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Australia’s spy agency is slammed for focusing on diversity and inclusion: ‘How does that help them do their job?’

A senator has demanded to know why Australia’s spy agency is spending so much time on diversity and inclusion, and revealed that his office was targeted by Chinese hackers three years before he was eventually notified.

Liberal Senator for South Australia Alex Antic took the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) to task in a video on Friday, in which he followed up on questions he had asked the intelligence service in Senate estimates in February.

He played a clip from the hearing where he asked ASIO representatives, including Director-General of Security Mike Burgess, how many diversity and inclusion officers the organisation had, which they were unable to answer the question at the time.

“[They] very recently replied that ‘as of February 2024 ASIO has 1.5 full-time employees who drive the delivery of ASIO’s diversity and inclusion strategy and support ASIO’s seven staff-led diversity networks embedded across the Organisation’,” Senator Antic revealed.

“Wonder what those staff-led ASIO diversity networks are? Well, here they are,” he said while scrolling through the ASIO website’s Diversity and Inclusion page.

“Wow, ASIO has networks based on gender, race, sexual preference, and seemingly, social confidence. That must consume a lot of staff time, surely? And also aren’t these organisations meant to take pride in working as one?”

Alex Antic ASIO diversity and inclusion
(Alex Antic)

The seven diversity networks are “aGENda” (for women), “ASIOpen” (for homosexuals), “CapABILITY” (for the disabled and the mentally ill), “Introverts” (for introverts), “Mozaik” (for those of non-English speaking and/or non-White background), “Mudyi” (for Aboriginals), “Parents network” (for parents and soon-to-be parents).

The website also boasts about ASIO winning awards for “LGBT workplace inclusion” and states: “ASIO desires and requires diversity. We seek to reflect the community we protect and recognise the value of diverse thinking.

“We know that inclusion fosters innovation and creativity and increases productivity. It improves employee satisfaction and retention and ensures our people are physically and psychologically safe. Inclusion promotes equal opportunity and supports our people to be their best.

“We want every ASIO officer to bring their unique skills, experience, perspectives and whole selves to work.”

The website also includes a “reconciliation action plan” to “support and empower” Aboriginal employees.

“How does that help them do their job?” Senator Antic asked of the diversity networks.

“I learned that in January 2021 a group of Australian MPs, including myself, who belong to the International Parliamentary Alliance on China, IPAC, has been targeted by state-sponsored Chinese Communist Party hackers.

“Now it’s been reported that Australia’s spy agencies were told about it, twice, the first time being in mid-2021. It’s also reported that the FBI formally notified the Australian authorities about these attempts by the Chinese hacking group called APT31 to target us.

“I’m not saying that ASIO knew about this, that’s a question that I’ll be asking in due course, but I learned about it through IPAC itself three years after the event.

“And in the meantime, one certainly does wonder what might be achieved across all of our government department, including ASIO, if they weren’t occupying so much time chasing diversity and inclusion.”

Senator Antic’s concerns come after it was revealed that ASIO disrupted an Indian spy plot in 2020, which the corporate media and their “anonymous sources” in the intelligence community told the Australian public was the work of Russia.

ASIO was also grilled in the Senate earlier this year after revelations that the Joint Counter-Terrorism Team in Victoria – made up of ASIO, Australian Federal Police and Victoria Police members – encouraged an autistic 13-year-old boy’s fascination with ISIS and then charged him with terror offences.

A judge who permanently stayed the charges found that a JCTT undercover officer has fed the boy’s fixation with the Islamic extremist group and encouraged him to kill an AFP officer or make a bomb, and that the unit’s conduct fell “profoundly short” of minimum standards.

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