Abbott appoints new spy overseer

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott has announced that former Federal Court Justice Margaret Stone will be the next Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security.

Former Federal Court Justice Margaret Stone will soon be responsible for overseeing Australia's peak security intelligence agencies, Prime Minister Tony Abbott announced on Thursday.

The Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security (IGIS) oversees the work conducted by six spy agencies in Australia: The Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO), Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS), Australian Signals Directorate (ASD), Australian Geospatial-Intelligence Organisation (AGO), Defence Intelligence Organisation (DIO), and Office of National Assessments (ONA).

While much of the work of these organisations -- such as the metadata accessed by ASIO -- remains a secret, IGIS is responsible for ensuring that these agencies are acting legally within government guidelines and with respect for human rights.

The role is currently held by Dr Vivienne Thom, who will step down at the end of this week. Abbott announced that former Federal Court justice and current Independent Reviewer of Adverse Security Assessments Margaret Stone will be the new inspector-general from late August.

Until then, Jake Blight will act as the inspector-general, Abbott said.

"Australia's intelligence agencies make a vital contribution to our national security, particularly at a time when we face a serious threat from terrorism," the prime minister said.

"The Australian intelligence community operates within a robust oversight and accountability framework, and the inspector-general plays an important role in reviewing the activities of the intelligence agencies."

In May's Budget, the office was given over AU$3 million in funding. The office indicated that it expects to make an upgrade to its secure IT network this financial year.

Thom had long warned that the implementation of the government's mandatory data-retention regime would result in more work than the office could handle under its current funding should it have to continue to have oversight of ASIO's use of metadata.

The office also now must receive notices every time any agency -- not just the spy agencies -- obtain a warrant to access the metadata of a journalist for the purpose of investigating a leak.

This week also saw the Australian government throw a lifeline to the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner. The current commissioner, professor John McMillan, will finish in the role at the end of this week to take up a new job as Acting NSW Ombudsman.

The government has announced that Privacy Commissioner Timothy Pilgrim will assume responsibility for the office and across privacy, information, and freedom of information.

Legislation to shut the office has yet to pass the Senate, but the government provided funding in the Budget to keep the lights on until legislation manages to pass. The small team of staff in the office is said to be working from home and on a part-time basis.