David Irvine: ASIO’s responsibility and ‘diligence in the shadows’


ASIO boss David Irvine outlined the “significant issues in relation to the security and the safety of Australians” in an address to the National Press Club this week.

During my five years as director-general of Security, I have occasionally emerged from the shadows to talk on three specific subjects: the threats from terrorism and cyber-attacks and the Australian experience of managing a secret security intelligence service in a democracy under the rule of law.

In recent months I have been in the public arena more than is customary and perhaps more than I would prefer. This is because we are currently facing significant issues in relation to the security and the safety of Australians. We are also debating how to improve the mechanisms by which Australia detects and responds to security threats.

I want today to focus on three key points:

  • The threats Australia faces from espionage and terrorism are real, but they are manageable if we maintain our vigilance and update our intelligence capabilities to meet the changing demands of the operating environment.
  • It is my firm belief that Australia needs a security service, governed by law and with appropriate safeguards in place, to protect against threats to the nation’s security and the lives of our citizens.
  • The existing regime of checks and balances in respect of ASIO is working and does not need substantial revamping that merely increases the cost and bureaucracy but adds nothing the effectiveness of the oversight we already have.

The security environment today is becoming more complex since I was appointed as director-general of security in 2009, in part due to the march of technology and in part because of changes in the nature of the threats we face.

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