Shared psychologists and complaints watchdog needed for security agencies

By Jackson Graham

Thursday November 25, 2021

ASIO building
ASIO headquarters, Canberra. (AAP Image/Lukas Coch)

Federal resources should pool together so Australia’s security agencies can share mental health support and a new service for complaints and resolutions, a parliamentary committee says. 

The Parliament’s Intelligence and Security Committee tabled a report on Thursday reviewing six intelligence agencies, and found each being managed and spending appropriately.

But the agencies flagged there was a strong need for psychological support for staff, and these services played a critical role in keeping national security and intelligence operating. 

The committee heard that psychologists with required security clearances were a “rare commodity”, and competing salary offers could limit practitioners among agencies. 

“The committee acknowledges the challenges that specialist support roles play in agencies with high pressure and sensitive work that may test the mental health of employees,” the report said. 

“Creating a shared resource would not only allow for the attraction of the best talent to a central service, but also allow for agencies to meet demand that their own internal services might not be able to meet during times of increased pressure.” 

A further recommendation was that an ASIO and ASIS ombud service be expanded to the remaining agencies involved in national intelligence. 

“The committee believes that there is merit in replicating the existing service model that ASIS and ASIO have in place for the [national intelligence community] as a whole,” the report said. 

This could be done, it recommends, by either creating a “specialist service capability” within the commonwealth ombud, or creating a “national intelligence community ombud” for staff support and advice, under the responsibility of the inspector-general of intelligence and security. 

The report also found a small number of individuals were having a disproportionate impact on the agencies by lodging persistent requests for historical ‘open access’ material under the Archives Act. 

The committee’s solution is to propose a way for agencies to declare individuals who lodge persistent and repeated applications to be declared “vexatious” under the act, in a mechanism it said would mirror levers available in the FOI Act. 

Alternately, if this is not supported by government … additional resourcing [should] be provided to address ongoing and persistent applications and appeals,” the report said.


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