Developing New Approaches to Subversion and Terrorism, 1983–1989

The Hawke Labor Government had no interest in seeing ASIO return to its previous ways of monitoring the remnants of old-school communism, which was still considered subversive by ASIO, and Hawke had a new Attorney-General for the task. As Chapter 12 makes clear, Senator Gareth Evans was an energetic reformer, eager to scrutinise the workings of ASIO to see what had changed since Labor was last in office and how much the work of the Royal Commission on Intelligence and Security, and the Protective Security Review Hope undertook after the Hilton Hotel bombing, had led to substantive reform. Evans found that much had changed since the days of Lionel Murphy’s term as Attorney-General in 1973 and 1974. Not only had the spectre of communist subversion subsided markedly, but other security challenges presented themselves. This had been most visibly demonstrated by the Hilton Hotel bombing of February 1978, but there were a number of groups of concern in the community to watch. So while many of the reform measures Hope had recommended were being implemented, the circumstances continued to change—indicating there was scope for further adjustments and refinements.

This chapter examines how, under direction from the Hawke Government, ASIO adjusted its understanding of subversion, and how it sought to monitor the remnants of the communist movement—the hard-line revolutionary left—for signs of residual subversive intent. The chapter also examines how, at the same time as other terrorism-related threats presented themselves, ASIO sought to test procedures, review capabilities and adjust arrangements. This then sets the parameters for a more detailed discussion of specific target groups in the following chapter.

Defining subversion

While Senator Evans was Attorney-General ASIO’s jurisdiction over and definition of subversion came under close scrutiny. To Evans, subversion was ‘still the loosest and vaguest of all the different security concepts making up the definition of “security” ’. The fundamental problem, he argued, was that the pre-existing definition was ‘wide enough to cover the rhetoric of lawful commitment to a range of ideologies, and a commitment within a realistic time span to truly subversive acts’. Not only did the definition fail to focus ASIO’s attention properly, he argued, but it did not provide members of the public with sufficient guidance in relation to their own conduct. Evans was eager to ensure there was some overriding restriction as to its meaning to expressly protect lawful dissent.1

During the first Hope Royal Commission from 1974 to 1977, Justice Hope had defined subversion to mean ‘working towards the forcible overthrow of constitutional government’, but the term remained problematic and presented additional challenges when it came to the second Hope Royal Commission deliberations in 1983 and 1984. The Rix case (see Chapter 13), which was addressed by the Security Appeals Tribunal a few months before Hawke won the Federal election, became a catalyst for the Organisation fundamentally re-examining the whole concept of subversion. This became an intellectual exercise essentially independent of operations.

In light of this, a small group of ASIO officers within the Counter-Subversion Branch prepared a paper in April 1984 that sought to defend the study of domestic subversion and retain responsibility for subversive studies. In it, they argued the definition of subversion was ‘necessarily dynamic, reflecting the community’s changing social, political and constitutional values’. One problem in framing a definition, they wrote, lay in the delineation between subversion and the legitimate and healthy political activities of dissent and opposition. In a democracy, they observed, ‘The difficulty arises only at those points where legitimate and subversive activities merge.’2 The problem with that view was that the junction was large and blurred.

Evans indicated that, in his view, the standing definition of subversion in the ASIO Act 1979 was too wide, and that to meet the requirements of the ALP platform on security matters, it would need to be narrowed in the future. Given that ASIO’s own assessment of the subversive threat from revolutionaries was low, Evans believed ASIO’s special warrant powers involved a greater risk of intrusion into the civil rights of those affected. He was inclined to give responsibility for VIP protection, where violence might occur, to the police rather than to ASIO. Evans appreciated the need to monitor subversive elements not least for security checking purposes, but he was confident this could be achieved through the study of overt publications, although he did not rule out ‘the more traditional mode of attack through human sources’. But Evans was prepared to wait and see what Hope had to say on the matter.3

The ASIO officers who wrote the paper in April 1984 cited six reasons for defending the study of domestic subversion. First, ASIO was obliged to advise government on groups and individuals seeking to use revolutionary means to overthrow the constitutional system of government. Secondly, they argued, significant developments had to be monitored and reported on. Thirdly, the mere existence of authority to examine subversion served as an ‘inhibiting factor or deterrent to some who contemplate or engage in violent or unlawful acts of a political nature’—although the paper offered no evidence to substantiate this claim. Fourthly, the information gathered from monitoring subversive activities contributed to the timely, balanced and complete national threat assessments ASIO was mandated to complete for VIP protection and defence of the Commonwealth. In light of the experience with the Hilton Hotel and other bombings, this seemed a reasonable claim. Fifthly, this focus enabled the collection of evidence that could lead to government-initiated prosecution for treachery or sedition under the Crimes Act 1914. Once again, ASIO offered no examples of this having ever transpired. The sixth and final justification was to recommend, through security checking, that people committed to the overthrow of the constitutional system did not gain access to the nation’s security-classified material.4

Hope evidently found these arguments less than satisfying. In September 1984, he told Barnett he was working on a new definition but finding it difficult to write. Hope thought he might end up with a definition that required some prospect of the overthrow of constitutional government occurring.5

Word got out in October 1984 that ASIO was constrained from targeting groups previously considered subversive. This occurred when a Liberal Senator for Tasmania, Michael Townley, challenged the Government, claiming ASIO had been prevented from looking into certain groups that could be front organisations for terrorists.6 The next day Evans explained, saying, ‘ASIO has, at my insistence, wound back significantly its intelligence activities in relation to so-called subversive or potentially subversive organisations.’ But he made clear that ‘its activity has been very strenuously maintained in relation to organisations and individuals that have terrorist potential and certainly in the context of politically motivated violence’. Evans declared he did not see it as appropriate for ASIO to devote the kind of resources it had previously to ‘so-called subversive organisations, including particularly some of the Left-wing and Right-wing political parties that have no particular known potential or disposition towards violence’. Evans sought to draw a distinction between organisations or individuals with ‘revolutionary longer-term objectives’ and those with ‘a potential for terrorist activities’.7

In fact, ASIO’s agent coverage of its principal subversive targets declined markedly between 1983 and 1984. The target organisations were the CPA, SPA, CPA (Marxist–Leninist), Socialist Workers Party, International Socialists, Socialist Labour League, Spartacist League of Australia and New Zealand, Australian National Action, and Australian League of Rights. In total more than 60 agents nationwide were covering this disparate and dispersed range of groups at the time of the March 1983 Federal elections. This was virtually the same number as ASIO had covering targets in Victoria alone a decade earlier.8 By late 1984, the number of agents covering these groups had reduced by one-third, reflecting the Labor Government’s directives. But Barnett, apprehensive about how this would affect ASIO’s ability to perform its mandated functions, wrote to Sir Geoffrey Yeend, Chairman of the Permanent Heads Committee on Intelligence and Security, advising him of the concerns he had similarly expressed to the Attorney-General. Barnett’s fears were that the progressive downgrading of ASIO’s coverage of subversive targets and the discontinued incidental study of ‘mass issue’ groups, was diminishing ASIO’s predictive capacity, particularly with regard to its ability to gauge the size and nature of demonstrations directed at VIPs or defence establishments.9 As agent coverage declined, the staffing levels of the subversive studies area responsible for analysing reporting on subversive targets declined commensurately.10 As a result, the Subversive Studies Group had only nine of its designated eighteen positions filled.11

By mid-1986, ASIO had ceased covert coverage of Trotskyist parties and the CPA. Of the left-wing groups remaining, ASIO only monitored those whose activities met the definition of ‘acts of foreign interference’,12 including two pro-Soviet Marxist–Leninist groups, one pro-PRC Marxist–Leninist group and the ‘local affiliates of several Soviet-dominated international “front” organisations’.13

In time, the internal ASIO controversy over Evans’ approach to subversion would subside. In September 1986, for instance, ASIO conceded that one of the most contentious concepts that generated considerable public mistrust and resentment was ‘subversion’. This was the category of security under which most of the criticism in the past years seemed to rest. Hope recommended and the Government accepted that the word ‘subversion’ be removed from the definition of security under the ASIO Act 1979. ASIO hoped this change would see some of the old prejudices against the Organisation fade away.14

Those within ASIO now recognised that ‘subversion’ was the category of security under which most of the historical criticism of ASIO seemed to rest. A better definition, it was hoped, would help ensure that it limited itself more specifically to genuine sources of security concern. Politically motivated violence was now the term used, and covered a range of acts or threats of violence and harm intended to bring pressure to government or, in extreme cases, overthrow it. Politically motivated violence was defined as ‘acts or threats of violence or unlawful harm that are intended or likely to achieve a political objective, whether in Australia or elsewhere, including acts or threats carried on for the purpose of influencing the policy or acts of a government, whether in Australia or elsewhere’.15

In anticipation of the 1986 amendment to the ASIO Act 1979 being endorsed, ASIO was directed to concentrate on the definitions set out in the Amendment Bill. This meant that the operational focus on ‘subversion’ or ‘domestic subversion’ was to cease, while the efforts made against politically motivated violence were to remain and matters categorised as relating to subversion were to be reviewed and amended as appropriate.16

The Director-General at the time, Alan Wrigley, also took a firm position on rejecting warrant applications that were presented based on perceptions of a target being simply a ‘fundamentalist’. He advised his staff to argue for warrants on the basis of ‘real factors rather than name calling’. Wrigley sought to avoid targeting on the basis of ‘guilt by association’.17

Managing intelligence collection

An important mechanism for driving a more rigorous assessment of appropriate targeting and allocation of resources was the management of intelligence collection priorities. These had been introduced during the Woodward years and had proved a useful mechanism for managing and auditing ASIO’s efforts. S Branch took a close interest in prioritising targets seen as subversive or linked with politically motivated violence. Between subversive studies and politically motivated violence, S Branch laid out its priorities.18 In mid-1986, the politically motivated violence directorate had a number of assigned targets, including Al Fatah, Ananda Marga, ‘Armenian terrorism’, a range of Middle Eastern groups, ‘Yugoslav Separatists’, the Yugoslavian Intelligence Service, and ‘Shia Extremism’. For all these disparate groups (discussed in the next chapter), ASIO maintained close to a hundred registered sources. Priority was based upon assessed propensity for violence. But a review of coverage of ASIO’s politically motivated violence targets revealed problems with the management of intelligence priorities, with target lists not regularly updated or reviewed thoroughly to reflect changes in priorities. Consequently, resources were sometimes assigned against unproductive targets and workloads distributed unevenly between targets and between regions. In addition, reliance, at times, on single sources of information led to difficulty in assessing its reliability.19

In light of the findings of this review, a seminar on politically motivated violence targeting was held in mid-August 1986 to consider operational performance and the problems leading to shortfalls. The group of officers assembled from the regional offices around Australia identified that ASIO had little capacity to provide forewarning of politically motivated violence from any of the targeted groups. Problems were identified as relating to ‘technical and agent operations’. Part of the difficulty lay with inadequate training and preparation of politically motivated violence case officers—few had language qualifications or in-depth cultural understanding of their target groups. One remedy involved a training course to improve case-officer knowledge of ethnic groups rather than relying on self-education.20 Wrigley was surprised to note that several of the problems identified had persisted for years, but he declared the seminar an excellent initiative and endorsed the proposal for development of a case officers’ seminar on Middle Eastern matters. He also noted that case-officer training lacked depth and was not as comprehensive as it should be. He indicated that boosting this training would be a priority once the move to Canberra was completed.21

After the changes were enacted, a Director-General’s Memorandum was issued providing guidelines. The memorandum, based on the Attorney-General’s guidelines signed in June 1988, drew on the 1986 amendment to the ASIO Act 1979, which defined politically motivated violence.22

The memorandum explained that ASIO was not to undertake investigations ‘where the only basis for investigation was the exercise of a person’s right of lawful advocacy, protest or dissent’. It also made clear that ASIO was not to make inquiries into demonstrations or other protest activity unless there was ‘a risk of serious premeditated violence for the purpose of influencing government acts or policy’. The directions dealt with investigations, investigatory methods and the collection of information. The balance between the gravity of the risk and the intrusion into individual privacy was also to be addressed. The point was that where information was to be collected, it was to be done in a timely and effective way by the least intrusive means appropriate to the perceived risk. Indeed, privacy considerations were to be addressed when deciding whether or not to conduct an investigation.23

Under Attorney-General Evans, ASIO dropped the League of Rights, the CPA and the Socialist Workers Party as targets, and more would be dropped once the recommendations on downgrading the significance of ‘subversion’ were incorporated into legislation through amendments to the ASIO Act 1979.24 Notwithstanding this prioritisation of other threat groups, ASIO remained concerned about the prospect of unlawful dissent from potential troublemakers and watchful for signs of foreign interference, particularly among members of groups that remained on ASIO’s watch list, notably including the SPA.

The Socialist Party of Australia

ASIO’s focus on the SPA met with a far less receptive audience once the Hawke Government came to office in March 1983, given Evans did not look so favourably on ASIO’s pursuit of diminishing returns. In August 1983, Evans altered ASIO’s telephone interception warrant on SPA premises, shortening the term considerably. Evans noted that he found ‘it very difficult to appreciate the security risk involved in this rather pathetic little rump group’, and that he would be looking very carefully at future warrant requests.25 In response, and realising that a truncated warrant gave ASIO only limited time in which to gather intelligence before writing its review of the product, the Director-General, Harvey Barnett, wrote to Evans that while the SPA was numerically small, it was nonetheless ‘a legitimate target’ under the ASIO Act 1979 given the support it received from the USSR. Covert intelligence was the only way to obtain information, which meant that ASIO relied heavily on interception.26 This did not sway Evans.27 After seven weeks without a reply from Evans, Barnett decided he would not push for a decision.28 But the Assistant Director-General of S Branch, Les McBride, responsible for ASIO’s counter-subversion work, did not agree with this passive approach. He felt the decision had cost ASIO its principal means of coverage of the SPA, leaving them with restricted means of monitoring the SPA–Soviet link. McBride suggested that ASIO go direct to Evans for clear directions, and Barnett conceded.29 Evans finally refused the warrant on 22 December, on the ground that while the operation ‘might’ provide intelligence on the relationship between the SPA and Communist Party of the Soviet Union, it also ‘mightn’t’. He could only justify ASIO using ‘overt intelligence monitoring’.30 In advising his staff of the decision, Barnett reminded them that while adapting to this would be challenging, ‘it is our plain duty to loyally and swiftly implement the policy changes of the elected government of the day’.31

This did not mean that ASIO lost interest in the SPA. Evans’ successor as Attorney–General, Lionel Bowen, authorised interception in April 1985 of the telephone service of Wilton Brown—a former leading light in the CPA who had led the breakaway faction to form the SPA when the CPA distanced itself from the Soviet Union in the late 1960s. Bowen requested a report on the intelligence arising from the interception on Brown within three months. Harvey Barnett duly wrote to Bowen in early May about Brown’s connection with the World Peace Council, which Barnett described as ‘a “front” organisation for promoting Soviet foreign policy initiatives in the peace and disarmament area’. Barnett informed Bowen that the World Peace Council sought to use Brown to assist in placing advertisements critical of the ‘Star Wars’ program associated with the US presidency of Ronald Reagan.32 The event seemed innocuous enough in itself, but ASIO felt vindicated in maintaining its surveillance and in duly reporting to the Attorney-General on what it found. In the end, however, those within ASIO ‘waiting for the revolution’ would be disappointed by the lack of excitement the wait would generate.33

The Association of Communist Unity

By the mid-1980s, ASIO regarded the Association of Communist Unity to be the leading pro-Soviet Marxist–Leninist group in Australia. It was subject to investigation because ASIO had evidence that it was directed or subsidised from the Soviet Union in a clandestine manner for ‘purposes detrimental to Australia’s interests’. Stanley Sharkey (the brother of former CPA general-secretary Lance Sharkey) was identified as the acting national secretary of the Association of Communist Unity as well as being the assistant national secretary of the Building Workers’ Industrial Union. The Association of Communist Unity president was Wilton John Brown, who was already an ASIO target for his activities with the CPA and SPA.34

In 1987, ASIO was eager to intercept a planned meeting at a hotel in Kings Cross between Association of Communist Unity members and a delegation from their counterparts in the Socialist Unity Party of New Zealand, led by Kenneth Douglas. Reports indicated that Soviet officials based in Wellington had approached Douglas to discuss with Sharkey and Brown the outcome of a consultative meeting of communist parties in the Asia-Pacific region. Installation of a listening device was approved.35

The intercept provided ASIO with a detailed report of their discussions, revealing Soviet intentions to take a firmer line with communist parties in capitalist countries, using the 70th anniversary of the 1917 October Revolution to promote a significant forward thrust in the international communist movement. The parties were encouraged to seek rapprochement with the communist parties of Japan, North Korea and the PRC. The report to Bowen concluded by stating that the information obtained would allow ASIO ‘to deploy its resources more effectively and develop operational initiatives to counter possible Soviet acts of covert interference in Australia’.36 They were unaware, two years before the fall of the Berlin Wall, just how little impetus remained within the Soviet-backed communist movement.

The Communist Party of Australia (Marxist–Leninist)

The CPA (Marxist–Leninist) had been a focus of ASIO’s attention since its creation in 1964, when approximately 200 members of the then pro-Soviet CPA left as a result of an internal dispute that mirrored the Sino-Soviet dispute. Thereafter it operated as a secretive and staunchly pro-China Marxist–Leninist organisation. It was involved in violent demonstrations against the Governor-General, Sir John Kerr, in 1976, but after 1978 no longer advocated violence outside the ‘some time away’ revolutionary context.37

By 1985, ASIO described the CPA (Marxist–Leninist) as a ‘small ineffective revolutionary group’ that was politically isolated from other leftist groups. Since its formation, ASIO said, the party had ‘slavishly followed the policies of the Peoples Republic of China/Chinese Communist Party’. This was evident from its regular newspaper, Vanguard, but ASIO had ‘little or no hard evidence of direction, funding or active collaboration’ from China. By ASIO’s reckoning, the CPA (Marxist–Leninist)’s activity was minimal and it exerted no apparent influence. Nevertheless, ASIO continued its attempts to clarify the nature of the relationship between the CPA (Marxist–Leninist) and Chinese authorities, in case evidence emerged that established an ‘intention to conduct this relationship in a clandestine manner’. One of the main rationales for obtaining information about the individuals involved, it was argued, was the new requirements imposed on the Organisation by the Security Appeals Tribunal. The requirement became an evidentiary one.38

ASIO conducted intensive surveillance of the CPA (Marxist–Leninist) Congress in late 1984. The party sought to avoid scrutiny, with congress delegates using cover names and confirmation of the venue being notified at ‘the very last minute’. Despite being considered a ‘very security conscious party’ and an important clandestine subversive target, a large proportion of the participants were identified through the use of ASIO’s surveillance assets, ‘source coverage of the congress’ and photographic coverage.39 ASIO also came to the conclusion that the Communist Party of China financed Vanguard to the sum of $11,000 to keep the newspaper in print.40

A 1987 assessment noted there was ‘no imminence or currency in the Party’s intention; merely an understanding that in certain circumstances, some time in the future, violence will occur’. ASIO assessed that the party could no longer be seen as engaged in politically motivated violence as defined in the ASIO Act 1979. What is more, the client relationship between the CPA (Marxist–Leninist) and the Chinese Communist Party that had been identified earlier was no longer in evidence, and there were signs that the two parties had drifted apart—a phenomenon seen to be linked to the normalisation of relations between Australia and China. ASIO assessed that ‘PRC support for a clandestine, revolutionary organisation is not conducive to the friendly relations that the PRC obviously seeks to develop with Australia at this time’. Nonetheless, ASIO officers sought to continue to employ ‘intrusive means of information collection’ against the party on the basis that it was engaged in activities ‘prejudicial to security and that it operates covertly, thus preventing less intrusive means of information collection from monitoring the Party’s security significance’.41

The shift from subversion to terrorism

The waning capability and intent of groups like the CPA, the CPA (Marxist–Leninist) and the SPA meant that there was little remaining of consequence with respect to subversion for government security bodies to be concerned about by the mid- to late 1980s. As far as ASIO was concerned, these ‘subversive’ groups diminished in importance as time passed and the end of the Cold War approached. In the meantime, the challenge of identity extremists—that is, politically motivated groups associated with ethnic and religious identities with violent intent and growing capability—increasingly consumed much of ASIO’s focus. No longer was ‘subversion’ an adequate term to describe the challenge these groups presented. Increasingly, the security challenges were seen in terms of politically motivated violence and, more specifically, terrorism. New counterterrorism procedures had to be developed and tested in light of the different circumstances. The groups themselves are discussed in some detail in the next chapter, but how ASIO and its counterpart state police special branches responsible for security prepared themselves for these challenges is also of interest.

Testing joint counterterrorism procedures

With so many priorities of concern, ASIO worked extensively with state police forces to develop joint police and defence counterterrorism expertise through periodic field training exercises. In one of these held in Hobart early in 1984, Exercise Two Up, more than a dozen ASIO officers participated alongside 50 Australian Defence Force and Tasmanian Police personnel. These included the Tasmanian Assistant Police Commissioner for Operations and the Commanding Officer of the Special Air Service Regiment, who had been tasked with raising and maintaining a counterterrorism tactical response force. The exercise was based on a hostage siege scenario intended to test the ability of the various agencies to work together at short notice. The experience raised a number of niggling complaints about procedures, shared and commonly understood terminology, pre-positioning plans and related arrangements between the respective agencies. But this is exactly what such exercises were intended to bring out into the open, so they could be grappled with and adequate responses developed for when a real terrorist incident occurred.42

Similar exercises were conducted in other states. A range of scenarios was developed to give some diversity and challenge to the state and Federal units exercising together.43 They included hostage incidents in buildings, hijacks of civil aircraft including a Qantas 747 aircraft at Sydney’s international airport, and a hostage incident on a ship in Sydney Harbour. Such exercises enabled the various agencies to explore vulnerabilities and weaknesses in their own systems and ensure heightened compatibility and mutual understanding.44

There were also pre-exercise lectures and demonstrations for those taking part, to explain the role and characteristics of ASIO’s Technical Support Unit (described in Chapter 5), to counterparts from other government agencies. This included practical demonstrations of cutting-edge surveillance technology, including night viewing equipment such as low-light television, thermal imaging and light-amplification systems. On those occasions when police were given the chance to see the capabilities of the equipment available to the Technical Support Unit, their expressions ranged ‘from disappointment to disbelief when they learn that the [Technical Support Unit] is not available to be used in a criminal role against organised crime’. Still, exposure to such systems helped raise expectations of what could and should be done, and what capabilities could be developed beyond the Technical Support Unit. Such learning from experience and cross-pollination of ideas was seen as the real value of continuing counterterrorism exercises.45 After one exercise in Western Australia, for instance, the report writer observed that:

with the right injection of training and enthusiasm, there appears little the [Technical Support Unit] cannot realistically achieve. The SAS personnel are very keen that we keep up a regular training session with their unit which not only helps them achieve their desired intelligence but this also reflects on ASIO having a dedicated professional and cohesive unit.46

These kinds of exercises complemented the work undertaken by ASIO in conjunction with other Commonwealth government agencies through a variety of security-related committees. These committees played important roles in preparing contingency plans and putting the plans into practice, in conjunction with the relevant departments and agencies, to assist in overcoming equipment, training or policy and procedural deficiencies identified by the exercises.47

Review of counterterrorism capabilities and arrangements

In 1986, Roger Holdich, Deputy Secretary of the Department of the Special Minister of State, conducted a review into the counterterrorist capabilities that had been established in the preceding decade. As the 1986 amendment of the ASIO Act was under consideration, ASIO reflected on the fact that its specific responsibilities in counterterrorism still were not adequately covered by the wording of the ASIO Act 1979.48

Holdich’s review recognised ASIO’s statutory responsibilities for obtaining, correlating, evaluating and disseminating intelligence relevant to terrorism. The report also indicated that the Federal Government agencies concerned were ‘satisfied with ASIO’s monthly threat assessments’, but some state police forces asked for certain intelligence assessments to be ‘more finely-tuned to their local requirements’.49

While recognising the need to respond to such reports and continue to improve its counterterrorist capability, ASIO also sought to engage internationally with security and police counterparts. The exchange of ideas and consideration of current threats and how best to respond to them led to the creation of the ‘Quantico working group’.50 Created in 1978, the group included security and intelligence services and police forces from Australia and around the world. In October 1989, ASIO and the AFP hosted an international conference in Sydney focused on counterterrorism, and Attorney-General Lionel Bowen opened the conference.51 In his welcoming speech, Bowen acknowledged how the working group had contributed to counterterrorism responses to Yugoslav, Armenian and other terrorist threats (discussed in Chapter 16).52


The Hawke years saw a significant conceptual shift within ASIO as it grappled with a clearer definition of subversion at a time of waning communist potency. The establishment of rigorous procedures for planning, prioritising and evaluating the use of ASIO resources for intelligence collection all contributed to a more efficient and sensible allocation. That did not mean, however, that ASIO’s job was getting easier. On the contrary, ASIO still sought to monitor remnants of the old-school communist revolutionaries, even as their potency declined. The Rix case had clarified the status of the CPA, but other groups espousing extremist action remained, and their declared intentions meant that they continued to warrant monitoring under the definitions outlined in the ASIO Act 1979. For many within ASIO it was hard to believe that their principal targets, widely seen also as their ideological adversaries, could wither so demonstrably. But as the communists’ potency as a subversive threat declined, ASIO was led to review its capabilities in light of a greater concern over the threat from terrorist extremists associated with ethnic and religious identity.

At the same time as ASIO’s focus on remaining counter-subversion targets diminished, efforts countering terrorism and extremist behaviour associated with migrant groups to Australia would come to play a major role in redefining the nature of ASIO. The following chapter provides an examination of the specific ethnic and religious groups identified as having extremist inclinations and potentially violent intent.

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