Royal Commission on Intelligence and Security

Justice Robert Hope with United States Vice President Nelson Rockefeller at the White House, 1975
The Hon. Justice Robert Hope (centre) and United States Vice President Nelson Rockefeller (right) meet at the White House on 24 September 1975 (NAA: A12386, EO/3/4 part 2 attachment)

The Royal Commission on Intelligence and Security (RCIS) initiated a comprehensive inquiry into Australia's security services, including their history, administrative structure and functions. It was established on 21 August 1974 and concluded its work in 1977.

The Hon. Mr Justice Robert Hope, of the NSW Supreme Court and a former President of the Council for Civil Liberties, was the sole Commissioner. Mr George Brownbill, of the Prime Minister's Department, was Secretary.

The RCIS created and accumulated thousands of records. After the Royal Commission concluded its work, the records were stored in the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet until they were transferred to the National Archives in 2001. In 2006 the National Archives undertook detailed examination of the records to identify material suitable for release to the public after the records reached 30 years of age.

On 27 May 2008, National Archives released the records of the RCIS for public access.

Background and history

You can read a brief history of the RCIS prepared by Dr Jim Stokes from the National Archives.

A media briefing was held on the release of the RCIS records on 27 May 2008 at the National Archives in Canberra. The three speakers addressed various aspects of the history, workings and legacy of the RCIS:

Key figures

Key figures involved in the RCIS are listed below. The roles and titles ascribed to them are those they held during the Royal Commission.

RCIS staff

FigureRole
Hope, the Hon. Justice Robert MarsdenCommissioner
Brownbill, Mr George MetcalfeSecretary
Cunliffe, Mr Ian GeorgeSenior Legal Officer and later Assistant Secretary
Dunkeld, Mr Robert JohnExecutive Officer
McBride, Mr Leslie CleavelandAssistant Secretary
Templeton, Dr Jacqueline DeniseHistorian

Ministers of portfolios related to the RCIS from the third Whitlam Ministry (12 June 1974 to 11 November 1975)

FigureRole
Whitlam, the Hon. Edward Gough QCPrime Minister
Barnard, the Hon. Lance HerbertMinister for Defence
Enderby, the Hon. Keppel Earl QCAttorney-General (10.2.1975 to 11.11.1975)
Morrison, the Hon. William LawrenceMinister for Defence
Murphy, Senator the Hon. Lionel Keith QCAttorney-General (12.6.1974 to 10.2.1975)
Willesee, Senator the Hon. Donald RobertMinister for Foreign Affairs

Ministers of portfolios related to the RCIS from the first and second Fraser Ministry (11 November 1975 to 20 December 1977)

FigureRole
Fraser, the Rt Hon. John MalcolmPrime Minister
Ellicott, the Hon. Robert James QCAttorney-General
Killen, the Hon. Denis JamesMinister for Defence
Peacock, the Hon. Andrew SharpMinister for Foreign Affairs

Public servants

FigureRole
Anderson, Mr James DuncanAssistant Secretary, International Security and Intelligence Division, Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet
Barbour, Mr PeterDirector General, Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (22.1.1970 to 28.9.1975)
Blakers, Mr Gordon Edward OBEDeputy Secretary, Department of Defence
Byers, Sir Maurice Hearne QCSolicitor General
Carmody, Sir Alan ThomasSecretary, Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (20.9.1976 to 12.4.1978)
Gray, Commodore Kenneth Douglas DFCDeputy Director, Joint Intelligence Organisation Military
Griffiths, Mr Allan ThomasFirst Assistant Secretary, International Security and Intelligence Division, Department of the Prime Minister
and Cabinet
Harders, Sir Clarence WaldemarSecretary, Attorney-General’s Department
Hassett, General Sir Francis (Frank) AC, CB, CBE, DSO, MVOChief of the Defence Force Staff
Jockel, Mr Gordon AlbertDirector, Joint Intelligence Organisation
Kennison, Mr IanDirector General, Australian Secret Intelligence Service (8.11.1975 to 10.7.1981)
Lawler, Sir Peter JamesSecretary, Department of Administrative Services
Mahony, Mr Frank CB, OBEDirector General, Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (29.9.1975
to 8.3.1976)
McMichael, Mr Arthur WilliamDeputy Director, Joint Intelligence Organisation Civilian
Menadue, Mr John LaurenceSecretary, Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (1.2.1975
to 19.9.1976)
Parkinson, Mr Nicholas FancourtSecretary, Department of Foreign Affairs (18.2.1977 to 4.9.1979)
Renouf, Mr Alan PhilipSecretary, Department of Foreign Affairs (3.1.1974 to 18.2.1977)
Robertson, Mr WilliamDirector General, Australian Secret Intelligence Service (3.7.1968 to 7.11.1975)
Tange, Sir Arthur HaroldSecretary, Department of Defence
Thompson, Mr Rodney NeilDirector, Defence Signals Division
Woodward, Justice Sir EdwardDirector General, Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (9.3.1976 to 4.9.1981)

The records

The RCIS created and accumulated over 2000 records. These were largely paper files and documents, but also included published reference material and audio recordings.

Justice Hope took a keen interest in the records of the RCIS. He was concerned not only that they should be managed securely and effectively, but that they should also be retained for official use and eventually, for public use by historians.

The table below lists the eight multi-volume reports (17 in total). These reports were presented to the Governor-General over the period between 1976 and 1977 by Justice Hope. The reports are held in series A8908.

For more information, including a full listing of record series created by the RCIS, see our guide to the RCIS records.

Reports of the RCIS open for public access

 Series titleDate rangeSeries number
ItemFirst Report [re Procedural Matters] – Copy No. 91976A8908, 1
ItemSecond Report [re Security vetting and the question of the establishment of a Security Appeals Tribunal] – Copy No. 111976A8908, 2
ItemSupplement to the Second Report [re Security vetting and the question of the establishment of a Security Appeals Tribunal] – Copy No. 3 – Pages 1–23 and 1–4 [Reference copy]1976A8908, 2B
ItemThird Report [re Intelligence Co-ordination Machinery] – Copy No. 24 – Commission working copy [Reference copy]1976A8908, 3A
ItemThird Report [re Intelligence Co-ordination Machinery – Abridged findings and recommendations, dated 1 December 1976]1976A8908, 3B
ItemFourth Report [re ASIO] Volume 1 – Copy No. 251976A8908, 4A
ItemFourth Report [re ASIO] Volume 2 – Appendices 4A to 4L1976A8908, 4B
ItemFourth Report [re ASIO] Volume 3 – Appendices 4M to 4R [Reference copy]1976A8908, 4C
ItemSupplement to Fourth Report [re ASIO] – Copy No. 2 – Pages 1–341976A8908, 4D
ItemFifth Report [re ASIS] Volume 1 – Copy No. 25 [Reference copy]1976A8908, 5A
ItemFifth Report [re ASIS] Volume 2 – Appendices – Copy No. 25 [Reference copy]1976A8908, 5B
ItemSixth Report [re Defence Signals Division DSD] Volume 1 – Copy No. 25 [Reference copy]1977A8908, 6A
ItemSixth Report [re Defence Signals Division DSD] Volume 2 – Appendices 6A to 6K [Reference copy]1977A8908, 6B
ItemSixth Report [re Defence Signals Division DSD] Volume 3 – Appendices 6S, 6T and 6U [Reference copy]1977A8908, 6C
ItemSeventh Report – Australian Intelligence/Security Services 1900–1950 by Jacqueline Templeton Volume I – Copy No. 251977A8908, 7A
ItemSeventh Report – Australian Intelligence/Security Services 1900–1950 by Jacqueline Templeton Volume 2 – Copy No. 25 [Reference copy]1977A8908, 7B
ItemEighth Report [re Disposal and subsequent use of RCIS records]1977A8908, 8

Access to the records

Reports of the RCIS, and selected records, are available to view via RecordSearch and on request in the National Archives Canberra office.

Records available for public access

The RCIS created over 2000 records. The National Archives has released much of the material from the reports and other records created or received by the Commission. Some sensitive information has been withheld from public access. For details on the availability of records, see our guide to the RCIS records and check RecordSearch.

If a record has been withheld from public release in whole or part, RecordSearch (the National Archives online collection database) will show the exemption category under which the information is exempted or will indicate whether some information has been withheld because it is not yet in the open period. RecordSearch records the access status of records in the following ways:

  • Open – the record is entirely open to the public
  • Open with exception – the record has some information withheld from public release
  • Closed – the record has been withheld entirely from public release
  • Not yet examined – the record has not yet been examined for public release

Exempted material

The National Archives has worked to release as many of the RCIS records as possible, in consulation with relevant government departments and agencies. Given the highly sensitive information that is contained within the records, some material has been exempted from public access under the Archives Act 1983.

Material that has been withheld from public access is exempt under the following categories of the Archives Act:

  • 33(1)(a) disclosure would damage Australia’s security, defence or international relations
  • 33(1)(b) disclosure would breach a confidence shared by a foreign government or an international organisation with the Australian Government
  • 33(1)(d) disclosure would be a breach of confidence
  • 33(1)(g) disclosure would unreasonably disclose information about the personal affairs of a person

Where information has been exempted from a record, the National Archives has provided a written statement identifying the exempt information, the exemption category that applies and why it applies. The majority of the exemptions that have been claimed on RCIS records relate to:

  • details of the relationships between Australian and foreign intelligence agencies
  • technical and structural details, and operational processes of the Australian intelligence and security agencies
  • allocation of resources to Australian intelligence and security agencies
  • details of targets and operations
  • the names of intelligence officers and agents
  • some intelligence reports

Release of these details would restrict the intelligence agencies’ ability to carry out their statutory responsibilities and as a consequence the national security of Australia could be damaged.

Appealing an access decision

If a record is withheld from public access (either in whole or part) following examination, National Archives reference staff can explain why the records have been withheld and how to seek a review of the decision.

Information on the appeal process under the Archives Act can be found in:

On request, the National Archives will examine for public access any records of the RCIS for which an access decision has not been determined. For more information, read our page on how to request access examination.

Images

The National Archives has prepared a small showcase of images related to the RCIS (photographs and documents) – high-resolution versions of the images are available to download.

Copyright National Archives of Australia 2014