Dutton talks counter-espionage and cyberspies in Home Affairs

Peter Dutton
Australian Minister for Home Affairs - Peter Dutton - Photo by Department of Immigration and Border Protection via Wikimedia commons

Peter Dutton, the Australian minister for Home Affairs, has highlighted the need to improve Australia’s domestic security. This involved discussion of counter-espionage and an increased focus on domestic security for the cyberspy agency of the Defence Department.

After being sworn in with a new and expansive portfolio of responsibilities, Mr Dutton pointed out that terrorism would stay as the top priority of domestic security. He said that the espionage battle had been “underdone” following the eras of Al-Qaeda and ISIS.

Mr Dutton went on to declare that the ASD (Australian Signals Directorate) would be used in domestic investigations regarding terrorism, child exploitation, cross-border crimes and drug smuggling. The ASD has historically been used to gather electronic intelligence from overseas.

Mr Dutton said that people would “quickly understand what Home Affairs is all about” after witnessing a new integration of the ASD with Federal policing to target cross-border crime. He went on to say that while the ASD would still primarily be a defence measure it would continue to have further use in domestic focuses on crime and terrorism.

He pointed out that the ASD had already been used in elements of Operations Sovereign Borders that targeted people-smuggling into Australia.

The ASD, under the Intelligence Services Act, requires ministerial approval to create intelligence on Australian citizens or information that will affect Australian citizens. Dutton said that the new domestic focus of the ASD would be legally sound in its role.

Mr Dutton said that his new portfolio of responsibilities was designed to facilitate better co-operation and information sharing between defence departments. He stated that previous systems were too fragmented and bogged down in red-tape, preventing them from “working as efficiently as possible”.

He said that while counter-terrorism had rightly become the top priority for defence agencies this focus had left counter-espionage efforts falling behind. He continued by saying that Australia would need to “push harder” in terms of counter-espionage in the face of organised crime.

Mr Dutton dismissed notions that his new position would create a new era of authoritarian toughness that invaded the privacy of Australians, claiming that the same rules would be applied in the democratic system.

He went on to say that any actions taken by his departments would strike the “balance” between security and freedom, protecting Australians whilst not infringing on their rights.

Mr Dutton also said that the fact the new Attorney-General Christian Porter would retain the role of signing ASIO warrants was important in separating functions. For Dutton this added an extra layer of supervision over the actions of ASIO as part of the Home Affairs umbrella.