Labor, coalition at odds over ASIO visit

Tony Abbott has rejected Labor claims he is using threats to national security for political gain, as debate rages over his visit to ASIO headquarters.


The prime minister allowed television cameras and still photographers into a briefing with ASIO chief Duncan Lewis in Canberra on Wednesday.

Digital and paper maps relating to national security issues were clearly visible in the images, including a colour-coded map of extremist hotspots in Sydney and Melbourne.

ASIO Media initially told the Canberra press gallery in an email: “We are unable to provide the documents – they are for official use only. Appreciate if you do not publish.”

But Mr Abbott told parliament on Thursday the documents had been “carefully edited and unclassified”, and there was no problem in them being in the public domain.

“This government would never knowingly politicise national security,” he said.

Shadow attorney-general Mark Dreyfus moved a censure motion in the lower house accusing the prime minister of putting politics before national security.

“The prime minister has been using national security for partisan political purposes,” he said.

Mr Dreyfus called on Mr Abbott to explain whether he or his office had facilitated the media event and what security considerations had been addressed beforehand.

The prime minister’s office said Mr Lewis had selected the documents and was satisfied no information concerning national security was visible.

The government used its numbers to defeat the motion in the lower house.

Mr Dreyfus was later suspended from parliament during a rowdy question time during which he again tried to pursue the issue.

But Liberal MP Dennis Jensen has called for a review into how the documents came to be in the public domain.

“Clearly it’s not something that’s positive and it’s something that obviously will have to be looked at in terms of what went wrong,” he told reporters.

Mr Lewis said the documents’ content did not compromise national security.

Mr Abbott accused Labor of impugning the professionalism of the spy agency, saying he had received a classified briefing after the cameras had left.