National security advisors have met with Australian Prime Minister Gillard on a total of 12 occasions to brief the PM on the fallout of information contained in cables leaked to whistleblowing site, WikiLeaks.
Under questioning by Green Senator Scott Ludlam late on Monday night Estimates sessions, Dr Margot McCarthy, deputy national security adviser in the department of Prime Minister and Cabinet revealed that her team had provided a dozen written briefings on Wikileaks to Julia Gillard.
Dr McCarthy noted that Australia was referenced in 200 of the 12,600 cables released by Wikileaks to date.
Dr McCarthy chaired a Wikileaks taskforce which included the departments of Prime Minister and Cabinet, Defence, Attorney-General’s and Foreign Affairs and Trade between 29 November, 2010 and 13 December 2010.
She stressed that the Taskforce was not investigating Wikileaks but instead was monitoring and sharing information.
The Taskforce became “virtual” after mid-December when the release of the Wikileaks cables material into the public domain slowed down, she said.
The Wikileaks Taskforce continues to function, with members operating from their agencies. Dr McCarthy said it could be reconvened within the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet should circumstances change.
She said there was no policy to close down the Wikileaks site, and denied Wikileaks was the catalyst for ASIO being granted broader powers under an amendment before Parliament.
“The amendment was designed to provide a consistent meaning of foreign intelligence between the ASIO Act, the Intelligences Services Act and the Telecommunications Interception and Access Act,” she said.
Senator Ludlam referred Dr McCarthy to reports that described the provision as the “Wikileaks amendment”. McCarthy said that was the first time it had been referred to her by those words.
McCarthy said questions about whether the Australian Government required additional surveillance powers over civil society organisations were best directed to the Attorney-General’s portfolio.