AUST-INTEL Powers: Parliamentary Oversight of Intelligence Agencies

by Bill Browne

In Australia, trust in Parliament and government is low and generally declining, and dissatisfaction with government and democracy is rising – apart from a COVID-19 related boost in public trust in government over the last few months. Events over the past 12 months – including police raids on journalists and the secret prosecution of intelligence whistleblower ‘Witness K’ and his lawyer Bernard Collaery – have also provoked concern about how our national security institutions are operating.

In this context of low trust and serious concern, expanded accountability and oversight measures must be considered – both general measures, like a National Integrity Commission to investigate corrupt conduct, and specific ones focused on the intelligence community. By some important measures, Australia lags behind other like countries in its parliamentary oversight of intelligence agencies.

In each of the Five Eyes countries (Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the UK and the USA; the alliance of English-speaking countries that share intelligence), parliamentarians sit on committees that have oversight over intelligence and security agencies.

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