Lee Rhiannon and ASIO

Australian Security Intelligence Organisation File

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Speakers Rhiannon Ms Lee
Business Adjournment, ADJ

Page: 21441

Ms LEE RHIANNON [5.20 p.m.]: Last year I received a phone call from an officer of the National Archives of Australia. The person informed me that they had received a request for my Australian Security Intelligence Organisation [ASIO] file. It is a policy of the National Archives to inform those whose ASIO file has been requested that an application has been received and their records are about to be released. On reading my file, I was surprised how often ASIO was wrong about what I had done in my life, and I do not mean just political action. The mistakes about my education and travel arrangements are extraordinary. The first entry I found was when I was seven years old. ASIO inaccurately noted that I was a founding member of the Eureka Students Organisation or secretary of the Students Political Institute, as was referred to in a secret briefing. The first organisation I joined was the Secondary Students for International Tolerance and Equality Organisation. ASIO did mention this group, although it got the name wrong. To be fair, the name was a bit of a mouthful.I have fond memories of the Secondary Students for International Tolerance and Equality Organisation. It is sickening to think that ASIO was spying on this group of high school students. A highlight of our activities was organising a bus trip for 120 high school students to go to Canberra to lobby for an end to the Vietnam War. Using the slogan “Paris must mean peace”—the Paris peace talks had just started—we stopped to hand out leaflets and do media interviews at Wollongong, Moss Vale and Goulburn before arriving in Canberra where we were met by Labor members of Parliament Tom Uren and Jim Cairns. We also visited the United States Embassy where a delegation from our group had the opportunity to meet diplomatic staff and put our point of view for an end to the war.ASIO also spied on my friends and me when we were students at Sydney Girls High School. An ASIO report made on 11 December 1967, when I was in today’s equivalent of year 10, reveals that a Garden Island-based security officer was collecting information from the daughter of a naval officer who was in my class at Sydney Girls High School. I will not mention any names, as there is clearly no political link. At Sydney Girls High School another student and I became friends with a young woman whose father was quite senior in the Navy. In a report marked “Secret ” and dated 6 January 1977—10 years after the initial report was made—the ASIO Director-General wrote to the Director of Defence, Security, about how the father urged his daughter “to terminate her association with the two girls” after she reported she had been invited to attend a function at the Humanist Society. The report goes on to detail whom the young woman married and notes that there were no adverse mentions of either her or her husband. What a disgraceful saga and waste of public money! This is what the secret political police got up to in the 1960s and 1970s, and there is every reason to believe that they do the same today.

ASIO also has serious problems providing accurate information on my overseas travel arrangements. In a report titled “ASIO inward message” it is noted that my mother and I flew into Australia on 5 November 1970. In another report titled “ASIO outward message” it states that my mother and I arrived back from the United Kingdom “in the second half of October 1970”. Both reports are wrong. I was in Europe from early 1970 to early 1971. When I returned I flew in from India in mid 1970. I was not with my mother and I did not fly in from the United Kingdom. ASIO’s direct surveillance is also found wanting. In an ASIO report titled “Photographic surveillance” it is noted that a photo was taken of Claude Hamilton and me at Mascot on 8 December 1972. My passport from that time, which I still have, shows that I left the country for a trip to Asia on 2 December 1972. In a letter from the ASIO Director-General dated 11 March 1970 a request is made to the recipient of the letter, which has been blacked out, to watch me while I am in England. Presumably the letter is to the ASIO’s United Kingdom equivalent.The Hon. Greg Donnelly: MI5.Ms LEE RHIANNON: I acknowledge that interjection. The letter states:

The letter also states that I was associated with various radical high school student groups and took part in demonstrations. The letter also reports on the political interests of my family. ASIO also makes extraordinary blunders about my education. An ASIO report of 2 March 1976 marked “Confidential” states:

This is seriously wrong. These data contradict two earlier “Secret” reports—one dated 11 September 1970 and one that appears to have been made on 13 November 1969—which state that I completed my university studies in 1969. In that year I was 18 years old and I was in my final year at high school. I never studied motor mechanics at the University of New South Wales. I did a double major in botany and zoology. I never worked as a lecturer at the University of New South Wales. I was at Macquarie University at that time. If ASIO got my education qualifications and travel arrangements so wrong, what else has it got wrong in its internal reports and briefings for politicians and journalists? A full report of my ASIO file will be available shortly on my website. [Time expired.]

Australian Security Intelligence Organisation File

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About this Item
Speakers Rhiannon Ms Lee
Business Adjournment, ADJ

Page: 21691

Ms LEE RHIANNON [7.03 p.m.]: On Tuesday I spoke about my Australian Security Intelligence Organisation [ASIO] file and the serious mistakes that that agency has made in its spying activities. The files have large blocks of text blacked out. I understand that has been done to protect the name of the ASIO spies. What was not blacked out, and what is now on the public record, are the names of the numerous people with whom I attended meetings, socialised and protested, and with whom I went to school. Why should these people now have their names and activities exposed to public scrutiny because of the appalling conduct of Australia’s spy organisation? Why were their names not blacked out? My file is now publicly available, and anyone who wishes to look at it is welcome to do so. However, I ask that the names of other people included in my file not be publicised, leaving aside the many mistakes that ASIO has made in documenting its spying activities on me that I detailed in my earlier speech.

The question that jumps out when one reads these files is: What did Australia gain from the years of spying, following people and taking clandestine photos and movies? So many personal details have been recorded—relationships, marriages and divorces of people often only fleetingly associated with me. What for? There is no justification for the massive waste of resources—public money—and what amounted to harassment of those in our society who hold views that ASIO judges to be unacceptable. It is time ASIO came under the spotlight, its budget was revealed and the organisation made accountable.

The former President of this Chamber, Meredith Burgmann, has spoken about her ASIO files, and many other Labor politicians have been spied on. Michael Tubbs, who wrote ASIO: The Enemy Within, and who has studied many ASIO files, has noted some of the spying conducted against politicians. There are dozens of ASIO reports on former Federal Labor leader Herbert “Doc” Evatt, his secretary Alan Dalziel, staff member Mr Burton, Labor Party Deputy Leader Arthur Caldwell and Labor Senator Les Haylen. Mr Tubbs’ book reveals extensive ASIO spying on Labor members. He writes:

Mr Tubbs queries why it is an offence to reveal the identity of an ASIO employee. He argues that this requirement ensures the secrecy of ASIO’s true undemocratic functions and makes it more difficult to expose a possible abuse of power by an ASIO agent. Mr Tubbs was a publicity officer for the New South Wales Federation of Parents and Citizens and editor of a monthly journal in the 1970s. That was when ASIO was spying on him intensively. He notes:

To what purpose? What a disgraceful waste of public money that represents. Mr Tubbs has explained to me that few people speak publicly about their files—understandably, because of the intrusive nature of spying activities. However, I encourage other members to establish whether ASIO has a file on them. This agency needs to be put under the spotlight. ASIO is a dubious organisation. I do not think it has any role in twenty-first century Australia. At the very least, its funding should be on the public record and it should come under more public scrutiny. I challenge other members to deny that that is needed. [Time expired.]


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