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ASIO has kept a file on Frank Moorhouse since he was 17. Frank has decided it is time to report on ASIO.

ASIO has kept a file on Frank Moorhouse since he was seventeen. Now Frank has decided it is time to report on ASIO.

This year ASIO has extended its surveillance powers, made the issuing of warrants easier and limited the freedom of journalists. At a time when the government has raised the terrorist alert level to ‘high’ we are facing the question of what degree of terrorist threat we are prepared to endure so as to retain freedoms of expression and what might loosely be called the ‘traditional privacies’.

The paradox is an old one: is a secret agency needed for our safety as a democracy? If so, how does a democracy manage a secret agency without losing control of it? What constitutes an offence against national security? And what are we to make of WikiLeaks and socially conscious hackers and whistleblowers?

Do we need a renewal of the bargain between the citizen and the secret agencies, as unreliable as it may be, as we all go into the glare and the maze of controlled and uncontrollable data collection and its consequences?We are entering a new era, where nothing can be assumed to be private, especially at the governmental level.

More than ever before, our future is unforeseeable, but if in the unforeseeable we see a glimmer of dangerous things, perhaps we should remember that positive things can also be unforeseeable.


Australia under Surveillance, is a rare work of non-fiction, wrapping a critique of censorship and anti-terrorism laws in a passionate defence of democratic freedoms during a time of religious-inspired terrorism.

Linda Morris, The Sydney Morning Herald

Moorhouse calls for a new compact between ASIO and Australian society. In doing so, he explores issues of privacy, freedom of expression, censorship and what he terms “civic dignity”. It is at once respectful of ASIO’s successes and critical of its transgressions. He describes ASIO as: … sometimes getting it wrong with potentially disastrous effects, and sometimes saving Australian lives. Australians Under Surveillance deserves to be widely read, and its ideas carefully considered.

Lachlan Clohesy, The Conversation

This book is a timely reminder that Frank Moorhouse is one of our finest political writers. Ostensibly an investigation into ASIO, Moorhouse takes a step back from the news headlines to offer a ‘‘contemplative look at the serious changes and patterns in Australian law and political thinking following the great extensions of ASIO’s powers’’ as part of the ‘‘war on terror’’. At the heart of this book is what Moorhouse calls the Dark Conundrum: the accepted need to strike a balance between national security and civil liberty, between the national interest and a citizen’s rights and freedoms. It is the role of writers, journalists and intellectuals to raise these concerns, Moorhouse argues, and to keep them open to the public mind. ‘‘It is my basic tenet,’’ Moorhouse writes, ‘‘that the more we know about the human condition — and each other — the smarter and safer the species will be.’’ To that end, this book is a pretty good place to start.

Matthew Lamb, The Australian

Moorhouse burrows into his Conundrum, wandering down the dark passageways of his personal predilections: censorship, the politics of sexual preference, the French Revolution, nihilism, the human condition and more.

Alison Broinowski, Canberra Times

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Formats & editions

  • Trade Paperback


    December 1, 2014

    Vintage Australia

    320 pages

    RRP $32.99

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  • EBook


    December 1, 2014

    Random House Australia

    320 pages

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