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Tuesday, 19 June 2012
Page: 3648

Senator RHIANNON (New South Wales) (15:47): I listened with interest to Senator Faulkner's comments on this, because the impact of nearly a decade of counter-terrorism measures clearly is very relevant to Australia as it has had a considerable impact on the lives and liberties of Australians. The review of administration and expenditure undertaken by the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security is very relevant to any consideration.

It is also relevant to note that the budget, on page 32, covers various deliverables under the heading, 'Implementation of relevant recommendations of the 2011 Independent Review of the Intelligence Community'. However, the report from the independent review of intelligence matters was heavily redacted and no recommendations were made public. This is one of the problems that we have in getting a full handle on the issues raised with respect to the report that has just been tabled, as it is still not fully clear to the public how all these agencies work together. With regard to the report from the independent review, for instance, it has sat on the Prime Minister's desk for six months. You would have to say it really is lacking in substance, as no recommendations were made public. Therefore when we come to this review of administration and expenditure, the obvious questions are: how do all these reviews fit together? How do they build on each other? Are they just going through the motions of apparently reporting, or is there a real attempt to make an assessment that can provide meaningful information to make an assessment of how we ensure our security is what Australia needs in 2012 and the years ahead? How do we learn the lessons of the last decade?

The threat status in Australia, from the information that is available, has remained about the same since the September 2001 attacks. Australians therefore have the right to know why there has been such a massive increase in funds for intelligence agencies and what these multimillion-dollar budgets are being spent on. But the reports coming out in this area certainly do not clarify that matter and that all-important question remains unanswered. The current report also fails on that score. The independent review of the intelligence community also failed to do this. Time and time again we see a failure to fulfil the objectives under which people expect these inquiries to operate.

It is also worth noting the comments of Mr Philip Flood, who headed the 2004 Flood inquiry. He said:

… Australians are entitled to expect that intelligence collection agencies are properly scrutinised and held to account.

That is where, when you look at these various reports, you would have to conclude that we continue to fail. The heads of agencies operate with minimal accountability, and there is the worrying possibility that they and their staff may at times operate outside the law. We have seen that in various specific examples and, because these reviews are so scanty, it is very hard to make that assessment. It is also relevant to note one of the studies by Civil Liberties Australia. They estimate that about 25 per cent of ASIO data collected on Civil Liberties Australia members, and released under the 30-year rule, was in error. That helps give some indication of the problems that you would have to anticipate in reading these reports.

It is also worth noting some of the information the Australian Human Rights Commission have provided. They have previously raised their concerns about the conduct of ASIO security assessments for people in immigration detention who arrived in Australia without authorisation. So I do note the comments of the previous speaker, Senator Faulkner, where he talked about the increased load that some departments now have because of increasing numbers of people coming to Australia. However, there also continue to be problems about how many of those agencies carry out their work. I note that the Australian Human Rights Commission has found that there are significant delays in finalising ASIO security assessments for a large number of people in immigration detention. The level of resources allocated for the conduct of security assessments is something that has been questioned, and the working relationship between ASIO and the Department of Immigration and Citizenship is something that has also been raised as a concern.

While the Greens welcome the release of this report, as with other reports it shows up many questions about how these agencies are working and to what degree intelligence and security are being managed in this country in a way that ensures that Australians are indeed secure, but secure in a way that protects human rights. We can most definitely get the balance right if attention is paid to that in a constructive way between these agencies and government.

Question agreed to.