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Monday, 2 December 2002
Page: 6866

Senator SANDY MACDONALD (5:08 PM) —On behalf of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on ASIO, ASIS and DSD, I present the annual report of the committee for 2001-02. I seek leave to move a motion in relation to the report.

Leave granted.

Senator SANDY MACDONALD —I move:

That the Senate take note of the report.

As a member of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on ASIO, ASIS and DSD, I am pleased to present the committee's first annual report to the Senate. The report, which has been authorised for publication by all three portfolio ministers, includes a review of the expenditure and aspects of administration of the three agencies for the period 2001-02, and a summary of the committee's activities in its first four months of operation.

Tabling of this report is an important step forward for the committee and the process of legislative oversight of the intelligence services of Australia. It marks the first time that the administration and expenditure of the three agencies have been subjected to comprehensive review by the Australian parliament. It is also the first time that a committee dealing with intelligence matters has been required to report to the legislature on its own activities. Both are reasonably modest steps but they are important milestones.

In preparing the report, the committee considered detailed submissions from each of the agencies on their administration and expenditure. It also held a full day's hearing, in camera, at which agencies were cross-examined on evidence provided to the committee, and it conducted a number of informal briefings with the agencies, with the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security and with the Australian National Audit Office.

The annual report reflects the committee's satisfaction that information on each agency's expenditure is transparent and that the budgetary positions of the three agencies for the current financial year appear sound. Additional appropriations for each of the agencies under the 2002-03 federal budget have been earmarked by the government for new programs and should enhance operational capability within the Australian intelligence community.

The report includes two recommendations, which are aimed at improving external oversight of the agencies: firstly, the establishment of an efficiency adviser position within the office of the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security to enhance his capacity to assess use of resources by the agencies; and, secondly, arrangements to enable DSD to provide separate, audited financial statements for review by the committee. Presently, they are embedded within those of the Department of Defence.

The report also contains a useful summary of the committee's activities to June 2002. These include the committee's intensive inquiry into and report on the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation Legislation Amendment (Terrorism) Bill 2002, and participation by members in the International Intelligence Review Agencies Conference in London in May this year.

As the report makes clear, these are still early days for the committee and the process of agency review. Future reports will see refinements to the committee's methods and scope of investigation. The committee has already identified a number of areas for further work, such as: recruitment, training and retention of agency staff; the adequacy of contracting arrangements; and the implementation of internal audit and risk management strategies. Of course, the committee also has powers to request separate terms of review, which it may choose to pursue in the coming 12 months.

In conclusion, I would like to thank the other members of the committee, including: the presiding officer, the Hon. David Jull; my colleague Senator Alan Ferguson; Senator Robert Ray; the Hon. Leo McLeay; the Hon. Kim Beazley; and Mr Stewart McArthur. All of them show considerable interest in and commitment to the work of the committee. I would also like to thank the staff of the committee, who are particularly active and interested in the work that we do.

As I mentioned in my opening remarks, this is a new committee. It is developing its role at a time of heightened international and national interest in security and counter-terrorism. I think I share the view of every member of the committee when I say that we feel extremely privileged—if that is the right word—to be playing a part in protecting Australia and our citizens from the challenges of the present international environment. In time, the committee will play an increasing role in that task, but I think the Senate will see from the report as tabled that a very good start has been made. I commend the report to the Senate.

Question agreed to.