John Faulkner is one of Australia’s most respected Senators – on either side of politics. He is now making a compelling case for more enhanced oversight of Australia’s rapidly growing intelligence establishment, in his essay published in the Financial Review: Surveillance, intelligence and accountability: an Australian story.
Since 2001 (September 11) there have been 62 new pieces of anti-terror legislation passed and enacted in Australia. The budget for the main intelligence agencies (ASIO, ASIS and ONA) has seen a massive six-fold increase from $115 million in 1999-2000 to $735 million in 2012-2013.
Faulkner rightly reminds us how, prior to reviews initiated by Labor governments in the 1970s and 1980, the intelligence agencies were very much the political instruments of conservative (LNP coalition) governments. Those of us with long enough memories can only concur how in the 1960s during Vietnam and conscription, for example, the intelligence agencies and police special branches specifically targeted dissenters on the left side of politics.
With their recent massive growth in resources and powers, these agencies need effective and independent parliamentary oversight. Faulkner summarizes some of his proposals:
Achieving best practice oversight requires new thinking, additional measures, improved mechanisms and better resourcing. To address current shortcomings, this paper proposes a parliamentary committee with more flexible membership, greater powers and resources, the capacity to generate its own inquiries, better co-ordination with the IGIS, oversight responsibility for the counter-terrorism elements of the Australian Federal Police and mandatory sunset clauses and review for controversial legislation.
Faulker concludes by saying:
The time has also come for a thorough review of the current arrangements for oversight of Australian intelligence agencies.
Not only has oversight of the intelligence agencies failed to keep pace with their burgeoning role and powers, it has been decades since the effectiveness and adequacy of their oversight framework have been critically examined.
It is time to satisfy the Australian community, the Parliament, and the agencies themselves that we have got this right.
Enhanced power requires enhanced accountability. The greater the potential for that power to infringe on individual liberties, the greater the need for accountability in the exercise of that power.
We certainly need to be vigilant to protect our community from a range of terrorist threats. However, in doing so we must not erode the very democratic freedoms we are seeking to protect.
Let’s support John Faulkner and tell our political representatives that we want proper, independent oversight of the activities of the intelligence agencies.