National security overview

Budget Review 2017–18 Index

Cat Barker

The 2017–18 Budget contains several new expense measures relating to national security. This includes new funding for the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) and the Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS), for which the amounts have not been disclosed.

ASIO and ASIS funding

The Review of Australia’s Counter-Terrorism Machinery (in 2015) and the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security (in February 2017) both recommended that the efficiency dividend (ED) be removed from the operations of ASIO and ASIS (and the Australian Federal Police).[1] The operations of these agencies account for a significant portion of their expenditure (for ASIO, around 80 per cent).[2] It stands to reason that the continued application of the ED over many years will eventually affect core operations.

The Government has not amended how the ED applies to the intelligence agencies, but has allocated additional funding over four years for ASIO and ASIS to support their operations and ‘strengthen [their] capacity to meet the strategic priorities and objectives of the [agencies] and the Government’.[3] In both cases the amounts are listed as ‘not for publication’ (nfp) on the grounds of national security. It is not unusual for the specific activities or capabilities for which funding has been provided to the intelligence agencies, particularly ASIS, not to be detailed publicly. In fact, it is standard practice, and broadly accepted. Nor is it unusual for amounts included in the budget papers to be marked ‘nfp’ for reasons of commercial confidentiality, or current or anticipated legal action. What is unusual is for the Government to suppress the amount of additional funding being provided to ASIO or ASIS on the basis of national security.

The funding provided to these agencies in the 2002–03 and 2004–05 Budgets, which focused heavily on national security, was published in the budget papers.[4] Similarly, the 2015–16 Budget outlined $295.8 million in new funding for ASIS.[5] It is not clear how revealing the additional amount to be provided from 2017–18, without detailing how it is to be used, would, on its own, compromise national security.

While the amount (which for ASIS includes capital funding) was not disclosed in the budget papers, The Australian reported the day before the budget was released that ASIS would receive an additional $75 million and ASIO a similar amount to restore resources eroded by the continued application of the efficiency dividend. The article also indicated that at least part of the funding was to be ‘diverted’ from foreign aid.[6] The same outlet reported that the additional funding for ASIS will go towards bolstering operations in Southeast Asia, from where resources had previously been diverted to deal with threats in the Middle East.[7] Refocusing resources towards Southeast Asia would be consistent with concerns voiced publicly by Australian Government ministers and the intelligence agencies about increasing terrorism risks in the region, most notably in and around the southern Philippines.[8]

Other measures

The Government has allocated $26.7 million over five years (from 2016–17), including $2.0 million in capital funding, for measures to manage and advise on national security risks to critical infrastructure. Funded initiatives include the Critical Infrastructure Centre established in the Attorney-General’s Department to ‘develop coordinated, whole-of-government national security risk assessments and advice to support government decision-making on investment transactions’, with an initial focus on the most critical assets across the electricity, water and ports sectors.[9] The measure will be offset by an increase in application fees (from $5,000 to $5,500) for foreign purchases of Australian residential properties valued at less than $10.0 million, to take effect from 1 July 2017.[10]

The Digital Transformation Agency will receive $10.7 million to establish a Cyber Security Advisory Office. This would implement a recommendation by the Review of the Events Surrounding the 2016 eCensus to establish a digital security consulting organisation within the DTA to ‘ensure security is integral to all new online service delivery proposals and facilitate partnering between agencies to draw on cyber security expertise in larger agencies with more mature capabilities’.[11] While the report examined issues specific to the eCensus, it considered that the Australian Bureau of Statistics was ‘likely not alone’ in struggling to keep up with an evolving cyberthreat environment, and recommended better pooling of resources to help smaller agencies build cybersecurity into services, from design through to implementation.[12]

The Government will provide an additional $7.2 million to the Australia-New Zealand Counter-Terrorism Committee (ANZCTC) over four years, increasing the estimated funding from the Australian Government over that period to $55.1 million.[13] The ANZCTC comprises representatives from all Australian governments and the New Zealand Government, and its responsibilities include maintaining the National Counter-Terrorism Plan, providing advice to relevant ministers, and facilitating effective nationwide counterterrorism capability and arrangements for sharing of information and intelligence.[14] The new funding is intended to ensure the national counterterrorism framework keeps pace with evolving threats.

The Budget also includes an additional $2.3 million for payments under the Australian Victims of Terrorism Overseas Payment (AVTOP) scheme. The AVTOP was established in 2012, and provides a one-off payment to eligible Australians affected by acts of terrorism overseas that are declared as such by the Prime Minister.[15] Following a review of past incidents, many of which predated the AVTOP, 20 incidents that occurred between September 2001 and March 2015 were declared by the Prime Minister in April 2017.[16] The additional funding is for payments relating to those earlier incidents, as well as those in Berlin in December 2016 and London in March 2017.

[1].          Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, Review of Australia’s counter-terrorism machinery, Australian Government, Canberra, January 2015, pp. 36–42; Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security (PJCIS), Review of administration and expenditure no. 14 (2014–15), Parliament of Australia, Canberra, February 2017, pp. 59–68.

[2].          Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO), Supplementary submission to PJCIS, Review of administration and expenditure no. 14 (2014–15), n.d., pp. 10–11; PJCIS), Review of administration and expenditure no. 14 (2014–15), op. cit. pp. 56–63.

[3].          Australian Government, Budget measures: budget paper no. 2: 2017–18, 2017, pp. 69, 103. The budget figures in this brief have also been taken from that document unless otherwise sourced.

[4].          Australian Government, Budget measures: budget paper no. 2: 2002–03, 2002, p. 66; Australian Government, Budget measures: budget paper no. 2: 2004–05, 2004, p. 93.

[5].          Australian Government, Budget measures: budget paper no. 2: 2015–16, 2016, p. 98.

[6].          S Benson, ‘Spy funds boosted in terror fight’, The Australian, 8 May 2017, p. 1.

[7].          P Maley, ‘Budget 2017: ISIS threat sparks funding boost’, The Australian, 10 May 2017, p. 11.

[8].          G Brandis (Attorney-General), The caliphate beyond 2016: the view from Southeast Asia, speech, 9 December 2016; J Bishop (Minister for Foreign Affairs), Statement to the Global Coalition Summit, speech, 22 March 2017; C Cosier, ‘Islamic State affiliates “in Australia’s backyard”, ASIS spy chief Nick Warner says’, The World Today, Australian Broadcasting Corporation, 26 September 2016; ASIO, Annual report 2015–16, ASIO, 2016, p. 21.

[9].          G Brandis (Attorney-General) and S Morrison (Treasurer), Keeping Australia’s critical infrastructure secure, media release, 23 January 2017.

[10].       Australian Government, Budget measures: budget paper no. 2: 2017–18, op. cit, p. 67; Australian Government, ‘Fees – residential land [GN29]’, Foreign Investment Review Board website.

[11].       Australian Government, Budget measures: budget paper no. 2: 2017–18, op. cit, p. 139; A MacGibbon, Review of the events surrounding the 2016 eCensus, Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, 13 October 2016, pp. 85–86.

[12].       MacGibbon, Review of the events surrounding the 2016 eCensus, op. cit., pp. 7–8, 85–86.

[13].       Australian Government, Portfolio budget statements 2017–18: budget related paper no. 1.2: Attorney-General’s Portfolio, 2017, p. 21.

[14].       Australian Government, ‘Australia-New Zealand Counter-Terrorism Committee’, Australian National Security website.

[15].       Social Security Amendment (Supporting Australian Victims of Terrorism Overseas) Act 2012; Department of Human Services (DHS), ‘Australian Victim of Terrorism Overseas Payment’, DHS website.

[16].       G Brandis (Attorney-General) and A Tudge (Minister for Human Services), Assistance to victims of past overseas terrorist attacks, media release, 20 April 2017.


All online articles accessed May 2017. 

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