Julie Bishop defends ASIO chief's calls telling MPs to tone down comments on Islam

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Julie Bishop
Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop talks to journalists Reuters/Valentyn Ogirenko

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop has defended ASIO Director-General Duncan Lewis after he allegedly told coalition politicians to tone down their language when speaking about Islam in public.

Lewis has privately phoned a number of coalition MPs to tell them their outspoken public comments on Islam risked threatening Australia’s national security, News Corp reported on Thursday. Some Liberal members were inclined to consider the move an improper intervention in politics. However, Ms. Bishop today provided her support saying the security chief has acted only to ensure Australia’s best security interests.

“If the director-general of ASIO has formed a view that the public debate might have the potential to put at risk the work that his organisation is undertaking in countering terrorism, then of course he should speak out," she said.

It comes after Tony Abbott called for a religious reformation of Islam during an interview with Sky News. It has been suggested that Prime Minister Turnbull’s office arranged for the phone calls by Mr. Lewis to take place. The Prime Minister was quick to dissociate Mr. Abbott’s views with that of the new Liberal leadership. 

"I’m not about to run a commentary on Mr. Abbott, but I’d simply make the observation again that one thing we need to be very careful not to do, and I’m sure Tony agrees with this by the way, is to play into the hands of our enemies and seek to tag all Muslims with the crimes of a few,” he told ABC radio last week.

Meanwhile, ASIO has reported that the flow of young Australians seeking to join groups such as ISIS in Syria has declined. “There is a current sense of a plateau," Lewis told Fairfax Media.

He warned, however, that ASIO were not getting ahead of themselves in thinking more Australians would not attempt to travel to the war-torn region. “I don’t want to be giving any sense that we are through the worst of this," he stated.

“I don’t think that’s right.”

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