Life Inside ASIO during the Second Hope Royal Commission, 1983–1985

By the time the Fraser Government lost office in March 1983 and Bob Hawke became Prime Minister, ASIO had undergone significant reforms in the late 1970s and early 1980s arising from the Hope Royal Commission completed in 1977. Further initiatives were spurred by the Protective Security Review launched after the Hilton Hotel bombing in February 1978 and completed in 1979. This chapter examines what life was like within ASIO during the Royal Commission on Australia’s Security and Intelligence Agencies, commissioned by the Hawke Labor Government. The chapter that follows will discuss how ASIO reacted to and implemented the royal commission’s recommendations.

Origins of the new royal commission

In considering the origins of the Royal Commission on Australia’s Security and Intelligence Agencies, it is worth noting that the incoming Hawke Labor Government retained a sense of unease over ASIO’s priorities and practices and was interested to know to what extent the reforms Labor had initiated under Whitlam had in fact been implemented. Well aware of Liberal MP Billy Wentworth’s insistent demands on ASIO for information during the 1950s and 1960s, Hawke was eager to know whether the practice of passing information or comment to private members of Parliament, even through ministers, had ceased. Hope recalled: ‘Not long after Mr Hawke became the Prime Minister [and before the Combe revelations] he got in touch with me and said that he wanted to run another inquiry and see how things had gone in the meanwhile and asked me whether I’d be prepared to do it and I said yes.’1

The plans for this royal commission, to be known as the Royal Commission on Australia’s Security and Intelligence Agencies, had been under consideration for some time, but they were accelerated as a result of the the Combe–Ivanov affair, and the associated damage caused by developments such as the ‘Hogg breakfast’ incident (see Chapter 11) and the poor state of relations between ASIO and the Department of Foreign Affairs. The urgency of the royal commission seemed justified in November 1983, several months after the royal commission had commenced, when an ASIS training program that came to be known as the Sheraton Hotel raid was botched.

The new royal commission would keep ASIO in the news even more so than had Ivanov’s expulsion. Behind the cameras and public statements, however, the royal commission had a significant impact on ASIO’s work. This was the case during the commission itself, when ASIO had to create a secretariat, much like it had during the 1954 Royal Commission on Espionage and the 1970s Royal Commission on Intelligence and Security. These arrangements were necessary to deal with the work the royal commission generated.

A snapshot of ASIO in 1983

The Fraser-era Attorney-General, Peter Durack, saw merit in a ‘five-year Hope-type review’.2 ASIO senior management could see that there was scope for such mechanisms to be introduced, as did the Hawke Government, which was eager to see these measures implemented during its term in office.

ASIO had received 375 requests for advice during the Fraser years, including requests for information on individuals from members of Parliament of both parties on behalf of constituents or of private members. On reporting to Hawke as new Prime Minister, Barnett was confident that in a number of cases the request appeared to be of no relevance to security and in these instances the Director-General had declined to provide any information to the Minister.3

Human sources remained ASIO’s principal means of collecting information. Shortly after Hawke took office, ASIO reported that it had more than 400 agents and registered contacts spread across the domains covering subversion, politically motivated violence, espionage and field inquiries (investigations to support operational activity). ASIO still had more agents (44 per cent) in the area of counter-subversion than in any other category, but the majority of its registered contacts (41 per cent) were targeted against the Soviets.4 ASIO maintained a pool of full-time and several part-time linguists to cover the various targets.5

The staff profile had also changed considerably between the time of the first Hope Royal Commission in the mid-1970s and the second in the mid-1980s. A survey in 1983 revealed that 53 per cent of senior executive officers and 39 per cent of mid-level managers held tertiary or professional qualifications. In addition, in 1983, 107 staff members were studying at tertiary institutions on a part-time basis.6

ASIO had made progress in terms of equal employment opportunities; women could now theoretically occupy any position within the Organisation provided they were suitably qualified. ASIO compared reasonably well with the Australian Public Service as a whole, with a rise in the number of women in its workforce from 32.3 per cent in 1974 to 41.4 per cent in 1983, including in operational roles.7

Six years after the first Hope Royal Commission, by the 1982–83 financial year, ASIO’s budget had more than tripled to over $28 million.8 Of this, more than 19 per cent was spent on foreign intelligence services, more than 11 per cent on politically motivated violence, and only 6.5 per cent on ‘subversive studies’. It is interesting to note the discrepancy between the number of agents and the percentage of the budget spent on them. This pointed to the fact that a large proportion of them worked for little if any remuneration. The remainder of the budget was allocated largely to non-operational salaries, administration, with smaller amounts for operational support, security checking, liaison, physical security, training, recruitment, security review and automated data processing.9

ASIO would continue to receive support from the Government, but, like the Whitlam Government, the Hawke Government would be more circumspect when approving the use of ASIO’s special powers. By the beginning of January 1983, shortly before the Federal elections, ASIO had less than 70 operational warrants for telephone interceptions and only a handful for listening devices. By the end of the year there would be a slight increase in the number of warrants for listening devices, but a decline by one-third in the number of telephone and mail interception warrants.10Among other things, this decline in telephone interceptions particularly reflected the different approach taken by the incoming Attorney-General, Senator Gareth Evans.

Evans confided that his general working principle was ‘not to take too many chances at all with the anti-terrorist warrant applications, to be a bit more sceptical about counterespionage, and to be quite profoundly sceptical about everything else’.11 Evans noted that this approach unsettled a number of ‘foot soldiers and senior ideologues unhappy with the winding back of activity on the subversion front’.12 For ASIO, the new royal commission brought even more to be unsettled about.

The royal commission and the Combe–Ivanov affair

The Royal Commission on Australia’s Security and Intelligence Agencies, which commenced on 1 June 1983, proved particularly contentious for ASIO during that part of the proceedings David Marr described in detail in The Ivanov Trial. With the royal commission gathering major media attention and discussing issues so pivotal to ASIO’s function and future prospects, Barnett was called upon to play a prominent role. He made regular appearances before the royal commission, particularly while ASIO’s role in the Combe–Ivanov affair was under examination. This was a draining experience for Barnett as well as the Organisation. His Executive Officer, Liz Marks, recalled: ‘He believed he needed to be the person in the witness box, day after day, week after week, in Canberra.’13

Hawke’s own evidence before the royal commission was a pivotal moment in the proceedings. The Senior Counsel for ASIO, Stephen Charles, QC, cross-examined Hawke in early August and ‘positively established the Prime Minister’s view of ASIO’s role’.14 Hawke directed some criticism towards ASIO for its mistakes that had come to public attention, but it was clear that he saw those mistakes as being on the periphery of the main issue, which was the identification of Ivanov as a KGB officer and the nature of his relationship with David Combe. Although ‘extremely irritated’ over ASIO’s errors, including the Hogg breakfast incident, Hawke was seen not to ‘regard them being of such consequence as to alter his confidence in the Organization’s judgment’.15 He repeated this in an interview for this history in 2012, saying: ‘There was no animus, or anything like that, it was a very, very bad mistake. But apart from that the actual operation [ASIO] conducted was a first class one, getting the listening device in the chandelier.’16

For those within ASIO, the matter of what happened and who was responsible was self-evident. It eventually became clear to everyone else that their views on Ivanov and his intentions with Combe were all tied up with Ivanov’s role as a KGB officer. In other words, it was quite proper that ASIO had watched Ivanov. As Barnett observed, David Combe was not regarded as having already been recruited by the KGB, but was within ‘a hair’s breadth of entering the grand gallery of KGB spies’. Despite the best efforts at the royal commission of Combe’s legal team, headed by Ian Barker, QC, and their acerbic approach to ASIO, the central proposition of Ivanov being a KGB spy was never really challenged.17 Still, that did not stop Combe’s supporters from claiming that Hope had been seduced by ASIO’s mystique.18

In a similar vein, ASIO was exposed to a range of accusations of incompetence and of misleading behaviour over what it recognised as ‘weak points’ in its defence before Justice Hope. Four matters left ASIO unduly exposed to criticism. First, Barnett had made a verbal reference to the amount paid by Combe to Combe’s business partner, Matheson, as $5000 when the correct figure was $2500. This made ASIO look either incompetent or deceptive, or both.19 There was some concern within ASIO that the Matheson case could, as Barnett observed, ‘turn into another Petrov “conspiracy” and consequently plague us down the years’. It was therefore important to be as clear about the records as ‘time and diligence permit’.20

Secondly, in the brief to the Government on 20–22 April 1983, Barnett used a written note that claimed all the expenses of Combe’s trip to Moscow had been paid by the Soviets. In fact, only the Singapore–Moscow–Singapore sector had been paid by Moscow, while Combe paid the rest of his and his wife’s expenses. That error was corrected in a later memorandum to the Attorney-General, but the damage to ASIO’s credibility, and its case against Combe, had been done.21

The third was the 3 May Hogg breakfast incident.22 Justice Hope did not interview the ASIO officer concerned, but he argued that the officer should have been more severely punished, whereas Barnett shielded him from further punitive action.23 Barnett explained to Hope that the ‘Hogg breakfast affair [was] perhaps the most bitter pill ASIO (and certainly myself) had to swallow’ during the term of reference of the inquiry. ‘The incident was inexcusable. The officer concerned suffered deep pangs of remorse and was admonished privately by the Prime Minister.’ He was also moved sideways and placed ‘outside the promotion process’.24 When interviewed for this volume, he confided that the ‘affair’ had haunted him for the rest of his life.25 While the officer was given a popular posting, in reality his career prospects were effectively finished.

The fourth issue was the difficulty ASIO encountered in tracing the movements of its recording of the 3 April 1983 conversation between Ivanov and Combe. The recording was not handled with forensic discipline, which at the time was not unusual for an intelligence organisation unused to providing evidence for use in legal proceedings. As a result, some of the movements of the tape ‘almost certainly made it inadmissible as evidence’.26

The faults in ASIO’s procedural handling of the affair were exposed to the brutal light of cross-examination by Combe’s legal counsel—details of which were lapped up by the media for the nightly news. Conscious of the embarrassment generated for the Prime Minister over the handling of the case and under intense pressure himself, Barnett planned to write to Hawke outlining how certain factors had affected the quality of some of the ‘raw information’ he had seen when the matter came to a head in April. Barnett sought to explain that raw transcripts were just that and often needed to be seen in context. He drafted a letter saying he considered that the officers monitoring the Combe telephone lines had ‘affected a difficult and demanding task dutifully and expeditiously’. He added, ‘I regret that their product was published in such a manner as—I think wrongly—to bring discredit to them and, by implication, to my organization.’27 In the end, however, he was persuaded not to send the letter by advice from ASIO’s Legal Counsel, Stephen Charles, QC, who suggested the matter be discussed in person instead.28

Other priorities of the royal commission

Beyond the high drama associated with the Combe–Ivanov proceedings, Hope addressed a wide range of substantive issues concerning Australia’s security and intelligence organisations. Richard St John, the Secretary to the royal commission, wrote to Barnett with a list of ‘issues on which the Commission would like to obtain the views of ASIO’, including a number of organisational and procedural changes that Hope envisaged recommending to improve ASIO’s accountability and responsiveness to government direction.29 Barnett duly sought the views of his senior staff in response.30

Hope’s team also explored the possibility of releasing previously unpublished documents relating to the Soviet defector Vladimir Petrov, and information relating to ‘Venona’ intelligence transcripts.31 The firm belief among the American agencies, it seems, was that Venona still needed to be protected.32

ASIO’s Secretariat Branch and the royal commission

Dealing with the royal commission created a lot of work within ASIO. The mechanism used to manage these demands and coordinate ASIO’s work had actually been created before the Combe–Ivanov affair. In February 1983, Barnett had felt that the extra responsibilities relating to new and proposed legislation required additional coordination. He therefore decided to restructure the Executive Branch and rename it the Secretariat Branch. Michael Boyle was appointed its head as the new Assistant Director-General (Secretariat).33 This branch was now charged with managing ASIO’s engagement with the royal commission. Boyle set up a task force within the branch to which he assigned several project officers.34 By late November 1983, an increasing amount of the Secretariat’s time and resources were given over to fulfilling its obligations to the task force—including eighteen submissions from ASIO in response to a range of requests from the royal commission.35 This workload would continue through to May 1984, when Hope’s team finalised its reports on ASIO.36

‘Harvey [Barnett] gave me carte blanche,’ Boyle recalled: ‘Michael, make your own mind up. I don’t want to be concerned.’37 Boyle reckoned this was ‘fair enough’ given Barnett had a lot on his mind and he was the main ASIO witness in the cross-examination. Boyle set about drawing in a team of people to assist with the enormous task at hand:

There was the counsel, ours was counsel assisting. There was a counsel for the Commonwealth and there was a counsel for Combe and they all had senior counsel, junior counsel and solicitors. On top of that, for every piece of paper of ours there had to be copies made to them and these had to be accounted for. The House of Reps finished up with a counsel, the Speaker finished up with a counsel, and Hawke had a counsel. At one stage we had twelve lawyers. But all these people had to be briefed and I’m glad to say that from anyone I asked for help I got it. And because I was left in charge I didn’t have to involve the senior officers, the SES [Senior Executive Service], and that was an enormous advantage because I didn’t need to go and seek their approval.38

By late August 1983, Michael Boyle wrote to Barnett with a summary of the ‘damage assessment’ arising from the royal commission proceedings, which he described as ‘the good, the bad and the ugly’. ‘The good’ was that ASIO’s main conclusions and arguments regarding Ivanov, his relationship with Combe and the need to advise government, seemed to be ‘more widely accepted’. ‘The bad’ was the ‘published mistakes of fact by ASIO’, which Boyle observed were ‘peripheral to the main argument’ and subsequently corrected. But they raised questions regarding ‘the competence of ASIO’s handling of detail and the consequences which could flow therefrom for innocent parties’.39 ‘The ugly’ bit, Boyle observed, came in three parts. First was the tendency for media hostility towards ASIO. Second, was what he saw as ‘an almost pathological inability by some commentators to strike an objective balance in reporting on ASIO’. Third was his perception that the ‘harping criticism by the media’ was echoed in ‘more strident language by left-wing elements in the ALP’. Boyle presciently observed the likely outcome of the proceedings:

I expect that the findings of the Commissioner broadly will exonerate the actions of the Government and ASIO but, at the same time, not be particularly critical of Combe, other than a possible reference to his naiveté and, perhaps, to the venality of his motives—unless it can be demonstrated clearly that he deliberately sought to mislead the Royal Commission. It is likely that the less sophisticated may regard such findings as anti-climactic.40

In Boyle’s view, no special insight was needed to recognise that ASIO was hurt by the ‘barrage of hostility poured out by some of the media’. He observed that this affected both the family circle and close friends and relatives of ASIO officers, and the morale of ‘agents, registered contacts, official contacts and government officers with whom our employees have regular contact’.41

When Hope had completed drafting his report on ASIO, he sought Barnett’s comments and met with him to discuss them. Barnett acknowledged that he had ‘little quibble’ with the bulk of the recommendations, as they would clearly lead to a ‘streamlining of ASIO and its responsibilities’. The scaling down of ASIO’s historic emphasis on ‘subversion’ was a big part of this, as was the removal of its vetting responsibilities. Barnett did, however, consider parts of the report ‘harshly written’ and, while accepting the criticisms, called for greater balance. Barnett was concerned that the media would highlight any negative statements about ASIO and ignore the positive ones.42

Late in the piece, as the reports were being finalised and a draft was more widely circulated, Barnett wrote to Hope to thank him for his efforts and to note some of his concerns with the draft recommendations.

Some of Barnett’s suggestions on what to omit from the report were based on security grounds, out of, he argued, ‘concern for liaison sources, ASIO’s modus operandi, or the denying of useful information to hostile services’. Barnett also was concerned about the way the release of the reports would be handled by the media. He argued: ‘If history is any guide we could expect the press to home in on anything derogatory said about the Organization and avoid any positive features mentioned in the Report.’ Barnett was eager to discuss this with Hope, particularly in light of the negative effects on morale he envisaged this would generate.43

Barnett’s concerns were not just about the Organisation’s reputation but about the knock-on consequences. In discussions, for instance, in January 1985 with Attorney-General Lionel Bowen (who had succeeded Evans in December 1984) he stressed that ASIO had ‘taken a battering’ over the previous couple of years and that many resignations could follow if the process continued. The bottom line, he warned, would be the inability to transfer a viable security service to Canberra, which was scheduled to take place the next year.44

Conscious of the declining morale within the Organisation, ASIO’s internal Psychological Services staff conducted a survey to gauge reactions to media publicity over the Combe–Ivanov affair. Of some 720 questionnaires distributed 675 were completed. Many of those respondents criticised the failure of ASIO’s management to provide officers adequate information regarding the background to the affair and progress of the royal commission’s inquiry throughout.45 The survey clearly suggested the need for improved internal communications. This was seen as a necessary step first to reduce the ‘floating’ of rumours and secondly to counter the disturbing effects the negative media reports had, particularly on younger staff members.46

On balance, ASIO fared relatively well compared to ASIS. The bungled raid of the Sheraton Hotel by an armed ASIS special operations team in Melbourne in November 1983 drew considerable public attention and significantly damaged the reputation of that organisation. Hope was scathing in his criticism of how it handled its role and called for the removal of the special operations function.47

The ALP’s submission to the royal commission

The ALP national secretary, Bob McMullan, lodged a submission from the ALP relating to the work arising from the initial deliberations and findings of the second Hope Royal Commission. The submission, lodged on 20 February 1984, was the culmination of three months’ deliberation and closely reflected the ALP national platform and pre-election policy commitments.48

The submission outlined a five-part system of improved ASIO and ASIS accountability, stressing:

1) complete accountability of each of the intelligence organisations to their respective ministers, including safeguarding the rights to request access to the content of individual files, transcripts and other raw material

2) complete information and access for appropriate senior members of the Opposition, including relevant shadow ministers and the Leader of the Opposition

3) regular judicial audits by a specially created security commissioner, with access to and scrutiny of individual files as well as general operations

4) complete financial accounting to the Auditor-General

5) a better mechanism for parliamentary scrutiny, particularly through the creation of a joint parliamentary committee on national security.

In addition, the submission called for improved civil liberty protections through tighter definitions of ‘subversion’, ‘espionage’ and related concepts, including ‘agent of influence’, as well as express legislative protection for lawful dissent. It also called for a grievance investigation mechanism—involving an expansion of the jurisdiction of the existing Security Appeals Tribunal—to review and report on complaints relating to security agencies.49

The Attorney-General, Gareth Evans, admitted to Barnett that he had participated freely in the preparation of the draft and was ‘personally happy with it’.50 In fact, Evans addressed the Victorian Council for Civil Liberties advocating the platform while also describing national security and civil liberties as being ‘to a very large extent inter-dependent’. Evans defined national security as freedom from interference, including from attack by terrorists, from espionage, and from people ‘destabilising or overthrowing the very democratic system upon which the exercise of civil liberties depends’.51 In effect, he was giving weight to the three main pillars of ASIO’s work: counterterrorism, counterespionage and protective security.

To Evans it was clearly preferable in a democratic society for the security functions to be undertaken by a statutory agency with ‘clearly delineated jurisdiction and powers and subject to rigorous accountability to government and Parliament, rather than by secret bodies buried away in the recesses of the bureaucracy’.52

The ALP submission met with a frosty reception in some quarters, especially within ASIO. Michael Boyle told Barnett that ‘To the uninformed, I do not doubt that many of the proposals would seem, if not unreasonable, at least operable.’ But Boyle dismissed this interpretation as ‘merely the impression of those unfamiliar with the principles, concepts and management of intelligence’. Such views, he argued, indicated ‘the mammoth task facing us in attempting to educate our political masters’. Boyle felt that adoption of the recommendations would adversely affect ASIO’s operational performance and ‘render the quality of security advice well below that which a government or the Australian community could reasonably expect’. In this, he added, his opinions had ‘considerable sympathy from elsewhere in ASIO’.53 Barnett, although not as firm as Boyle, told Evans that he was concerned about the safety of sensitive intelligence from foreign services if non-Australians could appeal against immigration decisions based on ASIO advice.54 In the end, Evans’ view would prevail.

Major recommendations from the royal commission

The findings and recommendations of the second Hope Royal Commission were presented in single reports dedicated to individual intelligence agencies and issued between December 1983 and December 1984. In addition, certain matters relevant to the conduct, performance, control and accountability of the intelligence community as a whole were dealt with in a general report.55 Overall, it was clear that the thrust of the reports was generally favourable, but they pointed out some areas where performance could be improved. This was seen within ASIO as a fine-tuning following the first Hope Royal Commission.56

In total, seven reports were written. These included the Report on Terms of Reference, covering the Combe–Ivanov affair, published in December 1983; the Report on the Sheraton Hotel Incident, published in February 1984; and the Report on the Office of National Assessments and the Joint Intelligence Organization and Report on the Australian Security Intelligence Organization, both published in December 1984. Two other reports on the other Australian intelligence collection agencies were not published, but the General Report, also published in December 1984, covered the conduct, performance and accountability of all five intelligence bodies: ASIO, ASIS, DSD, ONA and the JIO.

The General Report concluded that Australia’s investment in its intelligence services was ‘well justified’, and that ASIO’s record as to legality and propriety was good. It commented favourably on ASIO’s concern for compliance with the requirements of the law and propriety, although it noted that the Organisation had made occasional mistakes. It concluded that the traditional practice of neither confirming nor denying incorrect public allegations should continue, except when the allegations were so serious that to remain silent would prejudice national security.57

The General Report also noted the work undertaken since the earlier Royal Commission on Intelligence and Security to restructure and revitalise ASIO and that this work was ongoing. It registered the negative effects on morale of ASIO’s ‘unjustified battering’ at the hands of the media at the time of the Combe–Ivanov affair but stressed the need for ASIO to define its policies, structures and procedures more tightly to better achieve its goals.58 In essence, Hope was relatively complimentary of ASIO, saying that its performance had improved markedly since the adoption of reforms recommended by his earlier royal commission.59

The report proposed the establishment of an office of the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security (IGIS), which would help maintain public confidence in the integrity of ASIO. The IGIS was to provide independent oversight of ASIO’s activities and would be vested with the power to inquire into and report on ASIO’s compliance with the law and propriety, as well as the appropriateness and effectiveness of its internal procedures.60 The IGIS was intended by Hope to be an independent statutory office holder who reviewed the activities of Australia’s intelligence agencies. The position was established following the enactment of the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security Act 1986, and Neil McInnes was appointed the inaugural Inspector-General in February 1987. The purpose of IGIS reviews was to ensure that all intelligence agencies acted legally and with propriety, while complying with ministerial guidelines and directives.61

The General Report further stressed the importance of the personal control exercised by the Minister and the Permanent Heads Committee, which was rebadged as the Secretaries Committee on Intelligence and Security (SCIS). Agencies were not at liberty to determine their own priorities or to act without clear and lawful authorisation from their Minister, while the arrangements for inter-agency consultation and coordination through the SCIS needed to be maintained.62

The Report on the Australian Security Intelligence Organization went further and made a number of proposals to strengthen accountability measures and enable greater control of ASIO by the Attorney-General. In particular, the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation Act 1979 (or ASIO Act) was to be amended to allow the Attorney-General to give particular as well as general directions and, if necessary, to make it clear that the Minister could obtain any information required from ASIO. These provisions reflected a belief in the Government’s right to full control over and access to the information collected and managed by ASIO. In addition, the Attorney-General’s Department was to give greater support to the Attorney-General in exercising oversight of ASIO. In essence, the Attorney-General’s Department would be required to engage more closely with ASIO and other agencies including the AFP, to facilitate greater inter-agency consultation and coordination.63

The ASIO report recommended that the Attorney-General provide guidelines as to how ASIO should undertake its security assessments for the protection of VIPs. It also called for tightened provisions on various aspects of agent operations. This included a presumption against the use of agents where less intrusive collection methods were available, as well as measures to protect the anonymity of agents and to protect an agent in the event of inadvertent disclosure.64 This was a significant development arising from the exposure of agents and ASIO officers in the Walter and Langridge cases described in Chapter 7.

Some definitions also were to be adjusted. ‘Active measures of foreign intervention’, for instance, was to be replaced with a broader term, ‘acts of foreign interference’. Significantly, some activities described as ‘subversion’ were henceforth to be treated as a form of ‘politically motivated violence’, including the promotion of ‘communal violence’. The concept of subversion, which, to many in ASIO was still associated with the revolutionary aspirations of communist groups, had always been difficult to define clearly. With the decline in communist revolutionary agitation associated with the political marginalisation of the communist movement in Australia and the surge in concern over other extremist groups, subversion lost its currency as the preferred descriptor. The term politically motivated violence more accurately encompassed the spectrum of issues about which ASIO was increasingly concerned. In a measure that made subversion even more of a redundant term, in line with the recommendation of the ALP submission, legislation was to provide expressly for the right to lawful advocacy, protest or dissent not to constitute ‘activity prejudicial to security’.65

Overseas representation arrangements of ASIO and other departments were to be reviewed to determine whether they remained efficient and effective. This was a reasonable measure, particularly given the changing nature of the intelligence and security environment. In addition, ASIO’s information storage and collation procedures, and its quality of assessments, were to be improved so that, when necessary, assessments could be referred to for use by and validated in security appeals proceedings. Other recommendations concerned calls for improved management and personnel practices, faster and more efficient security checking for access to information, and the establishment of robust procedures for the Security Appeals Tribunal.66 As was the case after the earlier royal commission headed by Hope, as explained in the opening chapters of this volume, ASIO had its work cut out for it to implement these recommendations.

Public release of the royal commission report

There was considerable public interest in the proceedings and findings of the royal commission. In February 1984, for instance, a conference was convened by the Centre for Continuing Education at the Australian National University in Canberra to consider the first of Hope’s reports and the ‘issues raised by the conduct and outcome of the inquiry thus far’.67

Mindful of such interest and of the importance of being as clear and transparent as possible about the royal commission and its findings, a public version of the report was prepared by Hope and his staff. This was tabled in Parliament by Prime Minister Hawke in May 1985. In announcing the public release of the report, Hawke said that while the actions and performances of ASIO in the Combe–Ivanov case had come under close scrutiny, ‘in most relevant respects’ ASIO’s conduct had ‘not been found wanting’. Rather, Hope’s work showed ASIO to have ‘acted reasonably and responsibly in following Ivanov’s activities and in raising with the Government its concern at the developing relationship between Ivanov and Mr Combe’. Moreover, while ‘a number of errors were made by ASIO in the presentation of its case to Ministers’, they were ‘of peripheral significance’, although they indicated some areas requiring review of ASIO practices to reduce the possibility of error.68

Hawke focused his remarks to a large extent on the matters that had captured public attention. He emphasised that Hope found Valeriy Ivanov to be a KGB officer and that the Government had been justified in expelling him. Hawke indicated that Hope had established Ivanov intended to use Combe to obtain and surrender information and documents and, in the interests of the Soviet Union, to act, wittingly or unwittingly, as an agent of influence. A central feature of the case, Hawke said, was that the relationship between Ivanov and Combe ‘was about to become clandestine and ASIO would no longer be in a position to monitor it, either effectively or at all’. Hawke made clear he endorsed Hope’s view that ‘the implications for national security flowing from these matters were real and serious’.69 Hawke also dwelt on Hope’s confirmation that placing Combe under surveillance was ‘a prudent and appropriate course to take’ and the surveillance was ‘duly authorised, carried out by the appropriate means, and was properly terminated’.70

The reports revealed that Hope and his staff had conducted a thorough review. They wrote exhaustively about their observations and made substantial recommendations. These no doubt reflected the need for additional reform and adjustment, but they also are worth examining in contrast to the observations and recommendations made by Hope in the reports from his first royal commission completed in 1977. Those reports had offered scathing criticism of ASIO’s practices and procedures.

What emerges from the reports of the second Hope Royal Commission is how much ASIO had taken the recommendations of the first Hope Royal Commission to heart and acted upon them. The organisation that Hope reviewed in 1983 and 1984 was substantially different from and an improvement on the one that he reviewed a decade earlier. Without question, significant additional effort was required to ensure ASIO met the Government’s and the public’s expectations, but it had come a long way since the days of deeply entrenched mistrust of ASIO and accusations that it was motivated by partisan-political beliefs. Of course, for further reform to occur, additional resources would be required.


The second Hope Royal Commission into intelligence matters validated the reform initiatives of his earlier work. With the passage of time and experience, the Royal Commission on Australia’s Security and Intelligence Agencies had a cathartic effect not only on ASIO but across the intelligence organisations, which would increasingly come to be seen as part of a single entity: the Australian Intelligence Community. For ASIO, however, the scale of the impact was far smaller than that following the first Hope Royal Commission in 1977. That royal commission had generated the necessary momentum for fundamental reform and restructuring, as discussed in Part 1 of this volume. The reforms arising from the second royal commission were of enduring significance, but for ASIO they were of an incremental rather than fundamental nature. Arguably, the more significant reforms arising concerned other intelligence agencies and the oversight arrangements for them all as a group. We now turn to ASIO’s organisational renewal during this period, including how it set about implementing the additional reform measures mandated by the royal commission.

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