PJCIS backs expansion of intelligence oversight powers for IGIS and itself

The PJCIS wants its intelligence oversight responsibilities to eventually expand to the Australian Federal Police and AUSTRAC.
Written by Campbell Kwan, Contributor

Australia's parliamentary body that scrutinises Australia's security agencies has backed the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security (IGIS) taking on more intelligence oversight responsibilities.

The Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security (PJCIS) in an advisory report this week said it supports the passing of new intelligence oversight laws that would extend the IGIS's oversight role to the Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre (AUSTRAC) and the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission (ACIC).

The IGIS already has existing oversight arrangements with six agencies within Australia's national intelligence community (NIC), including the Office of National Intelligence, Australian Security Intelligence Organisation, Australian Secret Intelligence Service, Australian Signals Directorate, Australian Geospatial-Intelligence Organisation, and Defence Intelligence Organisation.

The intelligence oversight Bill's passage would also see the PJCIS' own back be scratched as it would see the committee's powers be expanded to have oversight functions with ACIC too. The PJCIS believes the Bill should provide even more oversight powers to itself, however, as the committee recommended it should also have oversight responsibilities over AUSTRAC and the Australian Federal Police.

"The committee further considers that it is necessary to extend oversight to the specialised intelligence functions of the AFP. Accordingly, the committee considers legislation governing both the PJCIS and the IGIS should be amended to support this," the PJCIS wrote in its report.

The committee explained that further expansion made sense for Australia's oversight of intelligence agencies, as the committee is already overseeing the administration and expenditure of the intelligence agencies, while the Inspector-General acts as an independent statutory officer who reviews the agencies' operational activities.

The Bill was introduced into Parliament at the end of 2020 based on recommendations from the Richardson review, which examined the effectiveness of the legislative framework which governs the NIC. The review found that the core intelligence functions performed by AUSTRAC and the ACIC were suited to specialised intelligence oversight by the IGIS.

While the committee and IGIS would get new powers if the Bill becomes law, it noted the additional responsibilities could stretch the resources of both entities. In making this point, the committee said it hoped additional funding would be allocated to alleviate these concerns.

"Extending oversight to the NIC agencies would place a significantly higher workload onto these bodies, which could have the unintended consequence of diluting oversight rather than strengthening it," the report said.

"As the agencies themselves grow, and their work becomes more complex as technologies and methodologies change, the oversight of that work will also grow more challenging and complex. Staffing for the oversight agencies will need to be considered to ensure that it can be conducted to the standard necessary."

In a separate report that was also released this week, the PJCIS called for the relationship between government and the nation's telco providers to be formalised as it believes reliance on the current voluntary processes are now insufficient.

"The regulatory concept of providers 'doing their best' to secure their networks in the national interest has served the Telco Act and the Telecommunications Sector Security Reforms up until now, but the committee can not be assured that a reliance on industry alone to counter threats is sustainable, nor that the Telco Act as a whole can continue to uphold the security requirements for the industry," the report said.

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