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ONA LogoONA assesses and analyses international political, strategic and economic developments for the Prime Minister and senior ministers in the National Security Committee of Cabinet. It was established by the Office of National Assessments Act 1977 as an independent body directly accountable to the Prime Minister. The Director-General of ONA is an independent statutory officer who is not subject to external direction on the content of ONA assessments.

ONA bases its assessments on information available to the Australian Government from all sources, both inside and outside the Government. It draws on information provided by other intelligence agencies, as well as diplomatic reporting, information and reporting from other government agencies, and material available from open sources such as news media and publications. ONA also consults broadly within government and with experts in other sectors.

Importantly, the ONA Act also charges ONA with the coordination of Australia's foreign intelligence activities and assessing the adequacy of resources to undertake them. So, for example, ONA coordinates the setting of foreign intelligence collection requirements. These are based on the government's foreign intelligence priorities, the management of which forms another part of ONA's coordination responsibilities. The Office also oversees responses to any matters of common interest to Australia's foreign intelligence services. This work covers liaison with international partners, and policy work or long-term and cross-agency planning related to foreign intelligence activities.

In April 2005, the Open Source Branch (OSB) (now the Open Source Centre) was incorporated into ONA. The role of the Open Source Centre is to collect and validate information from open sources and produce reports based on this information for ONA and other Australian and allied government agencies.