National security committee calls for more oversight powers

Denham Sadler
Senior Reporter

The national security committee has urged the government to hand it improved oversight powers over intelligence agencies and to increase funding to other oversight agencies.

The Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security (PJCIS) tabled its report on the Intelligence Oversight and Other Legislation Amendment (Integrity Measures) Bill 2020, after a more than a year-long inquiry.

The bill expands the oversight functions of the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security (IGIS) to cover the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission (ACIC) and Austrac, and for the PJCIS to oversee the intelligence functions of Austrac.

In its final report, the Committee backed the bill but said it should go much further.

The PJCIS urged the government to expand its own remit, along with that of the IGIS, to cover the intelligence functions of the Australian Federal Police.

AFP Australian Federal Police
The Australian Federal Police

The government should also review the scope and adequacy of the legislative provisions regarding the retention and destruction of intelligence material, with an aim to clarify the relevant obligations for intelligence agencies, the PJCIS recommended.

“The committee considers that it is necessary to extend oversight to the specialised intelligence functions of the AFP. Accordingly, the committee considers legislation governing both the PJCIS and IGIS should be amended to support this,” the PJCIS report said.

There should also be a meeting of the heads of intelligence integrity agencies, in line with the existing integrity agencies group meetings, twice annually to discuss the coordination and promotion of integrity across agencies, the Committee said.

There have been conflicting views over whether the powers of the PJCIS should be expanded to cover more intelligence agencies and their functions.

The Independent Intelligence Review in 2017 recommended that the oversight functions of the PJCIS be expanded, but the Richardson Review did not make a similar recommendation in 2020.

The PJCIS report said the committee should have similar oversight as ACIC and Austrac, including over the AFP’s intelligence functions.

These added responsibilities need to come with increased funding and resourcing, the PJCIS report said.

“Staffing for the oversight agencies will need to be considered to ensure that it can be conducted to the standard necessary,” the PJCIS report said.

In a submission to the inquiry, the Law Council of Australia noted the “existing, heavy workload” of the PJCIS, and called for the bill to include “modernisation reforms” relating to the formation, functions and operation of the Committee.

The PJCIS did not recommend that oversight of the Department of Home Affairs be expanded, in part because it is already overseen by a Minister.

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

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