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Monday, 21 June 2010
Page: 5983

Mr BEVIS (8:37 PM) —On behalf of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security I present the committee’s report entitled Review of Administration and Expenditure: No. 8—Australian Intelligence Agencies.

Ordered that the report be made a parliamentary paper.

Mr BEVIS —As always at the outset, I thank the secretariat for its support of both the committee’s work on this report and all our other endeavours throughout the term of this parliament. I also thank the other members of the committee, who have contributed in a very constructive and beneficial way to the good governance of this nation in what is a very critical area of parliamentary oversight.

This report is a little different to some of the others this committee has presented in that it addresses a number of recommended changes to the legislation, something the committee does not do lightly or often. In the very short time available to me, I will concentrate on three of the recommendations that go to some of those matters. Recommendation 1 of this report says:

The Committee recommends that the Intelligence Services Act 2001 be amended to include AFP—

that is, the Australian Federal Police—

counterterrorism elements in the list of organisations that the Committee reviews.

The report goes into some detail about the importance of that change, but I just refer to two of the concluding remarks contained in the report. At paragraph 1.40, the committee report says:

It is untenable that the Committee cannot seek information from the AFP on its counterterrorism role and intelligence functions in the same way that it does with ASIO,ASIS, DIO, DIGO, DSD and ONA.

My apologies for the acronyms! The committee has enjoyed very productive and positive cooperation from the Attorney-General, who has facilitated the opportunity for senior officers of the AFP to meet with the committee, but the committee strongly takes the view that there is a need for legislative change to place the AFP counterterrorism elements on the same footing as those members of the Australian intelligence community. Elsewhere in the report, at paragraph 1.43, the committee notes:

Of all the AIC—

that is, the Australian intelligence community—

agencies, and agencies that work closely with the AIC, the AFP is the most public and visible. The Committee sees no reason why the AFP alone, of all the agencies encompassing the AIC, should be immune from Committee review other than with the specific consent of the Attorney-General. These matters are too important to be left to the variations in views that the Attorney-General of the time may hold.

These are important matters. The committee has a key role in ensuring a balance between the security requirements of laws that all of us in this place—as well, I think, as people throughout the country—understand and appreciate might otherwise be seen to transgress the civil liberties and basic human rights which we in a democracy hold dear. This parliamentary committee is a key aspect of the counterbalancing of those concerns and should not be subject to the differing views that various attorneys-general of the Commonwealth may hold from time to time.

I turn now to recommendation 2. It says:

The Committee recommends that the Government agree to amending the Intelligence Services Act 2001 to enable specific material which does not affect current operational activity to be provided to the Committee. A small working group drawn from the relevant Departments, Agencies and the Committee should be set up to prepare this amendment for consideration by the Government.

The committee has enjoyed very productive relationships with all of the agencies over a long period of time, not just in this parliament but also well before. That has been an essential aspect of the committee’s being able to do its work. As the report makes clear, many of those things which the committee deals with and have become custom and practice might be read by some not to be covered by the existing wording of the legislation. Again, to ensure the parliament’s proper oversight of these sensitive and important laws, we think it is now time for the government to review the legislation and to put in place measures which more accurately reflect the status quo.

Recommendation 7 proposes to amend the act to put in place a provision requiring that the ANAO report to the committee on its reviews of the Australian intelligence community. In fact, the ANAO quite willingly does that, and the committee relies significantly on those contributions, but it should not be open to either the vagaries of individuals or arrangements that exist from time to time. It needs to be in the legislation.

This committee performs an enormously important role not just for the parliament but also for the public confidence in these most important laws. The enhancements proposed in the recommendations of this committee report will go a long way towards ensuring that that remains so, that it is seen to be so and that it is above party politics. (Time expired)