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Our Key Activities

To provide independent assurance to ministers, the parliament and the public that the intelligence agencies under IGIS’s jurisdiction are acting with legality, propriety and consistency with human rights, we undertake the following activities.

Conducting inquiries is a core function and is the most formal activity we undertake to review the operations of intelligence agencies. An inquiry may be initiated by the Inspector-General of their own motion (which may in some cases be in response to a complaint or a public interest disclosure [PID]) or at the request of the Attorney-General, the relevant responsible minister or the Prime Minister. 

A preliminary inquiry may be initiated by the Inspector-General into the action of an intelligence agency, either in connection with a complaint, a PID, or of the Inspector-General’s own motion. This process provides the means for the Inspector-General to make preliminary investigations and to determine whether further inquiry into the action is necessary. 

An inquiry or preliminary inquiry can look proactively at an issue or area of agency activity that may pose a significant risk, or reactively based on a previous inspection, compliance incident or complaint.

The Inspector-General has a range of strong coercive inquiry powers, similar to those of a Royal Commission, and certain immunities and protections for those giving evidence are provided under the IGIS Act. These include powers to:

  • compel the production of information and documents,
  • enter premises occupied or used by a Commonwealth agency,
  • issue notices to persons to attend before the IGIS to answer questions relevant to the inquiry, and
  • administer an oath or affirmation when taking such evidence.

Inquiries are generally conducted in private to provide full examination of all classified or sensitive information. At the end of an inquiry, IGIS provides a report with findings and recommendations to the responsible minister. 

Information on completed inquiries and preliminary inquiries are included in the IGIS annual report.

Conducting regular, proactive, and independent inspections of the legality, propriety and human rights implications of intelligence agency activities and compliance incidents is a key part of our approach to oversight. We priorities these inspections based on risk. We consider many factors when assessing this risk, including the impact on Australian persons or on Australia’s domestic and foreign relationships, and whether similar activity has raised previous concerns. In practice, this means that focus is often on an agency’s most intrusive and sensitive activities. 

Inspections enable IGIS to monitor activities of intelligence agencies and to identify concerns before they develop into systemic problems that could require major remedial action. Inspections may consider a sample of operations or may be targeted at a particular issue. In conducting any inspection, IGIS has full access to information held by Australian intelligence agencies.

We develop a comprehensive yearly program of inspections across intelligence agencies, which cover activities such as:

  • monitoring agency compliance with relevant legislation,
  • reviewing documents for warrants,
  • reviewing the basis for agency investigative activities,
  • sampling agency access to, and use of sensitive data,
  • reviewing ministerial authorisations,
  • reviewing the application of privacy rules and guidelines (which concern the retention and passage of information about Australian persons),
  • reviewing operational files, and
  • reviewing internal agency guidelines, training and approval processes for certain activities.

Our inspections are carried out by inspection teams, each specialising in the oversight of one or more of the intelligence agencies. To support these inspections, the intelligence agencies self-report instances of potential non-compliance and provide us with advice of the context in which the activities were conducted. Reports of key inspections and other activities are provided to each responsible minister.

We receive contacts from a range of people – including current or former staff of the intelligence agencies, people who have had dealings with the agencies, and others. These contacts are mostly initiated through our website or through a telephone call. Once a contact is assessed as a complaint within our jurisdiction, it is examined in accordance with set procedures. As IGIS has access to all records of intelligence agencies, we can examine the full set of circumstances of any complaint. A complaint may be resolved informally, be subject to a preliminary inquiry or may proceed to an inquiry.

In the case of conduct that relates to an intelligence agency, certain IGIS officers are authorised internal recipients for the purposes of the Public Interest Disclosure Act 2013 (PID Act). These officers, and the Inspector-General, are able to receive disclosures of information concerning such conduct, and then determine if it is appropriate either to allocate the handling of the disclosure to one or more of the agencies or for the Inspector-General to handle the investigation of conduct.

Details about individual complaints or PIDs and their resolution are not made public. However, the complainant is always provided with as much information about the outcome as possible, within security restrictions.

Details on the number and themes of complaints and PIDs we received in the past financial year are available in our annual report.

For further information about making a complaint or PID, please see our Complaints and PIDs page.

An important part of the role of the IGIS is to assist the Government in assuring the parliament and, to the extent possible, the public that there is effective oversight and scrutiny of the intelligence agencies. Our regular program of inspections and inquiries into the activities and procedures of intelligence agencies, as well as the management of complaints and PIDs, contribute to providing this assurance.

A crucial element of assurance is communicating information about our role and our work to ministers, the parliament, and the public. We accomplish this through a series of complementary activities; these include submissions to parliamentary inquiries and other reviews of national security matters, and providing comments on matters relating to oversight and accountability in draft legislation. As far as possible, submissions prepared by IGIS are not classified and are made public, via the Australian Parliament House website [link]. We do not comment on policy, but consider the operation of intelligence and security agencies and the appropriate oversight and accountability requirements.

We also deliver presentations and participate in engagements with the public and experts across the national security community, the legal profession, oversight bodies, and academia, in Australia and internationally. We make public as much information as possible, including through the production of an annual report that includes – with consideration for protective security requirements – details of inspection, inquiry, complaint and PID activities and findings for each agency.

The Office’s executive also regularly meets with each agency’s senior officers and provides regular updates to the agencies’ ministers on the key issues for each agency and the Office.