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Special attention - a history of Special Branch

16 Nov 2014

In Australia, in the wake of the terrorist attacks on the US in 2001, more than sixty pieces of legislation have been passed into law, that significantly strengthen the powers of intelligence organisations. This program opens the file on one of Australia's earliest, highly secretive intelligence units; Special Branch.

Australia's peak intelligence body, the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) was established in 1949, as the political division of the Cold War began to take shape. And while the nature and composition of those who come under scrutiny by intelligence agencies, such as ASIO, has changed over the years., concerns about the threat posed by these organisations; the erosion of privacy and civil liberties, has remained constant.

Along with ASIO, Australia also had a secondary intelligence organisation, known as Special Branch, which operated at a state, rather than federal, level. They were discreet units, set up and administered by the Police Force.

Special Branch was charged with the surveillance of citizens and organisations at a state level, and they were also at the service of ASIO.


Barry Krosch: former Queensland Special Branch officer and author of a Masters thesis on the history of Special Branch in Queensland.

Carole Ferrier: Professor of Literature and Women's Studies at the University of Queensland and founding member of the Brisbane chapter of the International Socialists

Sam Watson: Brisbane-based Indigenous activist, writer, film maker and former Socialist Alliance candidate

Dan O' Niell: Lecturer in the School of English, Media and Arts Studies at the University of Queensland

Mark Finnane: Professor of History in the School of Humanities, and Chief Investigator in the ARC Centre of Excellence in Policing and Security (CEPS) at Griffith University.

John Coxedge: activist, writer, former member of the Victorian Legislative Council from 1979 to 1992.

Harry Van Moorst: anti-conscription activist, current Director of Western Region Environment Centre

Dan van Blarcom: former Queensland Special Branch agent

Noel Newnham: former Queensland Chief Police Commissioner 1989 - 1992, former acting head of Freedom of Information for Victoria Police, 1983

Spencer Zifcak: Professor of Law at Australian Catholic University; past president of civil rights group Liberty Victoria.


Producer: Erica Vowles

Sound Engineer: Melissa May

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