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Monday, 21 November 2011
Page: 12870

Mr BYRNE (Holt) (10:21): On behalf of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security, I present the committee's report entitled Annual report of committee activities 2010-2011. Due to the federal election held in 2010 the committee was not constituted until late 2010. The committee first met on 25 November and since that meeting has formally met for a further six times on the following occasions: 10 February 2011, 3 March 2011, 24 March 2011, 25 March 2011, 16 June 2011 and 23 June 2011. During this period of time the committee's size was changed. Schedule 8 of the Telecommunications Interception and Intelligence Services Legislation Amendment Act 2011 amended subsection 28(2) of the Intelligence Services Act 2001 to read:

The Committee is to consist of 11 members, 5 of whom must be Senators and 6 of whom must be members of the House of Representatives.

In addition the quorum for the committee was changed from five to six members. It is important to note that members of this committee are appointed by resolution of the House or the Senate on the nomination of the Prime Minister or the Leader of the Government in the Senate. Prior to nomination, consultation must take place with the leaders of the recognised parties of each of the houses.

Since the last annual report of the committee's activities tabled in June 2011 the committee has not tabled any further reports. The following reports are expected to be tabled in late 2011 or early 2012, the first of which is the Review of administration and expenditure No. 9 2009-2010. On 25 March 2011 the committee held a private hearing at which ASIO, ASIS, DSD, DIGO, ONA and DIO appeared before the committee; and on 16 June 2011 the committee held a public hearing, its first since July 2006, and heard from representatives of the Refugee Council of Australia, RISE—which is the Refugees, Survivors and Ex-detainees—the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre and ASIO in relation to visa security assessments. The committee's review of the Review of the listing of AQAP and the re-listing of six terrorist organisations was tabled on 22 August 2011 and will be reported on in the committee's annual report of committee activities for 2011-12.

In the case of briefings, on 17 June the committee visited ASIO, ASIS and ONA. The committee received highly classified briefings on aspects of these agencies' performance. On 24 March the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security, Dr Vivienne Thom, briefed the committee on the role of IGIS and on the IGIS submission to the committee's administration and expenditure review No. 9. On 23 June members of the committee met with Mr Robert Cornall in relation to the 2011 independent review of the intelligence community. This review will prepare findings and recommendations on the above issues and seek to provide a classified report to the government around midyear for its consideration in due course as well as the accompanying, unclassified version of that particular report.

Our committee is a statutory committee. Section 29 of the Intelligence Services Act outlines the oversight capacity of this committee. However, unlike other statutory or standing committees of parliament, there are specific limitations in this section with regard to the committee's capacity to inquire into operational matters and the intelligence gathering and assessment priorities of the relevant intelligence agencies. Again, the committee reiterates that due to this limitation balancing national security and parliamentary scrutiny remains a challenge for this committee. Despite these constraints, the committee is ever mindful of its critical role in ensuring that Australia's intelligence agencies remain accountable through continuous public scrutiny. Public confidence in this committee is critical and I would emphasise its critical role in providing parliamentary oversight of our intelligence services and, in important cases, anti-terrorist legislation. Reflecting on this on 22 May 1985 in response to Justice Hope's recommendations on the utility of parliamentary oversight, the then Prime Minister, Bob Hawke, stated:

Nevertheless, it believes a further improvement can be obtained by directly involving the Parliament—on both sides and in both Houses—in imposing the discipline of an external scrutiny of the intelligence and security agencies quite independent of the Executive. While the Government has been conscious also of the need to carefully protect intelligence and security information, it believes that appropriate arrangements can be made to ensure that a small but informed parliamentary committee would operate effectively in the public interest.

It is worth keeping that in mind.

In closing I would like to acknowledge and thank the staff of the committee—acting secretary, John Carter, secretary, Jerome Brown, inquiry secretary, Robert Little, senior research officer, Dr Cathryn Ollif, and administration officer, Dr Gillian Drew.

In accordance with standing order 39(f), the report was made a parliamentary paper.