The work of my office is divided between conducting inspections and pursuing inquiries or investigations.
The aim is to devote approximately 60–70 per cent of the resources of the office in any given year to monitoring the day to day activities of the intelligence collection agencies, with a view to identifying concerns while they are in a nascent state, or where possible, anticipating problems before they arise. This is consistent with that envisaged for the office when its establishment was first proposed by the late Justice Robert Hope in the General Report of his Royal Commission on Australia’s Security and Intelligence Agencies, which was published in December 1984.7
Justice Hope’s belief that this office should devote the majority of its time and resources to monitoring the activities of the AIC rather than inquiry related work is reﬂected in his recommendation for the creation of an Inspector-General (to be principally concerned with inspection work), rather than a Security Commissioner or Ombudsman (who would focus largely on complaints).
A thorough and rigorous inspection program can proactively identify issues of potential concern and has a substantial normative effect.
The effectiveness of the office can be assessed against several key performance indicators. The following indicators, which are both quantitative and qualitative in nature, take into account the unique role and functions of the OIGIS, and the small size of the office:
- the time taken to deal with complaints and conclude inquiries
- acceptance by ministers and agency heads of recommendations arising from inquiries
- the responses of agencies to issues raised arising from inspection activities, and
- the level of assurance the Inspector-General can provide that the agencies are conducting their activities legally, with propriety, and with regard to human rights.
At the commencement of 2004–05 four full inquiries and five preliminary inquiries remained open. These comprised one own motion inquiry involving ASIS, a ministerial referral in respect of DIO, two preliminary inquiries involving DSD, with the remainder being a mix of preliminary and full inquiries involving ASIO. Each of the above matters was finalised during 2004–05.
In addition to the nine preliminary and full inquiries which were carried over, there were 91 approaches from people with new or continuing complaints against a nominated agency. This compares with a figure of 68 such contacts during the 2003–04 reporting period.
These 91 approaches comprised:
- 33 new complaints leading to preliminary or full inquiries, five of which remained open as at 30 June 2005 (see Annex 1, Table 1). There were 23 such complaints in 2003–04. Justice RM Hope, RCASIA General Report, AGPS, Canberra, December 1984:10
- 13 approaches seeking a previous complaint be reviewed or a new inquiry be conducted (compared to 10 in 2003–04)
- 28 new complaints where an agency was specifically identified, which were dealt with administratively (see Annex 1, Table 2). There were 35 such complaints in 2003–04, and
- 17 complaints about alleged delays by ASIO in conducting immigration related security assessments that were handled administratively rather than as preliminary or full inquiries (see Annex 1, Table 3—this is a new table which has not appeared in previous annual reports).
We try to process complaints about AIC agencies which do not proceed to preliminary or full inquiry within a few days at most. Only two such cases remained open as at 30 June 2005, and these were both concluded early in the next reporting period.
In addition to the 100 cases referred to above (ie. nine carried over plus 91 new or resumed complaints), 56 other persons contacted the office with concerns which did not directly refer to or involve an AIC agency (compared to 60 in 2003–04).
Each of these contacts was handled administratively.
Many of the 56 contacts referred to above were from individuals who were clearly suffering from delusional or imaginary concerns, or raised matters which fell outside of our jurisdiction, or sought to provide tip-off information (all such information was passed to the National Security Hotline).
Although nearly 20 years of experience provides a good guide to how long an inquiry is likely to take from inception to resolution, it is not possible or desirable to apply rigid target times for completing preliminary or full inquiries, not least because significant factors which inﬂuence when an inquiry is completed do not lie within the direct control of this office. Also important are the complexity and range of issues raised and the accessibility of necessary information.
Notwithstanding this qualification, it has been my wish to reduce the time taken to complete inquiries to the maximum extent that this is within my control and still consistent with a thorough and incisive approach.
In the five years between 1 July 2000 and 30 June 2005, the average time taken for inquiries was 121 days.
The average time taken to finalise preliminary and full inquiries in 2003–04 was 170 days (ie. 24 cases completed in a total of 4,083 days between receipt and finalisation).
In 2004–05, the figure was 75 days (ie. 37 cases completed in 2,762 days).
This should not be read as an absolute guide to the efforts of the office, or suggest particular trends. The office’s capacity to minimise the time it takes to conduct its investigations will continue, as always, to depend on the complexity of the cases that come to our attention and the responsiveness of others, as well as our own effciency.
Acceptance of Recommendations
It is very rare for an agency to reject recommendations of the Inspector-General. This is because recommendations for change are not made lightly, generally involve prior consultation and hopefully reﬂect a common sense response to a particular issue or concern. In all instances where the Inspector-General made a formal recommendation in 2004–05, these were accepted by the relevant agency.
Responsiveness to Issues Raised
Following inspection visits to each of the collection agencies, it is the agreed practice for the IGIS to write to the relevant agency head on the outcome of the visit, and where appropriate offer suggestions on how procedures could be streamlined or improved. These suggestions were generally accepted and acted upon.
I am pleased to advise that the intelligence and security agencies continued to seek the views of my office on draft policies and procedures where issues of propriety and/or legality arose, or were likely to arise.
Where I have an interest or a concern about a particular activity, I do not hesitate to seek a briefing. On all occasions when I have sought such briefings or additional information my requests have been agreed to without question or qualification.
I have been encouraged by the willingness of the agencies to seek and accept input from this office and believe that it demonstrates a genuine and continuing commitment on their part to conduct their activities legally and with propriety.
Level of Assurance
Number of complaints
A review of past IGIS annual reports reveals that in the four completed reporting years prior to the terrorist attacks on the United States on 11 September 2001, the average number of new complaints leading to full and preliminary inquiries averaged around 14.25 per annum. In the four years since, this average has risen to 27.75 per year.
While this approximate doubling in the number of inquiries conducted by this office could suggest that the agencies are going awry, these figures must be considered against the differing times in which we live. The terrorist attacks which have been directed against western targets and western interests, as have occurred in the United States, Bali, Jakarta, Madrid, and most recently in London, have prompted an effective doubling in the size of the AIC, the passage of a range of anti-terrorism related security laws and the extension of greater powers to the intelligence community.
It follows logically that this significant increase in powers and resources, combined with a less stable global security environment will necessarily lead to increased investigative effort by the intelligence community within Australia, with consequential impacts on the wider community.
I have made tentative linkages with some community leaders to explain the role and functions of this office, to discuss concerns and to take on-board and seek remedies to valid criticisms. I intend to devote more time to this in 2005–06. As various community groups achieve a greater understanding of the role of this office and hopefully achieve greater comfort levels in approaching a government office on matters affecting security, it is possible that complaints to my office will rise rather than decrease.
As a result of the various inspection and inquiry activities conducted during the reporting period a small number of instances were found where the agencies acted beyond their authority. These cases are described in the chapters of this report that deal with each agency individually.
While any instance where an intelligence agency has acted without authority is a matter for concern, the instances detected were few in number and largely technical or procedural in nature. There was no evidence that the intelligence and security agencies, or individual members of the agencies, have knowingly acted, or wish to act, beyond their authority.
Based on my experience in inspecting and inquiring into those agencies which fall within the remit of the Inspector-General, I am satisfied that there is no evidence of enduring systemic deficiencies that would lead to breaches of propriety, the law, or the human rights of Australians.
The intelligence and security agencies continue to be focussed on achieving the objectives set for them by the parliament and the government, responsive to ministerial direction, aware of the limits of their authority, and concerned to conduct their business in a professional manner.