What has the committee been doing
Parliamentary Joint Committee on Law Enforcement
The Parliamentary Joint Committee on Law Enforcement (PJCLE) is a committee with members from both Houses of Parliament, tasked with overseeing the Australian Criminal Intelligence Commission (ACIC) and the Australian Federal Police (AFP).
Together with other oversight processes, including Senate Estimates, the Commonwealth Ombudsman and the Auditor-General, the committee monitors the performance of the ACIC and AFP, and reports its findings to Parliament.
In addition, the committee can also initiate inquiries into law enforcement issues relating to the work of the ACIC and AFP.
History of the committee
The committee began life as the Parliamentary Joint Committee on the National Crime Authority (NCA) in 1984. It was established to:
Monitor and review the performance by the NCA of its functions and to report to both Houses of Parliament upon any matter appertaining to the Authority or any change which the Committee thinks desirable to the functions, structure, powers and procedures of the Authority.
In addition, it had a duty to examine the NCA's annual report, examine trends and changes in criminal activities, practices and methods and inquire into issues referred to it by the Parliament. These duties have largely remained unchanged, although the agencies under the committee's jurisdiction have.
The ACIC, along with its predecessors, the NCA and the Australian Crime Commission (ACC), is endowed with unique investigation powers in order to combat serious and organised crime. In part, the committee was established to protect individuals from the abuse of these coercive powers, and for the committee to be a vehicle for the receipt of complaints about the agency. The committee's role has since been clarified over 25 years of operation, with complaints handling since taken on by the Commonwealth Ombudsman.
Early work of the committee
Provision of information to the committee
The committee's earliest reports describe its difficulty in establishing an appropriate working relationship with the NCA. Specifically, it found itself:
unable to fulfil its statutory duty to the parliament because it [did] not have – and [was] unable to obtain from the NCA – sufficient information of substance to serve as a basis for the monitoring and review role required of it.
The committee's first report saw no point to the committee continuing its operation, lest it become a 'charade', providing the appearance but not the substance of Parliamentary oversight.
This led the Special Minister of State of the day to convene a meeting between the NCA and the committee to attempt to resolve the impasse, at which the NCA agreed to prepare a comprehensive briefing on its operations for the committee. This allowed the committee to develop a better view of the NCA's work, without seeking sensitive operational details.
This issue, the trade-off between the committee's ability to oversee an agency effectively and the need to protect sensitive operations, has been a perennial one for the committee.
A leading role in the development of the NCA
Having been established to monitor and review the NCA, the committee took a leading role in the development of that agency. The 1984 Act that established the NCA included a sunset clause that would have seen the agency terminated in 1988 if it was not performing. The committee recommended that on the strength of the NCA's performance to date, that clause be removed, which it was, allowing the NCA to continue its work.
Over the next decade, the committee continued to monitor the performance of the NCA, making recommendations in a number of areas to improve the effectiveness of the agency, or to fulfil its duty of oversight. These included:
- witness protection;
- funding for telecommunications interception;
- provision for an Inspector-General for the NCA to investigate complaints;
- intelligence sharing between national security and law enforcement agencies;
- the relationship and division of labour between the NCA, police forces and the then Australian Bureau of Criminal Intelligence;
- the introduction of performance measures in the NCA's annual reporting; and
- the development of controlled operations legislation.
In addition, the committee began to inquire into areas of crime policy, including:
While not all of the committee's recommendations were accepted by the government, the committee exercised significant influence over the development of the NCA.
Parliamentary Joint Committee on the Australian Crime Commission
The ACC was established in 2002 to replace the NCA, and the Parliamentary Joint Committee on the National Crime Authority became the Parliamentary Joint Committee on the Australian Crime Commission to reflect its new oversight responsibilities.
The Australian Crime Commission brought together the functions of the NCA, the Office of Strategic Assessments and the Australian Bureau of Criminal Investigation, and was tasked with enhancing Australia's national law enforcement capacity through:
- improved criminal intelligence collection and analysis;
- setting clear national criminal intelligence priorities; and
- conducting intelligence led investigations of criminal activity of national significance, including the conduct and/or coordination of investigative and intelligence task forces.
The committee was involved in shaping the establishment of the ACC, making a series of recommendations that were accepted by government and remain in place today. These include:
- The role of the ACC Board and the governance structure;
- preservation of the CEO's independence from the Minister of the day;
- a statutory role for the Ombudsman in investigating complaints against the agency.
- the addition of the Commissioner of Taxation to the ACC Board;
- further safeguards for the use of coercive powers; and
- enhanced record keeping to ensure accountability of coercive examinations, and a number of other legal and administrative reforms.
In addition, the committee continued to conduct reference inquiries into matters of serious and organised crime, covering topics including:
Parliamentary Joint Committee on Law Enforcement
In November 2010, the committee became the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Law Enforcement. In addition to its oversight responsibility for the ACC, the committee also assumed responsibility for overseeing the Australian Federal Police.
On 1 June 2016, the ACIC commenced operation, combining the functions of the ACC and the former intelligence sharing agency, CrimTrac. The ACIC continues to be known as the ACC for legal purposes, and the PJCLE maintains parliamentary oversight responsibilities for the newly formed agency.
The committee's current functions are as follows:
(a) to monitor and to review the performance by the ACIC and AFP of their functions;
(b) to report to both Houses of the Parliament upon any matter relating to the ACIC or AFP or connected with the performance of their functions;
(c) to examine each annual report on the ACIC and AFP and report to the Parliament on any matter arising;
(d) to examine trends and changes in criminal activities, practices and methods and report to both Houses of the Parliament any change which the Committee thinks desirable to the functions, structure, powers and procedures of the ACIC or the AFP; and
(e) to inquire into any question in connection with its functions which is referred to it by either House of the Parliament, and to report to that House upon that question.
However, in carrying out these functions, the committee is precluded from doing the following:
(a) undertaking an intelligence operation or investigating a matter relating to a relevant criminal activity; or
(b) reconsidering the findings of the ACIC in relation to a particular ACIC operation/investigation (including an ACIC operation/investigation that has been concluded); or
(c) reviewing sensitive operational information or operational methods available to the ACIC or the AFP; or
(d) reviewing particular operations or investigations that have been, are being or are proposed to be undertaken by the ACIC or the AFP; or
(e) reviewing information provided by, or by an agency of, a foreign government where that government does not consent to the disclosure of the information; or
(f) conducting inquiries into individual complaints about the activities of the ACIC or the AFP.
 Parliamentary Joint Committee on the National Crime Authority, The National Crime Authority – an initial evaluation, 1988, p. 1.
 Senator Don Chipp, Senate Hansard, 6 June 1984, p. 2649.
 Parliamentary Joint Committee on the National Crime Authority, Second Report, 1986, p. 2.
 Parliamentary Joint Committee on the National Crime Authority, Second Report, 1986, p. 3.