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Legal and Constitutional Affairs Legislation Committee
Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security

Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security


CHAIR: I welcome to the table officers of the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security. Thank you very much for making yourself available for members of the committee to ask questions. Would you like to make an opening statement before we go to questions?

Ms Stone : Not today, no thank you.

CHAIR: Thank you very much. Senator Patrick, you have the call.

Senator PATRICK: Welcome, Justice Stone. It's always good to see you at estimates. In the absence of an annual report—I'm correct that your report hasn't been tabled?

Ms Stone : It was tabled yesterday, actually.

Senator PATRICK: Was it? I've missed out on that somehow. I normally google it every morning when I get up.

CHAIR: You can be forgiven; you're only one day behind!

Senator PATRICK: The minister and I are alike. I notice, Minister, you don't read poetry like Senator Brandis; you actually work at the table.

Senator Payne: You'd be surprised how creative DFAT can be, Senator!

Senator PATRICK: If I were to have read this report, would I have found any anomalies or concerns in relation to any inquiries that have been undertaken with some adverse findings or any complaints that would give rise to a concern?

Ms Stone : You would find details of inquiries we have done. I don't think you'd find any anomalies, but there are details of inquiries we have done there.

Senator PATRICK: I seem to recall last year some of the inquiries led to findings where matters hadn't been performed properly. In some senses, the whole purpose of you existing is to make sure you do find these things if they are occurring.

Ms Stone : Sorry, I didn't quite understand your question. Inquiries usually follow inspections, or they can be of my own motion, or they can be at the request of a minister. We occasionally do what I might call maintenance inquiries into the assessment agencies just to make sure—we've no reason to think anything is wrong, but we will have a look at whether analytic integrity is being maintained, that they are not subject to pressure and so on. Other inquiries generally arise when a problem has presented itself and we want to enquire more deeply into it. Generally we will find some things that didn't go quite right there. Sometimes we'll find things that went badly wrong, and we look at them and address them and we work out how that happened and we make recommendations. I can say that to date all our recommendations have been accepted by the agencies concerned. In fact, sometimes those recommendations are anticipated, so by the time we get to the end of the inquiry, part of what we would recommend has been partially implemented. Other than that, we will put time limits for progress reports or for a recommendation to be implemented so that the matter is fully addressed.

Senator PATRICK: I don't want to spoil my read tonight, but is there anything that's in the 'badly wrong' category in the reports?

Ms Stone : I'm hesitant to adopt the 'badly wrong'.

Senator PATRICK: I was just using your category!

Senator Payne: The Inspector-General is not required to adopt the senator's language!

Ms Stone : Excellent, thank you! We had an inquiry into ASIO's notification of a noncompliance matter, which involved multi-agency foreign intelligence collection. We found significant problems with the planning and execution of the operation. Most of them stemmed from weaknesses in ASIO's compliance arrangements that became apparent when we looked at this very complicated operation, which was technically challenging, and concluded that there was a likelihood for this problem to arise again, perhaps in a different form, unless these systemic problems were addressed. It involved some problems of poor communication between lawyers and operational officers not quite understanding what each other needed to know. It involved training of ASIO affiliates and so on. So it was quite a big inquiry. It took us a long time to do. But I'm satisfied that the issues are being addressed. They will be addressed, and we will continue to review the sorts of issues that arose until we're satisfied that they have been addressed.

Senator PATRICK: So a happy ending.

Ms Stone : Well, I was happy.

Senator PATRICK: I will read that offline, but thank you for that. Of course you have had a fairly significant budget increase to allow you to increase your staff. I think it was from 17 to 55, or of that magnitude. Obviously that's a challenging task noting the task that your office performs. At the present moment, noting you've got some trajectory in your corporate statement to get to 55, are you satisfied that you have adequate staff to conduct the oversight, noting that you gained a number of agencies, including AFP, AUSTRAC, Home Affairs and so forth?

Ms Stone : We haven't yet got that additional jurisdiction. The legislation to give us that jurisdiction is in progress. It's a matter for the Attorney-General's Department, but we've been consulted at every stage about that legislation. I think it needs finalisation, but we don't have that jurisdiction yet. We did get a big budget increase. A lot of that was a capital grant for new premises, which, given the security requirements, are very expensive. They have been completed. We moved into our new premises in March. We were on time, below budget and all security requirements were met, so we were very happy with that. We are anticipating our increased jurisdiction with a very active program of recruiting, but, I'm sure you've heard this before, in the security area it can be two steps forward and one step back in terms of getting clearances and the right people and so on. We're a little behind where we hoped to be in recruiting at this stage.

Senator PATRICK: How many people do you have?

Ms Stone : We have 34. It'll be 35 on 31 October.

Senator PATRICK: Where do these officers come from? Is it elsewhere in the intelligence community, the secretariat of the JPCIS, the Ombudsman's office?

Ms Stone : We did have the good fortune to recruit two officers from the secretariat of the PJCIS, and I'm not sure that made us many friends. It's a bit of a rat race there! So we have those. We have several new officers who have experience in police forces, one in the London Metropolitan Police Service. We're very keen to get people with police experience, given our impending jurisdiction. We have one or two from the Ombudsman and so we're plucking what we can.

We also have a program of placements. As you're aware, it takes a long time to get a security clearance so we have recruited a number of people who don't have the requisite clearance to work in our office but who have a clearance with sufficiency to work in other offices with which we're associated. For instance, we've had two or three placed with the Australian Federal Police to learn the ropes there, as it were. This is so when their clearance comes through they come back to us and are in a position to help us with our new jurisdiction. And we've had people with AUSTRAC and with ACLEI. Those are good examples.

Senator PATRICK: Thank you, that was very informative. Do you have any staff come from the agencies which you oversee?

Ms Stone : I think we've had one or two, yes.

Senator PATRICK: Just in terms of percentages or numbers, can you just give an indication, perhaps on notice, as to—

Ms Stone : My deputy is a good numbers man.

Mr Blight : I'll have to take that on notice. Do you mean people who come directly from those agencies or who at one point in their career worked in one of those agencies?

Senator PATRICK: I think probably directly, or perhaps both if you're obliging.

Mr Blight : For directly I can answer easily but whether they've been there at one point in their career is more difficult, that's just why I wanted to clarify it.

Senator PATRICK: So what's the answer for directly?

Mr Blight : In the ballpark, around half.

Senator PATRICK: Around half?

Mr Blight : Around half of our staff, but that's a ballpark. I'll take the exact number on notice.

Ms Stone : I think that answer relates to the whole of our staff, not the new recruits.

Senator PATRICK: Yes, sure.

Ms Stone : Just in relation to that, because I can see what might be a concern: where we have people come from an agency, whether directly or in the recent past, if they're investigative officers we would not put them on the team for that agency for some time. We're very careful with that sort of conflict.

Senator PATRICK: And perhaps in terms of conflict also: do any go back to those agencies?

Ms Stone : Some—

Mr Blight : I don't know that I'd call that a conflict.

Senator PATRICK: It can be if people in an oversight position have an aspiration to go back. That can change the way in which they may approach business.

Ms Stone : They don't have an aspiration to go back once they've been with us for a while!

Senator PATRICK: Fantastic! That's what I like to hear.

Ms Stone : I'm serious.

Senator PATRICK: No, that's good. Maybe I should apply for a job! You mentioned time frames for top-secret PD clearances, which I presume you're referring to. You don't get any special priority, so what are the average sorts of times that it takes?

Ms Stone : I think the average time is about 180 days at the moment, mostly. We've had a few come in under that. We have sometimes indulged in some special pleading, when we really needed this person. But the placement program that I just described has worked very well, so we're not losing as many in that process as we used to because we can take them on on a conditional basis, but have them placed where they can do useful work for us. We involve them in as much of the office activities as we can in terms of meetings and that for which they're appropriately cleared. So we're not having the dropout level that we used to have.

Senator PATRICK: You mentioned a British police officer. I presume all of your roles require Australian citizens. Do you have any foreigners in your office?

Ms Stone : We have dual citizens, but all of our staff are Australian citizens.

Senator PATRICK: Okay, thank you.

Senator KIM CARR: There's just one question I've got.

CHAIR: Certainly, Senator Carr. You have the call.

Senator KIM CARR: I understand that this oversight responsibility you have over the other agencies is a matter of concern to you.

Ms Stone : I'm sorry, which other agencies?

Senator KIM CARR: The Department of Home Affairs, for instance, in terms of the construction of new legislation. I understand there have been a number of occasions on which you've been made aware of national security bills through media reports. Is that correct?

Mr Blight : That was true in the past. More recently, it's fair to say we have had constructive engagement with the Home Affairs legislation area and the Attorney-General's Department.

Senator KIM CARR: So you are advised, for instance, of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation Amendment (Sunsetting of Special Powers Relating to Terrorism Offences) Bill 2019? You were consulted on that matter, were you?

Ms Stone : Yes, we were.

Senator KIM CARR: Did you express any concerns about that bill?

Ms Stone : When we comment on legislation, we are very mindful that we do not make policy. We comment in relation to oversight matters, so our concerns are to make sure that the legislation as proposed would enable us to oversee the activities we need to oversee. We don't comment on policy.

Senator KIM CARR: In what form are you able to express concerns about a bill?

Ms Stone : We will make submissions to the department that has responsibility for the bill. We make submissions to PJCIS. We have members of our office who are involved in negotiating, discussing and liaising with the department responsible for the drafting of the bill.

Senator KIM CARR: When was the last time you found out about a bill through the media rather than the through formal departmental communications?

Ms Stone : That was quite some time. In that case—if I'm remembering right, and my deputy will correct me if I'm wrong—it wasn't that we found out about the existence of the bill; it was the most recent iteration of it.

Mr Blight : It's at least six months. Our relationships have improved significantly.

Senator KIM CARR: It's improved in the last six months?

Mr Blight : I said at least six months.

Ms Stone : I would have thought it was a bit longer.

Mr Blight : It could have been longer.

Ms Stone : We have no complaints in that regard at the present time.

Senator KIM CARR: I'm pleased to hear that. It's just that the Department of Home Affairs has had responsibility for these matters now for over 12 months. So it's taken a while to get used to their new role, has it? Or your new role.

Ms Stone : I couldn't comment on that.

Senator KIM CARR: Thank you very much. I will put the rest on notice.

CHAIR: The officers of the IGIS are now excused with our thanks.

Proceedings suspended from 16 : 03 to 16 : 15