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Security work at risk from 'disgraceful' underfunding

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National security correspondent

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Australia's national security agencies are being hampered by ''disgraceful'' and ''unacceptable'' underfunding, a senior Labor MP and intelligence committee chairman has said.

Labor's Anthony Byrne, who heads the Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security, launched the extraordinary attack on his own side of politics yesterday as his cross-party committee released its annual assessment of the spy agencies' funding and administration.

The main target of Mr Byrne's attack was the 4 per cent ''efficiency dividend'' - an effective cut in funding - which the federal government has slapped on most agencies.

Mr Byrne said he had been concerned in the past that the efficiency dividend would harm the intelligence community's ability to carry out its work.

''I believe that this report establishes that that is now happening - and that is completely unacceptable,'' he said. ''The agencies are tasked to protect our national security and I, frankly, find it astonishing that these agencies would have been effectively sequestered from funding to perform their tasks. I think it is disgraceful and it should be addressed.''

The report covers the 2010-11 financial year.

Intelligence and security agencies enjoyed big funding boosts in the years after the September 11, 2001, attacks on the United States. But the report tabled yesterday showed ASIO's revenue from government was cut by $61 million or 15 per cent - though the agency received the same amount as an equity injection towards its new headquarters building in Canberra.

A spokeswoman for Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus said ASIO had received a $32 million funding increase in the recent federal budget - a boost of 10 per cent.

Shadow attorney-general George Brandis said Mr Byrne was ''one of the most respected members of the house of representatives - particularly in this field''.

He said the spy community's capabilities had been ''degraded by this government''.

Australia's spy network includes domestic security agency ASIO, overseas intelligence agency ASIS and the Defence Department's various spy organisations.

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