Government response to Comprehensive Review into Intelligence Legislation

The Morrison Government today released the unclassified version of the Comprehensive Review of the Legal Framework of the National Intelligence Community (Richardson Review), along with the Government’s response to the review.

The review, undertaken by Mr Dennis Richardson AC, is the most substantial review into the legislation governing Australia’s intelligence community since the Hope Royal Commissions in the 1970s and 80s.

Mr Richardson found that the key principles underpinning Australia’s intelligence and security legislation are sound and enduring.

The Government has continuously strengthened the laws that govern the National Intelligence Community to deal with emerging threats, changes in technology and agencies’ operating environments.

Since the 9/11 terrorist attacks in 2001, the Australian Parliament has passed more than 124 Acts amending the National Intelligence Community’s legislative framework.

The Richardson Review affirms that this framework has been well-maintained and is largely fit for purpose and that the National Intelligence Community is well-adapted to meeting current and future challenges.

“The Review shows not only do our agencies work tirelessly to keep Australia safe, they are just as focused on making sure they do so within the limits of the law,” the Attorney-General said.

“The Government will ensure that these agencies continue to have the powers necessary to keep Australians safe against new and emerging threats. They will be backed by the oversight necessary to maintain the trust and confidence of all Australians.

“The Government will take forward a number of targeted reforms based on the Richardson Review and has agreed in full, part or principle to 186 of the 190 unclassified recommendations.

“The Government’s response to the Richardson Review lays out a pathway for the evolution, rather than revolution, of Australia’s intelligence and security agencies.”

The Attorney-General said the centrepiece of those reforms would be the creation of a modernised legislative framework to govern electronic surveillance activities.

“The use of these powers is subject to strict safeguards, independent oversight and a range of transparency and accountability mechanisms. However, the review found that the existing framework has become unnecessarily complex, and in many ways has been outpaced by technology, and requires major reform,” the Attorney-General said.

The new framework will replace the parts of a number of existing acts that govern electronic surveillance powers, including the Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act, the Surveillance Devices Act and the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation Act. Consultation with industry and the public on this new framework will be led by the Department of Home Affairs.

“The Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act was developed in 1979. It has lasted remarkably well, but is no longer fit for purpose in the digital world of the internet, smartphones and end-to-end encryption,” the Attorney-General said.

“This will be one of the biggest national security legislative projects in recent history – requiring the repeal and rewriting of nearly 1,000 pages of laws.”

The Government will also take forward a range of other notable recommendations, including:

  • a new framework for ASIO’s offshore activities in order to strengthen ministerial accountability;
  • streamlining the emergency warrant framework;
  • ensuring that oversight is better embedded into intelligence legislation when it is created, and
  • establishing an independent panel to provide technical expertise and assistance to the Inspector General of Intelligence and Security.

The Government worked with Mr Richardson to ensure that the majority of his report could be released publicly. Together, the public release of the over 1,300 page declassified report and the 52 page Government response will better enable informed debate on the role of our intelligence community and the Government’s forthcoming reform agenda. Mr Richardson’s report should give the Australian public great confidence in our National Intelligence Community.

The unclassified report and Government response is on the Attorney-General’s website or at the below links.

The Government thanked Mr Richardson for his thorough and considered work on this important review, and acknowledges the work and support of the review Secretariat staff.

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