Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security (Australia)

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The Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security (IGIS) is an independent statutory office holder in the Commonwealth of Australia responsible for reviewing the activities of the six agencies which collectively comprise the Australian Intelligence Community (AIC). With own motion powers in addition to considering complaints or requests from ministers, IGIS is a key element of the accountability regime for Australia’s intelligence and security agencies.

There are currently six intelligence and security agencies which form the AIC, namely:

The office was formally established by the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security Act 1986 (the IGIS Act) and commenced operating on 1 February 1987.

The Office of the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security (OIGIS) is situated within the Prime Minister’s portfolio for administrative purposes, but as an independent statutory office holder, the IGIS is not subject to general direction from the Prime Minister on how the functions under the IGIS Act should be carried out.

The role and functions of the IGIS are set out in sections 8, 9 and 9A of the IGIS Act. These sections of the IGIS Act provide a legal basis for the IGIS to conduct regular inspections of the AIC agencies and to conduct inquiries, of varying levels of formality, as the need arises. The functions of the Inspector‑General do not include inquiring into the matters to which a complaint made to the Inspector‑General by an employee of an agency relates to the extent that those matters are directly related to the promotion, termination of appointment, discipline or remuneration of the complainant or to other matters relating to the complainant’s employment.

The IGIS:

  • regularly visits agencies to check their records
  • conducts special inquiries into agency activities
  • investigates complaints about the agencies, and
  • reports the results of inquiries to Ministers, the Prime Minister and the Parliament.

The overarching purpose of these activities is to ensure that each AIC agency acts legally and with propriety, complies with ministerial guidelines and directives, and respects human rights.

The majority of the resources of the office are directed towards on-going inspection and monitoring activities, so as to identify issues or concerns before they develop into major problems which then require remedial action.

The inspection role of the IGIS is complemented by the Inspector-General’s inquiry function. In undertaking inquiries the Inspector-General has very strong investigative powers, akin to those of a Royal Commission.

Inquiries are conducted in private because they frequently involve highly classified or sensitive information, and the methods by which it is collected. The public ventilation of this material would be potentially very harmful to those persons involved in its collection, or compromise collection, neither of which would serve the national interest.

The AIC agencies are also subject to review by the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security as well as the Australian National Audit Office. Certain ASIO assessments can be appealed to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal for a merits review of a decision. Proceedings can also be instituted against AIC agencies in the Courts.

Further information about the role and functions of the IGIS can be found by reference to the IGIS Act, and is also available from the IGIS Website.

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