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Australian Cyber Security Centre to relocate from ASIO headquarters

Australia's premier cyber security agency has released plans to leave ASIO's headquarters for larger, lower security premises, two years since it first moved into the custom-designed building.

The hurdles to gaining clearance to work in or even visit the Australian Cyber Security Centre in the highly classified Ben Chifley Building hindered the organisation's recruitment and collaborative goals, a Department of Defence submission to the parliamentary committee evaluating the proposal said.

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The department proposed a $38.8 million relocation and fitout of the ACSC to Defence-leased buildings at Brindabella Business Park near Canberra Airport.

If approved, the centre's new headquarters would incorporate multiple security clearance levels, a mix of classified, unclassified and public meeting rooms, and space for a major expansion of its workforce to about 650, flagged in this year's Cyber Security Strategy.

The centre, currently made up of about 260 cyber security specialists from Australian Signals Directorate, the Attorney-General's Department, ASIO, the Australian Federal Police and the Australian Crime Commission, began operating on November 27, 2014 and was the first tenant to move into the Ben Chifley Building.

But the Defence submission said the classified nature of the building had impeded the centre's ability to collaborate with businesses and researchers, a core element of the Cyber Security Strategy.

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The need to be approved for high security clearance, which can take more than two years, was dissuading skilled workers from joining the ACSC, the submission said.

The strategy, released in April, stipulates that "organisations need easy and consistent interfaces with government agencies on cyber security" and mandated that the centre move to a new location.

"The need for private industry partners to obtain security clearances – and even the overheads associated with organising visitor entry for short-term visits – currently make achievement of the government's intent considerably more difficult," the submission said.

"Cyber security skills are in short supply and high demand ... very few people with the requisite skills will be prepared to wait for a role with ASD, particularly when private industry is able to offer very attractive remuneration."

The building has had a chequered history, including delayed construction, reported security breaches and a $200 million budget blowout.

Most of ASIO's estimated 1800 staff had moved into the $700 million building by 2015, two years behind schedule.

At least 21 smashed glass panels and malfunctioning alarms have also damaged the building's reputation.

Most of the work of the Australian Signals Directorate with the agency could be handled in a lower security environment, the Defence submission said, with its classified status seen as more of a "legacy".

It pointed to Britain's National Cyber Security Centre, which is being built in London as a mostly unclassified facility, as a comparison.

Depending on when it is approved, the ACSC's new headquarters could be completed by the end of 2017, with initial workers moving into the building from June.

The Parliamentary Standing Committee will accept submissions on the proposal until January 13, with public hearings expected to take place later in the new year.