The Parliamentary Joint Committee on ASIO - 1988 to 2001
The Committee was first appointed in August 1988, during the 35th Parliament, as the Parliamentary Joint Committee on the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (the ASIO Committee).
The ASIO Committee had its legislative basis in the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation Act 1979, which was amended in December 1986 following the then Government's response to the Royal Commission on Australia's Security and Intelligence Agencies led by Justice Robert Hope. Although Justice Hope had recommended against the establishment of such a parliamentary oversight Committee–instead recommending the appointment of an Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security (IGIS) and existing internal scrutiny measures within the Government–the Government argued that:
...further improvement [to existing oversight and accountability measures] can be obtained by directly involving the Parliament–on both sides and in both Houses–in imposing the discipline of an external scrutiny of the intelligence and security agencies quite independent of the Executive. While the Government has been conscious also of the need to carefully protect intelligence and security information, it believes that appropriate arrangements can be made to ensure that a small but informed parliamentary committee would operate effectively in the public interest.
From its establishment up until the passage of the Intelligence Services Act 2001, the ASIO Committee was dependent on the Minister or a House of the Parliament referring particular matters to it for inquiry. In the 35th Parliament, the ASIO Committee commenced, but did not complete, an inquiry into the effect on ASIO of the access provisions of the Archives Act.
The second ASIO Committee was appointed in the 36th Parliament and completed the inquiry into the operation of the access provisions of the Archives Act with the tabling of a report in April 1992. The Committee also commenced, but did not complete, an inquiry into ASIO's security assessment procedures.
In the 37th Parliament, the Committee completed the inquiry into ASIO's security assessment procedures with the tabling of a report in March 1994. The Committee also began an inquiry into cost recovery practices and ASIO. The inquiry lapsed upon the dissolution of the 37th Parliament.
When the ASIO Committee was reconstituted in the 38th Parliament it resolved to take a new approach to its activities. Instead of conducting inquiries, the Committee developed further the practice adopted in earlier Parliaments of seeking regular, informal briefings from the Director-General of ASIO and the IGIS. During the 38th Parliament the Committee received briefings on various subjects, including security precautions and counter-terrorism arrangements being planned in preparation for the Sydney 2000 Olympics; ASIO's role in monitoring the national security implications of the crisis in the Persian Gulf; corporate restructuring in ASIO; ASIO's data collection and retention safeguards, and procedures for accessing archived ASIO material; and proposed amendments to the ASIO Act.
In the 39th Parliament, the ASIO Committee conducted a review of the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation Legislation Amendment Bill 1999, followed by an inquiry into the nature, scope and appropriateness of ASIO's public reporting activities. The members of the ASIO Committee in the 39th Parliament also served on the Joint Select Committee on the Intelligence Services that reviewed the Intelligence Services Bill 2001, which received Royal Assent on 1 October 2001.