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Ep. 35: Ex-ASIO Head Duncan Lewis (Part 2): On His Military & Govt Career, And The Challenge of Terrorism

19 Dec 2019
By Dr Darren Lim and Allan Gyngell AO FAIIA
Cyber hackers. Photo by kalhh, Pixabay. Source:

In Part 2 of our exclusive interview with Duncan Lewis AO, DSC, CSC, the recently retired head of ASIO, the conversation turns to the more recent challenge of foreign interference.

Duncan has been quoted recently as describing foreign interference as an “existential threat to the nation”, and so Allan begins by asking Duncan to explain how he thinks about foreign interference in Australian politics, and how he would describe its impact. Darren looks to draw some contrasts between how Australia manages the threat of terrorism and how it responds to foreign interference. What is the first line of defence against foreign interference? What are some of the dangers of overreacting to the threat?

The conversation then turns to the new national security and foreign interference laws passed in 2018. Are these laws fit for purpose? What is the balance between the government’s duty to protect, and the individual’s right to privacy? What is Duncan’s view of calls for vetting of parliamentary candidates, and is the securitisation of public policy a necessary consequence of dealing with modern threats?

The conversation finishes with the structure of national security policymaking in Australia. Who is the “Minister for National Security”, and what principles should govern decision-making? Finally, what in Duncan’s view are the most important qualities of political leadership?

As always, we invite our listeners to email us at this address: We welcome feedback, requests and suggestions. You can also contact Darren on twitter @limdarrenj

We want to thank AIIA intern Isabel Hancock for research and audio editing, XC Chong and James Hayne for research support, Rory Stenning for composing our theme music and also Julia Ahrens for technical support in studio. 

This article is published under a Creative Commons Licence and may be republished with attribution.