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RICHARDSON AND GOVERNMENT WRONG ON LACK OF PARLIAMENTARY OVERSIGHT OF INTELLIGENCE OPERATIONS

4 December 2020

Independent Senator Rex Patrick condemned the Richardson review of national security legislation and the Coalition Government’s response for rejecting an extension of Parliamentary scrutiny to cover Australian intelligence agency operations.  

“Australia remains the only ‘Five-eyes’ country to deny Parliament a role in scrutiny over and ensuring Government accountability for national intelligence operations,” Senator Patrick said.

“The Richardson review is unquestionably a missed opportunity to bring Australian Parliamentary scrutiny of intelligence into line with our allies and up to an appropriate standard of democratic accountability. But this was an opportunity the Government was determined to miss.”

“As things are, the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence Services (PJCIS) remains explicitly excluded from any inquiries and reviews of what Australia’s spies actually do. The Government has made it clear that’s how they like it.” 

“There has never been much doubt that Dennis Richardson, a very long-serving national security bureaucrat, had no interest in enhancing Parliamentary scrutiny,” Senator Patrick said. “That’s one of the reasons the Government chose him and not an eminent legal figure to carry out the review. The fix was in from the very beginning.” 

“Mr Richardson has recommended against expanding the remit of the PJCIS to include direct oversight of operational activities, whether past or current. The Government has unsurprisingly agreed with that recommendation.”

“Mr Richardson did recommend a very limited oversight mechanism that would empower the PJCIS to request that the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security conduct an inquiry into the legality and propriety of particular operational activities, and report to the Joint Committee. However, the Government has emphatically rejected even this modest proposal and reaffirmed the existing prohibition on the PJCIS having access to operationally sensitive information.”

“I have been campaigning over the past three years for an extension of Parliamentary scrutiny over intelligence operations. The Australian intelligence community has expanded greatly over the past two decades and now spends billions of dollars annually and employs many thousands of personnel.”

“Intelligence operations can have highly significant diplomatic, military and human rights impacts. Within the bounds of appropriate security and secrecy, the Parliament should be able to scrutinise intelligence operations, the success or failure of which may be of vital importance to our nation.”

“I have repeatedly introduced legislation and amendments to achieve this along similar lines to the operation of the Canada’s National Security and Intelligence Committee of Parliamentarians.”

"Regrettably my proposal has been repeatedly rejected by both the Government and the Opposition, even though Labor has expressed in-principle support. They're too timid to take a stand for scrutiny and accountability."  

“Meanwhile both the Coalition and Labor have repeatedly voted for massive expansions of the mandate and power of Australia’s intelligence agencies. In doing so they have progressively circumscribed the privacy and civil liberties of Australian citizens.”  

"The Government’s responses to the Richardson Report and other legislation currently before the Parliament indicates they are determined to further expand the remit of the surveillance state.”

“In the absence of a commitment to real Parliamentary scrutiny and oversight over intelligence operations, these new measures are unlikely to receive my support.”