Taking a fence at ASIO’s Spy Central

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IT’S an eyesore. It is a blight on the environment. It is right there in central Canberra on the road between the city and the airport. It undermines the aesthetics of the Territory and the Parliamentary Triangle.

The fence around the new ASIO building on Parkes Way is simply a blight, a blot, a blemish on the national capital. Is there anyone in Canberra, any visitor, any of our politicians who believe it is acceptable?

The blight is even worse for the fact that it takes such pride of place in the Parliamentary Triangle. It has to go. It has to go soon.

There are two prime possibilities as to why the cyclone and barbed wire is still standing. The first is that the work on the building stopped without the landscaping being finished. The second possibility is worse. Perhaps the ASIO designers assume people will get used to this ugly carbuncle and just come to accept that the spies need this type of protection.

Consider the first possibility – just part of the building security. A few years ago, when word spread that the spies were building smack in the centre of Canberra, most Canberrans accepted the need for a secure site. As part of the building process the fence needed to be secure not just to avoid pilfering but to stop snooping about the design of the building – who was to know that the Chinese would just hack computers and get the plans?

The need for the fence in the construction phase was largely accepted. However, surely the long-term site security for the building was designed into the landscape. Even Parliament House has been refitted with aesthetically pleasing security that apparently cannot even be breached or mounted with a Russian T44 or an M1 Abrams tank. Surely the design of the spy building took this knowledge into account?

During the construction the NCA reassured residents. In July 2009, its head said: “I don’t think barbed wire city is a fair representation”.

He added: “The ASIO website has, from the very front page, a link to an artist’s impression of the view of the building from Constitution Avenue. There are some security measures there, but they mostly take the form of bollards that would prevent vehicles from getting close to the building.”

The construction phase has ended. Anyone who has even built a house in Canberra or the surrounding areas – let alone a building of this dimension – knows that building completion means ensuring the construction accoutrements have gone and the site looks acceptable.

Consider the second possibility – the fence is there to stay because it is needed to protect the people in the building. There are similar fences that protect some of the defence buildings at Russell.

Those buildings have the same ambience as the Alexander Maconochie Centre in Hume. The difference is the Defence buildings are not on Parkes Way. They should also be redesigned – but it is understandable that the challenges around security of buildings from decades ago are much more challenging.

Never mind philosophical views about whether or not the spy building should be one of the largest buildings in the ACT, or that it should dominate the view across Lake Burley Griffin from Parliament House. The reality is that it would take very little comparative effort and expense to remove the ugly piece of prison paraphernalia.

ASIO and the other spy agencies will (one day) move into the building that Prime Minister Kevin Rudd opened. They will have a spectacular work place. But they will wonder why it sits so far away from normal services, shops and cafes. The building was really needed in Gungahlin where it would have injected a significant economic boost to the town centre and contributed to reducing traffic congestion.

The mandarins have their Taj Mahal. It’s just wrapped in barbed wire. The wire should go. If the security threat really is that great – at the very least look at a few of the embassies, get some ideas and adopt an acceptable solution.


Michael Moore was an independent member of the ACT Legislative Assembly (1989 to 2001) and was minister for health.


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Michael Moore
Michael Moore is a former member of the ACT Legislative Assembly and an independent minister for health in the Carnell government. He has been a political columnist with "CityNews" since 2006.


  1. It has been suggested that the whole building is only a DECOY. This seems to have some credability as the building was opened over 6 months ago and it seems no one is working there.

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