Parliamentary Oversight of Intelligence Agency Operations Essential as Dutton Presses for More Power

21 July 2019

Centre Alliance will again press for enhanced parliamentary oversight of Australia’s national security and intelligence agencies as Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton pushes for the power to ban Australian citizens suspected by ASIO of terrorist sympathies from returning in Australia.

"This week I will seek to amend the Government’s Counter-Terrorism Temporary Exclusion Orders Bill to extend the jurisdiction of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security to include reviewing the operational activities of Australia’s national security and intelligence agencies," Centre Alliance national security spokesperson, Senator Rex Patrick, said today.

"Time and again governments have asked the Parliament to give them new national security powers. Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton and his security portfolio agencies now exercise an array of powers greater than any of those exercised by any government since the national emergency of the Second World War."

"With more that 7000 people involved in our intelligence apparatus and with a budget exceeding $2B, it’s high time that the Parliament steps up its oversight of those agencies and ends the exclusion of operational activity from parliamentary scrutiny."

"This is particularly true noting investigations on foot in relation to media reporting on defence and intelligence issues," said Senator Patrick.

Last month Labor leader, Mr Albanese, expressed concern that the media’s capacity to scrutinise government is under threat. "It would be duplicitous for Labor to acknowledge the importance of the media’s role in the scrutiny of our intelligence services but to allow the current self imposed restriction on Parliament’s scrutiny of our intelligence service to stand."

The Coalition Government has listed Counter-Terrorism (Temporary Exclusion Orders) Bill 2019 for debate in the Senate next week, but they haven’t resolved serious concerns about this legislation - especially its constitutionality, the scope of the Home Affairs Minister’s power to exclude Australian citizens and the availability of judicial review of the Minister’s decisions. 

Centre Alliance is prepared to support the intent of the Bill as a necessary security measure, but it is essential that the legislation fully implement the bipartisan recommendations of the review conducted by the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security (PJCIS) during the previous parliament. 

"No one should be rushing to pass flawed legislation, especially when the Bill deals with national security and fundamental rights of Australian citizens."

"The Government’s claims of urgency have little merit given their very leisurely development of this legislation and the reality that there are already extensive powers to deal with persons of security interest who may wish to return to Australia." 

"The PJCIS needs to further review the Government’s amended Bill, which is qualitatively different from its original proposals and the recommendations previously made by the PJCIS."

"The Government must also produce its legal advice on the constitutionality of the legislation – especially how the legislation might or might not be reconciled with the High Court’s judgment that ‘the right of the Australian citizen to enter the country is not qualified by any law imposing a need to obtain a licence or ‘clearance’ from the Executive.’"

"At the same time, the Parliament must consider expanding the role of the PJCIS to oversee and review intelligence and national security agency operations. At present the Committee’s oversight role is limited to considering matters of finance and administration and is explicitly prohibited from reviewing the operational performance."

"This limitation is in contrast to parliamentary oversight arrangements in other “5-eyes” countries – the United States, the United Kingdom, New Zealand and Canada."

Centre Alliance has sought to remedy this deficiency through its Intelligence Services Amendment (Enhanced Parliamentary Oversight of Intelligence Agencies) Bill 2018. 

This proposal is closely modelled on Canada’s parliamentary intelligence oversight legislation. Last year the Labor Opposition observed that Centre Alliance’s Bill "contains a number of interesting and innovative measures.  Labor believes that these measures merit further consideration ..."

"Centre Alliance will this week seek to amend the Temporary Exclusion Orders legislation to expand the role of the PJCIS and to have both that legislation and Centre Alliance’s proposal referred to that Committee for further inquiry," Senator Patrick said. 

A copy of the proposed amendment can be found here.

"PJCIS chairperson Andrew Hastie has sought to emphasise the urgency of the Temporary Exclusion Orders legislation, but as a former Army officer he knows that it is essential to get national security measures right and not to press through flawed measurers to meet the political interests of a minister."

"Mr Hastie should also ask himself whether his committee can really do its job when they are explicitly excluded from undertaking any review of intelligence operations."

"Home Affairs Minister Dutton is constantly pressing to expand his power and authority. There must be some real push back from the Parliament to get the national security balance right." 

 

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