Mind games. Independent Senator Jacqui Lambie was on a mission at Senate estimates last night, but we’re not 100% sure what she was trying to find out. While questioning ASIO director of security Duncan Lewis, Lambie and Attorney General George Brandis had this exchange, in which Lambie seems to imply that ASIO should be investigating union thugs:
LAMBIE: “Royal commissioner Heydon said he had discovered grave threats to the authority and power of the Australian state. Have you been made aware of those threats by the Royal Commissioner?”
LEWIS: “Senator, I am aware of the royal commission, and I have had no contact with the Royal Commissioner at all. The matters as I understand it were in the area of the law, and are really law enforcement issues, not issues that impact on ASIO.”
BRANDIS: “Can I add to that? The Royal Commission was about law enforcement, or what we might more broadly call rule of law issues. The inquiry was quite specific to matters within its terms of reference. Those terms of reference did not [refer to] the two principal activities for which ASIO is responsible: counter-terrorism or counter-espionage.
LAMBIE: “Oh, OK. So, given the power and authority of the Australian state is under threat from a variety of Australian sources, do you expect to have access to the secret volumes of the Heydon Royal Commission?”
LEWIS: “No, Senator. If I could get them I guess but I don’t intend to …”
LAMBIE: “I’m just a bit concerned about the grave threat to the power and authority of the Australian state. I mean, phoa, blow me away, I would have thought that ASIO, given it was such a grave threat, would be involved.”
BRANDIS: “Senator, threats to the state can also take the form of threats to the rule of law by systemic criminality, which is what Heydon found in aspects of Australia’s workplaces and industrial practice. That’s not the subject matter that ASIO was created to deal with.”
LAMBIE: “No, but it would be there to deal with a great threat to the power and authority of the Australian state … those six or seven words are quite outstanding …”
BRANDIS: “ASIO is not a criminal law enforcement body. It deals with terrorism or other aspects of national security, or it deals with espionage by foreign actors. What Mr Heydon’s royal commission was looking at was domestic criminality — not what we’d ordinarily consider an issue of national security.”
LAMBIE: “So it is not a grave threat to the power and authority of the Australian state? Is it or isn’t it?”
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 doesn’t deal with organised crime, that’s a matter for police.”
LAMBIE: “OK, so it’s not a grave threat.”
BRANDIS: “No it is a grave threat, it’s just not of the kind that ASIO was established to deal with.”
LAMBIE: “But Heydon didn’t say he finds a grave threat from systemic criminality though, did he?”
BRANDIS: “I think if you look at public volumes of report, that’s precisely what he found.”
At this point, Lambie changed tracks, asking, “OK. Mr Lewis, do you have concerns about the legitimacy of the money coming from mainland China?” But, again, ASIO wasn’t much help. Or as Lewis put it, “I’m sorry, Senator, I can’t comment. What money?” As she later explained, she was trying to ask about corrupt foreign money.
Lambie also asked for a state by state breakdown of the number of “traitors and terrorists”, and how many were Islamic and non-Islamic.
We also found out last night that Tetris is popular across the government — more specifically Operation Tetris. The process, which the government claims has saved taxpayers $200 million, involves minimsing the amount of space each department takes up, and sometimes putting two departments in the one building. Finance Minister Mathias Cormann told the committee last night the Department of Veterans Affairs had slotted into the Australian Tax Office’s building, meaning their lease didn’t need to be renewed. Believe it or not, the public servant charged with answering these enquiries is deputy secretary John Edge. Operation Tetris is due to be rolled out nationally. There will be more on our estimates live blog today.