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Thursday, 25 August 2011
Page: 5545

Senator BRANDIS (QueenslandDeputy Leader of the Opposition in the Senate) (13:04): The purpose of this bill is to amend the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security Act 1986 to provide the IGIS with capacity to undertake own-motion preliminary inquiries and extend the capacity for own-motion full inquiries; to permit the delegation of the powers of the office of the IGIS, subject to ministerial approval; to permit the IGIS to release material to royal commissions, at the discretion of the government; and to make a small number of technical amendments.

The office of the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security was created in response to the 1983 Royal Commission on Intelligence and Security, otherwise known as the Hope royal commission, to provide for oversight and review of the Australian intelligence and security agencies, of which there are now six. The act currently allows the IGIS to undertake preliminary inquiries but only when a complaint is made to the office. Where an allegation is made but there has been no complaint to the office, the only formal option for examination of the matter is to commence a full inquiry.

There is also an apparent anomaly in the act. The IGIS can conduct an inquiry on his or her own motion into the activities of the ONA, ASIO and the DIO but has no such capacity in regard DIGO, the DSD or ASIS. The act also permits the IGIS to provide to the Prime Minister a copy of any report covering the ONA but not the other five agencies within his jurisdiction. At present the act does not provide for any power of delegation. All of the powers of the office must be exercised personally. This limits the number of inquiries that can be conducted at any one time, on top of the inspection and complaint-handling functions.

The secrecy provisions of the act are intended to prevent court proceedings be¬≠coming an indirect conduit for the disclosure of information and documents gathered as a result of the complete access to which the IGIS is entitled. However, there are likely to be cases where the IGIS could facilitate the work of a royal commission. The bill makes provision for regulations for a commission to seek such evidence—in other words, it carves out an exception to be used in limited circumstances in the case of royal commiss¬≠ions from the general prohibition of the use of information obtained by the IGIS for court proceedings. The IGIS will not, however, be obliged to give evidence at the request of any royal commission.

The act was drafted with the view to ensuring the powers of the IGIS to get highly sensitive information would continue to be very closely held. The coalition are satisfied that the appropriate safeguards have been preserved, and for that reason we support the bill.