Coalition Government Opposes Enhanced Parliamentary Oversight of Intelligence Agencies

12 November 2018

Coalition Government Senators today affirmed their opposition to efforts to enhance Parliamentary scrutiny of Australia’s rapidly expanding security and intelligence agencies. 

Government Senators on the Senate Finance and Public Administration Legislation Committee have approved a report expressing opposition to Centre Alliance Senator Rex Patrick’s Intelligence Services Amendment (Enhanced Parliamentary Oversight of Intelligence Agencies) Bill 2018 which would give the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security (PJCIS) a wide mandate to review intelligence agency operations, performance and other activities.

"Australia’s ten national security and intelligence agencies employ more than 7,000 people and spend well over $2 billion each year while they accumulate massive amounts of data at home and abroad," Senator Patrick said.

"It’s an absurd proposition that the PJCIS should continue to be excluded from conducting any reviews of intelligence operations, assessments or performance." 

"Other 5-eyes countries allow Parliamentary committee’s to review the full range of intelligence agency activities – not just their expenditure and administration as is the case in Australia."

The Intelligence Services Amendment (Enhanced Parliamentary Oversight of Intelligence Agencies) Bill 2018 would introduce an enhanced parliamentary oversight regime modelled closely on that successfully introduced in Canada with the Canadian Parliament’s National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians. 

"Canadian parliamentarians are trusted to review the operations and performance of their intelligence agencies. Australia’s Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security should be similarly empowered to review the full range of Australian intelligence activities," Senator Patrick said. 

"Although the Parliament has been called on to consider and quickly pass a steady stream of legislation expanding the powers of national security and intelligence agencies, Government Senators have rejected further consideration of parliamentary oversight until after former ASIO Director-General Dennis Richardson has completed his current inquiry into national security and intelligence legislation. Mr Richardson is not scheduled to complete his work until the end of 2019 and a government response to that review will probably not come until 2020 or even later."

"There is no reason why the Parliament should not give immediate consideration to enhancing its scrutiny of the Australian intelligence agencies without further delay.  The issues are well known. Information and analysis are not lacking, only political action on the part of the Government."

"Australia's intelligence community is not infallible. Nor are the Ministers who direct those agencies. In the future the performance of our intelligence and national security will be tested in a much more demanding security environment and the Australian Parliament will need to subject our intelligence agencies to much closer scrutiny than has been the case previously."

A copy of Senator Patrick’s dissenting report can be found here

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