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Inspector‑General’s review

This year saw the Office of the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security (IGIS) operate at a higher tempo than in 2017-18. The office concluded three complex inquiries whilst maintaining a program of agency inspections. The number of complaints received by this office relating to visa and citizenship applications nearly tripled in volume. Concurrent with its oversight activities, the office conducted several recruitment rounds to build the office’s workforce in line with plans to expand to 55 full-time equivalent staff by 2020-21. In the course of this recruitment the office welcomed a second Assistant Inspector-General to the team and realigned its organisational structure accordingly. While the planning and design of the new office premises was time consuming, relocation of the office premises was a complete success with minimal interruption to the operations of the office.

The higher tempo was driven in part by significant change for intelligence agencies. The Australian Signals Directorate (ASD) commenced operation as a statutory agency and the Office of National Intelligence (ONI) began operating with its expanded mandate. The Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) received new powers to request or require cooperation from telecommunications providers or other persons, often with the effect of granting civil immunity. Certain restrictions on use of force by Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS) staff were removed. Many of these changes were accompanied by measures to ensure that the oversight provided by this office remains effective. To ensure that the legality and propriety risks of unprecedented activities are identified early and managed, agencies have been diligent in consulting the office before exercising new powers. The Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security also routinely sought the views of the office when considering these matters, providing ample opportunity for the office to provide public comment on the nature and practice of intelligence oversight. I note in passing that the past year has also seen intelligence agency heads more frequently and openly engaging directly with the Australian public. While there will always be a need for the independent and impartial view of agency activities provided by this office, the public is increasingly in a position to compare IGIS’s statements about the propriety of agency activities with words from agencies themselves. Whether transparency and public messaging is promoted by IGIS or agencies themselves, both bolster the confidence that the public can have that Australian intelligence agencies are acting properly.

Legislation to include the intelligence functions of the Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre, the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission, the Australian Federal Police, and the Department of Home Affairs within the jurisdiction of the IGIS was not finalised in 2018-19. Nonetheless, the office used 2018-19 to deepen its engagement with these four agencies, as well as with other Commonwealth oversight and integrity agencies. The office program of staff secondments to these agencies has proved especially fruitful in building familiarity and subject matter expertise. The office also continued its engagement with international partners, in particular by hosting the annual Five Eyes Intelligence Oversight and Review Council conference in October 2018. I was also grateful for the opportunity to conduct a program of bi-lateral meetings with intelligence oversight bodies in the United Kingdom and New Zealand.

The coming year may yet bring further changes to the National Intelligence Community; in particular, the office awaits the outcomes of the Comprehensive Review of the Legal Framework Governing the National Intelligence Community, which is due to be presented to the Government at the end of 2019. Regardless of the changes that may occur in the years to come, the office is amply prepared to fulfil its mandate of assurance and independent scrutiny thanks to the continuing development in 2018-19.

Finally, this annual report is a significant milestone in the evolution of this office’s implementation and formal reporting in accordance with the IGIS Corporate Plan. Measuring effectiveness is a perennially challenging task for oversight and integrity agencies, as well as for intelligence agencies. With that in mind, I am gratified that the IGIS Corporate Plan 2018-19 has proven to contain meaningful measures of performance over the past financial year, and by pursuing these measures the office ensured that its endeavours throughout 2018-19 remained closely aligned to the mandate of the office. Lessons learned from last year’s Corporate Plan have already been incorporated into the IGIS Corporate Plan 2019-20, which is now available on the IGIS website.