The federal government should appoint a new intelligence minister and give the parliamentary body that oversees Australia’s security agencies more resources, according to a new policy paper.
Dr William Stoltz, from the ANU National Security College, said the parliamentary oversight of national security agencies had not kept up with the investment and new powers national security and intelligence agencies had received.
“In recent months, a volley of significant law reforms have been put to parliament,” Stoltz said in a statement.
The legislative changes include new powers for ASIO to spy on foreign agents, new electronic surveillance powers for the AFP and the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission, and streamlined authorisations for agencies to exchange data with the United States.
Reforms since 2017 have grown Australia’s security and intelligence to include about 16 agencies and departments, and a raft of other organisations.
“The result is that the task of governing these agencies has become one of the most complicated commonwealth responsibilities,” Stoltz said.
In a policy paper Stoltz authored he argues that an assistant or junior minister should hold a new leadership role beneath the prime minister, rather than a public servant.
The paper highlights the role should be a minister rather than a public servant because they would have effective standing to access the wide number of portfolios involved in Australia’s intelligence and security.
“A minister for intelligence as an elected official would be able to engage with their parliamentary party room, the opposition, cross bench, and the public to advocate reforms and changes in a way a public servant simply could not,” Stoltz writes.
Should Australia have a minority government after the next election, Stoltz said negotiations with crossbenchers could prove decisive in passing security laws.
He also recommends strengthening the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security by having at least one security-cleared adviser allocated to the office of committee members.
“Given existing resources we have arguably reached the limit to which this committee can reasonably consider such a varied agenda of work whilst still effectively holding agencies and their leadership to account,” Stoltz said in the report.
Many parliamentarians on the PJCIS rely on a small staffing allocation to manage multiple committee roles and electorate matters, but no staff are given high-level clearances to support them on the intelligence and security committee, Stoltz observes.
“Addressing this would be an easy way to bolster support for PJCIS members,” he says.
In a move Stoltz saw would ensure parliamentarians received more information from agencies, he also recommended the government implement a 2017 review recommendation to give the committee power to commission the inspector general of intelligence and security to undertake special reviews and investigations.