My term as Inspector-General commenced in August 2015. I would like to acknowledge the work of my predecessor, Dr Vivienne Thom, and to congratulate her well deserved award as a Member of the Order of Australia. Dr Thom carried out her work as Inspector-General with integrity and professionalism, and I have her to thank for the efficiently run office and highly committed staff that I have inherited. I look forward to continuing to build on these foundations over the years ahead.
After significant legislative change during the previous reporting period, 2015–16 has been a time of consolidation in our inspection work. The national security legislative reforms enacted over the past two years substantially increased the powers of the intelligence agencies and our oversight arrangements. The changes required a revision of our work programme and existing inspection methodology to focus on the use of the new powers and higher risk activities.
The office continued to perform strongly during the reporting period, with new inspections being developed and carried out in addition to a comprehensive regime of existing inspections being maintained. We also continued to handle a large number of complaints, and one inquiry was finalised during the early part of the reporting period. I did not consider that any new matters arising from inspections or complaints to the office warranted investigation by means of a formal inquiry, and there were no ministerial references for inquiry.
Since my appointment, I expanded the outreach activities of the office. In particular, this has involved an increasing emphasis on engagement with 'thought leaders' in the Australian community, including through presentations at various forums and meetings with the judiciary and academics. My aim is to raise awareness of the role of the Inspector-General and to enhance public confidence in the extensive and powerful oversight of this office.
In the previous reporting period, the Government announced that the office would be exempt from the efficiency dividend from 2015–16. This exemption and additional funding received in recent years allowed for the recruitment of additional staff to help the office continue its comprehensive and effective oversight programme. Despite a range of recruitment and selection processes during the reporting period, staff turnover and lengthy security clearance processes before new staff can be appointed have challenged our attempts to increase staffing levels. On the positive side, we do now have a dedicated corporate officer to undertake tasks such as finance and human resource management, and this has relieved investigative staff of these duties. We also participated with other agencies in a short-term exchange of secondees which provided valuable experience for all those involved.
While the activities of the office will continue to be challenged by resource and recruitment constraints, in the year ahead we will maintain an approach to inspections that gives priority to the highest risk activities. I am also considering possible inquiries for the coming year. Supplementing our core work, I intend to continue to expand our outreach activities and engage with our stakeholders on matters of mutual interest.