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The role of the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security

The Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security (IGIS) is an independent statutory office established by the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security Act 1986 (IGIS Act) which commenced on 1 February 1987. Dr Vivienne Thom was appointed as Inspector-General for a term of five years from 19 July 2010 and held the office throughout the reporting period. Shortly after the end of the reporting period the Hon Margaret Stone was appointed for a five year term from 24 August 2015.

The Office of the IGIS (OIGIS) is situated within the Prime Minister's portfolio but is not part of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet. It has separate appropriation and staffing. As an independent statutory office holder, the IGIS is not subject to general direction from the Prime Minister, or other ministers, on how responsibilities under the IGIS Act should be carried out.

The role of the IGIS is set out in the IGIS Act and is, broadly, to assist ministers in overseeing and reviewing the legality and propriety of Australian intelligence agencies' activities, to assist ministers in ensuring that these activities are consistent with human rights, and to assist the Government in assuring the Parliament and the public that intelligence and security matters relating to Commonwealth agencies are open to scrutiny.

Regular inspections of the intelligence agencies are designed to identify issues, including with agencies' governance and control frameworks, before there is a requirement for major remedial action.

IGIS's inspection role is complemented by an inquiry function. In undertaking inquiries the IGIS has strong investigative powers, akin to those of a royal commission, including the power to compel persons to answer questions and produce documents, to take sworn evidence, and to enter agency premises.

The IGIS can investigate complaints, including complaints by members of the public or staff of an intelligence agency, about an action taken by an intelligence agency.

The IGIS also has a role under the Archives Act 1983 and the Freedom of Information Act 1982 (FOI Act) to provide expert evidence to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) and the Information Commissioner in relation to national security, defence, international relations and confidential foreign government communications exemptions.

The role and functions of the IGIS are an important part of the overall accountability framework applied to the intelligence agencies. The focus of the IGIS on intelligence agencies' operational activities complements the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security (PJCIS) and Australian National Audit Office oversight of other aspects of governance in those agencies.