24/08/2017 12:37 PM AEST | Updated 24/08/2017 2:46 PM AEST

Australian Spy Chief Nick Warner Pictured Fist-Pumping In Meeting With Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte

It was all bit strongmanish.

The head of Australia's super secret spy agency has been pulled under the spotlight over a photo of him making a fist pump gesture with Philippines strongman Rodrigo Duterte.

Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS) Director General Nick Warner met with Duterte on August 23 to chat terrorism, and was photographed by local news agency ABS-CBN news making a "fist pump" gesture at the camera -- a trademark gesture of the Phillipines president.

Duterte's war on drugs has left thousands dead and has been criticised by Australia, who is also partnered with the Phillipines in the war on terror.

A spokesman for Foreign Minister Julie Bishop told the HuffPost Australia: "Our Director General ASIS meets with leaders and ministers of regional countries regularly to advance co-operation in information sharing to counter terrorism."

Deputy chairman of Parliament's joint intelligence and security committee, Labor's Anthony Byrne, criticised the director's decision to appear in the photo, while Human Rights Human Rights Watch Australia director Elaine Pearson described it as sickening.

"It's sickening the head of Australia's spy agency would pose for a photo effectively fist-pumping a leader who has instigated the killing of thousands of people in the so-called war on drugs," Pearson said.

Warner has been the head of ASIS since 2009 and is a former head of the Department of Defence.

Condemnation of Duterte's war on drugs has mainly been left to human rights groups and political opponents, while his campaign is seen as having broad support in the local community.

Nicole Corato, research fellow at the University of Canberra and editor of the recently published The Duterte Reader, also wants an explanation for the pose.

"Some may view this pose as harmless, but the clenched fist pose is precisely the symbol of the regime's defiance. It symbolises an iron fisted approach to governance. I'm not surprised that this is controversial," she told the ABC.

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The alleged murder by local police of 17-year-old Kian Delos Santos last week triggered rare protests against Philippines' President Rodrigo Duterte's controversial but popular campaign to eradicate drugs, with critics saying it highlighted rampant rights abuses by police enforcing the crackdown.

Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop reportedly said she raised the killings with Duterte in Manila in early August.

"We discussed the anti drugs campaign at length," she said.

But Duterte told reporters after the meeting and said Australia never discussed human rights and had "considerably toned down" criticism of the campaign that has led to thousands of extra judicial killings in 14 months.

Corato said figures vary on the death toll, with some figures showing 3000, while others go as high as 7000 or 8000. Other figures put the death toll at 13,000.

The recent death of 17-year-old Kian Delos Santos at the hands of police during a drug raid in Caloocan City last week has prompted public outrage, however Duterte has vowed to continue the campaign.

Corato said condemnation of Duterte's war on drugs was complicated because it could compromise regional cooperation on terrorism.

In July, Attorney-General George Brandis warned sustained fighting in the southern Philippines city of Marawi posed an immediate and urgent threat to Indonesia, the region and Australia.