The Office of the Special Investigator (OSI) was officially established as an independent Executive Agency on 4 January 2021. Over the next six months, we built a unique agency from scratch and laid solid foundations for our important work ahead.
In that short time, we established the key structures, systems and protocols that underpin our independence, and our ability to conduct a rigorous and impartial process to undertake the unique role assigned to us by Government.
We have recruited some of Australia’s most experienced investigators and intelligence analysts drawn from the Australian Federal Police (AFP) and state police services across the country. In close cooperation with the AFP, we designed and delivered a substantial induction training program to prepare these specialists for their roles as part of a truly national effort.
We started receiving information relevant to our mandate and have maintained a strong focus on ensuring this sensitive information is handled appropriately. The OSI is operating in a complex legal landscape. We have expended significant effort on addressing the range of legal risks, including developing and implementing stringent information-handling processes centred on protecting the integrity of our investigations and any potential prosecutions.
We established a separate Special Counsel function within the Australian Government Solicitor (AGS) to advise on requirements for handling and using information obtained by the Inspector-General of the Australian Defence Force (IGADF) Afghanistan Inquiry, and to undertake a quarantined review of that Inquiry material to ensure investigators only receive information that can be lawfully used by the OSI. This measure was designed to manage the important differences between a statutory inquiry under the military justice system – like the IGADF Afghanistan Inquiry – and a criminal investigation.
Our investigations are being undertaken jointly with the AFP, with arrangements between the two agencies formalised in a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU). Arrangements were also formalised with each state police service contributing investigators and analysts to the joint investigations.
As with all Australians we navigated the added complexity associated with the COVID-19 pandemic, including restrictions which amplified the challenges of establishing offices in three locations (Sydney, Canberra and Melbourne) and bringing together team members from six jurisdictions.
The OSI’s Legal and Policy Unit and our corporate spine have proved lean and effective, addressing the OSI’s legal, governance, human resources, finance, property, communication and technology requirements, and working closely with the Department of Home Affairs on our initial establishment needs and ongoing corporate support.
That we have progressed so far from a standing start was only possible with the close cooperation of key partners, and the many agencies contributing team members through transfer and secondment arrangements.
This ongoing cooperation will be vital as the tempo of our work increases in the year ahead. Our teams of investigators and analysts will be fully resourced and the OSI is well-placed to manage the many complexities; strong partnerships and goodwill will continue to strengthen our ability to address challenges as they arise.
While we are acutely conscious of not unnecessarily adding to the burden of those affected by our investigations, we must take the time to get this right. A measured, methodical and precautionary approach to our work is necessary for two equally important reasons: so that potential suspects are afforded all the protections provided by the Australian criminal justice system, and to ensure the integrity and robustness of our investigations and any future prosecutions.
We will continue to forge a route through unmapped territory, conscious that Australia is best served by ensuring the matters within our remit are thoroughly and fairly investigated within our robust domestic legal system. That will remain our guiding principle.
I am pleased to present the OSI’s 2020–21 Annual Report.