House debates

Thursday, 25 November 2021


Intelligence and Security Joint Committee; Report

12:02 pm

Photo of Celia HammondCelia Hammond (Curtin, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

On behalf of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security, I present the committee's report entitled Reviews of Administration and Expenditure: No. 18 (2018-2019) andNo. 19 (2019-2020)—Australian Intelligence Agencies.

Report made a parliamentary paper in accordance with standing order 39(e).

by leave—The presentation of this report fulfils one of the committee's key statutory oversight responsibilities found in subclause 29(1)(a) of the Intelligence Services Act 2001, namely to review the administration and expenditure, including the financial statements of the six intelligence agencies in Australia: the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation, ASIO; the Office of National Intelligence, ONI; the Australian Secret Intelligence Service, ASIS; the Australian Signals Directorate, ASD; the Australian Geospatial-Intelligence Organisation, AGO; and the Defence Intelligence Organisation, DIO.

This oversight role of the committee is carried out in circumstances where the transparency and public accountability of the intelligence agencies must be balanced with the need to protect national security. The committee is privy to detailed, largely classified information about the administration and expenditure of agencies. Much of the evidence received by the committee, both written and in hearings, must remain confidential due to its classified nature.

The committee has only a limited role in these reviews in advising what level of resources is appropriate for each agency to protect Australians from risks to national security. Similarly, the committee has no role in determining what the national security priorities should be, nor how those priorities may be met within existing resources. The committee also has no role in reviewing particular operations conducted by agencies, sources of information available to agencies, aspects of the activities of agencies that do not effect Australian persons or individual complaints about the activities of the agencies. Rather, the committee has the responsibility to analyse the evidence put before it and report to the parliament and, through the parliament, to the Australian community on the administrative arrangements and expenditures of each agency, and any changes to these activities that may affect an agency's ability to continue to meet its objectives.

Unlike previous admin and expenditure review reports, this report covers two reporting periods—2018-19 and 2019-20. These periods constitute reviews No. 18 and No. 19. The committee commenced review No. 18 in December 2019. Submissions were received from the relevant agencies and classified hearings were to be held in late February 2020. With the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic most parliamentary and committee proceedings were delayed, and in June 2020 the committee resolved that the review would be finalised and considered in conjunction with review No. 19.

The committee commenced review No. 19 in September 2020. Submissions were sought and received from the six intelligence agencies, the Auditor-General of Australia and the IGIS. In addition to the normal administration and expenditure information provided by agencies, the committee requested the agencies provide extra commentary on a number of focus areas, including: the impact of COVID-19 on the agencies' admin and expenditure; recruitment and retention processes; the implications of a constantly evolving threat environment; and the health of the agencies' cybersecurity. The committee found that the six security organisations have managed their admin and expenditure appropriately in a period of significant operational pressure not only from the COVID-19 pandemic but also from the evolving technological operating environment, as well as the continued maturation and reform of the national intelligence community.

The committee has made four recommendations for the government to consider as a result of these reviews. Two of these recommendations relate to the provision of support services to staff. One recommendation goes to mechanisms to address ongoing issues which these agencies face, with persistent and repeated requests for information from certain parties. The fourth recommendation goes to the government to consider resourcing the Office of National Intelligence to conduct an enterprise-wide review of lessons learnt from the COVID-19 pandemic.

On behalf of the committee, I thank all the agencies for the way in which they engaged with the committee. I also thank and acknowledge the secretariat, who provide incredible service and advice to the committee. As a relatively new member of this committee, I acknowledge the current chair, Senator Paterson, and the previous chair, the now Assistant Minister for Defence. I also acknowledge the current deputy chair, Senator McAllister, and the previous deputy chair, the member for Holt.