ANU College of Law alumnus brings more than 20 years of national security law experience to watchdog role
Shortly after graduating from The Australian National University (ANU), Jake Blight (BGenSt, LLB ’00, MAppCybern ’21) embarked on his career as a lawyer at the Australian Government Solicitor. It didn’t take long for a major global event to quickly set the course of his future career.
The 9/11 terror attacks thrust national security law into the spotlight. Jake, who was then one of the few lawyers with a security clearance, found himself immersed in “fascinating work” as Australia responded to rapidly changing realities.
“I suddenly found myself giving legal advice to the security and intelligence agencies at a time in our history when they were scrambling to respond to previously unprecedented threats and were also being given previously unprecedented statutory powers,” he said.
More than 20 years on, Jake is still making waves in the field of national security. After a stint as an Associate Professor at the ANU National Security College, he will take up the role of Independent National Security Legislation Monitor (INSLM) on 26 November 2023
Established by the Federal Government in 2010, the INSLM plays a vital role in independently evaluating the operation, effectiveness and implications of national security and counter-terrorism laws in Australia. The INSLM assesses whether these laws strike the right balance between safeguarding individual rights while remaining proportional to security threats and continuing to be necessary in the current context.
Mr Blight will be the fifth INSLM and the first full-time Monitor following a significant funding boost in the May 2023 Budget. The Government has provided $8.8 million over four years from 2023–24 to support a full-time INSLM.
Just as the role of the INSLM has evolved over the past decade, so too have national security laws in Australia; the ‘core’ legislation runs over 2,300 pages and is subject to frequent amendments. The pace of new legislation has been “staggering”, Mr Blight said, adding that just keeping up with it is “a real challenge”.
Nevertheless, it’s a challenge he’s well equipped to take on.
“I am looking forward to working with the Law Council of Australia and other civil society groups and believe that their perspectives are essential to the work of INSLM,” said Mr Blight.
“I understand the dedication of our national security officials and the difficulty they face in constantly looking for, seeing and trying to address threats to national security. A key role of INSLM is being able to step back from that day-to-day work to look at the bigger picture to help ensure that our national security laws do not threaten the very rights and freedoms that our security agencies are trying to protect.”
While law-making in a democracy is an inherently public action security and intelligence agencies, by their very nature, largely operate in secret. One of the great challenges in a role such as the INSLM is informing the public about why certain laws are necessary and what threats to our society make those laws proportionate.
“Democratic societies should not tolerate infringements on individual rights without good reason: and those reasons need to be explained in public. This should seem obvious to a first-year law student, but it isn’t necessarily obvious to those who spend their career working in secret,” Mr Blight added.
Mr Blight brings to the role extensive experience in legal practice and a wealth of expertise in national security law. Between 2012 and 2022, he was the Deputy Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security.
Over the past two years, Mr Blight has also taught National Security Law for Policy Makers at the National Security College – an opportunity that allows him to take “a very practical approach” to equipping future practitioners with the skills they will need.
While law alone is not a complete response to national security threats, it can be an important tool. As the Monitor, Mr Blight will assess whether specific laws are working in practice and whether they are making the contribution Parliament intended.
“New laws are not always the answer to national security challenges,” he explained.
“But making laws is something Parliament can do quickly in response to public concerns about national security. It is a real challenge for policymakers to develop and implement long-term programs to counter threats, such as the radicalisation of individuals in Australian society. New crimes and new surveillance powers are not going to address the root-causes of radicalisation, but law does have a role to play.”
Don't miss Associate Professor Jake Blight's final seminar, 'Powers and functions of Australia’s intelligence and security agencies', at ANU before he commences as the INSLM on Tuesday 21 November 2023. Register now.