Former ASIO director-general Duncan Lewis (Image: AAP/Lukas Coch)

The Australian Security Intelligence Organisation, according to its latest annual report, needs more funding. It can’t address the threat of foreign interference and espionage while also dealing with the threat of terrorism, director-general Duncan Lewis warns in his review.

“… [The] higher level of espionage and foreign interference threat — combined with greater awareness among our stakeholders of that threat — has increased demand for our advice and support, which is stretching current resources. With the terrorist threat showing no signs of significantly decreasing, ASIO has limited scope to redirect internal resources to address the increasing gap between demand for our counter — espionage and foreign interference advice and our ability to furnish this assistance.”

Lewis’ warning was dutifully echoed by a Murdoch drone in The Australian. Except… if you read The Australian, the government has been doing nothing but increasing ASIO’s budget in recent years.

“Budget 2019: $570m security boost to keep nation safe”, The Australian excitedly reported earlier this year. Then there was “Foreign aid boost for spy agencies” in 2017, and “Budget 2016: Boosted ASIO warns of cyber terror risks” the year before. Tragically, you have to go elsewhere than News Corp to find out that ASIO’s budget was also increased in 2018. And if you actually look at ASIO’s funding in recent years, it has been boosted way ahead of inflation.

ASIO’s government revenue for the current financial year will be over $463 million, compared to around $400 million if its 2011-12 funding levels had simply been increased for inflation, and without any “efficiency dividend” of the kind most public service agencies are required to submit to. Its staffing expenditure has also increased well ahead of inflation as the numbers of spooks in the agency’s flash new Canberra headquarters (cost: $700 million from the Gillard government) has ramped up. Maybe The Australian should be asking why ASIO is still complaining about a lack of money when it has been showered with billions in recent years?

Peter Fray

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Peter Fray
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