Canberra starts major spy agency review

SYDNEY • Australian spy agencies will undergo their largest review in decades, officials announced yesterday, as Canberra seeks to strengthen intelligence powers amid heightened concerns about terrorism and foreign political interference.

A former head of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (Asio) will spearhead the wide-ranging enquiry, which will look at how national and domestic intelligence agencies share information, their resources and the laws that underpin their work.

"This will be the most comprehensive review of intelligence legislation in Australia since the Royal Commission on Intelligence and Security in the 1970s," Attorney-General Christian Porter said.

"The national security environment is constantly changing and it is essential that we ensure our agencies have the tools and framework they need to be effective and meet their core function - keeping Australians safe."

The inquiry is the latest in a string of reforms to espionage and foreign interference legislation Canberra announced last year, when it singled out China as a focus of concern.

The changes were prompted by an investigation by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation and Fairfax Media which claimed Chinese billionaires were using donations to gain access to Australian political parties. The revelations have soured Canberra's relationship with Beijing, which has reacted furiously to allegations of interference.

In announcing the review, Mr Porter echoed recent comments by Australia's top spy chief Duncan Lewis. "We have had the director general of Asio put to a committee that we live in an age of unprecedented espionage and terrorism, and foreign interference and influence," he told Sky News.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 31, 2018, with the headline 'Canberra starts major spy agency review'. Print Edition | Subscribe