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Executive Oversight of Intelligence Agencies in Australia

In Goldman, ZK and Rascoff, SJ (eds), Global Intelligence Oversight: Governing Security in the Twenty‐First Century (2016)

UNSW Law Research Paper No. 2016-35

33 Pages Posted: 6 Jul 2016  

Keiran Hardy

University of New South Wales (UNSW) - Faculty of Law

George Williams

University of New South Wales (UNSW) - Faculty of Law

Date Written: June 7, 2016

Abstract

When it comes to government accountability, intelligence agencies present a special case. Ordinarily, government departments are subject to robust scrutiny from a variety of sources. The classification of national security information and exemptions from freedom of information (FOI) legislation mean that media and public scrutiny of intelligence agencies can be superficial at best. The fact that public, judicial, and parliamentary scrutiny of Australia’s intelligence agencies is severely constrained means that the executive branch takes on a particularly important role in holding these agencies to account. The key conceptual and practical problem with executive oversight of intelligence agencies is that the relevant accountability mechanisms — including statutory officeholders, royal commissions, and administrative tribunals — are part of the same arm of government to which the intelligence agencies belong. Executive oversight mechanisms therefore play an important but also potentially problematic role in keeping intelligence agencies accountable. Given this, the aim of this chapter is to assess whether executive oversight of the Australian intelligence agencies is robust, stringent, and effective. It considers whether there are any gaps or vulnerabilities in this system of executive accountability, and whether stronger powers or other improvements are needed to further counterbalance the limited public, judicial, and parliamentary scrutiny of intelligence agencies.

Keywords: accountability, national security, FOI, Australia, intelligence agencies, executive oversight

Suggested Citation

Hardy, Keiran and Williams, George, Executive Oversight of Intelligence Agencies in Australia (June 7, 2016). In Goldman, ZK and Rascoff, SJ (eds), Global Intelligence Oversight: Governing Security in the Twenty‐First Century (2016); UNSW Law Research Paper No. 2016-35. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2804835

Keiran Hardy

University of New South Wales (UNSW) - Faculty of Law ( email )

Kensington, New South Wales 2052
Australia

George Williams (Contact Author)

University of New South Wales (UNSW) - Faculty of Law ( email )

Kensington, New South Wales 2052
Australia

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