Opening of the ASIO National Headquarters

TUE 23 JULY 2013

Prime Minister




In my first National Security Statement to the Parliament five years ago, I said that the first priority of government was the nation’s security.

Much has changed since then in the national security landscape.

What has not changed is the resolve of our government in responding to the national security challenges we face.

The work of national security is hard work.

It is demanding work.

It is necessary work.

And for the professionals who do the work, it is rewarding work.

We must ensure our intelligence community has what it needs to protect us from the threats of today.

And to anticipate the threats of tomorrow.

We must always be vigilant on national security.

And the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation has for two thirds of a century been a cornerstone of our national security.

I was struck by a remark your Director-General made in a speech not so long ago: ASIO’s successes are mostly unheralded or, if they have been made public, soon forgotten. We remember the bomb that went off, not that one that was defused.

This was a simple acknowledgement of the great paradox that all intelligence agencies face.
You deal in counterfactuals.

You succeed by making sure that things don’t happen.

The better you are at your work, the less we hear of you. The less we know about you.

The men and women who work in our national security family don’t take on this task for fame or fortune.

Nor for personal glory.

They do it to make this country safe.

National security is hard work.

There are certain qualities that this work requires.

Qualities of Courage. Sacrifice. Dedication. Professionalism.

In that respect, as a nation, we have been well served by our national security community.

The defence of our national security has always been tied fundamentally to our sense of nationhood, and throughout our nation’s history.

It was thus under Deakin and Fisher.

Under Curtin, Chifley and Menzies.

And down to the present day.

In 1949, it was the Chifley Government that wrote the charter for ASIO.

The Cold War was upon us.

And ASIO’s creation reflected the fact that Australia was taking responsibility for this important part of your national security.

In the directive he provided to the first Director-General of Security, Mr Justice Reed, Prime Minister Chifley said that ASIO would be tasked with defending Australia from: external and internal dangers arising from attempts at espionage and sabotage, and from the actions of persons and organisations.

I should add, David, that Chifley also went on to say that: Members of the organisation should not be unduly prominent at cocktail parties, but should devote themselves to the tasks allotted to them.

For all the years that now separate us from Ben Chifley’s Australia and ours, his vision for the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation has survived the passage of time.

The end of the Cold War did not end the threat of espionage and terrorism.

We depend on ASIO to protect our democratic freedoms.

To deal with terrorism.

And to combat espionage.

This is the hard work of national security.

On a day such as today, we should pause for a moment to reflect on the work others are doing in this the hard work of national security in Australia’s name.

• Think of the diggers at Tarin Kot, backed by intelligence agencies that work to define the threats they encounter.
• Think of the pilots of the Hercules touching down in Kabul as they provide support to the International Security Assistance Force.
• Think of our police and military serving as members in the Solomon Islands mission as their mission draws to a close.
• Think of the more than 3000 Australian Defence personnel deployed on operations around the world as we meet here in Canberra today.
• Think for a moment of our Australian Defence personnel currently serving in UN and multilateral peace and security operations in such countries as Afghanistan, Egypt, Iraq, Israel, Lebanon, South Sudan and Syria.
• Think of our cyber specialists.
• Of our intelligence analysts.
• Think of the Australian Federal Police and our customs and border protection personnel.
• Think also of our diplomats and our aid workers often working in dangerous environments around the world.

In a world of change, new threats are constantly emerging or evolving – cyber threats, terrorism at home and abroad and people smuggling.

The technology-dependent world we now live in also presents more challenges and threats.
Australia now operates in a world of complex systems, all vulnerable to malicious cyber activity, whether originating from states, criminal organisations or misguided individuals.

For this reason, the Australian Government’s determination is to continue to lift our cyber capabilities including our network defences.

In opening today’s building, we are also opening the new Australian Cyber Security Centre – dedicated to analysing cyber threats, coordinating the government response and developing preventative strategies.

This Centre, located in this new building, will bring together the existing cyber capabilities from across Defence, the Attorney-General’s Department, ASIO, the Australian Federal Police and the Australian Crime Commission.

These capabilities will include ASIO’s cyber espionage specialists, experts from the Australian Signals Directorate’s Cyber Security Operations Centre and the Computer Emergency Response Team Australia.

This is delivering on the government’s commitment outlined in my first National Security Statement to bind “the detailed and diverse work of the national security community into a coherent, coordinated whole”.

National security requires looking beyond the horizon.

National security requires the best people and equipment.

It also requires financial resources.

Tough decisions have to be made in accordance with priorities.

Since 2008, government investment in national security has increased from $28.6 billion in our first budget in 2008-09 to $32.3 billion in 2013 14.

The government’s most recent budget provided more than $100 billion to Defence over the Budget and Forward Estimates and around $220 billion as guidance for the following six years.

The Government is also focused on increasing our cyber security capabilities, with our investment growing from $233 million in 2011-12 to $368 million in 2013-14.

These reflect important commitments for our future national security needs.

The government will also continue to invest the resources necessary for the purposes of our border security and take the hard decisions that are necessary in the national interest, whether they are popular or not.

This is what the nation expects of its national political leaders on the things that matter for our national security.

Today, nearly two-thirds of a century after its creation, the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation continues to adapt and evolve to counter emerging threats and protect Australians from those who wish us harm.

It helps provide the Australian Government the intelligence it needs to weigh up the complex questions of national security.

And the dedicated men and women of ASIO carry out their work with a self-effacing, no-nonsense excellence that its founder Ben Chifley would recognise and endorse.

It is only fitting that your new headquarters should take this the name of the Prime Minister who brought this institution into being.

It is now my great pleasure to declare the Ben Chifley Building officially open.