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What is the IGIS’ role in complaints?

As part of its oversight role, IGIS investigates complaints about the activities of intelligence agencies, and the activities of the AFP and ACIC in relation to their network activity warrant functions.

When IGIS considers complaints, we review the actions of intelligence agencies to make sure they are acting legally, properly and consistently with human rights. Following a review of a complaint about an agency’s action we may make recommendations to the agency to address any issues we identified or to assist it to improve its practices or processes. 

IGIS also has responsibilities under the Commonwealth Public Interest Disclosure Act 2013 in relation to the intelligence agencies and the network activity warrant functions of the ACIC and AFP.   For further information see our page on the Public Interest Disclosure scheme.

IGIS provides details on the number of complaints and public interest disclosures made, and its performance in handling complaints in its Annual Report.

How IGIS handles complaints

Anyone can make a complaint to IGIS. Complaints about intelligence agencies can be made by members of the public, current or former employees of an intelligence agency, or sources or agents.

When someone contacts the IGIS to make a complaint, the IGIS will assess whether the matter is a complaint within our jurisdiction under the IGIS Act, or a Public Interest Disclosure under the PID Act, or both. 

IGIS has access to all records of intelligence agencies and can examine the full set of circumstances of any complaint. With access to this information, complaints and other matters can often be quickly resolved. Where there are issues requiring more investigation, the Inspector-General can conduct a formal inquiry into the complaint.

Where necessary, the IGIS can conduct preliminary inquiries of intelligence agencies to determine whether the Inspector‑General has jurisdiction to look into a particular complaint under the IGIS Act or, where the IGIS does have jurisdiction, whether the Inspector-General should conduct an inquiry into the complaint. 

Details about individual complaints and their resolution are not made public. However, complainants are always provided with as much information about the outcome as possible, with regard to the applicable security restrictions.

Common questions about making a complaint

You can make a complaint to the IGIS about the actions of an Australian intelligence agency within the Inspector-General’s jurisdiction, or about the actions of the ACIC or AFP in relation to their network activity warrant functions.

You might decide to complain to IGIS if you:

  • think you have been unfairly affected by the actions or decision of an intelligence agency
  • consider that an Australian intelligence agency has acted unlawfully, improperly or in a way that is not consistent with human rights
  • are a current or former employee of an intelligence agency and you have followed all internal processes to try to resolve your complaint. 

When handling a complaint about an agency’s decision, IGIS considers the way the decision was made and the processes that were followed. Where IGIS considers that there are issues as to the legality or propriety of the process, it may make recommendations to the agency on how the decision or process could be improved. However, it is important to note that IGIS cannot overturn a decision.

Sometimes people contact us to make a complaint about matters that are outside our jurisdiction or powers. In these cases, we will tell you if we cannot help and will try to refer you to the right complaint-handling body to help you.  

If you are a current or former employee of an intelligence agency and wish to complain about your employment, where possible, you should first contact your employer for information about the grievance procedures that apply to your situation. In some cases, IGIS may be limited in the action it can take on your complaint if you have not attempted to resolve your concerns internally. 

When contacting the IGIS, you should be conscious about the security requirements of the information you wish to provide. IGIS can provide advice to potential complainants about the best way to securely share information with the IGIS. 

For further details about sharing information securely with the IGIS, including classified information, please see the I'm bound by secrecy provisions - what information can I provide to IGIS? question below.

If you make a complaint, we will consider your issues carefully, and decide what action to take. We will advise you of what happens, as far as secrecy provisions allow.

IGIS will not confirm or deny whether you or anyone else is of interest to any intelligence agency, and will not tell you whether or not you or anyone else is subject to surveillance by ASIO. 

IGIS can look at the operational activities of Australian intelligence agencies, including surveillance by ASIO, to assess whether the activities are legal and proper. If IGIS has concerns about the legality or propriety of an agency's activities, then these may be investigated further.

Secrecy undertakings and obligations do not prevent you from disclosing information to IGIS. 

All IGIS officers hold an Australian security clearance and can receive sensitive and classified information. Officers are required to comply with the strict secrecy provisions of the IGIS Act. 

However, if you wish to provide classified information to IGIS, you should contact the office of IGIS before you do, so we can make arrangements for you to share the information in a secure manner. 

Note: There are many restrictions that apply to disclosure of information to recipients other than IGIS. Unless a secrecy undertaking specifically states a time frame, undertakings of this kind ordinarily have an enduring effect (that is, they are binding for life). Even if a secrecy undertaking specifies a time limit, you may also be bound by legal restrictions about conveying official information without authority (Crimes Act 1914), revealing the identity of ASIO or ASIS agency staff, or details of operational activities (under the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation Act 1979 and the Intelligence Services Act 2001).

You can make an anonymous complaint to IGIS however this may limit our ability to investigate your matter fully. Alternatively, you can provide your identity to IGIS and request that it not be disclosed to the relevant agency. 

In any case we ask that you provide some form of contact details, such as an email address. That way, we can contact you for more information where needed and provide you updates about how your complaint is being handled.

If you do not provide IGIS a means of contacting you, IGIS will not be able to seek further information from you which may limit our ability to take action on your complaint, and we will not be able to notify you of the outcome. 

You will not be targeted by ASIO or another intelligence agency only because you have made a complaint to IGIS. People who provide information voluntarily to the IGIS for the purposes of making a complaint are not liable for a penalty or prosecution for providing information or documents to the IGIS.

IGIS handles complaints confidentially as far as practicable. IGIS does not make details about individual complaints public. In some circumstances, IGIS can provide a degree of protection to you by not revealing the source of a complaint to the agency we are investigating. However, this may limit our ability to take action on your complaint. 

The IGIS may also share your details with another agency if it is necessary to preserve the well-being or safety of a person.

If your security clearance was denied and you wish to appeal the decision, first contact the agency that sponsored your application and request information about the internal review options. You may also wish to seek independent legal advice about your review or appeal options. 

IGIS does not assess the merits of security clearance assessment and cannot overturn a decision. However, IGIS may be able to examine procedural aspects of security assessments made by an intelligence agency. Where the IGIS considers that there has been a processing error, an assessment lacks balance or objectivity, or there are questions as to the legality or propriety of the process, the IGIS may ask the agency to conduct a fresh assessment.

If you believe there has been an error of this nature or the process has not been objective or fair, you may make a complaint to IGIS.

If your employer is suspending or withdrawing your security clearance, then you should have been provided written notice of this and details of any appeals process. If you have not received information about any appeals process available to you, you should first request this from your employer.

IGIS does not review the merits of decisions relating to security clearances or employment grievances. However, where the employer is an intelligence agency, in some circumstances IGIS may be able to review the legality and propriety of the decision-making and procedure to ensure the process was fair and objective.