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Director-General’s Address
Foreign Liaison Officers Conference
‘Maximising Global Reach’
30 April 2007

  • Good morning and welcome to everyone who has travelled from one of our liaison posts spread across eight time zones on four continents.
    • Welcome also to those of you who are based in Canberra and who are an essential element of ASIO’s international liaison effort.
    • I trust that everyone will enjoy their time back in Australia and take the opportunity to speak with colleagues about matters of common interest.
  • Let me set the scene.
  • The Organisation’s 2005-06 unclassified Report to Parliament states on page 50 ‘ASIO’s responsibilities extend to wherever threats to Australians and Australian interests occur in the world – our function is defined by subject matter, not geography so our focus and reach must necessarily be global. ASIO’s international liaison network provides access to intelligence and shared capabilities which are vital in progressing investigations’.
    • There should be nothing in that statement that is new to you.
    • It is a simple statement which explains why ASIO has an international liaison network and what it does.
  • I mention it because, in large measure, it is the quality of the daily work of ASIO’s foreign liaison team – many of whom are sitting around this table – that has a central role in determining whether ASIO’s focus and reach are as global as they need to be in allowing us to be effective in our work.
  • That said, I would like to thank all of you for your contributions to the Organisation’s broader efforts across the full range of functions and activities.
  • Like other work units in the Organisation, the foreign liaison team must continue to refine and develop itself if it is to meet the challenges presented by the complex and dynamic security environment and a rapidly growing Organisation.
  • ASIO’s international engagement with intelligence, security and law enforcement agencies is an important component of wider government efforts directed at countering the threat of terrorism.
    • That whole-of-government approach spans a range of efforts and initiatives within our immediate region and in more distant places.
    • It includes things like the Counter-Terrorism Intelligence Training Program; our contribution to the Joint Centre for Law Enforcement Cooperation in Indonesia; contributions to multilateral efforts by the United Nations, ASEAN and the Pacific Islands Forum; Australian military involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan; and the diversity of cooperation conducted under the auspices of Memoranda of Understanding with a dozen countries.
  • At a strategic level, this broad operating context means that ASIO’s liaison officers in particular need to be conscious of broader geo-political and bureaucratic issues, both in Australia and in your geographic areas of responsibility.
    • You need to be attuned to developments and issues that are broadly relevant to Australian Government priorities and interests,
    • As an international representative of an agency that is a central and important component to the government’s broader security efforts, you need to be scanning the horizon for new issues and be alert to the bigger picture.
  • It is clear that ASIO does not operate in isolation – particularly in connection with counter-terrorism work – so it needs to manage actively its engagement with other agencies.
    • At times that will require taking the initiative to ensure that the Organisation makes meaningful contributions towards broad, whole-of-government efforts.
    • At other times it will involve actively promoting ASIO’s particular role or interests.
    • That is entirely appropriate.
  • Liaison officers also have an important role in pushing the boundaries and extending our international network where there is value in doing so.
    • Developments in areas which previously have not been a source of security concern for us may become directly relevant to our work in a short space of time.
      • The trans-national nature of the terrorist threat means that trouble spots anywhere in the world could have links back into Australia that need to be investigated or disrupted.
    • So the expression of ASIO’s ‘global reach’ should be in a state of continual evolution.
    • Shaping that evolution, contributing to broader corporate consideration of such matters, and generating creative or innovative solutions to intelligence problems should be part of the stock-in-trade of liaison officers in close cooperation with your colleagues in Australia.
  • At the tactical level, it is important that liaison officers meet the daily requirements that are levied on them in a timely and efficient manner.
    • That requires liaison posts to be receptive to the tasking sent to you and to persevere when necessary to get the job done.
    • We simply cannot afford to let matters ‘drift’ without achieving a resolution or outcome.
  • In that vein, I would add that timely reporting of matters is crucial whether it is verbal advice of a breaking issue or your written reporting.
    • The need for quick advice to the relevant people when an issue is breaking cannot be over-stated.
    • As an intelligence agency, ASIO needs to be in a position to provide early advice to government on matters that we should rightly know about, or be expected to know about, ahead of the matter appearing in the media.
    • Having the Prime Minister, the Attorney-General or other Ministers informed and able to provide timely public comment on matters serves to build trust and confidence in the Organisation and its ability to do its job.
  • Similarly, your written reporting is an important means of communication.
    • The most valuable reporting from posts is that which is timely, accurate, complete and has a strategic focus.
    • It needs to add value by providing useful contextual information or other commentary from you.
    • They should be written with this aspect in mind.
  • Closer to home, those who work in Canberra or in the State and Territory Offices see the impact of the Organisation’s growth on an ongoing basis.
    • There is a steady stream of new starters requiring induction and training courses.
    • Accommodation in a number of places is getting tighter, even with the ongoing program to relocate or refurbish offices.
    • The impact of growth is all around us.
  • While liaison officers may be remote from some of the more visible aspects of organisational growth, everyone in this room would be very much aware of the growing ‘experience gap’ in ASIO.
    • There are currently more than 1300 people working in ASIO.
    • Of those, approximately 900 (or around 70%) have joined the Organisation since mid 2002.
    • Approximately 450 have joined in the last two years alone.
  • Managing the ‘experience gap’ that is an inevitable by-product of such rapid growth is a real and substantial challenge for line managers and has an impact across the Organisation, not just on liaison posts.
    • I would ask that you do what you can to contribute to the professional development of our new colleagues.
    • You will find them capable.
      • Our recruitment processes are geared towards maintaining high standards so that we do not compromise on quality simply to get the numbers through the door.
    • But new colleagues need support from experienced staff such as you.
      • The people we are recruiting have a great deal to contribute but they need training, mentoring and on-the-job experience.
    • I would encourage all liaison officers – to the extent that you are able – to play a role in the process of nurturing and moulding our new officers into a cadre of intelligence professionals who will be the lifeblood of this Organisation well into the future.
      • We have designed some sessions of this conference to provide such an opportunity – but the challenge is ongoing and will have greatest impact from your action in the workplace.
      • Please take that responsibility very seriously.
  • Let me conclude by making a few observations.
  • Everyone in this room was chosen to fulfil an international liaison role in a distant location because of your ability to be a professional representative of the Organisation and to undertake this vital work.
    • Increasingly, ASIO needs the people who it entrusts with this role to be innovative and outward looking.
    • It needs people who are fully aware of the broader operating context and who can identify and leverage off opportunities to further the interests of ASIO and its capability to fulfil its functions, including in connection with whole-of-government efforts.
    • And it needs people who can be relied upon to get the job done, often under difficult circumstances and in tight time frames.
  • The foreign liaison effort is one dimension of a broader responsibility carried by everyone – but particularly by senior officers and SES officers – to build this Organisation into a competent, robust and professional intelligence agency that continues to serve the government and the community with distinction.
  • Thank You.