ASIO under Alan Wrigley and John Moten, 1985–1989

What ASIO needed to consolidate and drive further reform was a leader with initiative and zeal. This had to be someone prepared to make enemies, if need be, in order to achieve the organisational goals that were yet to be addressed. Most notable among these was the move to Canberra, a major undertaking that would stretch the managerial and leadership skills of the best of the Australian Public Service’s senior officials. What is more, the move had to be accomplished while maintaining an operational focus on ASIO’s key security and intelligence tasks. This chapter examines Alan Wrigley’s success as Director-General, the Organisation’s move to Canberra, and the ongoing initiatives to refine ASIO to better carry out its mission in the latter years of the Cold War, and Wrigley’s eventual replacement by John Moten.

Alan Wrigley replaces Harvey Barnett

The man chosen to succeed Barnett as Director-General was 54-year-old Alan Wrigley, a senior bureaucrat in the Department of Defence. An aeronautical engineer, he was a major figure in the management of the Nomad aircraft at the Government Aircraft Factory in Melbourne. As Deputy Secretary B (Strategic and International Policy), he had oversight of JIO and DSD as well as ‘strategic intelligence responsibilities’, and was therefore well qualified for the job of Director-General.1 Gareth Evans later described him as a ‘spunky defence guy who wasn’t going to take bullshit from anybody’. Evans observed that he probably had ‘a sympathetic mind to the mission’ but that he had ‘an utterly unsympathetic mind to the mindset towards Dad’s Army hopelessness’, which Evans considered ‘pretty endemic in the Organisation’.2

In addition, Wrigley had his detractors in Defence who were happy to see him moved to another organisation. With aspirations to a higher appointment in Defence, Wrigley was a reluctant appointee. He had been a Deputy Secretary in Defence for a while, and the current Secretary seemed set to retire and recommend Wrigley to take over. Wrigley recalled:

I was content with that. I didn’t know there was the prospect of ASIO Director-General. I got a phone call directly from the Attorney-General. He asked me over the phone would I be interested in taking the job, with not much detail about why. I reacted pretty quickly. I said no. A day later, my secretary came in breathless … ‘the Attorney-General is outside and would like to talk to you’. He explained he had some difficulties with ASIO … the staff association was causing problems and the move was proving a great upheaval. He pleaded. I’d been recommended. I explained what my focus was—it didn’t include ASIO. He said his main interest was to get me to manage the move to Canberra. He said he’d talk to Beazley to see if he could appoint me for a limited period, and then get me back to Defence with the reasonable expectation that I would be appointed Secretary eventually. Beazley agreed. We went to the Prime Minister’s office. Hawke more or less said, ‘If that’s what you want, Kim, that’s all right with me.’3

The matter was settled.

Barnett called at Wrigley’s house on 10 July to discuss the Canberra transfer, and canvassed some of the difficulties surrounding the terms of separations and the staff agreement. The two of them identified Monday 29 July 1985 as a suitable date and agreed on a two-day handover, which would include briefings from heads of branches and a tour of the facilities. A ‘neat’ official starting date would be 1 August.4

The day he took office, Wrigley thanked all ASIO staff for the good wishes and expressions of support. Seeking to allay concerns about what this outsider would do, he declared:

I want you to be aware that I am conscious of the special ethos of the organization and the honour and responsibility I feel at assuming its leadership. Please be assured I will work with you to further strengthen ASIO’s effectiveness and its nationally important role.5

He received many letters of congratulation from other quarters, too. Tim James, the Director of DSD, for example, congratulated him on his appointment, declaring:

Though I am not sure that it is not a case of ‘out of the frying pan into the fire’, I have no doubt that the responsibilities of Director General of Security will be a welcome change from your current problems in managing the Defence budget and in dealing with strong, and on occasion narrow and insular, vested interests of the Services. The problems will be no less intractable but they will be different!6

Former Director-General Sir Edward Woodward also congratulated the new Director-General, adding that he was an ‘unrepentant advocate’ of the need to move ASIO to Canberra, as it would enable relations with the Government to be put on a proper footing. Most of the problems in recent years, he believed, could have been avoided had the headquarters been in Canberra, with all the regular contacts with ministers and others that would have permitted. Woodward gave faint praise to ASIO staff, saying,

I have every confidence that you will be agreeably surprised by the general quality of the officers of the Organization, and by its overall efficiency. It still contains some who should never have been recruited—if only because they lack the necessary intellectual qualities—but most of them have been found niches in which they can perform adequately. I think you will find the recruits of the last ten years are of a uniformly good standard and there are a number of excellent senior officers.7

Pleasantries out of the way, Wrigley was ready to get to work on the job he believed was the reason for his selection: moving the Organisation to Canberra.

Preparing for the move to Canberra

Wrigley acknowledged that ‘things had got a little confused and needed to be sorted out’. Inevitably, there were many who would not want to leave Melbourne, and even for those who did, there would be a great period of distraction during the move. He admitted that he ‘did wonder for a while whether it was all justified in the pursuit of some rather unquantifiable advantages’. In the end, though, Wrigley agreed with Justice Hope that ASIO had to be in Canberra if it was to be accepted as part of the machinery of government. But he also saw the move as ‘a great chance to throw all the cards in the air at once and re-arrange them the way that I felt they should be’. He acknowledged that ASIO would lose a lot of experienced personnel in the move, some of whom could not be replaced from the outside, but some would have been lost anyway as people retired. Wrigley believed that among those prepared to make the move were a lot of good people ready for promotion. In addition, he declared, there had been an ‘excellent response’ to the advertisements for new staff.8 He later recalled:

By and large I judged the people that were reluctant to leave Melbourne were expendable if necessary and could be replaced. I had to be realistic. This move was going to happen. The best I could do was give encouragement to the people who would be the most serious losses if they didn’t come.9

The matter of the move dragged on for months, but Wrigley approached the task with vigour. He tasked the First Assistant Director-General of the Administration Branch with preparing a staff paper on the ‘Future Location of ASIO Headquarters’. The paper, delivered in late August 1985, sought to help personnel weigh up the pros and cons, to aid them in reaching a decision. The paper provided compelling arguments covering financial, operational and administrative aspects.10 Wrigley then pursued the matter of resolving staff terms and conditions of service, for which he gained the Attorney-General’s support.11

Once the terms and conditions were endorsed by the Government, he issued an explanatory memorandum to all staff, urging them to accept the new agreement.12 With these arrangements finalised, in December 1985 Cabinet confirmed its earlier in-principle approval of the move to Canberra. The target was to complete the move within a year and Wrigley advised staff accordingly.13 A couple of months later, as the move started to gather momentum, a staff survey indicated that 51 per cent of staff were undecided as to whether they would make the transfer. A memorandum was circulated internally, urging those prevaricating to ‘consider seriously the extent [to which] they will find alternative employment which is as satisfying and rewarding’. Staff also were encouraged to make a ‘pre-transfer visit’ with their families before coming to a decision.14 ASIO was prepared to foot the bill for travel, including flights or expenses for those choosing to drive there instead, and to give three working days for the move. A booklet, ‘Canberra 1986’, was given to staff to take home and discuss with their families.15 Conscious of the disruption that would accompany the move, and of the recruiting challenge of finding large numbers of new staff, Wrigley was working to reduce the number of staff who would decide not to make the transition to Canberra. Here he faced some difficulties.

By July 1986, 36 per cent of staff had indicated their wish to transfer to Canberra. Some of the others, however, were prepared to change their minds, depending on how opportunities for promotion presented themselves as vacancies became clearer.16 By September it was clear that the overall staff loss would be ‘only about 30 per cent’, but measures were ‘well advanced in recruiting and training new staff to make up that loss’.17 In the end, 230 of about 570 staff left the Organisation, but ASIO recruited about 130 in a couple of months to make up some of the shortfall.18That the Organisation, having lost almost one-third of its officers, could not only continue to function but transition to Canberra and continue to provide advice to government on security issues is remarkable. Wrigley’s sheer force of will was a significant contributor to this outcome, as was the managerial team that he assembled and shaped.

As mentioned in Chapter 2, the selection of the building site in Canberra took some time and then construction was delayed, adding to the uncertainty for staff contemplating relocation. Eventually, the construction went ahead and Wrigley wrote to Bowen in November noting that the building would be fully operational by early December 1986.19 Wrigley suggested that a formal opening, including the unveiling of a commemorative plaque, take place at the end of January 1987.20

The working week 24–28 November 1986 proved the busiest, with a significant portion of the transfer taking place that week, including ‘acres’ of material trucked to Canberra from the old site in Melbourne. That same week, a bombing of the Turkish Consulate in Melbourne made ‘enormous calls on senior management, intelligence analysts, communications staff and many others’. ASIO maintained a 24-hour watch in support of the Organisation’s response to the bombing for several days in Canberra, Sydney and Melbourne.21 The incident is discussed in more detail in Chapter 16.

The move proceeded apace and according to plan, with staff, files and essential equipment transferred to the new building in the Russell precinct of Canberra. By 8 December all essential functions were operating from the new facilities, while a small residual staff in the building at 469 St Kilda Road in Melbourne was closing up some computer functions, finalising separation payments and removing physical security equipment, before vacating the premises by the end of January 1987.22

With the move came a name change. No longer would the central building be called Headquarters ASIO. Instead, a softer, less military-sounding title was chosen: Central Office. The new facility had space to absorb the ACT regional staff already located in Canberra, as well as the former Headquarters Liaison Group. But with much to sort out, it would be another eight months before the ACT Regional Office would relocate from Anzac Park West building, adjacent to Anzac Parade and Lake Burley Griffin, to the new ASIO Central Office building.23

Looking back in March 1988, Wrigley noted with some satisfaction:

It can reasonably be said that it has been a period of greatest change and challenge in the Organisation’s history. The move of the Central Office to Canberra was a formidable one. The physical task of moving all our records and systems from Melbourne and setting them up here in the new building was substantial in itself. But at the same time to have separated the 230 people who chose to leave, and recruited and trained those who replaced them, was something we can all be proud of. By all, I mean those who carried out the job and those who joined us and came up to speed so quickly and so well in their new jobs.

I think we can claim to have barely missed a beat in covering our responsibilities to Government and I believe we can already claim to be performing better than before in virtually all respects.24

Some time later, Wrigley recalled:

There were obviously some losses in specialised knowledge and initially in numbers but the quality of the new staff was high and there were few significant difficulties in recruiting support staff mostly in Canberra. The new building was an attractive workplace and I judged, rightly I believe, that by some 12 months after the move, the Organisation could regain a good level of effectiveness. A benefit was that the new staff—and those who had moved from Melbourne—had largely shed the reluctance to accept periodic interstate moves that are essential to the Organisation’s effectiveness—notably time spent in the regional offices where the work is usually more ‘hands on’.25

Bob Hawke visits the new Canberra offices

Wrigley recognised that he needed to do a better job at ensuring the Government supported ASIO, and understood that ASIO was acting in response to the Government’s directions. Once ASIO was settled in Canberra, Wrigley hosted Hawke on a visit to the new offices on 25 March 1987. Hawke was particularly interested to learn whether ASIO had overcome the effects of losing a large percentage of its staff and whether it had settled down in Canberra. He was assured that ASIO had been able to make up a significant part of the loss in generalists and clerical staff but was experiencing difficulty recruiting replacement specialists, particularly in the computer field. Hawke was advised that ASIO had taken a number of generalist intelligence officers from the regional offices and these, in turn, needed to be replaced.26

ASIO’s reorganisation under Wrigley

Although Wrigley saw managing the move as his main task, he by no means limited himself to that task alone. Indeed, with his experience in Defence, Wrigley was attuned to the latest trends in public administration, which were demanding higher standards of accountability across government. These trends had led to the Freedom of Information Act 1982, the Archives Act 1983, the debate about a Bill of Rights, and the oversight mechanisms established as a result of the second Hope Royal Commission. Wrigley appreciated that ASIO was falling short of these rising standards and would do so increasingly unless there were substantial improvements to the Organisation’s management.27 He also recognised that changes were necessary to facilitate the transition to the new headquarters. He therefore got to work on reorganising ASIO’s structure, making a start several months before the move to Canberra in late 1986.

Wrigley made a number of changes in May 1986 that were to take effect by 30 June. The new structure reduced to three the number of managers reporting directly to Wrigley. These were two deputy directors-general, one for Intelligence and Operations, the other for Administration, and, two rungs down from them, an Assistant Director-General for the Secretariat.28

The first of these three appointments, the Deputy Director-General (Intelligence and Operations), oversaw all operational matters, retaining the responsibilities of the existing Deputy Director-General, with the addition of a newly created Operational Resource Co-ordination Branch (see Figure 14.1).29 Blair Nienaber, who had been Deputy Director-General under Barnett, had decided not to move to Canberra. Wrigley appointed Gerard Walsh to the position in September 1986, initially in an acting capacity, pending Nienaber’s separation, but permanently from October.30Walsh came to the position with a wealth of experience in counterespionage, having worked on exchange in the United Kingdom and been Assistant Director-General of C Branch, responsible for protective security matters at the time when engagement with the new Security Appeals Tribunal was seen as ‘ASIO’s most sensitive pressure point with Government and public alike’.31 Barnett had praised Walsh for his contribution to the Security Appeals Tribunal, and regarded him as having ‘the qualities to become a future Director-General of Security’.32 Walsh was clearly highly regarded.

The Deputy Director-General (Administration) was a new position created to replace the First Assistant Director-General (Administration) and filled by an officer with extensive experience in scientific research in the Department of Defence. Just as the Deputy Director-General (Intelligence and Operations) had operational oversight of the regions, the Deputy Director-General (Administration) took on greater responsibility for the administration not just at Central Office but in the regional offices too. This included management of physical and personnel security practices and procedures.33 The newly defined roles of the deputy directors-general effectively destroyed the quasi-military and strongly hierarchical nature of the Organisation that had existed hitherto. Wrigley, frustrated by the lack of responsiveness of regional offices to his direction, made sure the new arrangements provided him with direct and more responsive control over the Organisation.


Figure 14.1: Director-General Alan Wrigley’s organisational structure, May 1986

Source: ‘Director-General’s Memorandum No. 9: 1986 Higher Management Structure’, 19 May 1986, ASIO records.

The third position, Assistant Director-General (Secretariat), had existed previously under Michael Boyle, who retained the position.34 He had responsibility for overall policy development and dealings with external agencies at a policy level, including the functions of overseas liaison officers. He was to report directly to the Director-General because his position involved inter-agency interactions.

Further refinements in ASIO’s structure took place as the new arrangements established new practices and procedures. For example, Wrigley established a new position of Assistant Director-General (Information Management) in August 1986. Unlike many of his ASIO colleagues, the appointee came from the Department of Defence, having worked for several years on computer-based systems. He brought with him extensive experience in strategic planning of computer-based data-handling systems—something of which ASIO stood very much in need at the time.35

Seeing the requirement to prioritise the efficient distribution of resources, Wrigley also established a new position of Assistant Director-General (Resource Management), raising the position from director level. The first incumbent was an experienced resource policy development and financial planning manager from the private sector.36

Another new branch was established under Ian Thomas as Assistant Director-General (Intelligence and Operations Coordination). This branch, made up of the ‘non-technical’ elements of the other operational branches, was intended to direct the use of ASIO’s intelligence collection resources in accordance with corporate priorities. It was to control warrants, coordinate the more complex technical operations, and play an important role in the development of corporate policy regarding ASIO’s primary functions.37 Thomas recalled some fascinating operations enabled by emergent interception technology that required inter-agency and international coordination. Working in these fields with partner organisations led to ASIO acquiring additional technologies that expanded its repertoire of capabilities.38

Another new role, created by Wrigley in September 1986, was the Assistant Director-General (Intelligence Analysis), whose new branch was to combine the primary analytical functions that had been carried out by E Branch (Counter-Espionage) and S Branch (Counter-Subversion). Wrigley was convinced that the numbers of appropriately skilled and experienced middle-level intelligence analytical officers available, at least in the near future, were such that they would be best brought together under a single branch head.39 Focusing on improved analytical prowess was a significant reform recommended by Hope.

At the same time, Wrigley felt a need to strengthen ASIO’s competence in the development of technical equipment to its intelligence collection capabilities. To do this, he appointed as Assistant Director-General (Technical) an officer with an electrical engineering degree and a background in the CSIRO. Throughout his career, this officer had specialised in the design and operations of electronic control and data-recording systems, particularly computer-based control systems. These were becoming increasingly important skills to foster within ASIO.40 As the so-called information age progressed, resource allocation in this field would become increasingly significant.

These extensive reorganisation measures reflected significantly changed dynamics within the Organisation. Much of this change sprang from the momentum generated by the second Hope Royal Commission, but it was also facilitated by bigger budgets. In contrast to directors-general of the more frugal days of the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s, Wrigley found himself well supported and provided with sufficient resources to make the organisational changes and develop the bureaucratic mechanisms required to achieve the outcomes for which Hope had called. As Gerard Walsh observed, ‘he was also better equipped than any of his predecessors in pursuing forward estimates and arguing for head count, capital and recurrent expenditure increases—assisted by a highly competent team of the finance/admin side’.41

Wrigley’s assessment of ASIO

With so much change afoot and with an eye to the damaging press coverage during the royal commission in 1983 and 1984, Wrigley saw engagement with the public through the media as an important part of his responsibilities. Like Woodward, Wrigley therefore took up an invitation to address the National Press Club in Canberra on 10 September 1986, a couple of months before the move to Canberra.42 The speech, which was later circulated to all ASIO staff, received considerable media attention.43

Wrigley used the opportunity to provide an assessment, what he called his ‘first impressions’, of the state of affairs within ASIO. These touched on the reforms that had resulted from the recommendations of the Royal Commission on Australia’s Security and Intelligence Agencies, the draft changes to legislation, and the planned relocation to Canberra. Wrigley admitted that he ‘came to ASIO a little reluctantly’ after ten years working in the Defence Department. ‘From the first day,’ he declared, ‘the people there have shown me patience, loyalty and good-will that have made it easier than I had dared hope.’44

Wrigley also stoutly defended ASIO’s role and its mandate. ‘It cannot be denied,’ he declared, ‘that the powers ASIO has, in legislation, do [emphasis in original] permit it to be intrusive in some cases. But these are special cases and they’re carefully controlled under warrant and by their very nature they are limited to investigations into security matters (as “security” is defined in the ASIO Act).’ Wrigley explained that he signed requests for the use of these powers only when satisfied that he could personally justify each case to the Attorney-General. Each warrant in turn had to be personally authorised by the Attorney-General ‘who is, of course, answerable to parliament for his judgement’.45 He added that the royal commission had investigated operations conducted under warrant over several years and found no instance where ASIO had gone beyond the bounds of legality or propriety.46

Perhaps the principal thrust of Wrigley’s speech was defending ASIO’s focus on the five domains of espionage, sabotage, subversion, terrorism and ‘acts of foreign interference’—which included ‘clandestine or deceptive action’ instigated by foreign powers. ‘I can tell you,’ he declared, ‘that the very great majority of ASIO’s resources and the very greatest proportion of its operations conducted under warrant’ were directed towards investigation in these five domains. Wrigley continued, saying:

You should not be under the slightest doubt that there are undeclared foreign intelligence officers working in Australia today, and that some of them use coercion, and prey on the character or family vulnerabilities and other human frailties in order to enlist Australian residents to work against this country’s interests. ASIO does quite a lot that makes their job difficult.47

Going back to the question of balancing privacy and civil liberties, Wrigley argued that the great majority of Australians understood that acts of terrorism and politically motivated violence were abhorrent and were therefore prepared to accept that ‘the privacy of innocent people on the fringe of those prepared to do such things might sometimes suffer also’. In defending his stand, he invoked Canada’s experience of losing 329 lives in 1985 when an Air India aeroplane exploded in mid-air in a flight out of Montreal ‘all because someone wanted to prove a point in a quarrel on the other side of the world’. He also referred to the attempt to kill hundreds at the Hakoah Club in Sydney in 1982. ‘Had the person involved been a little more skilled,’ he said, ‘the issue might have been sharper in the minds of some more Australians.’48

Wrigley sought to allay concerns about ASIO’s intrusive powers by focusing on intrusions by foreigners. He stoutly defended ‘the unavoidable fact’ that ASIO did some things that ‘must not be publicly known if we’re to do our job’ [emphasis in original].49 Wrigley explained:

I regard it as an offence against the privacy of all Australians that people should enter this country with the privileges of resident status, posing as something other than they are, for the purpose of stealing things that the Government of Australia has decided should be secret. It would offend me even more if an Australian helped to do it. I think the great majority of Australians would agree with me, and would accept that the civil liberties of a few may sometimes have to suffer in order to prevent them. [emphasis in original]50

Wrigley also commented on other significant reforms arising from legislation that was to pass through Parliament as a consequence of the royal commission. He welcomed the new parliamentary committee, which would provide administrative oversight for the intelligence collection agencies ASIO, ASIS and DSD, but cautioned against carte-blanche revelation of ASIO’s operational matters. He defended the need for circumspection. Drawing parallels with the US congressional oversight committees, he pointed out that ‘sources and methods’ (specific sources of information and the methods used to collect that information) were excluded from examination by the parliamentary committee under the new legislation. Wrigley emphasised that for a security service to be effective it must carry out some very sensitive operations. ‘The cardinal rule of “need-to-know” must be followed both inside ASIO and outside if these operations are to be successful. Sometimes there can be a very real risk to people—and not only to ASIO people—if the operations become too widely known.’ With this in mind, Wrigley was comfortable that the parliamentary committee’s interest would be mostly in how competently ASIO managed the resources voted by Parliament, how it ensured they were used only in investigating matters relating to security, and whether it had the systems in place to ensure that legality and propriety were observed.51

As his engagement at the National Press Club in Canberra demonstrated, Wrigley understood clearly that ASIO had an image problem and, with the move to Canberra, needed to take a more proactive approach to recruitment and to managing its public image. Wrigley therefore continued to take opportunities to be much more overt about both. In the Australian Magazine in September 1988, for instance, five new ASIO recruits were profiled along with Wrigley, to show how modern, fresh-faced and innovative was the new-look ASIO. In talking about Wrigley, the magazine described his ‘central plank’ as a philosophy that ‘has been very much to demystify the organisation’. One ASIO person interviewed observed, ‘we realised we had a problem in an image sense and under Alan we’ve tried to work on that aspect—within obvious limitations’.52 It was the start of a more ‘open’ ASIO.

The Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security

One of the most significant recommendations of the second Hope Royal Commission was to improve ASIO’s oversight and accountability mechanisms. A key means of ensuring greater accountability and openness was the creation of the IGIS.

A draft cabinet submission was circulated to senior ASIO managers in August 1985 inviting comment on the proposed arrangements for the appointment of an IGIS. ASIO’s advice to the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet was that it would want full understanding of the new arrangements from the earliest possible stage, given the implications for security and the degree of authority the IGIS was expected to exercise under the statute.53

ASIO once again outlined its position in late October: that the IGIS should focus on the legality and propriety of ASIO’s activities and should not be regarded as the equivalent of a management review of ASIO’s administration—which was a core part of the Director-General’s remit. ASIO also was eager to stress that the IGIS could be fallible,

and it should be open to a minister to disagree with him [the thought of the position being filled by a woman had not yet occurred to the submission’s writer], reject his advice if need be and inform or consult the prime minister or other ministers as necessary. This would be in keeping with the Inspector-General’s role in assisting ministers.54

After being cleared by the SCIS, Cabinet approved the submission in November 1985.55

Wrigley saw the IGIS as ‘the ministers’ “watchdog”, to check ASIO’s compliance with the established systems, on a specific audit basis, and to look at specific matters according to the minister’s wishes’.56 As it turned out, however, Wrigley did not enjoy a good relationship with the IGIS.

Relations between the Inspector-General, Neil McInnes, and the Director-General, Alan Wrigley, were initially cordial, but they became quite strained in 1988. One ASIO officer expressed a grievance to McInnes and in doing so passed a classified ASIO document to him without authorisation. Wrigley’s concern was not with the complaint but that classified material was passed without being authorised. The written exchange between him and Wrigley became quite barbed when McInnes submitted a report to the Attorney-General, and sought leave to make mention in his annual public report of poor security in ASIO and delays in responding to official requests. Wrigley had reasonable arguments in his defence, as ASIO had recently moved, hired new staff, faced unprecedented pressures and had yet to receive sufficient resources to make up for staffing shortfalls.57

The exchanges between them continued through April and beyond. Wrigley, at his acerbic best, wrote on 15 April to McInnes: ‘I wonder why you seem so bent on creating a combative relationship in our dealings. Your letter of 12 April, on the matter of your office’s security, misrepresents my position in several respects.’ He continued: ‘I am responsible for the protection of ASIO’s holdings of sensitive material and I believe that any marginal advantage in you holding a copy of that particular document [the classified annual report] is quite outweighed by the marginal standards of the security of your premises.’ Not surprisingly, the relationship between McInnes and Wrigley would remain fiery and contested for the remainder of Wrigley’s term as Director-General.58

Early in 1989, a Director-General’s memorandum was prepared and promulgated by Wrigley’s successor explaining clearly the requirements and conditions for passing information to the IGIS.59 The new memorandum directed that ASIO staff were not, ‘even inadvertently, to provide the Inspector-General with cause for complaint over the slowness of ASIO’s reactions to either his inquiries or reports on other correspondence’.60 The clear intention was in part at least to ensure that the tension between McInnes and Wrigley would not soon be replicated.

Wrigley farewelled

Only a few months after his initial exchange with McInnes, in early November 1988, Alan Wrigley completed his term as Director-General. But he did not return to Defence. Instead, he was appointed as special advisor to Senator John Button, Minister for Industry, Technology and Commerce, for the Multifunction Polis (a proposed planned community that never eventuated) in South Australia. He was subsequently commissioned by the Minister for Defence, Kim Beazley, to study commercial support arrangements within the Department of Defence, leading to a report entitled The Defence Force and the Community: An alternative ADF model.

Wrigley was farewelled by ASIO at a dinner on 2 November 1988, with senior staff and the Attorney-General, Lionel Bowen, in attendance. Bowen complimented Wrigley on the ‘excellent job’ he had done during a particularly difficult phase in the life of the Organisation. He added that Wrigley was leaving behind ‘a first class Organization of which Australia can be proud’.61

In his parting speech, Wrigley reflected on the many changes and many new faces over the preceding three years:

I firmly believe that ASIO is stronger and more effective than it was in mid-1985, battered as it was by the criticism that accompanied the Hope Royal Commission, the uncertainty as to whether the old Headquarters was to move, and many other smaller matters. I hope I can fairly claim some credit for the gains, but they would not have been possible without the tremendous dedication of so many people—those who have long been committed to giving Australia a first-class security service and those who have joined us only in the last few years.62

Wrigley also made mention of the media opportunities he had taken:

I know that there has been some nervousness about that—maybe there still is. It has its risks and it hasn’t always worked as well as I’d hoped. But by and large I am convinced that ASIO and its staff benefit from a better public understanding of what you are about. It is an important job you do and you do it well.63

John Moten becomes Director-General

With Wrigley retiring, the Attorney-General, Lionel Bowen, sought out Wrigley’s successor as Deputy Secretary B (Strategic and International Policy) in the Department of Defence, John Moten. Like Wrigley, Moten had previously worked as an aeronautical engineer at the Government Aircraft Factory in Melbourne. He recalled speaking with Bowen, who told him:

‘I hear that you’re the best man for the job and I’d like you to take the job but I can’t tell you how much you’re going to get paid. Would you still like it?’ So with that recommendation I said I’ll take it on. I mean, intelligence wasn’t a new issue for me because I had oversight of Defence intelligence, but it was a very minor issue, if you like. My background when I came across to Defence was really in what they call the introduction-of-systems analysis.64

Lionel Bowen announced on 28 September 1988 that the Governor-General had appointed 55-year-old John Michael Moten as the new Director-General of ASIO.65 Moten’s appointment was to take effect from 8 October 1988 and was to continue until his 60th birthday, on 8 December 1993.66In fact, Moten would stay for only three, not five years, resigning after completion of 40 years of public service on 10 January 1992.67 In the intervening period, Moten took a more cautious, collegial and discreet approach to managing ASIO, avoiding both the media spotlight and avoidable confrontations with the IGIS. One of his main actions was to make carefully considered organisational changes.

Moten’s reorganisation of ASIO

In mid-October 1989, more than a year after taking up the reins at ASIO, Moten decided to make a number of changes to the higher management structure of ASIO. His intention was to consolidate the intelligence analysis and security assessment functions and to rationalise the computing, communications and corporate services functions. He did this to ‘place the Organization in a better position to respond to current and future tasking priorities and pressures’.68

As part of this rearrangement, Moten created the new position of First Assistant Director-General (Intelligence) within the Intelligence and Operations Division, with responsibility for the day-to-day management and control of a restructured Intelligence and Analysis Branch. This new branch would carry out macro-analysis of politically motivated violence, counterintelligence and ‘intelligence research and programs’.69

Shortly afterwards, on 21 October 1989, Moten took his senior staff to Batemans Bay for an ‘executive management conference’. The purpose was ‘to examine issues and ideas impacting on future corporate directions’. The senior staff present broke into groups to reflect on how well ASIO was meeting its responsibilities to Government and explore ‘new ways of best using the Organization’s resources to achieve the highest level of performance and effectiveness’. The conference also examined ASIO’s ‘corporate managerial approach and how it could be improved’.70 The problem with the noble intentions of this conference was that events would soon overtake them. Just under three weeks later, on 9 November 1989, the Berlin Wall fell. It was a monumental turning point which in hindsight was a key marker of the end of the Cold War (even though the Soviet Union remained in existence until 1991).

This momentous turn of events brought the rationale for ASIO’s existence into question in a way not seen since the early days of the Whitlam Government.


Alan Wrigley’s term as Director-General was one of unprecedented upheaval for ASIO. The process of further reflecting on and seeking to implement the recommendations from the second Hope Royal Commission, combined with the relocation to Canberra and the formation of a new management team that introduced greater skill and vitality, generated a remarkable momentum for renewal within ASIO. Wrigley was the person with the drive and determination to see it through, with little concern about how many friendships he made or broke along the way. He was clearly the man for the moment. Acerbic, sharp-witted and decisive, he was prepared to make and implement tough decisions, despite protest, while convincing key participants and decision-makers of the merits of his actions.

The move from Melbourne to Canberra saw many old hands leave the Organisation, a large number of whom had important and hard-to-replace skills, and much to offer the upcoming generation of ASIO officers. Their absence would diminish ASIO’s operational capabilities for a time, but replacing them provided a unique opportunity for deep organisational renewal and the creation of a new culture and ethos across the major domains of the Organisation. In moving to Canberra, the change from the more military-sounding Headquarters to the Central Office was symptomatic of the demographic change that had occurred within ASIO. The Second World War generation had mostly retired, and staff were now predominantly from non-military and non-police backgrounds.

Once the relocation was finalised, Wrigley’s commission was essentially complete. Indeed, the time was ripe for a more collegial, softer and gentler Director-General to take up the reins and lead the Organisation through a period of consolidation in Canberra. That person was John Moten. The fresh intakes of officers associated with the relocation meant that the Organisation experienced a shortfall in experience. But that shortfall was arguably made up for by a fresh mindset that could adapt to changing circumstances. This was particularly the case as ASIO grappled with a diminution in the significance and relevance of its old focus on subversion and a surge in interest in terrorism—the subject of the following chapter.

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