Thursday, 29 November 2018
Office of National Intelligence Bill 2018, Office of National Intelligence (Consequential and Transitional Provisions) Bill 2018; Second Reading
I present the explanatory memoranda and I move:
That these bills be now read a second time.
I seek leave to have the second reading speeches incorporated in Hansard.
The speeches read as follows—
This Government's objectives in terms of national security can be stated simply. We want to keep Australians safe, to maintain our way of life, our values and our freedom.
It is important that all Australians can feel secure in their own country.
We also want Australia to be a prosperous nation with strong and resilient relationships.
Our intelligence and security agencies are a crucial part of government working to achieve these goals. Because these agencies are not just keeping us safe. They ensure the Government knows what it needs to know to make informed, strategically sound decisions that balance the many overlapping equities of security, budget, civil liberties and our international relations, to name just a few.
While our intelligence and security agencies are performing strongly, their resources and capabilities are constantly challenged. As our Foreign Policy White Paper emphasised, and developments globally — including in our own region — confirm, we live in an increasingly complex, contested and competitive world.
We face imposing challenges, challenges which will only intensify over coming decades, whether from great power rivalries, global extremism and its local reach, or the threats and opportunities posed by accelerating technological change.
To meet these challenges, we needed to take a holistic and systematic look at our intelligence and security communities. As the Prime Minister has emphasised many times, this Government was never going to simply 'set and forget' our approach to security and intelligence.
On 18 July 2017, the Government released the unclassified version of the Review's report. The reviewers made 23 overarching recommendations relating to the intelligence community's structural, legislative and oversight architecture.
At the time we released the report, the Prime Minister announced that the Government recognised the Review's recommendations as a sound basis to reform Australia's intelligence arrangements, and at that time, and based on this Government's clear-eyed assessment of the challenges ahead, the Prime Minister announced the most significant changes to Australia's intelligence and security landscape in more than 40 years. This included establishing an Office of National Intelligence (ONI), transforming the Australian Signals Directorate into a statutory authority within the Defence portfolio, and restructuring the nation's cyber security architecture and boosting its capabilities.
At the same time, the Prime Minister also announced the establishment of the Department of Home Affairs, along with measures to consolidate and strengthen my oversight of our intelligence and security agencies.
This approach, as Alan Dupont most elegantly put it, represented 'best practice risk management, which is to anticipate threats, structure for them and build resilience'.
The Prime Minister has also agreed to the Review's recommendation that our six-agency Australian Intelligence Community [which was made up of the Australian Geospatial-Intelligence Organisation (AGO), the Australian Signals Directorate (ASD), the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO), the Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS), the Defence Intelligence Organisation (DIO) and the Office of National Assessments (ONA)]
formally be expanded to become the National Intelligence Community (the NIC). The NIC will now incorporate the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission, and the intelligence functions of the Australian Federal Police, the Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre, the Department of Home Affairs and the Department of Defence.
The NIC reflects the Review's very important judgement, and the reality, that the lines between international, domestic and criminal security issues are becoming increasingly blurred.
As the Review recommended, ONI will be headed by a secretary-level Director-General who will be the Prime Minister's key adviser on matters relating to intelligence and the intelligence community.
ONI will lead the NIC with an 'enterprise management' approach, creating — as Mr L'Estrange has said — a 'whole greater than the sum of its parts' which will leverage the strengths of each agency and enable government to consider the NIC's efforts in their entirety.
ONI's job will be to make our intelligence agencies more integrated, better coordinated, and more accountable to the Government and, through it, to the Australian people.
These reforms continue Australia's well established tradition of periodically testing our intelligence and security architecture to make sure it is fit for purpose.
Indeed, it was through this very same process that the Office of National Assessments (ONA) was born.
Australia's first Royal Commission into its intelligence and security agencies was conducted by Justice Robert Hope from 1974 to 1977. Justice Hope went on to conduct a second Royal Commission (1983-84) and it's fair to say that, through these two Royal Commissions, he played a seminal role in shaping our intelligence and security community.
One of his key recommendations in 1977 was that Australia establish an independent agency that stood apart from policy departments to provide the Prime Minister with intelligence assessments on political, strategic and economic issues.
Hope also intended that this agency would 'assume responsibilities for the leadership and co-ordination of the Australian intelligence community as a whole'.
ONA was established by the Office of National Assessments Act 1977 and began its work in February 1978. As part of its establishment, ONA also assumed most of the foreign intelligence assessment functions of Defence's then Joint Intelligence Organisation (JIO).
In his second Royal Commission (1983-84), Justice Hope recognised ONA had proven itself to be a 'valuable source of independent assessment for the Government'.
However, while ONA produced quality assessments focused on Australia's key interests, it never filled the leadership and coordination role that Hope had envisioned it should.
Successive intelligence reviews recognised, and tried to correct, two important shortcomings in relation to ONA.
First, ONA never had the analytical resources it needed to cover its ever broadening assessment remit;
And, second, it never had the authority or resources, despite its legislated mandate, to coordinate Australia's intelligence community, set national intelligence requirements and evaluate agencies' efforts against them.
Justice Hope's second Commission acknowledged ONA's need for more resources and stronger structures to carry out its coordination function, recommending that a National Intelligence Committee be set up to discuss intelligence priorities and requirements.
Philip Flood's 2004 intelligence review recommended ONA be doubled in size from 70 to 140 people and that its coordination and evaluation mandate be strengthened.
These recommendations have incrementally enhanced ONA's capabilities and taken it closer to where Hope had, from the very beginning, always envisaged it should be. But the enhancements in ONA's capabilities have not been enough to achieve Hope's vision.
Given the rapidly evolving threat environment, incremental changes are no longer sufficient. With the findings of the Independent Intelligence Review confirming yet again the shortcomings in ONA's resourcing and remit, this Government is determined that Hope's vision will finally be realised.
On 1 December 2017, the Prime Minister announced the appointment of Mr Nick Warner AO PSM as the new Director-General of ONA and Director-General designate of ONI. Mr Warner took up his appointment on 18 December 2017.
Mr Warner is one of Australia's most experienced public servants, with a distinguished career that has spanned DFAT, Defence and intelligence agencies. He has served as the Director-General of ASIS and the Secretary of Defence. The Government is confident he will ensure that Australia's intelligence agencies remain among the most capable, agile and effective in the world.
With this Bill, we will establish ONI.
While ONI is an idea born out of Hope, we have refined the Hope vision based on the models successfully adopted by our closest intelligence partners, the Five Eyes. They all have, or are moving towards having, what Mr L'Estrange referred to as 'a stronger centre'.
We have borrowed from their examples, but this Bill establishes a model for the Australian context, consistent with our system of ministerial responsibility and the statutory independence of our intelligence agencies.
Specifically, the ONI Bill implements the recommendations of the 2017 Review and builds on the foundations of the ONA Act by:
- Enshrining the role of ONI's Director-General (DG NI) in providing advice directly to the Prime Minister on intelligence community priorities, requirements and capabilities, as well as on the appointment of senior NIC office holders.
- Establishing DG NI and ONI's leadership roles in relation to the NIC, with ONI leading the NIC's integration, strategic planning and coordination, setting requirements to meet Australia's national intelligence priorities, and developing structured and appropriate responses to technological change.
- Giving the Director-General — in the context of this leadership role — the authority to issue directions and guidelines to the National Intelligence Community or its agencies to ensure the national intelligence effort is more integrated, more coherent, maximising capability investment and better focused on Government priorities.
- Providing for an expanded role in assembling, correlating and analysing information, recognising that security challenges ignore national boundaries.
- Including detailed requirements on both ONI's authority to access information and its obligations to protect it, through secrecy provisions and stipulating the need for privacy rules to protect Australians.
- Reinforcing ONI's mandate to evaluate the activities of individual NIC agencies and the NIC as a whole
- Establishing that ONI is accountable for their performance to the Prime Minister.
- Retaining the role and functions of the National Assessments Board in considering national assessments, whilst expanding its membership include representatives from the Department of Home Affairs and Treasury; and
- enhancing ONI's Open Source Centre as a centre of expertise for open source collection, analysis, tradecraft and training, in line with the Review's recommendations.
I want to emphasise that while DG NI and ONI will have prominent roles in coordinating and guiding Australia's overall intelligence effort, including the shared development of capability, the ONI Bill makes clear that DG NI and ONI will not be directing the operations of other agencies or controlling their budgets.
We are not creating an agency which will interfere with the good work other intelligence agencies are already doing. In fact, the Bill specifies that ONI may not do this. This also reflects the necessity of clear accountability for each of the agencies.
Recognising that Australia's safety and security are bipartisan priorities, the ONI Bill states DG NI must keep the Leader of the Opposition informed on significant intelligence matters.
The creation of ONI and the reshaping of our intelligence community into an enterprise mark a milestone in this Government's work to keep Australians safe, secure and prosperous.
Our efforts to do so will continue with our comprehensive review of security legislation and our broadening of oversight mechanisms in upcoming, ensuring consistency and strengthening the 'ecosystem of safeguards' that Justice Hope established.
This is a further demonstration that this Government knows how to balance the priority of community safety with individual freedoms.
Part of achieving that balance is having the right kind of accountable leadership for our National Intelligence Community and the establishment of ONI will put that in place.
OFFICE OF NATIONAL INTELLIGENCE (CONSEQUENTIAL AND TRANSITIONAL PROVISIONS) BILL 2018
The Office of National Intelligence (Consequential and Transitional Provisions) Bill 2018 will make amendments to 19 Acts to support the proposed operation of the Office of National Intelligence Bill 2018.
In addition to repealing the Office of National Assessments Act 1977 in its entirety, the Bill will make substantive amendments to other legislation relating to the establishment of ONI, including to facilitate:
- Crimes Act 1914
The Bill also includes transitional provisions and arrangements which will facilitate a seamless transition when the Office of National Assessments becomes the Office of National Intelligence.
I commend this Bill to the house.
Labor supports the Office of National Intelligence Bill 2018 and the Office of National Intelligence (Consequential and Transitional Provisions) Bill 2018. These two bills will implement a number of recommendations of the 2017 independent intelligence review conducted by Michael L'Estrange and Stephen Merchant by establishing the Office of National Intelligence, ONI, which is to be led by the Director-General of National Intelligence.
The Office of National Intelligence will be responsible for leading Australia's national intelligence agencies. While the new Director-General of National Intelligence will not be empowered to direct the specific activities of agencies, he or she will be able to direct the coordination of agencies to ensure there are appropriately integrated strategies across the suite of agency capabilities. The Director-General of National Intelligence will also be tasked with keeping the Prime Minister informed on matters relating to Australia's intelligence agencies.
Each of Australia's Five Eyes partners currently has a single point of coordination for their intelligence agencies. This is what the Office of National Intelligence will provide for Australia. In addition to its leadership role, the Office of National Intelligence will replace the Office of National Assessments and be responsible for preparing strategic assessments and reports in relation to international and domestic matters that are of political, strategic or economic significance to Australia. As is the case with the Office of National Assessments, those assessments and reports will be prepared on the basis of information that is collected from publicly available sources. This marks an extension of the ONA's existing assessment and evaluation function, which is currently limited exclusively to international matters.
Labor also supports the Office of National Intelligence (Consequential and Transitional Provisions) Bill 2018, which repeals the Office of National Assessments Act 1977 and makes a series of consequential amendments to other acts to reflect the proposed operation of the Office of National Intelligence. The bipartisan Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security, the PJCIS, looked carefully at these two bills and recommended four improvements, each of which was accepted by the government. The government's amendments give effect to the committee's recommendations by ensuring, among other things, that the Privacy Commissioner is directly involved in drafting the ONI's privacy rules and that those rules are made publicly available on ONI's website.
Since 2014 the PJCIS has considered 15 substantive national security bills and made over 300 recommendations for amendment, all of which have been accepted by government. I commend my colleagues on the committee—Labor and Liberal—for their careful, considered and bipartisan approach to these bills and for recommending a number of improvements. That is how national security issues should be dealt with, and that is how national security issues have been dealt with in recent history. In that spirit, I urge the government to work with Labor to implement two of the other recommendations that were made by Mr L'Estrange and Mr Merchant in their intelligence review in relation to the Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security.
Strong and effective oversight does not undermine our national security community. In fact, it enhances it. Public trust and confidence in our security and intelligence agencies are best secured through strong and rigorous oversight and scrutiny. Australia has a unique configuration of oversight, and it spans the parliamentary, judicial and executive branches of government. Institutions such as the Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security and the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security have complementary functions. Labor's existing proposal for reform of the committee recognises these arrangements. The proposal is embodied in the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security Amendment Bill 2015, which is presently before the Senate. It arose out of the work done by Senator John Faulkner and others and contains a suite of measures designed to strengthen the power of PJCIS.
As it happens, much of the substance of these proposals was largely adopted in recommendations 21 and 23 of the 2017 Independent Intelligence Review. However, despite receiving the review well over a year ago, the government has yet to act on these two recommendations, and no adequate explanation for this delay has been provided by the government. So, while Labor is pleased that the government has now acted on Mr L'Estrange's and Mr Merchant's recommendation to establish on Office of National Intelligence, there is more to be done to ensure that the oversight is appropriate.
The Office of National Intelligence Bill 2018 and the Office of National Intelligence (Consequential and Transitional Provisions) Bill 2018 relate to the Office of National Intelligence, which is part of Australia's security apparatus. We've seen multiple pieces of legislation come before this parliament in recent years that amend acts governing the operation of the intelligence apparatus in this country. One very big change we've seen is the consolidation of power into the new Department of Home Affairs, which—shamefully—Labor is yet to announce that it will dismantle when it wins government in six years time. I urge the Labor Party to have a close look at this and have a very good think about whether they want to be a party that goes down in history as maintaining the disgraceful arrangements that have been created whereby one minister has the level of power that home affairs minister Peter Dutton currently has in this country.
As I said, we've seen numerous pieces of legislation in Australia recently that amend acts that govern the operation of our intelligence agencies or our intelligence sector. In fact, over 200 pieces of legislation have passed through state, territory and Commonwealth parliaments in the last couple of decades that erode fundamental rights and freedoms in our country. It's worth reminding people that Australia is the last liberal democracy in the world without a bill or charter of rights enshrined either in legislation or in a constitution. Unfortunately, it's the absence of such a bill or charter of rights that has allowed the parties, in the policy lock step that they are engaged in in this area, to continue to erode fundamental rights and freedoms.
The previous speaker, Senator McAllister, mentioned the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security and said that this is how these pieces of legislation ought to be dealt with. Well, no, that's wrong, because what happens behind the closed doors of the PJCIS is that the major parties, in policy lock step, are walking this country down the dangerous path towards a police state. That is what is happening in this country, and Labor are culpable for it as well as the Liberal-National Party.
Labor still do not have a policy of supporting a charter of rights or a bill of rights in Australia. When I see Mr Andrews, the Victorian Premier, come out and talk about how progressive Labor is, I just reflect on some of the things that we've seen happen this week. We've seen Labor vote with the Liberal-National Party to make it easier to put the Army onto Australian streets and use lethal force against Australian citizens. That's what we've seen happen this week. We've seen Labor refuse to commit to supporting a bill, notice of which has been given in the other place, to rescue the desperately ill children from Nauru—and I might remind Labor that it put most of them there in the first place, over 5½ years ago. We've seen Labor, just today, indicate its support for a piece of legislation which will throw many thousands of recent migrants who have arrived in this country onto the scrap heap by denying them access to Newstart for four years after they arrive in this country, a deal that has got the imprimatur of no-one other than Senator Hanson. Let's be clear about what we've seen here today. This so-called progressive party—
All right. Just for clarity: that bill has not been voted on. It is still before this chamber. Again, Labor's policy lock step with the Liberal Party on national security issues—which is directly relevant to this legislation, Acting Deputy President—is responsible for the erosion of fundamental rights, freedoms and liberties in this country. We used to send the ADF overseas to fight wars to protect these fundamental rights and freedoms and liberties, and now, behind the closed doors of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security—which, I might add, are closed doors which are locked to any single member of this crossbench—the dirty deals get stitched up. You could set your clock by it. You could set your clock by Labor colluding with the LNP, the control freaks over there, to erode fundamental rights and freedoms in this country.
One of those erosions of fundamental rights and freedoms that Labor have colluded with the LNP on this week is legislation to make it easier to send the troops onto the streets in Australia. Ben Chifley would be proud of that because of course it was Ben Chifley who sent the Army in to bust up the coalmine strikes, wasn't it, when he was Prime Minister? I'm enjoying giving the Labor Party some of their own history today and reminding them that it was actually Gough Whitlam who said, 'Only the impotent are pure,' when he was attacking the left wing of his own party.
We are, unfortunately, the only liberal democracy in the world without a charter or a bill of rights, and, unfortunately, Labor do not have such a bill of rights or charter of rights in their policy. In fact, federal Labor have previously had a bill of rights as an official policy platform. I refer senators to the ALP National Platform and Constitution 2004, chapter 7, No. 11 and 12. But, of course, then they got into government, as they so often do, and their policy was just left behind and kept in the back pocket, and they did nothing whatsoever to progress a charter or bill of rights. Unfortunately, despite repeated engagement, Labor to date are yet to support our calls for a parliamentary inquiry into the form and scope of a charter of rights in Australia.
So we're on very dangerous territory here in this country: 200 pieces of legislation slowly sleepwalking Australians down the road to a police state; a combined policy lock step between the major parties in this parliament; and no charter or bill of rights to act as a foundation to protect those fundamental rights, freedoms and liberties. Australians need to understand how poorly our laws protect their rights. The Australian Greens would love to see our Constitution amended to enshrine the fundamental rights, freedoms and liberties that so many Australians enjoy but too many Australians take for granted, but we understand that constitutional change is difficult in this country, particularly where there is political disagreement about a constitutional change being put to the people. So on that basis, while we maintain our view that our rights should be enshrined in our Constitution because that would make them much more difficult to take away, in the absence of that being a realistic option in the next decade or so, we want to see a legislated charter of rights in this place so that we can codify what rights Australian people want to see protected and make sure that we protect those rights in law. When people think about rights, they often think about things like civil and political rights, and of course they are extremely important rights, but there are many other rights that we could look at enshrining in a charter or bill of rights: rights to a home, rights to a particular level of income, rights to breathe clean air and drink clean water—broadly speaking, environmental rights—digital rights and privacy rights; the list goes on. But what we get from the policy lock step of the majors in this place is an ongoing erosion of those rights.
In regard to counterterrorism—and remember that that's the name or the badge that is put on all of these joint proposals, effectively, that are put forward by the LNP and the ALP; they're done in the name of counterterrorism—I want to remind people of one thing. Remember the metadata laws—again, a dual policy stitch-up behind closed doors by the LNP and the ALP. That was all about catching terrorists, remember? Remember how our metadata can be accessed without a warrant because the Australian Labor Party did a dirty secret deal with the Liberal and National Parties? I remember, and I'm well aware that my metadata and anyone else's—even senators' metadata—can be accessed by a range of authorities without a warrant. Well, do you know what metadata laws are being used for now? They're being used by local councils to figure out whether people have registered their pets or not. That's what they're being used for. If it weren't so serious, it would be absolutely bloody hilarious. Local councils are using metadata laws to bust people for unregistered pets. Thank you very much to the Australian Labor Party! Nice work! I hope Hansard can pick up sarcasm when it occurs in this chamber.
So, on counterterrorism, what we need is a white paper akin to the white paper we have on defence, because there is no doubt that we need to be wary and there's no doubt that one of the primary aspirations of any reasonable parliament is to ensure to the greatest degree possible, in the most reasonable way, that we do all that we can to keep the people that we represent safe. But what we need is a white paper on counter-terrorism so that we can pull together all of the disparate pieces of legislation, all of the over 200 changes to our laws in state, territory and Commonwealth parliaments, as we've seen over the last couple of decades, that erode fundamental rights, freedoms and liberties, and have a clinical threat assessment and a reasonable discussion, an informed discussion, in our community about whether we need to keep eroding rights, freedoms and liberties in the name of counter-terrorism.
If you want to look, on a dispassionate basis, at the threats to Australians, I'm here to tell you that the threat of violent men towards their partners or former partners is a far, far more serious threat to the safety of Australians than any terrorist act. Women who are either the partners or former partners of violent men are going down at the rate of about one a week, and yet, every time there's a tragic terrorist attack, out come the major party politicians, wrapped in Australian flags and trying to scare Australians, because they know that when people are scared they're more likely to roll over and allow their rights and freedoms to be given away by governments. This is a cynical game played for electoral purposes, driven in the main by the Liberal-National Party—a party that's under the control of the far Right racists and xenophobes and is acquiesced to by a compliant and cowardly Australian Labor Party. That is why you need the Greens in the Senate: to stand up against the kind of rubbish we are seeing delivered to us in policy lockstep between the major parties in this place.
It's well beyond time that we had a counter-terrorism white paper, or a counter-terrorism blue paper, if that's what you want to call it. We need that to investigate and inform a debate on a whole range of counter-terrorism issues. It's worth pointing out that, at the same time that counter-terrorism bodies are awash with new money, the Office of the Independent National Security Legislation Monitor is running on a shoestring budget and continually assesses laws and reviews laws that are already in force. It's not good enough. We don't have enough checks and balances in this area in our country. The Office of the Independent National Security Legislation Monitor needs a significant budget increase so that it can actually assess and review bills that are presented to this parliament before they come on for debate, so that the assessment can be used to inform the debate. I don't think either of the major parties in this place would take much notice of the findings of the Independent National Security Legislation Monitor, but I'll tell you what: the Australian Greens certainly would.
There is the incredible volume of legislative change being made behind the badge of counter-terrorism and national security—as I said, over 200 changes. It's worth pointing out that, in that time, while 200 pieces of legislation have passed in this country eroding rights, freedoms and liberties in the last 20 years, such laws have only been softened twice in that time and new oversight has been created just once in that time. These are unprecedented developments in Australian peace-time history, and we owe it to ourselves, our children and our grandchildren to have a serious rethink. We need to create better overall laws in a more planned, informed and strategic way, where security is rightly and properly balanced with our deeply held Australian values of freedom, liberty and a fair go for everyone. In the same way, we have established white paper processes for tax, agriculture, defence and, would you believe, a white paper for northern Australia. I might add there: what about southern Australia? My home state of Tasmania wouldn't mind if the government were to get on board with a white paper for southern Australia, but that's not going to happen, because, of course, this is being driven by the Nationals, the agrarian socialists in this place, who are the pre-eminent pork-barrelers in Australian political history.
So, we're not going to see a white paper in southern Australia, but we are seeing a white paper in northern Australia, and if you can have a white paper into northern Australia you can have a white paper into counterterrorism and national security. Surely that's not a controversial comment. This area of public policy, just like defence policy, calls for deep strategic thinking and planning, rather than kneejerk reactive law-mongering. But that's what we see: stitched up behind closed doors in a process endorsed by Senator McAllister earlier this afternoon, saying, 'This is the way we should be developing national security legislation.' This is actually a blueprint for how not to develop national security legislation: in the absence of a charter of rights, behind closed doors in a secret committee where all the deals are done secretly, and then a fait accompli is presented to the parliament and voted through because the major parties have done a secret deal to agree on it. No matter how many times the Greens or other crossbenchers either here or in the other place stand up and point out that the crossbench is frozen out of this cosy arrangement and that we are seeing an ongoing erosion of rights, freedoms and liberties which constitutes a slow march down the road to a police state in this country, the major parties are determined to carry on on the current trajectory.
So, yes, we need to make sure that our legislation that governs the oversight of the Office of National Intelligence is considered carefully. But I make the point that the process that has led us to this bill today, rather than being exactly how we should do things, as Senator McAllister asserted earlier, is actually a blueprint for how not to do these things. So, the Australian Greens—the reason you need us in the Senate is to point out when Labor stitches up their dirty deals with the LNP, as they've done earlier today. They indicated they're going to support legislation that will throw thousands of recent migrants to our country into poverty, into destitution, into homelessness, by denying them access to basic social services for up to four years, saying to those migrants, 'We expect you to work and we expect you to pay taxes, but, no, you can't have access to the services that your taxes pay for.'
This is why you need the Greens in the Senate. If we're not in here, Labor will stitch up more dirty deals with the LNP that get the endorsement of none other than Senator Hanson, who today said how proud she was of the Labor Party for stitching up this deal with the LNP. I tell you what: a hug and a kiss from Senator Hanson says a lot more about the Australian Labor Party than anything I could say about it. You stand condemned today by the love that is being poured on you by Senator Pauline Hanson, who said in this place how proud she was of the Australian Labor Party for doing over migrants in this country.
Centre Alliance supports the Office of National Intelligence Bill 2018. This bill will carry through the government's restructuring of the Australian intelligence community with the establishment of the Office of National Intelligence, to replace the Office of National Assessments as Australia's peak intelligence assessment and coordination agency. Significantly, the new ONI will stand astride both Australia's foreign intelligence efforts and our domestic security arrangements.
The ONI will be the peak assessment agency but will also play a wider role in coordination, reflecting the complex overlap of both international and domestic security issues. This is a change that has been long contemplated and is arguably overdue. However, what I would like to do is highlight the continuing importance of parliamentary oversight over all aspects of the Australian intelligence community; I don't think anyone could argue other than that it is lacking that. That's not a poor reflection on the members of the PJCIS—very, very capable senators and members sitting on that committee—but the committee itself is restricted in what it can do in terms of oversight of intelligence. It's restricted not because the intelligence services have open slather and the parliament shall not look at them; it's because the parliament decided itself that it would carve that out from oversight.
We're in a situation where we have $2 billion being spent on the Australian intelligence community each year, with 7,000 people now engaged in this activity. We've also seen a number of pieces of legislation brought forward, and in some sense this bill serves to pull all of this together. With all of the new legislation, new powers and new responsibilities, we've seen nothing on the oversight side. The agencies that are involved are agencies such as the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation, ASIO; the Australian Secret Intelligence Service, ASIS; the Australian Geospatial-Intelligence Organisation, the AGO; the Defence Intelligence Organisation; the Australian Signals Directorate, ASD; and now of course ONI, the new agency.
Most of these agencies—I make no criticism of this fact—necessarily conduct their operations secretly. They have significant powers that are exercised in secret. The Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security is currently former Justice Margaret Stone, who I have every confidence in. However, there are some problems in respect of her jurisdiction. The priorities and objectives of all of our intelligence operations are set by the National Security Committee of Cabinet. Of course, ONI will feed into this and will no doubt have interaction in respect of that cabinet committee when it is making its decisions. Once the National Security Committee of Cabinet makes a decision, it is then transmitted or passed to the relevant agencies. The IGIS is limited in her jurisdiction at this present moment in that she can't examine whether or not the priorities and the operations set by cabinet are appropriate. All IGIS can do is look to make sure that, if an intelligence agency carries out an operation, it is done in accordance with those instructions.
I will give you a very practical example of a situation where a bit of parliamentary oversight may have saved the day, and that of course is in relation to the operations conducted by the Australian Secret Intelligence Service in East Timor back in 2004. Australia—it wasn't forced to—made a legally binding commitment to the East Timorese, shook their hands and said, 'We will negotiate the Timor Gap issue and we'll do so in good faith.' And I know people like to say there was an alleged operation, but we know in actual fact the operation took place. We know it took place because East Timor have argued this case in the International Court of Arbitration, and their arguments were made public because of a later operation by the Australian government to raid East Timor's legal offices, and, of course, to raid Witness K's house. That led to further action in the IJC, the International Court of Justice, where Australia had orders made against it. In fact, we ended up renegotiating the CMATS treaty.
I note Minister Ruston is sitting on the other side of the chamber listening to this speech. I know she is interested in this, because she was up in East Timor in the last week or two trying to repair the damage. There is no criticism of you, Minister—I know you're the A team for the government—
I say that very generally. If we're sending Minister Ruston somewhere, it's to do good and to make sure that, if there are any problems with relations, they disappear.
But, quite seriously, for the last decade or two, Australia has not been considered a friend of East Timor. That's because of what we did back in 2004. It's a disgraceful part of our history. I know a little bit about this, having asked the IGIS to have a look at that particular operation. The fact is that, when it comes to the issue of whether or not ASIS were acting lawfully, all that the IGIS can do is simply make sure that they followed the directions of cabinet, those instructions. No-one reviews those instructions. No-one looks and says: 'What are the impacts of those instructions? What are the impacts on our foreign policy, on our relations with other countries, in terms of the risk assessments?' Of course, once again, that ties back into the ONI. The ONI is that coordinating body.
Once again, I am just making it very clear. Centre Alliance support the bill, but we raise the issue again with the parliament, with the chamber, that, as we restructure this organisation for good, we're not dealing with the checks-and-balances side of things. I just want to make the chamber very aware of that. It's not as if the idea of parliamentary oversight of intelligence services is at odds with what the rest of our Five Eyes nations do. For example, we know that in the US Congress there are a number of committees that keep a watch on the activities of the US intelligence community. We know the situation is the same for Canada. We know the situation is the same for the UK. So we're in fact now becoming a bit of an aberration amongst our Five Eyes partners.
Of course, the Senate would be aware that I have a bill before the chamber. I don't want to verbal the Labor Party, but they have looked at it relatively optimistically and made some additional comments to the report that came back to the Senate. The government oppose the bill outright because they're simply shying away from any of that necessary oversight.
Once again, as we pull the intelligence service together to make sure we coordinate properly, through this office, both the domestic and the international situation, where we are lacking is that we have turned a blind eye to the oversight aspects of it. The purpose of me standing here is just to remind the chamber of that, and hopefully, if I say it enough times, we might get some progress in terms of that oversight. It's not intended to be intrusive in any way. There are sensible ways we can conduct that oversight. Noting the number of people now working in the intelligence field, noting the amount of money that we are spending in that domain and noting the powers that we give those agencies, for good use, it would be foolish not to think that from time to time some of those powers would be misused. We are not in a position, as the current oversight regime stands, to be able to deal with all aspects of intelligence operations. The IGIS will admit herself—and has done so in writing, actually, to me—that there's an area where she simply does not have jurisdiction, and it's an important area of oversight. So, once again, I just wanted to raise that with the chamber. Centre Alliance will be supporting the bills, and I commend them to the Senate.