Rise in ASIO complaints linked to Christmas Island workload
By Dylan Welch
The Sydney Morning Herald, October 15, 2010
ASIO is struggling under a deluge of immigration security checks, with complaints about the speed of vetting jumping by 563 per cent in a year, the nation's intelligence watchdog says.
The jump is believed to be due to the increased numbers of immigration detainees on Christmas Island – the government requires them to have security clearance cleared before moving them to the mainland.
ASIO staff treat the Christmas Island cases as priorities and that has resulted in longer waiting times for other checks.
The new Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security, Vivienne Thom, revealed in an annual report that there were 1015 complaints about delays in the last financial year, up from 153 for the preceding 12 months. ''We identified that there were increasing delays in ASIO's handling of security assessments,'' Dr Thom said.
''We held discussions with senior ASIO staff about the importance of timely decisions for applicants in detention, and the legal implications of delays in protection visa processing.
''We will continue to press these issues.''
Half the complaints related to skilled visa applications, 21 per cent to refugee assessments and 18 per cent were for marriage, spouse and partner visas.
Dr Thom, the former deputy Commonwealth Ombudsman, was appointed for a five-year term in July after Ian Carnell resigned. It is her job to oversee the work of ASIO, as well as that of the Australian Secret Intelligence Service, the Office of National Assessments and three defence intelligence agencies.
In the report, Dr Thom also said that ASIO officers had made a mistake that resulted in the illegal monitoring of an Australian citizen.
The Defence Signals Directorate is Australia's chief electronic spy agency and specialises in communications interception overseas. If the directorate wants to monitor an Australian it must seek written approval from the defence minister.
But when ASIO requested that it monitor an individual overseas, officers neglected to mention that the target was an Australian citizen, resulting in the directorate running what amounted to an illegal wiretap on an Australian citizen.
The report took note of ASIO's growth but did not suggest it was experiencing problems with that growth. It has been reported that staff numbers at ASIO have doubled since 2003, to 1609, and will peak at 1860 next year.