Committee's duty to examine reports
The Parliamentary Joint Committee on Law Enforcement (the committee) has a statutory duty to examine each annual report of the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission (ACIC), formally known as the Australian Crime Commission (ACC) under the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Law Enforcement Act 2010 (the Act).
Broadly, section 7 of the Act requires the committee to monitor and review the performance by the ACIC of its functions, examine each of its annual reports, consider any trends or changes in criminal activities, and report to Parliament on any matter or changes it thinks desirable pertaining to the function, performance, structure, powers, and procedures of the ACIC.
The duty of the committee to examine annual reports of the ACIC under the Act stems from an expectation that agencies which have been granted strong coercive powers, like the ACIC, should be subject to additional oversight.
Report under consideration
The ACIC Annual Report 2017–18 (annual report) was presented to the Minister for Home Affairs, the Hon Peter Dutton MP, on 11 October 2018. The report was presented to the House of Representatives on 18 October 2018 and tabled in the Senate on 12 November 2018.
The formation of the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission
The Australian Crime Commission Amendment (National Policing Information) Act 2016 amended the Australian Crime Commission Act 2002 (ACC Act) to incorporate CrimTrac into the ACC. The changes were implemented on 1 July 2016, and as previously stated, the ACC is now known as the ACIC.
The ACIC's purpose as Australia's national criminal intelligence agency is to make 'Australia safer through improved national ability to discover, understand and respond to current and emerging crime threats and criminal justice issues'. The ACIC connects police and law enforcement agencies to criminal intelligence, policing knowledge and information through collaborative national information systems and services.
The ACIC is a statutory authority with investigative and information delivery functions. It has a range of stakeholders across government and the private sector, both nationally and internationally. These stakeholders include state, territory, national and international law enforcement and intelligence agencies.
This is the second time the committee has examined an annual report of the ACIC, which is preceded by seven previous examinations of the ACC annual reports. The reporting period examined by the committee commenced on 1 July 2017 and ended 30 June 2018. The committee's examination also refers, as appropriate, to events outside of this period.
Australian Institute of Criminology
The Australian Institute of Criminology (AIC) is Australia's national research and knowledge centre for crime and justice. It compiles data and disseminates research and policy advice to inform national and international stakeholders.
At the end of 2015, under a Machinery of Government process, AIC employees were transferred to the ACIC, and the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the ACIC was also appointed the Director of the AIC. The AIC is located within the ACIC, with ACIC staff seconded to the AIC to continue its criminology research.
Mr Michael Phelan, CEO, ACIC and Director, AIC, explained to the committee how the change affected the administrative and operational functions of the organisations:
What we do at the ACIC is take all the administrative functions of the [AIC] institute—HR, finance, recruitment and IT. So we look after all the corporate functions. Then there's the research arm, and we are very, very careful to make sure we maintain independence from government for that agency … because they're now all staff members of the ACIC they have access to all of our information. Once upon time, if they were conducting research … they had to go out to eight different jurisdictions asking for information to come in. Now they have it at their fingertips.
On 14 September 2016, the government introduced the Australian Crime Commission Amendment (Criminology Research) Bill 2016. The Bill seeks to merge the functions of the AIC with the ACIC. The Bill lapsed with the dissolution of the 45th Parliament on 11 April 2019. Under the proposed merger, the AIC would carry its research functions over to the ACIC (including its ability to undertake commissioned research) and the AIC’s corporate functions would be merged with those of the ACIC. The position of AIC Director would be abolished.
Mr Phelan told the committee that under the current arrangements, 'the AIC is well-served by having its independent status but with the corporate services and access to information being provided by the ACIC'.
Transfer to Home Affairs
On 20 December 2017, mid-way through the reporting period of the annual report, the ACIC was transferred from the Attorney-General's portfolio to the newly-established Home Affairs portfolio. The ACIC annual report reports against the Attorney-General Portfolio Budget Statements 2017–18.
Supporting documents and key legislation
The ACIC annual report is supported by the following documents:
The Attorney-General Portfolio Budget Statements 2017–18: Budget Related Paper No. 1.2 establishes the ACIC's strategic direction, resources, budget measures and expenses, outcome, program and financial statements.
The ACIC Strategic Plan 2016–21 summarises the ACIC's approach, purpose, functions and strategic objectives.
The ACIC Corporate Plan 2017–18 to 2020–21 is the primary planning document for the Commission, prepared in accordance with the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act 2013 (PGPA Act).
Key legislation that governs the ACIC activities includes the:
ACC Act (enabling legislation);
Telecommunications (Interception and Access) Act 1979; and
Surveillance Devices Act 2004.
Executive and external scrutiny
In addition to the committee, the ACIC is oversighted by:
the Minister for Home Affairs;
the Department of Home Affairs;
the Australian Commission for Law Enforcement Integrity (ACLEI);
the Inter-Governmental Committee on the Australian Crime Commission;
the Commonwealth Ombudsman;
the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO);
judicial review, primarily through the Federal Court of Australia; and
the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committees.
Process of examination of the annual report
As part of its examination of the ACIC annual report, the committee held a public hearing at Parliament House, Canberra, on 6 December 2019. Witnesses who appeared before the committee are listed in Appendix 1.
Structure of the committee report
The committee's report comprises the following chapters:
Chapter 2 examines the ACIC's compliance with annual report requirements, agency priorities and activities, staffing profile and diversity, internal governance activities, financial performance, and notable findings from the Commonwealth Ombudsman's reports;
Chapter 3 considers the ACIC's performance against its Portfolio Budget Statements outcome and key performance criteria; and
Chapter 4 details issues raised with the ACIC in the hearing, as well as major operational information of interest to the committee over the reporting period.
The committee acknowledges the continued co-operation of the ACIC officials who assisted the committee in its examination.
Note on references
References to the Committee Hansard are to the proof Hansard.