Functions and Governance

AGO's Functions

AGO provides support to Defence, the National Intelligence Community (NIC) and the broader Australian community according to both its intelligence and non-intelligence functions, defined by law in the Intelligence Services Act 2001 (Cth). Within AGO, the Australian Hydrographic Office (AHO) is responsible for providing Australia’s national hydrographic services under the Navigation Act 2012 (Cth).

Its functions, as prescribed in the Intelligence Services Act 2001 (ISA), are:

  • To obtain geospatial and imagery intelligence about the capabilities, intentions or activities of people or organisations outside Australia to meet the requirements of the Australian Government.
  • To obtain geospatial and imagery intelligence for the purposes of meeting the operational, targeting, training and exercise requirements of the Australian Defence Force.
  • To obtain geospatial and imagery intelligence for the purposes of supporting Commonwealth and State authorities in carrying out national security functions.
  • To communicate in accordance with government requirements the intelligence obtained under the above functions.
  • To provide Commonwealth and State authorities and bodies approved by the Minister for Defence imagery and other geospatial products that are not intelligence, technical assistance and support for carrying out their emergency response functions.
  • To co-operate with and assist bodies referred to in section 13A in accordance with that section.
  • To provide assistance to the Defence Force in support of military operations and to cooperate with the Defence Force on intelligence matters.

AGO's Legal Accountability – Who Oversees AGO's Activities?

AGO's activities are overseen by the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security and the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security. The Inspector-General is mainly concerned with how AGO conducts its intelligence activities, while the Parliamentary Joint Committee is concerned with AGO's administration and expenditure.

Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security (IGIS)

The Inspector-General is empowered by the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security Act 1986 (IGIS Act) (as amended in 2005) to provide independent assurance to the Australian Government, the Parliament and the Australian public that AGO conducts its activities legally, behaves with propriety, complies with any directions from the Minister for Defence, and has regard for human rights (such as privacy).

To guarantee the independence of the Inspector-General, the IGIS Act provides that the position is appointed by the Governor-General and cannot be dismissed by the government. The Inspector-General is a key element of the accountability regime for AGO. You can find out more information about the Inspector-General at

Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security

The Intelligence Services Act 2001 (ISA) establishes the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Intelligence and Security to allow members of Parliament to directly oversee some of the activities of AGO. The committee is made up of members of the government and the opposition, drawn from both the House of Representatives and Senate.

The ISA contains rules about how the committee conducts its business. In particular, the committee cannot review the intelligence operations or priorities of AGO; rather, it reviews the administration and expenditure of AGO, including AGO's financial statements. You can find out more information about the committee at

Protecting the Privacy of Australians

AGO is legally bound by the Intelligence Services Act 2001 (ISA).

The ISA provides the legal framework for the activities of the foreign intelligence collection agencies in the Australian Intelligence Community: the Australian Geospatial-Intelligence Organisation, the Australian Secret Intelligence Service and the Australian Signals Directorate. The intention of the legislation is to regulate the intelligence activities of the agencies in a number of ways: special directions from their respective ministers, rules about protecting the privacy of Australians, and some general limitations.

Under section 15 of the ISA, the minister responsible for defence is required to make written rules regulating the communication and retention of intelligence information collected by AGO that concerns Australians. These are known as the AGO Privacy Rules.

You may read the AGO Privacy Rules (240K PDF).

Disclosing suspected wrongdoing under the Public Interest Disclosure Act 2013

The Public Interest Disclosure Act 2013 (PID Act) commenced on 15 January 2014. The PID Act encourages and facilitates the disclosure of information by both current and former public officials about suspected wrongdoing in the public sector. You can find out more about the PID Act at Commonwealth Ombudsman: Public Interest Disclosure Scheme.

Disclosures about suspected wrongdoing in AGO, which involve intelligence information* must only be made directly to an authorised officer in AGO or an authorised officer in the Office of the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security. If your disclosure includes any classified material, inform the authorised officer before disclosing it. The authorised officer will advise you how to appropriately communicate this information to AGO or IGIS.

You can email an authorised officer at

If you fail to comply with these requirements, you may not receive the protections provided by the PID Act. You may also be subject to other civil, criminal or disciplinary action.

As long as you do not make false or misleading statements, you cannot be sued for defamation if you make a PID Act disclosure.

* Section 41 of the PID Act provides a comprehensive definition of 'intelligence information.'