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Democratic values require intelligence agencies to be subject to independent oversight and review. Australia's intelligence agencies have significant human and technical capabilities and some extraordinary legal powers and immunities. Without strong and credible oversight there may be a loss of trust between the agencies and the public. Intelligence agencies must act, and must be seen to act, with legality, with propriety and with proper regard for human rights. It is the core work of this office to hold intelligence agencies to account and to assist Ministers and the Parliament in overseeing and reviewing the work of intelligence agencies.
This report contains an account of the past year's core work, in particular, in the performance statement in Section 2. In brief, two inquiries commenced in the previous reporting period and were finalised and two more were initiated in this reporting period. We have continued the development of our inspection program to target high risk areas, focusing on in-depth investigations rather than on the breadth of the inspection program. Inspections covered a wide range of ASIO's activities including investigative activities, analytic products, human source management, telecommunications interception warrants and special powers functions. Oversight of the activities of agencies governed by the Intelligence Services Act 2001 focused on the performance of their statutory functions and their compliance with ministerial authorisations and directions including Privacy Rules applicable to ASIS, ASD and AGO and, in this time of dual citizenship, the difficulty of determining who is an "Australian person" as defined in section 3 of the Intelligence Services Act 2001.
The office is gratified by the co-operation it received from all agencies. They responded willingly to our briefing requests, assisting us to understand the complexities and challenges of their work and the impact of compliance requirements. Increasingly there is a culture of self-reporting compliance breaches and prospectively briefing this office about proposed operations, thus enabling us to make useful comments about compliance aspects. We have frequent meetings with each agency in which we discuss issues of compliance (both legality and propriety) relevant to their current activities.
An important aspect of our work is responding to and resolving complaints from the public or from members of the intelligence agencies. This includes complaints falling within the Public Interest Disclosure scheme which is designed to encourage public officials to report suspected wrongdoing in the public sector and protect them from reprisals. In the last year the number of visa-related complaints continued to rise (by 10%) however public interest disclosures and other complaints were relatively stable.
Communication with the public, with other Government bodies and with Parliamentary members and officials is an important aspect of our work in monitoring and supporting compliance. My officers and I give presentations to the agencies both in Australia and overseas explaining the importance of compliance, our approach to oversight and how we can assist with compliance. Appearances before Senate Estimates committees and the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security, as well as presentations to the general public help us to assure the Parliament and the public that intelligence and security matters are subject to rigorous scrutiny.
We continue to develop links with international counterpart bodies, primarily, but not limited to, our five-eyes colleagues. In October 2017, I attended the annual conference of the Five-Eyes Intelligence Oversight and Review Council meeting in Canada together with the Deputy Inspector-General. In October this year, this office will be hosting the 2018 conference in Canberra.
In addition to the core work of the office significant resources have been directed to preparing for the additional oversight responsibilities flowing from the recommendations of the 2017 Independent Intelligence Review. The Government accepted that the role of the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security be extended to oversight of the intelligence functions of four additional agencies, the Australian Federal Police, the Department of Immigration and Border Protection – now the Department of Home Affairs, the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission, and the Australian Transaction Reports and Analysis Centre.
Effective oversight of the intelligence functions of the four additional agencies will require an in-depth understanding of the intelligence activities of each of these agencies and how those activities fit into their broader operations. Work has already begun on developing this understanding and the task will be ongoing. Each of these four agencies is also subject to oversight by other bodies including the Office of the Commonwealth Ombudsman, Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity, Australian Human Rights Commission and the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner. We are working closely with these bodies to avoid any duplication of effort.
The Review also recommended increasing the office resources to enable effective oversight of these additional agencies and to enhance the oversight of the additional powers given to intelligence agencies in recent years. The 2018-19 Budget allocated the funds necessary to allow the agency to sustain a full time staff of 55 and to move to new premises necessary to accommodate the additional staff. Expanding the size of the office from 17 to 55 staff by the end of 2019-20 requires significant internal resources for recruiting and training and depends on the efficient completion of high level security vetting clearances by the Australian Government Security Vetting Agency. The move to new premises involves the construction of a very high security facility as well as upgrading information and computer technology facilities. Together these two elements amount to a very substantial challenge.
While much will be done in the coming year it is clear that the future of this office and its oversight responsibilities will be shaped in response to the contemporary and future challenges recognised by the 2017 Independent Intelligence Review "as a result of transforming geopolitical economic, societal and technological changes".