Senator PATRICK: In relation to foreign interference, I apologise if I haven't been here for all the words you have been speaking about that, so if I mention something that has already been answered you can refer me to the Hansard. I know Senator McKim was talking about foreign interference. Do you see the threat of foreign interference growing?

Mr Lewis : Through time, yes. I have come to a view that foreign interference is more prevalent now than it would have been a decade or two or three decades ago, because you can. The facility for foreign interference is greater now than it has ever been in our history. That is really a comment about technology more than anything else. You are able to interfere in other people's electronic business in a way that was not possible in the past.

Senator PATRICK: Perhaps in the short term, would you say there has been an increase between this time last year and now?

Mr Lewis : I'm not sure I would put it into that tight a time frame. I think it is probably true to say that it is just growing inexorably through time. As we all become more dependent on electronic systems, those systems, unfortunately, while they do us a power of good, are also a great vulnerability. The other thing I might add, and this is a philosophical view, is that foreign interference is possibly more prevalent now because of the effects of globalisation. It goes in part to the technological issue, but the fact is that we have globalised systems at present—globalised supply chains and industries and so forth—so it is probably not surprising that this is a feature of our lives that we need to pay attention to.

Senator PATRICK: In the context of legislation that we passed last year—I know that it has really only just come into effect—has that been effective in slowing anything down or just helping you deal with something? The whole purpose of that legislation, I believe, would have been to provide a deterrent effect in respect of foreign interference. Can you give me some view as to whether or not that is having an effect?

Mr Lewis : I am very positive about both those pieces of legislation—the espionage and foreign interference legislation, and the second bit that we call FITS—the Foreign Influence Transparency Scheme. You are quite right to say, particularly in the case of the second piece of legislation, that it is going to be a very effective deterrent, because if you are not registered and you are caught out trying to have influence here in Australia without registering your interest in a foreign direction, you would be, prima facie, breaking the law. I find that a positive development. With regard to the EFI—the espionage and foreign interference legislation—of course I have been saying for some time that you don't get instant results about these things. Investigations of foreign interference typically have a very long sine wave, and we are working through that now. You know yourself that the laws that existed before EFI were archaic. There was even a provision in there for drilling, which we all thought was confused with the minerals industry, but it was to do with drilling soldiers up and down a road—marching people up and down a road. It was very, very Victorian—I don't mean the state of Victoria; I mean Victorian England—in terms of its wording. The new legislation is something that I welcome.

Senator PATRICK: I'm mindful of time. Since the passage of that legislation, which came into effect in December, I think, and noting your suggesting there's ongoing political interference, are those laws being exercised? Are we likely to see a prosecution in respect of that in the short term?

Mr Lewis : As I said, prosecutions in the foreign interference area are a notoriously long sine curve. They take a long time. You will recall there was no retrospectivity. I can't answer that question directly.

Senator PATRICK: Moving to the next federal election, what are you doing in respect of cooperation with the Australian Electoral Commission?

Mr Lewis : I did refer to this when we talked about the electoral integrity task force, which was established—

Senator PATRICK: If you've said something about it, I'm happy to go and look at the Hansard.

Mr Lewis : We sit on that task force and we contribute directly into it.

Senator PATRICK: To what extent are media organisations a target of clandestine foreign interference and then, flowing from that, are you interacting with media organisations?

Mr Lewis : I've commented publicly on foreign language newspapers in particular, but other than that I don't have anything to offer with regard to other media.

Senator PATRICK: Going back to prosecutions, and noting what you said before, is it too early to be able to describe what role the AFP takes in foreign interference, noting it deals with the criminal—looking at briefs and activities—to understand what your role is versus that of the AFP?

Mr Lewis : I obviously won't speak for the police commissioner, but I can assure you that the AFP and ASIO are sitting back-to-back around these issues. I am confident—I've seen this myself—that we are ready to pass information that we have, which is intelligence, and to turn that where possible into evidence, because that's an exquisite kind of art. The mechanisms are in place for that.

Senator PATRICK: So, predominantly, you're looking at the intelligence side of things and they're looking more at the turning into evidence and—

Mr Lewis : A prosecution.

Senator PATRICK: prosecuting. Thank you. Do you have the same definition of what might be politically sensitive matters as the AFP? Are you running off a common set of definitions?

Mr Lewis : I would think so, although when we begin, if we were to begin, a foreign interference investigation, we would have already crossed the threshold of sensitivity at that point. That's why we would conduct the investigation.

Senator PATRICK: I know you work in a world that necessarily involves a lot of secrecy, but you'd understand that in certain states when intelligence organisations and police organisations get involved in electoral matters there would be great concern. I'm not suggesting that that would take place here, but I wonder whether there is any documentation that you're going to put out publicly that would alleviate concerns that people—certainly people in other countries—might have.

Mr Lewis : I don't think ASIO would be putting out such documentation, but I would not be at all surprised if the Australian Cyber Security Centre and then of course the Electoral Commission were to put out advice and surety, where that was available, that they would do that. ASIO is not involved, as you've sort of intimated, in the electoral process as, perhaps, in some other countries you have the odium of a crossover there. With my organisation, as you know, from the very start of our legislation it has been very plain that ASIO is to remain free of political influence. It says that in the act, and we are religious and scrupulous in adhering to that.

Senator Reynolds: Senator Patrick, on that, I might be able to provide some additional information reassuring you about ASIO's role. As the Director-General has said, they are a member of the task force, which is chaired by the secretary of the Department of Finance, who looks after this, with responsibility for the Electoral Act.

Senator PATRICK: I want to go very quickly to ASIO records. To provide listeners with context: ASIO is not subject to FOI but is subject to the Archives Act. I note that in your previous annual reports you have detailed the number of access requests. 2015-16 contained figures for the release of ASIO records under the Archives Act and the same with 2014-15: 650 requests for ASIO records, a 20 per cent reduction on the number of applications from the previous year. That detail no longer appears in your annual report. Is there any reason why that information is no longer included in your annual report?

Mr Lewis : No, not to my knowledge. Could I take that on notice and come back to you?

Senator PATRICK: Absolutely.

Mr Lewis : There is no ostensible reason. It may be an oversight or some change in administrative process.

Senator PATRICK: There are nerdy people in my office that read your reports.

Mr Lewis : I am very pleased and encouraged.

Senator PATRICK: Can I ask you, by way of a question on notice, to fill in the gaps since that information stopped appearing in annual reports.

Mr Lewis : I will take that on notice.

Senator PATRICK: I have one question left, and this might need to be taken on notice as well. As of 31 July last year, how many archive access applications referred to ASIO were outstanding for 90 days, more than a year, more than two years, more than three years, more than four years and more than five years?

CHAIR: We want an answer now!

Mr Lewis : We do have that information. I also have people who are very interested in this, so I will come back to you with that information.

CHAIR: No other questions for ASIO? Thank you very much for your attendance; it's very much appreciated.

Proceedings suspended from 15:32 to 15 : 50