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Tuesday, 21 June 2011
Page: 6812

Mr KEENAN (Stirling) (19:35): by leave—I rise to speak on the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security Amendment Bill 2011. We on this side of the House understand that high-quality intelligence is arguably more important to government now than at any time since World War II. Global terrorism has transformed Australia's perceptions of its security, and intelligence is a key facet in Australia's response to this changed environment. Since September 2001 the coalition government provided over $10.4 billion of funding to 2010-11 to enhance Australia's national security and counterterrorism by increasing the capacity of our intelligence agencies and also by boosting Australia's aviation, maritime and border security.

I want to say at the outset that I am a supporter of our Australian intelligence services. They need tools in place so they can conduct their business efficiently and properly, and we need to provide them with these tools. Unfortunately, the Gillard Labor government's most recent budget was a blow for our intelligence and national security community. Labor's latest budget revealed that Labor is going to waste $1.75 billion in taxpayers' money on the blow-out in the immigration detention program, but in the meantime the Gillard Labor government has slashed Australia's national security and border protection budgets to pay for its costly immigration and border protection disaster.

Labor cut $6.9 million in funding to ASIO for its security checks for protection visa applicants. They have made this funding cut at a time when ASIO is under increasing pressure to pump through vast numbers of those security checks for those who have come to Australia illegally via boat. ASIO has also had funding cut for training overseas liaisons, to the tune of $8.8 million in slashed funds. ASIO was not the only national security agency that was targeted by this Labor government for cuts to help their budget bottom line. The Australian Federal Police were also badly affected by Labor's mismanagement of our national security. Labor cut funds to the AFP and also cut 72 of their staff. Considering the work the AFP do with counterterrorism and cybersecurity, in conjunction with our intelligence agencies, it raises grave concerns about how Labor is managing Australia's national security.

I now turn to the specifics of the bill. As outlined in the bill's explanatory memorandum, the purpose of this bill is to amend the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security Act 1986 to provide the inspector-general 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 inspector-general subject to ministerial approval; and to permit the inspector-general to release material to royal commissions at the discretion of the government of the day. The bill will also make a small number of technical amendments.

As a background to the amendments in this bill, it is important to note that the Office of the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security was created in response to the 1983 Royal Commission on Intelligence and Security, known as the Hope royal commission, to provide for oversight and review of the intelligence and security agencies, of which there are now six. The six are the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation, the Australian Secret Intelligence Service, the Defence Imagery and Geospatial Organisation, the Defence Intelligence Organisation, the Defence Signals Directorate and the Office of National Assessments.

As the act now stands, it allows the inspector-general 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 inspector-general can conduct an inquiry on his or her own motion into the activities of the Office of National Assessments, ASIO and DIO but has no such capacity in regard to the Defence Imagery and Geospatial Organisation, DSD or ASIS.

Presently, the act also permits the inspector-general to provide to the Prime Minister a copy of any report covering the ONA but not the other five agencies within the inspector-general's jurisdiction. As the act presently stands, it does not provide for any power of delegation. All 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 provisions of the act relating to secrecy are intended to prevent court proceedings becoming an indirect channel for the disclosure of information and documents gathered as a result of the complete access to which the inspector-general is entitled. However, there are likely to be instances where the inspector-general could assist the work of a royal commission. The bill will make provision for regulations for a commission to seek such evidence. The inspector-general will not, however, be obligated to give evidence at the request of any royal commission.

In concluding, I would like to draw attention to the matter that the honourable member for Berowra brought up in the House yesterday when reporting on the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security. Following on from the comments I made earlier, I would also like to endorse the comments made by the member for Berowra about the serious impact of Labor's efficiency dividends and budget cuts to our national security and intelligence agencies. The need for intelligence agencies has in no way been diminished and we live in an increasingly uncertain world. Their workload is growing, especially in relation to counter-espionage and cyberterrorism with increasing worldwide threats to our national interest. The impact of efficiency dividends is likely to weaken the ongoing effectiveness and the capacity of these intelligence organisations which we on this side of the House have been trying to develop. The coalition believe the intelligence community should be adequately resourced at a time when it is facing increasing challenges. The coalition support the passage of this legislation through the House. However, it reserves the right to move amendments in the Senate, pending the report from the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee, which is due to report on 7 July.

I will end as I began: we live in an increasingly uncertain world and the roles of our intelligence agencies remain very important in keeping Australia safe from myriad threats that we face in the national security environment. It is very important that the legislative basis for the actions of that intelligence community keeps pace with these changes and the opposition therefore support the passage of this bill, although with the caveat that we will be interested in the report from the relevant Senate committee and we reserve our right to make amendments on that basis.