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.
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 involved in the RCIS are listed below. The roles and titles ascribed to them are those they held during the Royal Commission.
|Hope, the Hon. Justice Robert Marsden||Commissioner|
|Brownbill, Mr George Metcalfe||Secretary|
|Cunliffe, Mr Ian George||Senior Legal Officer and later Assistant Secretary|
|Dunkeld, Mr Robert John||Executive Officer|
|McBride, Mr Leslie Cleaveland||Assistant Secretary|
|Templeton, Dr Jacqueline Denise||Historian|
|Whitlam, the Hon. Edward Gough QC||Prime Minister|
|Barnard, the Hon. Lance Herbert||Minister for Defence|
|Enderby, the Hon. Keppel Earl QC||Attorney-General (10.2.1975 to 11.11.1975)|
|Morrison, the Hon. William Lawrence||Minister for Defence|
|Murphy, Senator the Hon. Lionel Keith QC||Attorney-General (12.6.1974 to 10.2.1975)|
|Willesee, Senator the Hon. Donald Robert||Minister for Foreign Affairs|
|Fraser, the Rt Hon. John Malcolm||Prime Minister|
|Ellicott, the Hon. Robert James QC||Attorney-General|
|Killen, the Hon. Denis James||Minister for Defence|
|Peacock, the Hon. Andrew Sharp||Minister for Foreign Affairs|
|Anderson, Mr James Duncan||Assistant Secretary, International Security and Intelligence Division, Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet|
|Barbour, Mr Peter||Director General, Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (22.1.1970 to 28.9.1975)|
|Blakers, Mr Gordon Edward OBE||Deputy Secretary, Department of Defence|
|Byers, Sir Maurice Hearne QC||Solicitor General|
|Carmody, Sir Alan Thomas||Secretary, Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (20.9.1976 to 12.4.1978)|
|Gray, Commodore Kenneth Douglas DFC||Deputy Director, Joint Intelligence Organisation Military|
|Griffiths, Mr Allan Thomas||First Assistant Secretary, International Security and Intelligence Division, Department of the Prime Minister
|Harders, Sir Clarence Waldemar||Secretary, Attorney-General’s Department|
|Hassett, General Sir Francis (Frank) AC, CB, CBE, DSO, MVO||Chief of the Defence Force Staff|
|Jockel, Mr Gordon Albert||Director, Joint Intelligence Organisation|
|Kennison, Mr Ian||Director General, Australian Secret Intelligence Service (8.11.1975 to 10.7.1981)|
|Lawler, Sir Peter James||Secretary, Department of Administrative Services|
|Mahony, Mr Frank CB, OBE||Director General, Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (29.9.1975
|McMichael, Mr Arthur William||Deputy Director, Joint Intelligence Organisation Civilian|
|Menadue, Mr John Laurence||Secretary, Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (1.2.1975
|Parkinson, Mr Nicholas Fancourt||Secretary, Department of Foreign Affairs (18.2.1977 to 4.9.1979)|
|Renouf, Mr Alan Philip||Secretary, Department of Foreign Affairs (3.1.1974 to 18.2.1977)|
|Robertson, Mr William||Director General, Australian Secret Intelligence Service (3.7.1968 to 7.11.1975)|
|Tange, Sir Arthur Harold||Secretary, Department of Defence|
|Thompson, Mr Rodney Neil||Director, Defence Signals Division|
|Woodward, Justice Sir Edward||Director General, Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (9.3.1976 to 4.9.1981)|
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.
|Title or description of record||Date range||Series number|
|First Report [re Procedural Matters] – Copy No. 9||1976||A8908, 1|
|Second Report [re Security vetting and the question of the establishment of a Security Appeals Tribunal] – Copy No. 11||1976||A8908, 2|
|Supplement 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]||1976||A8908, 2B|
|Third Report [re Intelligence Co-ordination Machinery] – Copy No. 24 – Commission working copy [Reference copy]||1976||A8908, 3A|
|Third Report [re Intelligence Co-ordination Machinery – Abridged findings and recommendations, dated 1 December 1976]||1976||A8908, 3B|
|Fourth Report [re ASIO] Volume 1 – Copy No. 25||1976||A8908, 4A|
|Fourth Report [re ASIO] Volume 2 – Appendices 4A to 4L||1976||A8908, 4B|
|Fourth Report [re ASIO] Volume 3 – Appendices 4M to 4R [Reference copy]||1976||A8908, 4C|
|Supplement to Fourth Report [re ASIO] – Copy No. 2 – Pages 1–34||1976||A8908, 4D|
|Fifth Report [re ASIS] Volume 1 – Copy No. 25 [Reference copy]||1976||A8908, 5A|
|Fifth Report [re ASIS] Volume 2 – Appendices – Copy No. 25 [Reference copy]||1976||A8908, 5B|
|Sixth Report [re Defence Signals Division DSD] Volume 1 – Copy No. 25 [Reference copy]||1977||A8908, 6A|
|Sixth Report [re Defence Signals Division DSD] Volume 2 – Appendices 6A to 6K [Reference copy]||1977||A8908, 6B|
|Sixth Report [re Defence Signals Division DSD] Volume 3 – Appendices 6S, 6T and 6U [Reference copy]||1977||A8908, 6C|
|Seventh Report – Australian Intelligence/Security Services 1900–1950 by Jacqueline Templeton Volume I – Copy No. 25||1977||A8908, 7A|
|Seventh Report – Australian Intelligence/Security Services 1900–1950 by Jacqueline Templeton Volume 2 – Copy No. 25 [Reference copy]||1977||A8908, 7B|
|Eighth Report [re Disposal and subsequent use of RCIS records]||1977||A8908, 8|
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:
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:
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:
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.
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.
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.