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The role of the Inspector‑General of Intelligence and Security

The Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security (the Inspector-General) is an independent statutory office holder appointed by the Governor-General under the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security Act 1986 (IGIS Act). The Hon Margaret Stone AO FAAL was appointed as Inspector-General for a term of five years from 24 August 2015.

The Office of the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security (IGIS) is an agency within the Attorney-General’s portfolio, with separate appropriation and staffing. As an independent statutory office holder, the Inspector-General is not subject to general direction from the Attorney-General, or other Ministers, on how responsibilities under the IGIS Act should be carried out.

Under the IGIS Act, the role of the Inspector-General is to assist Ministers in overseeing and reviewing the activities of the Australian intelligence agencies for legality and propriety and for consistency with human rights. The Inspector-General discharges these responsibilities through a combination of inspections, inquiries, and investigations into complaints.

The Inspector-General is also required to assist the Government in assuring the Parliament and the public that intelligence and security matters relating to Commonwealth agencies are open to scrutiny. Submissions to parliamentary committees and a program of public speaking are designed to address this aspect of the Inspector-General’s role, as is our policy of providing as much information about our activities as is consistent with our secrecy requirements.

The IGIS carries out regular inspections of the intelligence agencies that are designed to identify issues of concern, including in the agencies’ governance and control frameworks. Early identification of such issues may avert the need for major remedial action.

The inspection role is complemented by an inquiry function. In undertaking inquiries the Inspector-General has strong investigative powers, akin to those of a royal commission. These include the power to compel persons to answer questions and produce documents, to take sworn evidence, and to enter agency premises.

The IGIS can investigate complaints, including complaints by members of the public or intelligence agency staff, about the activities of intelligence agencies.

The role and functions of the IGIS are important elements of the overall accountability framework imposed on the intelligence agencies. The Inspector-General’s oversight of operational activities of the intelligence agencies complements oversight by the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security and the Australian National Audit Office of other aspects of governance in those agencies.