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Shaping the Intelligence Community

Since World War II, the demands on the Australian intelligence community have evolved markedly. This has precipitated a number of reviews of the community as a whole. These have included two Hope Royal Commissions (1974-77 and 1984), the 2004 Flood Inquiry, the 2011 Independent Review of the Intelligence Community and the 2017 Independent Intelligence Review.  


First Hope Royal Commission on Intelligence and Security (1974-1977)  

In his first Royal Commission, Justice Hope articulated a number of key principles that still underpin the intelligence community today. In particular, Justice Hope recommended that:  

  • Australia should have its own independent and robust intelligence assessment and collection capabilities;
  • Intelligence assessment should be separate from policy formulation, and intelligence collection should be separate from intelligence assessment;
  • HUMINT and SIGINT capabilities should reside in different agencies;
  • That an independent intelligence assessment agency — later to become known as ONA — should be established and enjoy statutory independence. In addition to assessing international developments of major importance to Australia, ONA should also review Australia's foreign intelligence priorities and activities;
  • ASIO's collection and assessment of security intelligence should be separate from law enforcement;
  • There should be appropriate Ministerial oversight of the intelligence community; and
  • All intelligence activities should be conducted in accordance with Australian law.

Royal Commission on Australia’s Security and Intelligence Agencies (the ‘second Hope Royal Commission’) — 1984

In 1983, Prime Minister Hawke commissioned a new inquiry into the operations, conduct, performance, control and accountability of the Australian intelligence agencies. This second Hope Royal Commission would ensure that the recommendations of the first Hope Royal Commission of 1974‒77 had been implemented and were meeting the task of providing Australia with the security apparatus it needed. 

The review supported the need for Australia’s intelligence agencies, justified investment in them, and acknowledged the benefits and limitations of the existing procedures and control measures. Significantly, the second Hope Royal Commission resulted in stronger measures to enhance the AIC's transparency and accountability. This included the establishment of the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security in 1987, and the formation of the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security.    

Inquiry into the Australian Intelligence Agencies (The Flood Inquiry) — 2004

The next important review of ONA, DIO, ASIS, ASD and AGO was completed in 2004. The Flood Inquiry was commissioned to look broadly at these intelligence agencies, in line with a recommendation from an earlier Parliamentary Joint Committee on ASIO, ASIS and DSD (PJCAAD) inquiry into intelligence on Iraq's weapons of mass destruction. In particular, the Flood Inquiry focused on:  

  • The effectiveness of oversight and accountability mechanisms;
  • The suitability of the division of effort among the agencies (and communication between them);
  • The maintenance of contestability in intelligence assessments provided to government; and
  • The adequacy of resourcing of intelligence agencies (in particular, ONA). 

Flood's report did not recommend any significant changes to the AIC's structure, as established following the two Hope Royal Commissions. It did, however, present wide-ranging recommendations to improve the AIC's accountability and management. For ONA, this resulted in legislative changes that strengthened its coordination and evaluation responsibilities. Additionally, the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet was given new responsibilities to advise government on the AIC's performance, priorities and resources, and to conduct an annual review of ONA's performance.

The Flood inquiry also recommended that Australia's intelligence agencies undergo external review every five to seven years.

2011 Independent Review of the Intelligence Community

The 2011 Independent Review of the Intelligence Community was the next comprehensive review of the AIC after the Flood Inquiry. The review found that Australia's intelligence agencies were performing well following a period of significant growth (in response to the security challenges of the 9/11 decade).
Its other findings included:·

  • The AIC played a vital role in keeping Australians safe and protecting Australia's security interests;
  • The investment in the intelligence community over the past decade had resulted in more capability and increased performance; and
  • The AIC's basic structure remained appropriate, including the operational mandate of agencies.

Its recommendations focused on initiatives to maintain the performance of the community in a period of resource constraints, covering areas such as priority setting and mission integration; performance evaluation; support for innovation; and strategies for managing intelligence collection in the age of abundant information.