The government is moving to give Australia’s overseas spies extra
powers to protect themselves and their operations by the use of force.
Legislation to be introduced on Thursday will allow a staff member or
agent of the Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS) to be able
to use “reasonable force” in the course of their work.
It also will enable the Foreign Minister to specify extra people, such
as a hostage, who may be protected by an ASIS staffer or agent.
It is understood the changes have been discussed with the opposition
and are likely to receive its support.
Foreign Minister Marise Payne says in a statement that ASIS officers
often work in dangerous areas including under warlike conditions. “As
the world becomes more complex, the overseas operating environment for
ASIS also becomes more complex”, she says.
The provisions covering the use of force by ASIS have not undergone
significant change since 2004.
“Currently, ASIS officers are only able to use weapons for
self-protection, or the protection of other staff members or agents
cooperating with ASIS.
“The changes will mean officers are able to protect a broader range of
people and use reasonable force if someone poses a risk to an operation”, Payne says.
“Like the existing ability to use weapons for self-defence, these
amendments will be an exception to the standing prohibitions against
the use of violence or use of weapons by ASIS.”
There are presently legal grey areas in relation to using force,
especially the use of reasonable and limited force to restrain, detain
or move a person who might pose a risk to an operation or to an ASIS
Under the amendment the use of force would only apply where there was
a significant risk to the safety of a person, or a threat
to security or a risk to the operational security of ASIS.
Any use of force would have to be proportionate.
The government instances as an example the keeping safe of an
uncooperative person from a source of immediate danger during an ASIS
operation, including by removing them from the danger.
Michelle Grattan does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.