ACT News

ASIO building gets final touches as spies prepare for final push

Australia's spies may at last be moving into the ill-fated ASIO building as work is conducted on the windows of the glass exterior, which are known to mysteriously explode.

Those passing the monolithic $700 million lakeside building on Parkes Way on Thursday may have noticed scaffolding and workmen on the south-east corner of the structure.

An aerial view of the huge ASIO building on Parkes Way.
An aerial view of the huge ASIO building on Parkes Way. Photo: Jay Cronan

The repairs come after the spy headquarters lost a 2.4-metre by 2.2 metre glass panel on January 1, leaving the Department of Finance – which oversaw the complex's construction – searching for answers.

A spokeswoman from the Department of Finance later told Fairfax Media nickel sulphide inside the glass windows on the south side of the Parkes Way facade had caused the breakage.

"Failure of these types of panels is uncommon, but they have been known to occur," the spokeswoman said.

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Almost three years earlier another 19 window panes, each of which cost $3500, "progressively failed" and fell off the building costing taxpayers up to $70,000 to replace.

Despite the breakages the Finance Department was confident the surprise shatterings were not a widespread threat.

"Only a small percentage of the glass panels are likely to contain nickel sulphide," the Finance spokeswoman said.

"The total number of failures due to nickel sulphide is within the statistical expectations for the amount of glass that has been used in the facade."

In February 2014 Attorney-General George Brandis said the Ben Chifley Building was unlikely to lose another $3500 glass panel.

"I was told if the windows haven't fallen off in the first two years they are unlikely to fall off beyond that," Senator Brandis said.

The building was formally opened in July last year and many of the intelligence agency's 2000 staff were expected to move in two months later.

It is understood staff from the Australian Cyber Security Centre have already moved into the building although sources say the number of staff is small.  

The building, dubbed as "Lubyanka on the lake", has drawn criticism from local residents with problems tracing back to early days on construction.

In 2001, a teenager breached the secure construction site and fell nine metres into a basement, where he lay unconscious for 36 hours.

Neighbours of the new spy building have recently complained about loud security alarms waking them in the middle of the night.

"We woke in the middle of the night to a 'woop woop, evacuate now'," said 27-year-old Campbell resident Amelia Ditcham.

"To nearby residents, it's pretty apparent there are ongoing alarm issues – perhaps this is why it is still empty."

-  With Philip Thomson and Emma Kelly