Australia's intelligence agencies full of 'diligent and dedicated' people | SENATE SPEECH

November 24, 2021


Reviews of Administration and Expenditure No. 18 (2018-2019) and No. 19 (2019-2020) -Australian Intelligence Agencies

Senator James Paterson, Chair

24 November 2021


I am pleased to present the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security’s report - Reviews of Administration and Expenditure No. 18 (2018-2019) and No. 19 (2019-2020) -Australian Intelligence Agencies.

In delivering this report the Committee fulfils one of its primary statutory duties under the Intelligence Services Act 2001, that being to review the administration and expenditure of six of Australia’s intelligence agencies:

·      the Office of National Intelligence;

·      the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation;

·      the Australian Secret Intelligence Service;

·      the Australian Signals Directorate;

·      the Australian Geospatial-Intelligence Organisation; and

·      the Defence Intelligence Organisation.

This report brings to a close what has been an extensive review process, that was further complicated by the COVID-19 pandemic and the restrictions on members of the Committee, the agencies being reviewed and the Parliament as a whole.

This is core business for the PJCIS, and the Committee takes the responsibility of the administration and expenditure reviews very seriously.

For half of the agencies involved this is the only discrete Parliamentary oversight of their functions that is undertaken, as they are not subject to Senate Estimates processes, nor do they produce public annual reports or budget statements. These reviews ensure that these agencies are scrutinised regarding the appropriate use of their funds and resources to achieve their stated objectives and mission statements. Budgetary arrangements are scrutinised, along with administrative information, such as:

·     the strategic direction and organisational structure of each agency;

·     their human resources and performance management;

·     the public accountability and public relations of each agency; and

·      legislative changes impacting their operation and litigation matters.

Review No. 18 was interrupted by the initial onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, so the Committee, under the former Chair,decided to roll over consideration of the 2018-19 review’s material into a combined effort with the 2019-20 material for review No. 19.

The Committee undertakes classified and restricted processes for these reviews, given the nature of the material provided and the crucial work of these agencies, and these processes required careful management of nearly two years work, culminating in the report I present today.

The Committee has found that all six agencies have managed their administration and expenditure appropriately in a period of significant operational pressure, not only from the impact of COVID-19, but also the evolving security and technological operating environment, as well as the continued maturation of the National Intelligence Community.

The Committee was particularly impressed with the way in which the intelligence community was able to continue their important work despite the disruptions of the pandemic and public health restrictions put in place. The committee will pay close interest in the future to the continuity of business plans and redundancies agencies put in place to mitigate against disruptions in the event of future pandemics.

The Committee has made four recommendations for Government to consider. The first two recommendations are to investigate options for shared services to support staff complaints and resolution mechanisms, as well as psychological support for staff of intelligence agencies.The reviews highlighted the need for ongoing and seamless access to staff support and psychology services, not only from the nature of the work of these agencies, but also in the face of challenges from COVID-19 and the evolution of the threat being countered.

The Committee also recommended that the Archives Act be amended to ensure that agencies could address ongoing matters regarding expensive repeated requests for material that have been stuck in lengthy and expensive legal processes. Finally, the Committee recommends that a review of the lessons learned from the COVID-19 pandemic be undertaken by the Office of National Intelligence, ensuring they are captured and shared across the entire National Intelligence Community.

The Committee has also made a statement in this report regarding the future direction it intends to take with future administration and expenditure reviews, which will be to focus on themes and issues of concern rather than just routine matters that are adequately reported elsewhere.

Madam Acting Deputy President, I want to put on record my personal thanks and extend my gratitude to the extremely hardworking men and women at the head of our intelligence community.

Mr Andrew Shearer, Director General of the Office of National Intelligence, Mr Mike Burgess, Director General of Security,Mr Paul Symon, the Director General of the Australian Secret Intelligence Service, Ms Rachel Noble, Director General of the Australian Signals Directorate, Lieutenant General Gavin Reynolds AM, Chief of Defence Intelligence and Mr Scott Dewar, Director of the Australian Geospatial Intelligence Organisation.  

By their very nature, most of our intelligence agency heads are very limited in what they can say publicly about their work and the amazing people they employ. It is also not appropriate for them to respond, as much as they may wish to, to the criticism that often comes their way, much of it unjustified.

In my view, the most unfair of those recent criticisms came from the former Prime Minister Paul Keating, who really should know better given the office he once occupied. They provide the best quality insight they can and then it is up to political leaders to make the policy decisions which flow from that.

So let me say on their behalf, in my experience our intelligence community is full of diligent, professional and dedicated people who take compliance with the law, their ethical obligations and the national interest of our country very seriously.

Of course, we can never just take it on trust that will always be the case. Any self-respecting liberal democracy must have in place a robust system of oversight and scrutiny both to ensure the significant powers we grant our agencies are used appropriately, but also that the public can have confidence that is the case.

So I’d also like to thank the Inspector General on Intelligence and Security, the Commonwealth Ombudsman, the Independent National Security Legislation Monitor and the Auditor-General for the role they play in assisting the PJCIS to perform our parliamentary oversight duties.

I have the privilege in this position of working closely with the leaders of our National Intelligence Community and I thank them for their co-operation, their transparency and for making available some of the most sensitive information about their agencies to assist the Committee to complete its review.

While most Australians will never see the work that they do, we should all be very proud and extend our gratitude to them,especially amid the increasingly challenging security environment in our region.

Similarly, I extend that thanks to my fellow Committee members, in particular the former Deputy Chair Anthony Byrne and the new Deputy Chair Senator McAllister, for their focus and dedication in fulfilling a critical part of the Committee’s statutory duty and Parliamentary oversight role.

I commend the report to the Senate.


Senator James Paterson


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