Accurate terminology is needed to counter extremism and maintain public confidence effectively

ASIO has the difficult job of countering undemocratic and other extremism. Incorrect descriptions of ASIO's function, activities and staff - regardless of whether this stems from thoughtlessness, ignorance or bias - unnecessarily undermines public confidence and hinders the community co-operation needed to protect the constitutional and practical liberty of all Australians.


Letter to The Canberra Times
Friday, 13 February 2015
(published Wednesday, 18 February 2015)

Architectural aesthetic and construction mishap grounds surely mean the Ben Chifley Building, where ASIO is to be headquartered, should be appositely nicknamed the “Aquarium”, rather than "Lubyanka on the lake" ("Lubyanka on the lake looks as if it's about to be occupied", February 12, p5).

This would also apply a more accurate-for-once Russian analogy for conspiracy theorists (with the nickname of GRU headquarters in Khodynka).

But jokes, however ironic, comparing ASIO’s new headquarters to a “Lubyanka” exemplify a broader inability to debate national security issues intelligently.

This is particularly puzzling when 2014 saw publication of the first volume of ASIO’s official history to wide acclaim.

Whilst rightly not uncritical, Professor David Horner carefully explained the actual history involved, methodically deconstructed cherished myths among some, and explained the principles and practices involved with how a security-intelligence function is necessary to protect the constitutionalism of any functioning liberal democracy.

ASIO headquarters can never be a “Lubyanka”, literally or even figuratively, because in our tried and tested Westminster-system model this function is vested in a research and advisory agency, not a police force of any description.

ASIO intelligence officers (not “spies”) rightly cannot arrest or incarcerate anyone, and several layers of statutorily independent, ministerial and parliamentary oversight apply to their professional advice to government.

Finally, copy-editors using “spy” for a shorter headline is perhaps explicable at times, but thoughtless media and wider reference to ASIO as a spy-agency — rather than a counter-spy and counter-terrorism one — generates public confusion, assists extremist and emotive scare-mongering, and hampers the citizenship co-operation with ASIO necessary to combat national security crime fairly and effectively.



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