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Effectiveness of SafeWork NSW in exercising its compliance functions

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What this report is about 

This report assesses how effectively SafeWork NSW, a part of the Department of Customer Service (DCS), has performed its regulatory compliance functions for work health and safety in New South Wales. 

The report includes a case study examining SafeWork NSW's management of a project to develop a real-time monitoring device for airborne silica in workplaces. 

Findings 

There is limited transparency about SafeWork NSW's effectiveness as a regulator. The limited performance information that is available is either subsumed within DCS reporting (or other sources) and is focused on activity, not outcomes. 

As a work health and safety (WHS) regulator, SafeWork NSW lacks an effective strategic and data-driven approach to respond to emerging WHS risks. 

It was slow to respond to the risk of respirable crystalline silica in manufactured stone. 

SafeWork NSW is constrained by an information management system that is over 20 years old and has passed its effective useful life. 

While it has invested effort into ensuring consistent regulatory decisions, SafeWork NSW needs to maintain a focus on this objective, including by ensuring that there is a comprehensive approach to quality assurance. 

SafeWork NSW's engagement of a commercial partner to develop a real-time silica monitoring device did not comply with key procurement obligations. 

There was ineffective governance and process to address important concerns about the accuracy of the real-time silica monitoring device. 

As such, SafeWork NSW did not adequately manage potential WHS risks. 

Recommendations 

The report recommended that DCS should: 

  • ensure there is an independent investigation into the procurement of the research partner for the real-time silica detector 
  • embed a formal process to review and set its annual regulatory priorities 
  • publish a consolidated performance report 
  • set long-term priorities, including for workforce planning and technology uplift 
  • improve its use of data, and start work to replace its existing complaints handling system 
  • review its risk culture and its risk management framework 
  • review the quality assurance measures that support consistent regulatory decisions

SafeWork NSW is the work health and safety regulator in New South Wales. It was established by the State Insurance and Care Governance Act 2015.

As the regulator, SafeWork NSW is responsible for, among other things, enforcing compliance with the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (the WHS Act) and the Work Health and Safety Regulation 2017. The regulator’s full functions are set out in section 152 of the WHS Act.

SafeWork NSW’s operations are guided by seven regulatory priorities for 2023, which contribute to three strategic outcomes:

  • Workers understand their rights and responsibilities.
  • Employers ensure that work is healthy and safe, with no advantage for cutting corners.
  • Regulation is fair and efficient.

This audit assesses the effectiveness of SafeWork NSW in monitoring and enforcing compliance with the WHS Act, through the examination of three lines of inquiry:

  1. Does SafeWork NSW have evidence-based processes to set its objectives and priorities for monitoring and enforcing compliance?
  2. How effectively does SafeWork NSW measure and report its performance in monitoring and enforcing compliance against the WHS Act?
  3. Are SafeWork NSW's policies and procedures for monitoring and enforcing compliance applied consistency across different sectors?

As SafeWork NSW is part of the NSW Department of Customer Service (DCS), the department is the auditee. Prior to 2019, SafeWork NSW was located in the former Department of Finance, Services and Innovation. Unless otherwise stated, any reference to SafeWork NSW should be read as including the broader department in which it sits.

This chapter considers whether SafeWork NSW has evidence-based processes to set its objectives and priorities, including how it takes into account operational feedback and expertise. It also includes how existing and emerging risks are assessed as part of the priority-setting process, and how planning and prioritisation takes into account resourcing, including workforce skills and capacity.

SafeWork NSW's operating model is now based on annual regulatory priorities, rather than longer-term priorities

From 2016 to 2022, SafeWork NSW worked under a six-year Work Health and Safety Roadmap (‘the Roadmap’). The Roadmap was revised in August 2018 and included the following statements:

The WHS Roadmap for NSW, along with the BRD Strategic Plan, provides a clear line of sight between our strategic objectives and the activities that will allow us to deliver our overall outcomes.

This Roadmap spans 2016-2022 but it will be refreshed and released every two years to ensure it stays relevant.

 

In addition to the Roadmap, SafeWork NSW operated under its 2019–20 Strategic Business Plan.

After SafeWork NSW was moved into DCS, the Roadmap was subject to a mid-term evaluation by ARTD Consultants in 2020. SafeWork NSW management subsequently accepted all nine recommendations of that mid-term evaluation, which included the following:

  • Strengthen business intelligence data systems to allow managers and inspectors to access to real-time data on safety incidents and workers compensation claim data (Rec 5).
  • Improve evidence available to assess Roadmap outcomes in 2022 (Rec 9).

In 2023, SafeWork NSW replaced its six-year Roadmap with a model of setting annual regulatory priorities. Seven regulatory priorities were set for 2023. These priorities were:

  •  gig economy – increase safety and WHS compliance in the sector, particularly food delivery riders and health care
  • safety around moving plant – reduce workplace safety incidents, particularly forklifts
  • seasonal workplaces – increase WHS compliance to support itinerant workers, particularly in the agricultural sector and those working with amusement devices
  • psychological safety – reduce the prevalence of psychological injury at workplaces, with a focus on mental health and well being
  • respect at work – reduce the incidence of bullying, sexual harassment, and customer aggression in the workplace, particularly in make dominated sectors and healthcare
  • exposure to harmful substances – reduce the incidence of worker exposure to dangerous substances in the workplace, particularly silica and dangerous chemicals
  • falls – reduce the incidence of falls from heights with a particular focus on construction.

These priorities are intended 'to deliver on three strategic outcomes’:

  • Workers understand their rights and responsibilities.
  • Employers ensure that work is healthy and safe, with no advantage for cutting corners.
  • Regulation is efficient and fair.

As SafeWork NSW works to deliver on these outcomes, the focus is on priority or vulnerable groups of workers – these being younger workers, workers from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds (especially newly arrived workers), and Aboriginal people.

Shorter-term priorities are intended to enable SafeWork NSW to be more responsive to work health and safety risks and were developed in consultation with operational staff

The adoption of shorter-term priority-setting is intended to enable a more agile approach to regulation that, according to DCS, is better able to adapt to changes in risk profiles and industries. It was put to the audit by some interviewees that the six-year plan was less able to respond to rapid changes in the economy that may lead to quickly emerging work health safety risks. An example commonly cited was the significant increase in gig economy workers, including in areas such as food delivery workers and personal care workers. It was put to the audit that this example highlighted new WHS risks unique to those emerging workplaces.

According to DCS, in addition to being more agile and responsive to macro changes in the workforce, the annual priorities are intended to enhance accountability by creating a more timely and contemporaneous link between activities and outcomes. The more immediate nature of annual priorities is also designed to provide a more immediate and tangible link to SafeWork NSW’s activities and ensure better accountability for delivery.

The annual priorities are intended to complement SafeWork NSW’s commitments under the national Australian Work Health and Safety Strategy 2023-33. This strategy sets a high-level vision and goal for Australia’s work health and safety regulators, including to address agreed persistent challenges, such as psychosocial risks, vulnerable workers, and ensuring that small businesses are adequately supported to meet their work health and safety obligations.

The process for developing regulatory priorities for 2023 involved internal consultation with SafeWork NSW executive directors, directors, managers, inspectors, project leads, as well as consultation with external stakeholders and experts. There is evidence that SafeWork NSW considered the feedback it received, including from its inspectors.

SafeWork NSW staff identified potential risks that SafeWork NSW will need to manage as the process for developing regulatory priorities continues to develop

The audit team interviewed almost all SafeWork NSW executive directors, directors, and team managers, particularly those performing regulatory functions. These interviews revealed a strong level of commitment to the purpose and functions of SafeWork NSW, as well as a shared desire to see the organisation fulfil its potential.

In regard to the annual priorities, senior executives and the majority of team managers we interviewed supported the adoption of annual priorities and expressed confidence that establishing annual priorities would improve the effectiveness of SafeWork NSW in delivering its compliance functions. It was noted by SafeWork NSW that the shift towards regulatory priorities 'brings us to a level of maturity mirroring the approach of regulators such as ASIC and the ACCC'.

While most staff interviewed during this audit welcomed the sharper focus and greater flexibility afforded by shorter-term priorities, others identified a range of risks. Some experienced people managers in SafeWork NSW expressed significant doubts about the pursuit of annual regulatory priorities. Risks identified during audit interviews included:

  • That the short-term focus had prevented SafeWork NSW from establishing a longer-term goal or vision.
  • That the annual priorities were simplistic and lacked sufficient detail to engage the regulator, industry, and the community.
  • That short-term priorities would make it difficult to meaningfully measure and report progress, especially for activities and initiatives that may take longer to achieve demonstratable change.
  • That the process of considering the next annual priorities may need to commence well before initiatives for the current year have been completed (or even commenced), hindering how effectively lessons can be incorporated into future planning.
  • That frequent changes in regulatory priorities may make it difficult to ensure that the SafeWork NSW workforce has appropriate capability and capacity, particularly for potentially complex emerging threats such as artificial intelligence in workplaces.

In response to these risks, SafeWork NSW has noted that:

  • SafeWork NSW has a separate vision in addition to the regulatory priorities. This is 'healthy, safe and productive working lives'.
  • A review process will occur to understand what went well and what did not from the first year of regulatory priorities before finalising priorities for 2024.
  • Planning will improve over time as the process reoccurs, and lessons learned will be linked to future priorities.

The inability to achieve full ‘buy-in’ from experienced people managers in SafeWork NSW suggests that change management, including consultative and communication processes, has not been completely successful. SafeWork NSW advised that this initiative was a significant shift for all its staff and in particular middle management. Given this, the leadership of SafeWork NSW should prioritise investment in effective change management processes, especially if the annual regulatory priorities are anticipated to change in 2024.

Importantly, the SafeWork NSW leadership team should undertake strategic planning to ensure that a meaningful set of longer-term priorities underpin their investment decision-making on organisational fundamentals, such as a capable and sustainable workforce and fit-for purpose technology systems. Without this, there is a real risk that the regulator's business needs and priorities will be overtaken by the priorities of a much bigger department.

SafeWork NSW consulted with external stakeholders in determining its 2023 annual regulatory priorities

SafeWork NSW developed a discussion paper in 2022 for external stakeholders as a precursor to consultation on its 2023 annual priorities. This discussion paper outlined an intent by SafeWork NSW to develop a new strategy that would prioritise activities that were the biggest points of leverage to drive material change and were the biggest risks and most important trends affecting WHS in NSW.

SafeWork NSW considered expert feedback and expertise in the development of its regulatory priorities through this process. A summary document detailing the rationale for its regulatory priorities provides evidence that feedback from external stakeholders, such as unions and industry groups, were taken into account.

SafeWork NSW has not established a formal process for determining its regulatory priorities for 2024 and beyond

SafeWork NSW has an indicative timeline for preparing its 2024 priorities which provides that the priorities will not be settled until March 2024 and will be based on the results of the previous year’s priorities to December 2023. However, no ongoing process for determining annual priorities in each future year was settled at the time of writing this report. Some priorities might be expected to remain relatively constant, especially persistent challenges such as preventing falls from heights. However, if the annual priorities model is to meet the expectation of being agile, then new and emerging priorities will need to be identified, understood, scoped, and responded to with relatively short notice.

Elements of the 2023 regulatory priorities will overlap with any new or revised priorities, such as the monitoring and evaluation framework, and the three-year Construction Services Blueprint. SafeWork NSW explains that these longer-term initiatives are 'intended to support the delivery of priorities that are likely to run over many years, providing more granular detail on specific drivers of harm, regulatory responses and targets'.

SafeWork NSW does not effectively use data to inform its priority-setting or assessment of risk, despite adopting the recommendations from the 2020 mid-term Roadmap evaluation

SafeWork NSW states that it chose its regulatory priorities in 2023 based on the following factors - potential for serious harm or death, new or emerging risks, and increases in the frequency of an issue. An emerging issue is where:

A hazard and/or risk to health and safety relating to a new or existing product, process or service was not previously known or fully realised and SafeWork NSW intervenes to address the workplace health and safety risks for example, guidance material, training, regulatory change. 

SafeWork NSW has a substantial data repository, with over 20 years of case and activity data contained in its Workplace Services Management System (WSMS). However, SafeWork NSW does not effectively interrogate this data to provide an evidence base for its regulatory functions.

SafeWork NSW has only recently established a data governance committee. SafeWork NSW also advised that a data science function was created within the Centre for Work Health and Safety during 2023, repurposing existing resources and supported by a business intelligence working group comprising of inspector representatives from operational directorates.

While this data science function is newly created, SafeWork NSW does not have a strategic business intelligence function that is both recognised and understood across each directorate and team, and the ability of its technology infrastructure to deliver sophisticated strategic and operational data intelligence has been limited.

As a result of this lack of central coordination and capability, directorates have sought to develop their own data analysis capability, with inconsistent, fragmented and potentially duplicative results. The audit did find specific (albeit isolated) examples of data being used to inform decision-making, though these efforts were disparate and uncoordinated at the directorate level.

SafeWork NSW said that data is used to inform leadership discussions at the quarterly SafeWork NSW Leadership Meetings, and monthly operational executive meetings. The audit did not review the agenda papers for these meetings.

At the 2020–21 NSW Parliament Budget Estimates Committee hearing, SafeWork NSW stated that it:

…used predictive analytics and machine learning to generate a WHS rating system leveraging a large dataset to aid decision-making. The WHS rating supports an evidence-based approach to identifying high risk workplaces and provides additional data-based evidence to assist in decision-making'. 

SafeWork NSW has started to use artificial intelligence to interrogate historical compliance data to rate the risk of different employers. However, this is used inconsistently across SafeWork NSW and there is limited evidence about its effectiveness. A similar tool does not exist for industry or product-related trends or relationships that may assist SafeWork to proactively identify high-risk workplaces and issues.

Outdated technology and uncertainty in planning its replacement is limiting SafeWork NSW's ability to effectively use its data for analytics and insights

SafeWork NSW uses WSMS to manage work health and safety data. This system has been in place for over 20 years. It was noted in interviews conducted during this audit that this data system is at the end of its effective life.

Issues noted by users of WSMS include:

The lack of governance associated with data management of WSMS. There is no data custodian, and a formalised data quality assurance process does not exist. This means that data can be extracted from the system with no controls on the accuracy of the analysis.

Access to WSMS cannot be tracked (and is therefore not auditable).

  • Data quality is variable, depending on the quality of notes provided by inspectors (with individuals noting that these notes could be full of speculation), and inconsistent approaches to entering information into the system. At the same time, inspectors noted that entering information into the system can be an administrative burden due to duplication and time requirements.
  • Analysis cannot readily be undertaken on a geographic basis (for example, all high-risk employers within a particular region).
  • As WSMS does not track information about the directors of companies, it is unable to identify risks associated with 'phoenixing', where directors of wound-up businesses establish new entities, or other forms of related-entity risk. The audit team linked WSMS data with ASIC data to match company directors with company and notice data. This was done in order to understand the additional intelligence that could be used to inform risk-based decision-making. As an example, the audit found that there is a large number of companies that have not received notices from SafeWork NSW but may be at higher risk due to the conduct of their directors:
    • There were approximately 151,000 companies with directors that were also linked to at least one other company that had received at least one type of notice from SafeWork NSW.
    • There were approximately 24,500 companies with directors that were also linked to one or more companies that had cumulatively received over 100 notices from SafeWork NSW.
    • There were approximately 8,600 companies with directors that were also linked to one or more other companies that had cumulatively received over 400 notices from SafeWork NSW.

In addition to the feedback provided by WSMS users within SafeWork NSW, the audit team also found related data quality issues during the course of our own analysis, including:

  •  Industry analysis is more challenging to perform because specific industry data points and grouping details are not captured in WSMS.
  • There was no systematic method to identify all silica-related incidents. The search terms were not standardised and relied on judgement, for example: ‘silic’ (potentially capturing both ‘silica’ and ‘silicosis’) and ‘benchtop’, though SafeWork NSW advised that consultation with subject matter experts informed these searches. There is a high-risk of false positives and incomplete analysis without time intensive manual review of each identified case. WSMS was not readily able to provide data on silica-related complaints without workarounds and manual file review (which proved unreliable) and requiring significant effort from data staff in both the Audit Office and SafeWork NSW.
  • Test data is captured in production systems, rather than in test systems. These records do not have a unique identifier and are difficult to identify and isolate for business intelligence analysis.
  • Data validations are not enforced (for example, on Australian Business Number, Australian Company Number columns). Instead, the data entry fields allow for incorrect details to be captured or left blank without explanation from the staff entering the data.

SafeWork NSW provided advice to the audit team that an upgrade of WSMS was planned as part of the broader e-regulation program across DCS (that is, the single digital platform for all 28 business regulators). However, this upgrade is now uncertain as there is no funding for SafeWork NSW to be onboarded to the new platform. This means that for the foreseeable future SafeWork NSW will be constrained by the limitations inherent to WSMS.

SafeWork NSW took around eight years to actively and sufficiently respond to the emerging risk of respirable crystalline silica in manufactured stone

Silicosis is a progressive, occupational lung disease resulting from inhalation of respirable crystalline silica (RCS). Silicosis is one of the oldest known occupational diseases, particularly affecting industries like mining. In Australia, silicosis has been a known cause of death and disability for over 100 years. This disease is preventable through appropriate workplace practices in a hierarchy of controls, which includes the use of correct personal protective equipment.

The use of manufactured stone for applications such as kitchen benchtops became popular in Australia in the early 2000s. Other substances that contain silica, such as rock, stone, clay, gravel, concrete and brick, may contain between 2% and 40% silica. In contrast, manufactured stone contains up to 95% silica. Workers exposed to respirable crystalline silica from manufactured stone are more likely to develop severe silicosis (and other serious lung diseases), and more quickly, than workers exposed to silica from other sources.

In 2010, international research was published that pointed to the specific heightened risk posed by the high silica content of manufactured stone used primarily for kitchen countertops and bathroom fixtures. This was confirmed by subsequent research published in 2012, which concluded that, in regard to a documented outbreak of silicosis among manufactured stone workers in Israel:

This silicosis outbreak is important because of the worldwide use of this and similar high-silica-content, artificial stone products. Further cases are likely to occur unless effective preventive measures are undertaken and existing safety practices are enforced. 

This research was relevant to Australia as the sample of workers was derived from the same Israeli-based manufacturer and exporter of manufactured stone that supplies the majority of the product used in Australia.

The first identified group of related workers who contracted silicosis in NSW was reported in literature in 2015. Further cases have been reported in the media since 2015. These included examples of relatively young workers developing silicosis, presumptively from inhaling silica dust derived from manufactured stone.

In 2017, SafeWork NSW listed RCS as one of the top ten priority chemicals in its 2017–2022 Hazardous Chemicals and Materials Exposures Baseline and Reduction Strategy (dated October 2017).

A legislatively-mandated case finding study conducted by SafeWork NSW in 20213 reported that screening conducted by icare between 2017–18 and 2019–20 found an average of 29 cases per year of silicosis among workers in the manufactured stone industry.4 Despite the relatively small size of this workforce, this was three times the number of cases of all workers engaged in all other at-risk industries.

While the heightened risk posed by respirable crystalline silica in manufactured stone was first published in research in 2010 and detected in cases from 2015, SafeWork NSW’s first substantial practical response commenced in 2018–19.

From July 2018, SafeWork NSW convened a Manufactured Stone Industry Taskforce, including representatives from industry, unions, health, education and other government agencies. During the term of this taskforce (which ended at 30 June 2019), SafeWork NSW conducted 523 visits to 246 manufactured stone sites. These inspections resulted in 656 improvement notices being issued, along with 43 prohibition notices (this included matters not related to silica). Prior to this, the extent of SafeWork NSW’s active response to the emerging risk was to conduct a limited inspection program of six work sites in May 2017 (one site) and August 2017 (five sites). The results of these six workplace visits were incorporated into a research project report that was finalised in August 2018.

In the period from 2012 to 2018, SafeWork NSW also received complaints about silica-related matters, including matters not related to manufactured stone. These are detailed in Exhibit 1 below. The number of complaints was a relatively small proportion of all complaints received, though the number increased after 2018. This increase may be a result of increased community and industry awareness through media reporting and SafeWork NSW’s proactive audit work.5 The majority of these complaints did not result in further regulatory action by SafeWork NSW beyond preliminary inquiries and, in some cases, site visits. The right-hand column of the below table shows key events leading up to and shortly after SafeWork NSW’s first regulatory interventions.

Exhibit 1: Silica-related complaints made to SafeWork NSW, 2012–2023
YearNumberSilica-related activity and events
201255International published research reiterates 2010 findings of a link between manufactured stone and silicosis.
201352 
201455 
201538First NSW case series linked to manufactured stone industry.
201654Youngest known case of silicosis in NSW admitted to hospital.
201770Crystalline silica listed as the second priority chemical (out of 10 priority chemicals) by SafeWork NSW. Media reporting on the ABC.
2018104SafeWork NSW commences proactive work. Manufactured Stone Industry Taskforce commenced. Media reporting on the ABC, The Project and Daily Mail on silicosis.
2019173NSW Parliamentary Dust Diseases Review.
Probable first Australian death from silicosis caused by manufactured stone.
2020210Silicosis becomes notifiable, fines introduced, workplace exposure standard halved.
2021174Respirable crystalline silica exposure in the NSW manufactured stone industry case finding study undertaken.
Media reporting by The Project and ABC 7.30 Report.
2022193 
2023*381 
TOTAL1559 

*         2023 data are to 30 November 2023.
Note: Complaints received by SafeWork NSW where the issue description includes ‘silic*’ or ‘benchtop’. This will include silica derived from sources other than manufactured stone, including relating to those products listed in the Safe Work Australia 2020 national guide.
Source: Audit Office analysis of WSMS data.

High-profile media reporting in 2018, 2021, and early 2023 appeared to provide impetus to SafeWork NSW’s regulatory actions. SafeWork NSW subsequently conducted further rounds of proactive compliance, education and awareness activities among identified workplaces. This work increasingly targeted high-risk workplaces. Since 2018–19, SafeWork NSW has conducted three rounds of workplace inspections that have progressively focused on the highest risk workplaces. This program has adopted a strategic and evidence-based approach.

Since October 2019, 17 matters were progressed to further investigation with a view to prosecution. Five silica-related matters have been filed in court for prosecution. Three of these matters were still in court at the time of this audit, and two matters have been finalised.

In 2020, NSW introduced a range of legislative reforms including:

  • Banning the practice of dry cutting engineered stone containing crystalline silica. Maximum penalty of $30,000 for a body corporate and $6,000 for an individual, with on-the-spot fines for uncontrolled dry processing of engineered stone.
  • Halving the Workplace Exposure Standard from 0.1mg/m3 to 0.05 mg/m3 (ahead of the national deadline to implement it).
  • Silicosis becoming a notifiable disease requiring clinicians to report each case of silicosis diagnosed in NSW. Those notifications are shared with SafeWork NSW to manage a NSW Dust Disease Register. An annual report is tabled in Parliament and published on the NSW Government website www.nsw.gov.au (NSW Silica Dashboard) alongside some information on compliance activities.
  • On 27 October 2020, silicosis became a notifiable disease requiring clinicians to report each case of silicosis diagnosed in NSW. Those notifications are shared with SafeWork NSW to manage a NSW Dust Disease Register. In August 2021, SafeWork NSW published the first NSW Dust Disease Register Annual Report, detailing diagnosed cases of silicosis, asbestosis, and mesothelioma in NSW during 2020–21 and the Case Finding Study Report on silica exposure in the Manufactured Stone Industry. The Annual Report is tabled in Parliament and published on the NSW Government website www.nsw.gov.au (NSW Silica Dashboard) alongside some information on compliance activities.

Also in 2020, SafeWork NSW released the NSW Dust Strategy 2020-2022, which identified silica as one of three focus areas for the regulator.

In February 2022, New South Wales introduced the NSW Code of Practice – Managing the risks of respirable crystalline silica from engineered stone in the workplace, based on the National Model Code that was finalised in late 2021. The Code provides practical information on how to manage health and safety risks associated with respirable crystalline silica from engineered stone in the workplace.

Silica continues to be a priority for SafeWork NSW in 2023 under the SafeWork NSW regulatory priority: Exposure to harmful substances - Reduce the incidence of worker exposure to dangerous substances in the workplace, particularly silica and dangerous chemicals.

The online NSW Silica Dashboard provides members of the public with information on SafeWork NSW’s silica workplace visit program that commenced in 2018 through to 30 September 2023.

Organisational silos within SafeWork NSW contribute to inconsistent regulatory decision-making, duplication of effort, and inefficient practices

There is evidence indicating that SafeWork NSW works in silos, with limited communication, collaboration, and awareness of activities across functions.

We note the finding made by the South Australian Independent Commission Against Corruption in reviewing SafeWork SA:

A failure to ensure adequate and appropriate communication within an agency can result in duplication of effort, inconsistent approaches to the same function and the creation of unique risks. 

The existence of silos was evidenced by the audit team through:

  • The inconsistent application of policies and procedures. For example, performance management practices differ between directorates and individual teams. This is further discussed in Chapter 4.
  • How data is used across SafeWork NSW. While there are pockets of effective data analysis, they often seem to operate in isolation from each other, resulting in duplication and a failure to achieve economies of scale and the benefits of synergies.
  • Limited feedback loops across SafeWork NSW. SafeWork NSW does not have an overarching continuous improvement framework, and communication surrounding decision-making is limited. For example, where the Investigations and Emergency Response team decide to discontinue an investigation, there is no requirement to inform the referring inspector that this has occurred, or the rationale behind the decision.

Similar findings on the existence of silos, and the need to improve teamwork and collaboration, have been made by SafeWork NSW in internal reviews undertaken as part of restructuring activities.

This audit also found broader issues of concern regarding organisational structure. SafeWork NSW staff frequently expressed reservations about the effectiveness of the current structure and compared it unfavourably to the regulator’s previous form. In particular, some SafeWork NSW staff said that the existing structure:

  • reduced SafeWork NSW’s profile as the regulator for work health and safety in NSW
  • confused lines of accountability for senior strategic leadership
  • diluted the regulator’s focus and the cohesion of the staff.

The Independent Review of SafeWork NSW being conducted by Mr Robert McDougall KC is examining organisational structural issues. In the interim, the decision has been made by DCS that SafeWork NSW will transition out of the Better Regulation Division of DCS from 1 December 2023, to become a standalone division within DCS.

Organisational restructuring and any uncertainty that it involves in the short- to medium-term could impact on the SafeWork NSW's progress in achieving desired policy outcomes, especially if the change management process is not effective.

The lack of a strategic approach to data and intelligence by SafeWork NSW hampers effective targeting and prioritisation of proactive compliance activity

Effective proactive compliance work is an important part of an effective regulatory approach. For SafeWork NSW, these activities range from dedicated state-wide programs over extended periods through to specific, localised ‘blitzes’ of targeted workplaces. These activities are performed alongside 'reactive compliance activities' such as responding to incidents, complaints, or requests by ‘persons conducting a business or undertaking’ (PCBUs) for education and awareness-building activities.

In accordance with Safe Work Australia’s National Compliance and Enforcement Policy, proactive compliance activities are intended to be:


…conducted in line with the activities of assessed highest risk and the strategic enforcement priorities.
 

SafeWork NSW’s proactive compliance activity is intended to be based on:

  • SafeWork NSW’s annual regulatory priorities
  • data and insights on high-risk harms, industries or businesses
  • the identification of new or emerging risks
  • targeted programs focused on reducing the greatest harms.

As discussed earlier in this section, SafeWork NSW does not effectively use data to inform priorities or to assess risk.

While managers at SafeWork NSW referred to an overall target for proactive work (it was commonly suggested that between 60% and 70% of regulatory activities should be proactive), we were informed by the Head of SafeWork NSW (and Deputy Secretary of the Better Regulation Division) that there was no specific target.

In practice, there is significant variation in the mix of proactive and reactive compliance activities between directorates and teams, with some teams doing either largely proactive or largely reactive activities. This can depend on the nature of the industry sectors and geographic areas in which they function, and the extent of teams’ non-discretionary reactive workload.

Planning, implementing and evaluating proactive compliance work is inconsistently done across SafeWork NSW, making it hard to assess whether resources are being used effectively

The audit team found widely differing approaches to how directorates and even individual teams within the same directorate used evidence to identify and target risk areas for proactive work programs, such as blitzes. While there was evidence that data was used to inform how activities would be targeted, this was not consistent. For example, some teams draw on intelligence generated by dedicated interventions staff in their directorates, while others rely entirely on opportunistically identifying potential worksites for proactive work by driving or walking past sites. The audit found examples of effective use of data and intelligence to plan proactive activities.

There is also no consistent approach to planning, implementing, or evaluating proactive compliance work across SafeWork NSW. Even within the same directorate, there can be significant differences in approach. Some of these differences can be explained by the different types of matters and circumstances that apply to PCBUs across different industries. However, inconsistencies extended to fundamental aspects of proactive compliance work such as:

  • the rigour of evidence and intelligence by which priorities are determined and targeted, which was partly reflected by directorates having different levels of internal data capability
  • the degree of project management capability and resourcing, including where some directorates have dedicated specialist project management skills, while others rely on inspectors to perform project management
  • the extent to which different directorates and teams had a clear approach to how programs would be evaluated, beyond simply measuring activity, something which appears undermined by the absence of an evaluation framework
  • whether the strategic intent of programs and blitz activities are to drive meaningful behavioural change or just, as some interviewees expressed it, to ‘make sure they tick some boxes.’

These material differences and lack of consistency in approaches to proactive compliance makes it difficult to assess whether these activities are effective and efficient regulatory interventions. While there was strong support for proactive compliance activity among both managers and inspectors (indeed, most thought that there should be more proactive activity), there were relatively few who could provide an evidence base to justify the significant staff resources that they consume.

The Centre for Work Health and Safety has a function to improve data, research, and evidence to support risk identification

The Centre for Work Health and Safety (CWHS), a functional unit within SafeWork NSW, was established in December 2017 under the WHS Roadmap 2016-2022. Among other things, it has an insights and analytics function. Its establishment was driven by the recognition that SafeWork NSW was not effectively using data and evidence to support its decision-making and activities.

Two pieces of work undertaken by the CWHS are intended to provide SafeWork NSW with greater capability in identifying and addressing risk in both strategic and operational contexts.

First, the WHS Radar project is intended to deliver ‘…regular and actionable insights about WHS in an Australian context.’ Conducted twice a year, the WHS Radar synthesises information about work health and safety by drawing on five sources of evidence:

  • existing data, including incidents, worker’s compensation, ABS, and prosecutions
  • analysis of grey literature (non-peer reviewed sources, such as government reports, some conference papers, and reports from academic, business and industry bodies)
  • social media listening
  • nationwide survey of WHS inspectors and experts
  • nationwide survey of Australian workers across all industries.

The WHS Radar is intended to reduce the extent to which SafeWork NSW is dependent on lag data, by actively collecting more contemporaneous data from multiple sources. The first WHS Radar report was released publicly in April 2023.

A second piece of work delivered by the CWHS is the WHS Risk Rating tool for a PCBU.6 This tool attributes a rating to many businesses in NSW based on assessment of their future risk of non-compliance with WHS legislation. The WHS Risk Rating is intended to:

  • support existing SafeWork NSW Triage decision-making
  • support IDMP decision-making
  • select high-risk profiles during blitz operations
  • proactively screen and target high-risk profiles.

While some managers in SafeWork NSW did use the WHS Risk Rating tool, others were less confident in its value, expressing doubts about the accuracy and completeness of the data, or were not aware of it at all. These inconsistent views between different managers and directors, between those who use the WHS Risk Rating tool and those who do not use it or do not even have awareness about it, suggests that its purpose and functionalities have not been fully communicated to the wider inspectorate.

The governance of the CWHS, and particularly its relationship to SafeWork NSW, is somewhat unclear. While the Centre sits under the Executive Director, Regulatory Engagement, it identifies on its website as ‘A division of the Department of Customer Service’. Structurally, it is equivalent to a directorate under the Regulatory Engagement business area of SafeWork NSW, rather than a division of the department.

SafeWork NSW's inspectors are its core asset, and its ability to recruit, train and retain inspectors is key to fully performing its functions and meeting the internationally recognised benchmark

SafeWork NSW is funded to fully operate with up to 370 inspectors, though with 352 inspectors at August 2023 it has not recruited to full capacity.

Staff retention within the inspectorate has been a historic strength of the regulator. However, there has been a recent increase in inspector turnover. SafeWork NSW notes that from 2020 to 2022 attrition rates doubled from 5.3% to 10.6% within the inspectorate, which – due to the average age of its workers – was anticipated. Nearly one-third of inspectors were 56 years or older in the 2021–22 financial year. SafeWork NSW also experienced a general increase in resignations since the COVID-19 pandemic.

Increased recruitment activity is intended to mitigate the impact of ongoing attrition due to retirement. However, given the training requirements for new inspectors, there is a significant lag time between recruitment and the utility of inspectors in the field to progress regulatory priorities. SafeWork NSW notes however that inspectors receive authorisations to use their powers throughout the 12-month training period, with individuals assessed at a number of stages based on individual competence.

Where there have been capacity limitations, there have been localised responses such as the sharing of inspectors between teams, or the change in resourcing profile of investigations where instead of one inspector working on a case, a case is assigned to a team.

The International Labour Organization sets a benchmark of one labour inspector per 10,000 workers in industrial market economies. This benchmark is considered the number of inspectors deemed sufficient to ensure the effective discharge of the duties of the inspectorate. In October 2022, SafeWork NSW reported at the Parliamentary Budget Estimates Committee hearings that recruiting the full contingent of 370 inspectors would have meant that there was one SafeWork NSW inspector for every 10,000 workers, allowing it to meet this benchmark.

SafeWork NSW provided advice to the audit team that forecast increases in the number of workers and workplaces in New South Wales will result in 471 inspectors being required to meet the International Labour Organization benchmark by 2027.

SafeWork NSW inspectors can take up to two years to be considered ready to be fully utilised, due to training requirements and variations in their experience

Once recruitment is completed and new inspectors commence employment, they will start the New Inspector Training Program (NITP). The NITP is a 12-month comprehensive training program which prepares new Inspectors to perform the duties required of an Inspector within SafeWork NSW as well as providing training and assessment required for the PSP50116 Diploma of Government (Workplace Inspection) qualification. Inspectors will be fully trained after 12 months.

They will be issued with their instrument of appointment (authorities) to use their powers throughout the 12 month course. However it was noted throughout interviews with the inspectorate that it can take up to two years for new inspectors to be deployed in the field on their own and confidently making decisions. SafeWork NSW notes that the level of mentoring and support provided to individual inspectors, and access to a variety of experiences to build a range of skills contributes to variations in new inspectors building their confidence.

SafeWork NSW also provides:

  • a structured framework for new inspector onboarding and capacity-building, including in May 2023 formalising requirements for accompanied field visits, and delivering the NITP, delivered by the SafeWork NSW Registered Training Organisation (RTO) and utilising experienced inspectors from across the directorate to deliver training across the 12-month period
  • a SafeWork NSW Inspectorate and Manager Continuing Professional Development Program Policy
  • formal processes for Inspectorate Continuing Professional Development and Manager Continuing Professional Development, including recognition of prior learning through credit transfer from other registered training organisations
  • a formalised procedure for inspectors to progress to senior inspector and principal inspector.

While it was beyond the scope of this audit to assess the effectiveness of this training and capability development framework, it was recognised by interviewees that the commitment of time and resources provided by SafeWork NSW to training inspectors was significant. This underscores the importance of ensuring the effective use of inspectors.

There are inconsistent expectations around the responsibilities of SafeWork NSW inspectors and managers for identifying new and emerging issues

Inspectors may apply to the Inspector Progression Panel of SafeWork NSW to progress from Inspector to the level of Senior Inspector, or Senior Inspector to the level of Principal Inspector. In addition to the overarching requirements of the (Department of Customer Service – SafeWork NSW Inspectors 2007) Reviewed Award, this process is governed by a formal written procedure.

This procedure sets out that in considering applications for progression, the panel should take into account whether the applicant has fulfilled the responsibilities of their current role. The procedure specifies that inspectors and principal inspectors are accountable to:

Identify trends and emerging issues and provide advice to inform decision making.’ 

It is unclear why inspectors and principal inspectors have this responsibility, but not the intermediate level of senior inspectors. It is also unclear whether people managers, such as team managers, directors, and executive directors, also have similar formal obligations to proactively identify emerging issues.

Moreover, as senior inspectors are not accountable for identifying trends and emerging issues, inspectors are not assessed against this accountability when seeking progression to the senior inspector level. In contrast, when seeking progression from senior inspector to principal inspector, the applicant is required to provide evidence of how they meet this accountability, even though it is not an accountability specified for senior inspectors.

The accuracy of SafeWork NSW’s workforce planning is uncertain

Workload capacity is managed at the directorate level, with a forecasting report on the capacity across all teams discussed quarterly at the SafeWork NSW Leadership Group. Inspectors do not fill out timesheets, instead, this is based on time estimates for specific activities undertaken by inspectors. Directorates are also responsible for leading or supporting work against specific regulatory priorities, requiring directorates to discuss workforce capacity as part of planning proactive work.

SafeWork NSW has a 'workload management treatment model' that provides operation guidance once certain thresholds are reached within this forecasting report. These mechanisms include the reallocation of resources within the directorate at 125% of capacity reached, sharing and reallocation of work between equivalent portfolios at 150% of capacity reached, and cross directorate sharing of work and resources as well as the cessation or deference of work at 175% of capacity reached.

The actual allocation of inspectors to individual directorates is determined at the executive level when vacancies arise, with SafeWork NSW noting that 'consideration is given to the demand for regulatory services (current and expected future) across all teams to determine which directorate and office location a replacement position should be allocated'.

Audit interviews identified some concern that the calculations the forecasting reports are based on were not accurate, overestimated time, and that the data was used inconsistently and as a method to 'grab for resources'. While this audit did not examine SafeWork NSW's forecasting methodology in detail, a sample of the workforce forecasting report for April to June 2023 showed average capacity ranging from 9% to 390%, which may indicate under-utilised or over-utilised teams, or under or overweighted activities.

While there are mechanisms in place to review operational capacity, longer-term strategic workforce planning does not seem to form part of these review processes.

As part of developing its regulatory priorities, SafeWork NSW released a discussion paper that noted broader trends affecting workplaces and communities that it regulates, for example the rise in mental health issues in the workplace, automation, and the return of regional on-shore manufacturing. SafeWork NSW has a SafeWork Inspectorate and Manager Continuing Professional Development Program Policy, however this policy was only finalised in July 2023.


3 This study, conducted by a third-party, stemmed from a recommendation made by the NSW Parliament’s 2019 Dust Disease Review to amend the WHS Act to require SafeWork NSW to ensure that a case finding study was carried out:

  • to investigate respirable crystalline silica exposure in the manufactured stone industry, and

  • to gather information to improve the identification and assessment of workers at risk of exposure.

The purpose of this recommendation was to ‘to improve the identification and assessment of workers at risk of exposure.

4 The authors of this case finding study identified significant data limitations, which meant that it was not possible to estimate with confidence the complete number of workers potentially affected by silicosis.

5 Because of the lag period between when a worker is exposed to risky work practices and when they may develop silicosis, complaint data is not necessarily a useful tool to identify the emerging risk, especially where awareness of the risk is low. Unlike with risks that pose a more immediate and direct harm – such as falling off an insecure elevated platform - individuals may be less conscious to complain about a risk where the potential injury is not immediately visible.

6 A person conducting a business or undertaking has the primary duty of care for work health and safety.

 

This chapter considers how effectively SafeWork NSW measures and reports its performance in monitoring and enforcing compliance with the WHS Act. This includes whether it has meaningful performance measures, whether its performance is transparent to all stakeholders, and whether it uses performance information to support continuous improvement and quality assurance.

Performance measurement and reporting are essential to demonstrating a regulator's effectiveness

The Audit Office’s 2022 Audit Insights 2018–22 report noted that:

Defining measurable outcomes, tracking and reporting performance are core to delivering system stewardship, and to ensure effective and economical use of public funds.’ 

The same report also observed that government activity should:

…be supported by performance frameworks that provide structure for agencies to set performance targets, assess performance gaps, measure outcomes achieved, and benefits realised, capture lessons learned, and implement continuous improvement. 

Relatedly, the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development has said that it is important for regulators to be aware of the impacts of their regulatory actions and decisions, and that this:

…helps drive improvements and enhance systems and processes internally. It also demonstrates the effectiveness of the regulator to whom it is accountable and helps to build confidence in the regulatory system. 

SafeWork NSW reports its activities and performance against certain KPIs, along with equivalent regulators in other Australian jurisdictions

Safe Work Australia, the national policy body for work health and safety, collects, analyses and publishes data across jurisdictions. SafeWork NSW provides data on regulatory activities such as the volume of proactive and reactive regulatory work, and performance measures such as injuries and fatalities. This is contained in the Safe Work Australia Comparative Performance Monitoring – Work Health and Safety Performance, and Work Health and Safety Compliance and Enforcement Activities reports.

The data published by Safe Work Australia provides comparative and longitudinal performance data relating to workplace injuries, fatalities, and compliance activities. This is ‘lag’ data, often 12 months or more in arrears. SafeWork NSW notes that due to the currency of data, it is not useful for planning purposes.

The ability to directly compare jurisdictional activities to form a view on the effectiveness of each regulator is limited, due to differences in how each work health and safety regulator works and the scope of their powers and responsibilities. For example, unlike in other states and territories, SafeWork NSW is not responsible for claims management or return to work matters.

Data reported by SafeWork NSW to Safe Work Australia indicates that, while fatalities have decreased, SafeWork NSW may not have had meaningful impact on the rates of serious injuries and disease claims since 2016–17

The data provided to Safe Work Australia shows that SafeWork NSW has presided over a period where there has been an increase in the incident rate of serious injury and disease claims in New South Wales. While SafeWork NSW is not responsible for workers compensation, the payment of workers compensation necessitates that a workplace injury has occurred.

The audit team has not seen evidence that SafeWork NSW has interrogated the root cause data trends since 2016–17 (discussed below). While the causes of workplace injury are often complex and multifaceted, the data suggests that SafeWork NSW may not be having a meaningful impact on reducing rates of serious injuries, but the poor data quality means that we cannot be sure. It was beyond the scope of this audit to specifically examine serious injuries and disease claims, or the root cause(s) for the upward trend.

An extract of one performance indicator is shown in Exhibit 2 below. It shows serious injury and disease claim data from 2012–13 through to 2020–21 (where 2020–21p stands for preliminary data). The 2015–16 financial year is highlighted to indicate the establishment phase of SafeWork NSW.

 

This chapter considers selected policies and procedures that SafeWork NSW has implemented to ensure that it performs its compliance functions in a manner that is consistent with regulatory good practice. This includes that regulatory decisions are fair, consistent, predictable, transparent and in accordance with any laws or government policy. This extends to how complaints and incidents are initially triaged, the decisions inspectors make in response to complaints or incidents, and decisions made about whether a matter is referred to investigation for possible prosecution.

SafeWork NSW has made significant efforts to promote consistency in regulatory decision-making

A core element of an effective compliance regime is that the regulator’s behaviour and decision-making should be consistent and predictable. This encourages trust and confidence in the regulator, while promoting clarity and certainty among regulated entities.

SafeWork NSW faces particular challenges to achieving consistency in regulatory outcomes without fettering the legislative decision-making authority of individual inspectors. The audit was made aware of cases where stakeholders could not understand the rationale by which decisions were made, including in matters raised in Parliamentary Budget Estimates Committee hearings.

The reasons for the lack of consistency, whether perceived or actual, includes such matters as:

  • the unique circumstances that may apply to individual risks, hazards, or incidents
  • the wide variation in characteristics of PCBUs, including in regard to matters that might affect their culpability for non-compliance, such as their size or compliance history
  • varying levels of experience across inspectors
  • potential differences between individual inspectors in risk appetite, regulatory posture and attitudes to varying regulatory interventions.

These complexities have received heightened attention by SafeWork NSW since the 2020 findings of the NSW Ombudsman’s inquiry into SafeWork NSW and the Blue Mountains City Council. Among other things, in this inquiry the Ombudsman found that:

  • only inspectors had the authority to form a ‘reasonable belief’ that non-compliance with the WHS Act or regulation had occurred
  • where an inspector forms a ‘reasonable belief’ of non-compliance, then they must issue a regulatory notice
  • instances had occurred where inspectors had issued notices without forming the necessary ‘reasonable belief’ that valid grounds existed for those notices
  • inspectors had issued notices without forming their own requisite ‘reasonable belief’ because they had been directed to issue notices by management.

Notwithstanding these challenges, SafeWork NSW was able to demonstrate that it has implemented measures aimed at promoting consistency in regulatory decision-making. These measures include:

  • extensive guidance in exercising discretionary decision-making
  • inspector practice notes
  • directorate and team level discussions intended to promote consistency in decision-making.

These measures are primarily focused at encouraging consistency in the application of the law prospectively. There was less evidence that decisions were consistently, formally, and robustly reviewed retrospectively, such as by:

  • peer review
  • internal audit or quality assurance of decisions
  • managerial coaching and mentoring.

The audit found varying practices and processes across SafeWork NSW teams and directorates for these sorts of retrospective and reflexive learning processes. Some managers and directors were able to describe regular review activities, either through one-on-one case reviews with individual inspectors, or through team meetings, though the evidence was that these activities were not consistent across regulatory decision-making areas of SafeWork NSW.

Such retrospective mechanisms would not be aimed at varying decisions already made, but at contributing to standardising how inspectors make future decisions by promoting consistency through setting precedents for responding to substantively similar matters.

Staff performance management is inconsistent across SafeWork NSW, which may hinder consistent practices, behaviours and outcomes

The use of organisational performance management and planning systems can be an important tool for promoting consistent behaviours, understandings and outcomes.
This audit included a survey of all members of the inspectorate, excluding team managers. Approximately 60% the inspectorate responded to the survey. The survey of found that:

  • 36% said that they did not have an annual performance agreement – almost one in every two inspectors (46%) in the two metropolitan focused directorates said they did not have performance agreements that set out what was required of them
  • the Investigation and Emergency Response directorate had a comparatively higher rate of reported performance agreements in place (80%) than all the other directorates that comprised SafeWork NSW (57%) – the reasons for this were not examined by the survey.

Findings from a survey of the inspectorate highlight the role of discretion in decision-making, and how these factors can be inconsistently applied

The survey conducted by the audit also asked inspectors about how different factors might affect their decision to issue a penalty notice for a breach of the WHS Act (excluding the most serious categories of matters that would ordinarily be immediately referred to full investigation and possible prosecution).

The discretionary factors that were included in the survey included:

  • a sample taken from SafeWork NSW's written procedure for issuing penalty notices (shown in Exhibit 5 below)
  • a small number that had been raised with the audit team by SafeWork NSW staff during interviews, namely: current regulatory priorities, media or political interest, and the size of the PCBU (specifically, whether or not a hypothetical PCBU was a small, family-owned business).
Exhibit 5: Discretionary factors when issuing a penalty notice

Factors that are considered relevant to the exercise of discretion to issue a penalty notice are:

  1. The seriousness of the risk and the actual or potential consequences or harm.
  2. The extent of any injury or illness (penalties must not be issued for a fatality or serious injury which may lead to a full investigation or prosecution unless in accordance with this procedure).
  3. The duty holder’s safety and compliance history, e.g., a repeat offender or there is a likelihood of the offence being repeated.
  4. The prevalence of the offence in the jurisdiction and industry impact.
  5. The culpability of the duty holder, that is, how far below acceptable standards the conduct falls and the extent to which the duty holder contributed to the risk.
  6. Whether the duty holder was authorised to undertake certain types of work, e.g., work requiring a licence, registration, permit or other authority (however described) as required by the regulations.
  7. Prior notice of the risk or offence (e.g., direct to the duty holder or through codes of practice, educational material, safety alerts, guidance sheets, campaigns or priority interventions etc).
  8. Whether the circumstances warrant the application of an administrative sanction at a lesser scale than an enforceable undertaking or prosecution (in addition to remedial action in the form of an improvement or prohibition notice).
  9. Any mitigating or aggravating circumstances including efforts undertaken by the duty holder to control risks and the duty holder’s co-operation and willingness to address the issue.

Source: SafeWork NSW, Penalty Notice Procedure.

Inspectors were asked whether a range of selected factors were in general more, less, or not at all likely to influence their decision to issue a penalty notice.

As shown in Exhibit 6 below, the survey found that the most common response to most of the factors was that they made it neither more nor less likely that an inspector would issue a penalty notice in response to non-compliance. In some cases, this is probably to be expected.

For example, whether or not a non-compliant PCBU is a NSW government agency should probably not affect whether it is issued with a penalty notice. This was the case for 80% of respondents (though notably, 20% of inspectors responded that it would affect their decision, including 3% who responded that they would be much more likely to issue a penalty notice).

Other variations seem less intuitive to explain. This is particularly the case when a factor is written in policy or procedures. For example, 44% of inspectors responded that their decision would not be affected by whether or not the PCBU had prior notice of the risk, even though prior notice is prescribed in the SafeWork NSW procedure as a factor that should be taken into account (see item 7 of Exhibit 5).

The role played by SafeWork NSW regulatory priorities is also uncertain. On the one hand, 62% of inspectors said that they would be more (39%) or much more (23%) likely to issue a penalty if the non-compliance related to a regulatory priority, while 38% said it would have no impact.

The survey also found noticeable variations in responses between directorates regarding when penalty notices would be more or less likely to be issued. This included in regard to:

  • whether a non-compliant PCBU was a small business or not
  • the role of PCBU culpability
  • whether non-compliance related to a matter of media or political interest.

This chapter presents a case study that arose during the course of this audit. The case study demonstrates issues discussed in earlier chapters of this report, particularly in relation to the management of risk and the proper application of policies and procedures to ensure SafeWork NSW’s effectiveness as a regulator.

About the case study

The case study concerns the activities of the Department of Customer Service and SafeWork NSW, the latter of which is located within the department. Neither the case study nor this performance audit generally examined the activities of the commercial partner (including any related companies) referenced in the case study, including Trolex Ltd (UK), Trolex Nome Australia Pty Ltd., or Trolex Sensors Pty Ltd. No findings have been made, either express or implied, in relation to the commercial partner.

The case study was based on a review of evidentiary documents, primarily in the form of emails sourced from SafeWork NSW. To avoid compromising other processes, interviews were not held.

SafeWork NSW’s respirable crystalline silica real-time detection project

As discussed earlier, silicosis is a progressive, occupational lung disease resulting from inhalation of respirable crystalline silica. In recent years, there has been high profile attention to respirable crystalline silica exposure from manufactured stone products (such as kitchen benchtops), though these risks had been published in international research since at least 2010. Unlike asbestos, respirable crystalline silica from manufactured stone can lead to the development of silicosis and other lung diseases after relatively short exposure and latency periods, resulting in relatively young workers developing serious diseases.

From 2016 to 2022, SafeWork NSW’s Work Health and Safety Roadmap included a target to reduce workplace exposure to priority hazardous chemicals and materials by 30%. This focus was retained in SafeWork NSW's regulatory priorities for 2023, which included the aim of reducing the incidence of worker exposure to harmful substances such as silica.

In 2018, SafeWork NSW commenced a project to fund a ‘research partner’ to develop a device that would detect in real-time the presence of respirable crystalline silica in workplaces. This project was led by the Centre for Work Health and Safety within SafeWork NSW.

Following a selection process, Trolex, a private company from the United Kingdom, was selected as the research partner. Trolex developed a device intended to meet the objective of the project. This device is called the Air XS and sells for approximately $18,500 AUD. The Air XS device was launched on 7 April 2022. The first-generation of the Air XS devices are no longer on the market, however up to 60 second-generation devices are currently in use across Australia.

In December 2022, this research project won the DCS Secretary’s Award for Excellence in Digital Innovation and was also one of the department’s nominees for a Premier’s Award in 2022.

As part of understanding SafeWork NSW’s response to the work health and safety risks of respirable crystalline silica from manufactured stone products, the audit examined this research project to procure a 'research partner' to develop a respirable crystalline silica real-time detection device. The findings of this examination are set out below.

SafeWork NSW’s processes were ineffective in responding to and mitigating risk and in ensuring compliance

As detailed below, our examination of this project found significant governance failings in SafeWork NSW, including the absence of key documentation, which created risks relating to whether the project would deliver its objective and whether it complied with procurement requirements. Concerns about whether the Air XS device would satisfy project objectives were not properly addressed.

We also found non-compliance with mandatory procurement policies. The failure to ensure compliance with procurement requirements leaves open the risk that value for money was not achieved, or that the procurement was not fair, transparent, consistent with promoting competition, or free from corruption or maladministration.

As a result of the Audit Office raising these issues with the Head of SafeWork NSW, the regulator undertook to enter into discussions with the CSIRO to conduct further testing of the real-time RCS detection device.

Concerns were raised by staff about the accuracy of the Air XS devices, though these concerns were not escalated beyond Director-level staff

Both before and after the launch of the Air XS device, concerns were raised by technical staff within SafeWork NSW about the accuracy of the devices and the rigour with which they had been tested during development.

It should be noted that the manufacturer, in correspondence with SafeWork NSW, defended the accuracy of the Air XS devices. It was beyond the scope of the audit to reconcile apparently conflicting technical assessments. Rather, the audit examined how SafeWork NSW managed the potential project delivery risk when these material concerns were raised.

Toward the end of 2021, concerns first emerged about the accuracy of the Air XS devices in emails between staff in the Regulatory Engagement business area of SafeWork NSW. These emails outlined concerns that the Air XS devices were not sufficiently accurate in detecting respirable crystalline silica. These views were derived from testing performed outside of any technical assurance process. At the time, these concerns were not shared with executive-level staff, including with any relevant Directors.

By the end of March 2022, the Centre for Work Health and Safety had requested and received from Trolex testing reports on the Air XS device. Two technical staff in the Testing Services directorate of SafeWork NSW were asked to review the testing reports. They were given five days to conduct these reviews.

On 5 April 2022, two days before the product was launched, one of the technical staff emailed the Director, Testing Services, advising that each of the two technical staff had independently prepared assessments and that their conclusions were ‘…not what DCS will want to hear’.

The internal assessment reports were subsequently provided to the Director, Testing Services, and to the Centre for Work Health and Safety. One of the reports stated that the product was not ‘market ready’ and that further testing was required. The audit did not find evidence that these conclusions were escalated to the Executive Director, Regulatory Engagement.

On 6 April 2022, the research project manager was advised by a staff member in the Centre for Work Health and Safety that an independent expert’s report (commissioned by the Centre for Work Health and Safety) concluded that ‘…there isn’t enough data to assess the validity of the device’.

Despite these concerns, the product launch occurred on 7 April 2022.

The audit found that concerns were again documented on at least two occasions after the product was launched. First, in September 2022, a senior technical staff member in the Centre for Work Health and Safety expressed concerns to colleagues, including the Director, Testing Services, that the staff member was uncomfortable promoting the Air XS without further testing being conducted.

Secondly, in May 2023, an internal test report prepared within the Testing Services business unit highlighted specific concerns about the accuracy of a first-generation Air XS device. This internal test report was provided to the Director, Testing Services, and was conducted with at least the knowledge of the Director, Research and Evaluation.

In both cases (September 2022 and May 2023), there are gaps in the evidence concerning how widely these internal concerns were shared. The audit found no evidence of:

  • any material response by SafeWork NSW management to address the concerns that had been raised
  • any assessment of risks posed to SafeWork NSW and other stakeholders
  • any escalation of the concerns to the relevant Executive Director or to the Head of SafeWork NSW.

This apparent lack of management action was despite the potential risks to the work health and safety of workers who may have relied on the Air XS, and to the reputation of the regulator.

Some SafeWork NSW staff were hesitant to raise concerns about the Air XS device

Some staff reported to us that they did not raise these risks with their managers due to concerns that to do so might affect their employment. In the Auditor-General’s 2018 audit report Managing risks in the NSW public sector: risk culture and capability, it was noted that:

Effective risk management is essential to good governance, and supports staff at all levels to make informed judgements and decisions. 

The report also observed that it is now widely accepted that organisational culture is a key element of risk management because it influences how people recognise and engage with risk. This includes ensuring that agencies have a culture of open communication so that all employees feel comfortable speaking openly about risks.

In this case, SafeWork NSW lacked the risk processes and culture to encourage all staff to identify, raise, escalate, and respond to risk appropriately. While the department does have a mechanism (via dedicated phone and email contacts) for staff to report integrity concerns, this mechanism was not used.

Concerns about the Air XS device were also raised by an external user of the device, though there is no evidence that these concerns were substantively addressed

On 21 August 2023, a senior manager from an external user emailed staff in SafeWork NSW’s Testing Services Directorate to advise that they had told the local distributor that they no longer wished to conduct further testing, nor purchase any Air XS devices. The senior manager stated that:

…the claim that the Air XS Silica monitor ‘delivers highly accurate, continuous, real-time silica detection’ could not be validated by the distributor despite many requests and efforts in the field to test the monitors and validate the data. 

The senior manager further stated that they were:

…disappointed that SafeWork NSW promotes the monitors with no evidence, known and/or held by them, that the monitors deliver the promoted monitor outcomes. 

The audit found no evidence that these concerns were meaningfully addressed by SafeWork NSW.

The process of procuring a ‘research partner’ to develop the Air XS device was flawed, in that there was non-compliance with procurement obligations and inadequate record keeping

The cost of procuring the Air XS research partner increased from an initial estimated cost of $200,000 when the request for tender was issued in May 2019 to $1.34 million when the final contract was executed in August 2019.

The audit found non-compliance in the process undertaken by the CWHS to procure the research partner. This non-compliance related to the requirements of the applicable departmental procurement manual, as well as with DCS financial delegations, and with the tender evaluation plan prepared for the process.

Examples of non-compliance and other poor practices are outlined below.

  • The Director, Research and Evaluation, was a voting member of the evaluation committee and also signed the acceptance letter for the successful proposal. This contravened the department’s procurement requirement that an approving delegate may not also evaluate tender responses. At the time, the estimated cost of the engagement was $200,000 and was therefore within the Director’s financial delegation.
  • The evaluation of the submitted tenders included an assessment provided by a designated non-voting member of the tender evaluation committee who had a declared conflict of interest.
  • One member of the tender evaluation committee lodged a strong objection to the preferred provider. SafeWork NSW could not provide documentation about how this objection was addressed.
  • When the final cost of the engagement increased to $1.34 million by August 2019, the Director, Research and Evaluation, no longer had the necessary delegation to approve the engagement of Trolex. Under the delegations issued by the DCS Secretary on 29 August 2019, the approval of an Executive Director was required for contracts valued between $500,000 and $2 million.
  • The scoring in the tender evaluation committee’s (unsigned) evaluation report did not comply with the approach set out in the tender evaluation plan. This was material as, had the tender evaluation plan been followed, two tenders would have been assessed as having the same successful score.
  • SafeWork NSW was unable to provide:
    • a signed and dated copy of an approval to issue the initial request for tender
    • a signed and dated copy of an approval for SafeWork NSW to enter into a formal agreement with Trolex
    • a final tender evaluation report signed by all members of the tender evaluation panel
    • evidence of any approval to increase the value of the contract from the $200,000 anticipated in the initial request for tender up to the $1.34 million final value of the contract.

Such non-compliance can contribute to the risk of maladministration in procurement activities, including by undermining probity and challenging whether value for money is achieved.

 

Appendix one – Response from agency

Appendix two – About the audit

Appendix Three – Performance auditing

 

© Copyright reserved by the Audit Office of New South Wales. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced without prior consent of the Audit Office of New South Wales. The Audit Office does not accept responsibility for loss or damage suffered by any person acting on or refraining from action as a result of any of this material.

 

Parliamentary reference - Report number #390 - released 27 February 2024

 

Published

Actions for Flood housing response

Flood housing response

Planning
Whole of Government
Community Services
Premier and Cabinet
Internal controls and governance
Management and administration
Procurement
Project management
Risk
Service delivery
Shared services and collaboration

What this report is about

Extreme rainfall across eastern Australia in 2021 and 2022 led to a series of major flood events in New South Wales.

This audit assessed how effectively the NSW Government provided emergency accommodation and temporary housing in response to the early 2022 Northern Rivers and late 2022 Central West flood events.

Responsible agencies included in this audit were the Department of Communities and Justice, NSW Reconstruction Authority, the former Department of Planning and Environment, the Department of Regional NSW and the Premier’s Department.

Findings

The Department of Communities and Justice rapidly provided emergency accommodation to displaced persons immediately following these flood events.

There was no plan in place to guide a temporary housing response and agencies did not have agency-level plans for implementing their responsibilities.

The NSW Government rapidly procured and constructed temporary housing villages. However, the amount of temporary housing provided did not meet the demand.

There is an extensive waitlist for temporary housing and the remaining demand in the Northern Rivers is unlikely to be met. The NSW Reconstruction Authority has not reviewed this list to confirm its accuracy.

Demobilisation plans for the temporary housing villages have been developed, but there are no long-term plans in place for the transition of tenants out of the temporary housing.

Agencies are in the process of evaluating the provision of emergency accommodation and temporary housing.

The findings from the 2022 State-wide lessons process largely relate to response activities.

Audit recommendations

The NSW Reconstruction Authority should:

  • Develop a plan for the provision of temporary housing.
  • Review the temporary housing waitlist.
  • Determine a timeline for demobilising the temporary housing villages.
  • Develop a strategy to manage the transition of people into long-term accommodation.
  • Develop a process for state-wide recovery lessons learned.

All audited agencies should:

  • Finalise evaluations of their role in the provision of emergency accommodation and temporary housing.
  • Develop internal plans for implementing their roles under state-wide plans.

Extreme rainfall across eastern Australia in 2021 and 2022 led to a series of major flood events in New South Wales. In response, the NSW Government declared each of these events a natural disaster and made available a wide range of support for affected individuals and businesses. The flooding experienced by the State was widespread and its severity caused significant destruction in communities across the State. Some of the most significant damage occurred in the Northern Rivers and Central West regions of New South Wales.

Whilst areas of the Northern Rivers are prone to regular flooding, the scale of flooding in 2022 had not been experienced in the region before. On 28 February 2022, the Wilsons River in Lismore reached a height of 14.4 metres, approximately 2.3 metres higher than the previous record. A second flood occurred on 30 March 2022, with the river reaching 11.4 metres. The flooding in the region was extensive, affecting towns including Lismore, Coraki, Woodburn and Ballina. Between late February and early April 2022, 13 lives were lost in the Northern Rivers floods. In addition, 4,055 properties were deemed uninhabitable, and a further 10,849 properties were assessed as damaged. Approximately 4,000 people had to be evacuated from Lismore alone during this period, with thousands displaced from their homes across the region.

In the Central West, on 14 November 2022, the Lachlan River at Forbes peaked at 10.6 metres and was categorised as major flooding due to the inundation of extensive rural areas with properties, villages and towns isolated. On the same day in Eugowra, the Mandagery Creek peaked at 9.8 metres, passing the previous record of 9.6 metres in 1950. Flooding occurred in other areas of the Central West including Parkes, Molong, Cowra and Canowindra. Two lives were lost in the town of Eugowra with 80% of homes and businesses in the town damaged.

This audit assessed the following two areas of NSW Government support provided in response to these flood events:

  • Provision of emergency accommodation: short-term accommodation provided to displaced persons unable to return to their own home in an emergency situation.
  • Provision of temporary housing provided in the form of temporary pods and caravans.

The Department of Communities and Justice (DCJ) is responsible for the provision of emergency accommodation and other welfare services in response to a disaster event. With regards to temporary housing, the following agencies were involved in this audit:

  • Resilience NSW was the lead agency responsible for recovery and led the implementation of the temporary housing program under the oversight of the Chair, Housing Taskforce (HTF) from July 2022. On 16 December 2022, Resilience NSW was abolished, with some staff transferred to the NSW Police Force, Department of Premier and Cabinet (DPC) and DCJ. The remaining staff were transitioned to the newly established NSW Reconstruction Authority.
  • The Department of Planning and Environment (DPE) chaired the HTF until July 2022 and led the process for the identification and evaluation of temporary housing village sites. On 1 January 2024, DPE was abolished and the DPE functions discussed in this report now form part of the Department of Planning, Housing and Infrastructure.
  • NSW Public Works (NSWPW), a branch of the Department of Regional NSW (DRNSW) procured and managed the construction of the pods used in this program, and procured the caravans used as part of the temporary housing response.

The then DPC (now Premier’s Department (PD)) was responsible for whole-of-government policy advice, convening the Crisis Policy Committee of Cabinet, and whole-of-government communications.

This audit assessed how effectively the NSW Government provided emergency and temporary housing in response to the early 2022 Northern Rivers and late 2022 Central West flood events. We addressed this objective by examining whether the audited agencies:

  • effectively planned for the provision of emergency accommodation and temporary housing prior to the flood events
  • provided emergency accommodation and temporary housing to meet the needs of affected communities in response to the flood events
  • are effectively capturing lessons learned in relation to their provision of emergency accommodation and temporary housing as part of the flood response.

There is a State-level plan in place to guide the approach to emergency accommodation

The Welfare Services Functional Area Supporting Plan (WSFASP, the plan) is a supporting plan to the New South Wales Emergency Management Plan (EMPLAN). The plan outlines the responsibilities of the Department of Communities and Justice (DCJ) for the coordination and delivery of disaster welfare services in New South Wales. This includes the provision of emergency accommodation services. The plan in place during the flood events outlined the responsibilities of DCJ and the former Office of Emergency Management (OEM), some responsibilities of which have since transitioned to the NSW Reconstruction Authority (the Reconstruction Authority). The plan sets out a framework for government and non-government organisations to coordinate to provide key welfare services during an emergency, and outlines agreed roles and responsibilities. The plan outlines preparedness measures and arrangements for the provision of key welfare services during the response to and recovery from emergencies in New South Wales.

The plan details the organisations and key positions involved in welfare services, including their overall roles and responsibilities, and a basic structure for the delivery of disaster welfare services. For example, the plan states that both the former Department of Families and Communities Services and the not-for-profit Adventist Development and Relief Agency (ADRA) are responsible for emergency accommodation but does not clarify the detailed responsibilities associated with this role. These provide a State-wide, though not detailed, approach to emergency accommodation and welfare services in a disaster recovery context.

There was no plan in place to guide the temporary housing response, despite the NSW Government utilising this type of response in a previous emergency event

The State-level emergency planning documents do not contemplate the need for temporary housing as a government disaster response. Although there was a temporary housing response to the Black Summer bushfires in 2019–20, albeit on a smaller scale, no specific plans were in place to guide this response or the flood events in 2021–22. The NSW Government therefore had to develop its approach to addressing demand for temporary housing whilst responding to the flood emergency as it was occurring.

A partnership was established between the NSW Government and the Minderoo Foundation in 2020 to provide 100 pods to people whose homes were destroyed in the Black Summer bushfires. The initial rollout consisted of four-person pods, however the need for greater capacity was identified, with larger, family-sized pods developed for up to six people. The implementation of this program did not include formalising the work completed in documented plans for future use in response to other emergency events.

A plan that sets out how temporary housing should be used is in place in Queensland. The Queensland Government released a Temporary Emergency Accommodation (TEA) plan in 2021 which describes the arrangements, roles and responsibilities of key organisations critical to supporting displaced community members after the closure of an evacuation centre. The TEA plan outlines the five phases in the provision of accommodation support which includes temporary housing recovery. This demonstrates that a plan for the use of temporary accommodation would not be unprecedented.

Without plans in place to respond to all aspects of an emergency, decision makers are forced to be reactive in their decision making or to develop these plans while also responding to the events. In this specific instance, the government was forced to develop governance structures and perform tasks such as options analysis and site selection for temporary housing during the immediate aftermath of the flood events.

The Reconstruction Authority has acknowledged the need for a formalised plan for temporary housing responses and has started work to develop this in preparation for future flood events. It advised that the Housing Taskforce (HTF) has begun this work by performing assessments and reviews of high-risk areas and engaging with local councils and community groups. The Reconstruction Authority is also developing a Recovery Readiness Checklist, which will include preparedness for the provision of temporary housing in an emergency. Pre-event recovery planning specific to Local Government Areas (LGAs) is also underway, with the Reconstruction Authority developing tailored checklists which cover the provision of temporary housing. These tools will form part of the State's recovery response under the NSW Recovery Plan, which the Reconstruction Authority is currently in the process of updating. The Reconstruction Authority advises that this update will include identifying responsibilities in relation to the temporary housing response and recovery more broadly.

The WSFASP in place during the flood events had not been reviewed and updated in line with its planning requirements

Plans which outline the coordination and delivery of services in response to an emergency are imperative to ensure all required activities are completed, and the needs of affected communities are met. Plans also serve as a common reference point for decision making. Out of date plans can result in unclear roles and responsibilities, requiring agencies to make improvised decisions due to the urgent nature of emergency response. This creates a risk of key activities not being fulfilled and community needs going unmet.

The WSFASP in place during the flood response was last updated and endorsed by the State Emergency Management Committee (SEMC) in June 2018. As part of the planning requirements outlined in the plan, the State Welfare Services Functional Area Coordinator (WelFAC) is required to ensure the plan is reviewed every five years, or when relevant aspects require review following emergency operations or changes to legislation. The State WelFAC is an officer from DCJ responsible for the monitoring, support and coordination of disaster welfare services in New South Wales.

In 2020, a machinery of government change was implemented which established Resilience NSW as a public service executive agency and transferred persons employed in OEM to Resilience NSW. Despite these legislative changes, the plan had not been updated in line with its requirements to reflect these and subsequent changes, as OEM was still listed as one of the two agencies responsible for the coordination and delivery of disaster welfare services. Similarly, the plan had not been updated to reflect emergency operations changes with ADRA listed as the responsible coordinator for the provision of emergency accommodation services, despite no longer being responsible for this service.

The WSFASP has since been updated to reflect these changes and was endorsed by the SEMC in September 2023. The current WSFASP aligns with the welfare services responsibilities following the transfer of the welfare services functional area to DCJ in 2023. This includes the role of DCJ as the lead agency for the WSFASP, and DCJ and the Housing Contact Centre (HCC) within DCJ as the coordinator of emergency accommodation. The updated plan also provides an outline of the key welfare services that are delivered by the functional area, including emergency accommodation, personal support, essential food and grocery items, and transition from emergency accommodation. The outline provides a description of each service and the agency, team or non-government organisation responsible for coordinating the service.

Agencies did not have agency-level plans in place for implementing their responsibilities under State-level emergency accommodation and temporary housing plans

The State EMPLAN establishes a framework for sub plans, supporting plans and related policy instruments and guidelines. It states that a supporting plan should describe the support which is to be provided to the controlling or coordinating authority during emergency operations and be an action plan which describes how an agency or functional area is to be coordinated in order to fulfill the roles and responsibilities allocated. Without this more detailed guidance being in place, there is no common reference point for individuals within an agency to refer to when implementing the broader State-level plans, such as the WSFASP.

The WSFASP defines emergency accommodation and outlines the government and non-government organisations responsible for its provision. It does not provide a detailed description of the specific roles and responsibilities related to its provision. DCJ does not have an agency-level plan in place that specifies these in more detail, and did not have any standard operating procedures (SOPs) in place to guide the process of housing displaced persons in emergency accommodation.

The absence of SOPs to guide this process can increase the chance of inconsistent implementation of the WSFASP, with a reliance on the experience of staff to complete tasks to house people in emergency accommodation. For example, at the onset of an emergency, staff in the HCC contact local accommodation venues such as hotels and motels to determine availability in the area. They may also book blocks of rooms in preparation for housing displaced persons. At the time of the flood events, there was no documentation which detailed the process for DCJ staff to follow and these tasks were not recorded anywhere as requiring completion before a disaster occurred.

DCJ has advised that they have since developed internal processes which form part of the training program for Disaster Welfare staff. In addition to this, the HCC has developed a guide which steps out the various processes relating to the provision of emergency accommodation, as well as outlining the different roles and responsibilities within the HCC in relation to these processes.

As noted, there is no State-level plan in place to guide the temporary housing response. As a result, there is no framework to guide this process at an agency level for the Reconstruction Authority. The absence of both State and agency-level plans guiding the provision of temporary housing at the time of the flood events meant that agencies were required to develop a process to follow at the same time as responding to the flood events.

Appropriate governance structures were established quickly and changed as needed to reflect recovery needs

The State Recovery Committee (SRC) was activated following the 2019–20 bushfires and was still operating at the time of the 2022 floods. As part of this, the SRC had a terms of reference which included responsibilities of the SRC and a membership list. The responsibilities of the SRC in the terms of reference are to:

  • provide strategic direction in relation to disaster recovery
  • oversee reconstruction and recovery efforts in disaster impacted areas
  • provide senior leadership to facilitate whole-of-government coordination
  • monitor and report to the Premier, Deputy Premier and Cabinet on the progress of recovery efforts in disaster impacted areas.

Once the flood events commenced on 28 February 2022, the SRC increased its meeting frequency to every two days initially, for a total of 13 meetings in March. The SRC continued to meet at least twice a week from mid-April until the end of May, at which point it reduced gradually in frequency to weekly and then fortnightly. The SRC continued to meet throughout all of 2022 and 2023.

The SRC established a range of subcommittees to assist with recovery efforts. These subcommittees were operational from March 2022 onwards. Subcommittees had terms of reference setting out their role and were chaired by appropriate agencies with operational responsibilities that aligned with those roles. The Health and Wellbeing subcommittee was established as part of this and initially had responsibility for the provision of both emergency accommodation and temporary housing. This subcommittee was chaired by a relevant Senior Executive in DCJ.

As noted above, none of the whole-of-government plans prior to the flood events allocated responsibility to an agency or subcommittee for constructing and managing temporary housing. Although temporary housing had been utilised by the government previously in response to the 2019–20 bushfires, its provision had never been implemented on the scale required in response to the flood events.

In early March, the SRC created a new subcommittee: the Housing Taskforce (HTF). The HTF contained key staff from a wide variety of agencies, as well as other key stakeholders like local councils where appropriate, and was chaired by a Senior Executive from the Planning Branch of the Department of Planning and Environment (DPE). A terms of reference was quickly developed for the subcommittee. The HTF’s initial purpose included developing a strategy for identifying locations and pathways for temporary housing. This allowed the Health and Wellbeing subcommittee and the HTF to provide more focus on their particular areas of responsibility.

The SRC helped to manage issues but did not provide strategic risk management

Subcommittees regularly reported to the SRC throughout the flood response period. The SRC was able to manage issues with these programs as they arose, often by connecting relevant staff and providing a forum for these issues to be resolved across agencies. In this way, the SRC was able to manage issues, which aligns with its role in facilitating whole-of-government coordination.

Given that all relevant agencies were represented on the SRC, it was uniquely placed to provide strategic risk management across all aspects of the recovery effort including provision of accommodation and housing following the floods. This would fall within the SRC’s role of providing strategic direction in relation to disaster recovery. Strategic risk management involves addressing external risks, including those which may impact the government’s ability to achieve its objectives. The SRC did not undertake strategic risk management to proactively identify issues that could hinder the recovery effort, such as through developing risk registers and assigning mitigation strategies to agencies or specific individuals.

In regards to the flood temporary housing response, this may have included identifying and mitigating risks that could impact on the quantity of housing provided, risks to the overall flood recovery budget, and risks related to further flood events occurring that might hinder flood recovery. While the SRC did not consider this work during the flood response, Resilience NSW and the Reconstruction Authority both documented some whole-of-government risks to the delivery of the response to natural disasters as part of their enterprise risk management processes, including throughout 2022. However, this work was not undertaken specifically in relation to the unfolding flood events, but was instead done as part of the agency's regular review of its enterprise risks. Given that only one agency was involved in this risk identification, it was not a substitute for whole-of-government risk identification through the SRC.

The HTF did undertake some separate risk identification for the temporary housing response in the Northern Rivers, but not until October 2022. The HTF had been in operation since March 2022 without undertaking formal risk assessments to determine key risks to the provision of temporary housing that required mitigation. Some of the risks identified included expenditure on temporary housing exceeding its allocated budget, temporary housing sites failing to deliver agreed outcomes, and that there would be inappropriate or ineffective engagement with Aboriginal communities. This risk identification from the HTF was also reflected in Resilience NSW's and the Reconstruction Authority’s enterprise risk registers, where it is identified that there is a risk that the agencies do not effectively deliver on short and medium term housing.

The SRC provided oversight of the work of subcommittees

As noted above, one of the roles of the SRC is to oversee reconstruction and recovery efforts in disaster impacted areas. To fulfil this role of providing oversight, the SRC received updates on the activities of each subcommittee at each meeting.

In March 2022, each subcommittee developed a 100-Day Flood Action Plan that set out actions that would be completed in the first 30, 60 and 100 days. Each subcommittee was required to update its Flood Action Plan and report progress on implementation to the SRC every two weeks. The SRC received this regular reporting from each subcommittee, which included the status of each item, actions undertaken to date, and the next steps that each subcommittee was undertaking. This served to provide the SRC with oversight of the actions of each group to supplement the subcommittee updates with greater detail.

The quality of reporting from the HTF to the SRC reduced throughout August and September 2022. At this time the updates from the subcommittee included either only a verbal update or only statistical updates on the temporary housing response. This means that throughout this period, the SRC was providing only limited oversight of the temporary housing response. From October 2022, the HTF provided more detailed updates to the SRC, providing data on the temporary housing villages including the number of dwellings, estimated capacity and the status of each of the village sites (whether operational or estimated date of construction completion).

DCJ adapted its usual procedures to house a large number of people in emergency accommodation following the Northern Rivers flood event

The HCC, a branch within DCJ, is responsible for arranging emergency accommodation during a disaster, although this responsibility was not outlined in a specific emergency accommodation plan or procedure at the time of the flood events. Once a disaster is declared, the HCC is activated for a disaster welfare response. The team is required to estimate the number of people who will be displaced by the disaster and may seek emergency accommodation. The team is also required to contact local accommodation providers such as hotels, motels and caravan parks to determine vacancy information, as well as obtain information about the facilities such as wheelchair accessibility and pet-friendly rooms. The HCC team will then make direct contact with staff at evacuation centres and facilitate bookings based on the demand. A central internal database is utilised by the HCC, which enables them to see providers and book within the system.

In following these procedures, DCJ housed 788 people in the two weeks following the initial flood event by utilising the standard local accommodation providers. On 27 April 2022, 1,440 people were reported as staying at local accommodation providers as part of the emergency accommodation response. Exhibit 5 shows the number of people housed in emergency accommodation across the North Coast from March 2022 to early April 2023.

Governance structures continued to operate as previously established in response to the Central West flood event

The governance structures established in response to the 2019–20 bushfires and the flood event in the Northern Rivers mostly operated in the same capacity for the management of the Central West flood event. In October 2022, the meeting frequency for the SRC reduced to fortnightly, following the same structure with subcommittee updates discussed as part of the agenda. There was no increase in meeting frequency during or in the immediate aftermath of the response to the Central West flood event.

Resilience NSW continued to document whole-of-government risks to the delivery of the response to natural disasters during the response to the Central West flood event, and this work was continued by the Reconstruction Authority once established. Resilience NSW also continued to develop risk dashboard heatmaps each quarter, monitoring any changes in the residual risk rating of these risks, as well as outlining issues identified, and any new and emerging risks.

DCJ housed displaced persons in the Central West quickly, considering additional needs during the process

DCJ, through the HCC, advised that it followed its standard process outlined above for the provision of emergency accommodation during the Central West flood event. The evacuation order for Eugowra was made on 15 November 2022, and by 8 December 2022, DCJ had housed 93 people from the community in emergency accommodation. The HCC was able to utilise alternative accommodation such as rooms at Charles Sturt University to meet the increasing demand for emergency accommodation in the Central West.

Through the initial consultation process conducted with displaced persons at evacuation centres, the HCC was also able to consider their additional needs and meet these where possible. For example, companion animals were supported by Local Land Services and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals through the provision of boarding services. DCJ advised that local needs were also considered as part of the intake process. For example, displaced persons were accommodated as close to their hometown as possible. Those evacuated from Forbes were given priority for emergency accommodation in Forbes. This did impact evacuees from other towns. Ordinarily, those displaced in Eugowra would also be housed in Forbes, but due to limited accommodation options, they were evacuated to Orange instead. Other considerations made for displaced persons included level access and accessible rooms for those with disabilities, and baby care items, such as cots, where required.

The At-home Caravans program was implemented as immediate shelter for displaced persons awaiting pods on their property in the Central West

By 28 November 2022, Resilience NSW made the decision to activate the At-home Caravans program in the Central West, with applications from displaced persons being taken within a week after the flood event in Eugowra. Caravans were temporarily set up on private properties in Eugowra. Displaced persons are able to live in these caravans while waiting for a pod to be installed on their property. By 10 January 2023, 102 caravans had been delivered to the Central West and started to be located on private properties. At 30 May 2023, Resilience NSW had delivered 124 out of the 129 required caravans to properties. A plan was implemented to provide immediate shelter in the community through the caravans, organise medium-term housing in the form of pods, and support displaced persons to repair or rebuild their homes. Caravans were provided to households where properties required demolition, those that were damaged but reparable, and rental properties with owner’s consent.

Other options for immediate shelter were considered but not progressed. Placing caravans on site at showgrounds or caravan parks was considered, however a NSWPW assessment found that 95% of impacted homes could accommodate caravans on property. Caravans on property require less ongoing case management, site works and utilities. Private farm house rental accommodation was also considered, however extremely low availability of these in the area resulted in the decision to not progress this option.

Resilience NSW was able to meet the demand for housing in the Central West by placing temporary housing on people’s property

Resilience NSW conducted early analysis of potential temporary housing village sites in the aftermath of the floods in the Central West. However, after reviewing the situation in Eugowra and the relatively larger blocks, it was decided a more appropriate solution would be to place temporary pods on private property. Part of this decision was the impact a centralised village located in Eugowra would have on displaced persons from other affected towns. At 30 May 2023, 59 out of 100 pods had been installed on private properties. These pods replaced caravans initially installed on private properties, although at the time of the audit some disaster-affected persons were still living in caravans while they wait for pod installation on their property.

Resilience NSW was able to utilise the excess pods from the Northern Rivers to reduce the wait time for displaced persons to move into the pod from the caravan located on their property. Once their eligibility had been confirmed, the resident met with NSWPW and the builders contracted to install the pods. The resident confirmed where they would like the pod placed and the size needed. Applicants were then prioritised by Resilience NSW and pods installed in order of this prioritisation. NSWPW engaged the same third-party contractor used in the Northern Rivers construction to expedite the installation process.

Resilience NSW used measures to adapt the pods for suitable use in the Central West, as well as configuring them to meet mobility needs of residents. Cabonne Shire and Forbes Shire Councils required pods to be built at a height of 1.5 metres. The pods were therefore installed on scaffolding to raise their height. As the pods were designed and constructed for the Northern Rivers climate, insulation was installed on the base of the pods to ensure the inside temperature was appropriate for residents in the Central West. The raised height of the pods also impacted their accessibility, so the contractor was also engaged to install ramps instead of stairs where needed.

The first demobilisation of a pod occurred on 7 August 2023, after the resident’s home had been repaired and it was suitable for them to move back home. The Reconstruction Authority advised that as pods continue to be demobilised, they will be cleaned, any required repairs completed, and then moved onto the next property as needed. There was no long-term plan initially developed for the transition of tenants out of temporary housing, although the Reconstruction Authority has advised that the newly developed Temporary Housing Plan will include these considerations to inform processes at the end of the lease period. There has been consideration for returning the pods to the Northern Rivers once the work in the Central West is complete.

The Reconstruction Authority advised that due to the delays residents are facing in accessing trades and payment of insurance claims, the HTF is currently seeking the support of councils to extend the placement of pods beyond the two years that were initially planned.

There was no clear process in place to support displaced persons in emergency accommodation who were ineligible for temporary housing in the Central West

The WSFASP in place during the flood events did not outline a transition plan for displaced persons staying in emergency accommodation. Resilience NSW took over responsibility for the transition of displaced persons from emergency accommodation to temporary housing. It was not always possible to house rental tenants by placing a pod on the property they were occupying because they were unable to obtain landowner permission. It was necessary to find an alternative property to install these pods, usually on property owned by a family member. This was able to address most tenants’ issues.

It was unclear which agency was responsible for the support of renting households in the medium to long-term. The lack of a documented process for the provision of emergency accommodation created a gap in relation to the support for displaced persons. The WSFASP has since been updated to include provision for coordinated case management support to assist people in emergency accommodation with longer-term housing needs.

DCJ maintained a list of displaced persons who had been staying in emergency accommodation and were unable to exit without assistance. This list was provided to Resilience NSW weekly. Resilience NSW provided updates to DCJ on the status of those who were being transitioned into temporary housing, but no assistance was provided by Resilience NSW to those who were ineligible for temporary housing. DCJ was therefore required to provide case management to these people to assist in their transition to more stable housing.

Agencies learned and applied lessons from the Northern Rivers floods to the Central West flood event, but most have not formalised these for future consideration

Agencies involved in the provision of emergency accommodation and temporary housing learned key lessons from the Northern Rivers floods that could be applied in the Central West response. These lessons included the Reconstruction Authority rapidly standing up the At-home Caravans Program to provide immediate accommodation to displaced persons, and instigating a community reference group to provide feedback on the proposed housing response plan. These lessons learned were largely undocumented, with many staff being involved across both the Northern Rivers and Central West flood response, and able to directly apply lessons learned from their experience in the earlier response. It is good practice to formalise lessons learned to ensure that future responses may have access to contemporary information to learn from both positive and negative experiences in previous situations.

DCJ and Premier’s Department (PD) have not yet documented any lessons learned from their roles in the flood events. Some lessons were documented by Resilience NSW in April 2022 as part of a process to identify emerging insights. These lessons covered a broad range of activities, including findings relevant to the provision of temporary housing.

In June 2023, the Reconstruction Authority formally documented its own lessons learned from the provision of temporary housing. This includes identifying actions to avoid repeating some of the negative experiences, such as Aboriginal communities not being consulted at the appropriate time, and not having adequate program design processes in place for the temporary housing program. In addition, NSWPW has commissioned an evaluation of its work in the construction and provision of temporary housing, which includes a formal lessons learned component.

External reviews have also been conducted and have captured interim lessons learned, including the 2022 NSW Flood Inquiry and the ‘Response to major flooding across New South Wales in 2022’ Parliamentary Inquiry.

Agencies are in the process of evaluating the provision of emergency accommodation and temporary housing

Agencies have commenced the process of evaluating their role in the provision of emergency accommodation and temporary housing. DCJ advised that an external evaluation would commence shortly and that it was in the process of engaging a consultancy firm to conduct this. NSWPW has also commenced an external review of its provision of temporary housing. DPE and PD have not commenced a review, although PD has established a new unit for strategic communications during disasters in response to the agency's involvement in crisis communications during the flood events. This unit has been developed to deliver overarching whole-of-government messaging during disaster events.

Similarly, the Reconstruction Authority advised that an evaluation was planned for the provision of temporary housing. In addition, Resilience NSW commissioned an evaluation of the use of the Minderoo Foundation pods in response to the 2019–20 bushfires. This review reported in November 2022, though it had limited consideration of the role of the Minderoo Foundation pods as a source of temporary housing in the Northern Rivers. This report made 19 recommendations to the Reconstruction Authority and the Minderoo Foundation, and found that the Minderoo pods had largely been delivered in line with the original intended objectives.

There is no State-wide process in place to capture lessons learned from all agencies involved in recovery

Each year, the SEMC conducts a State-wide lessons learned exercise, incorporating learnings from all of the emergency events in the previous year. This exercise has commenced for the 2022 emergency events, however at the time of the audit it was in draft and not yet formally endorsed by the SEMC.

The agencies involved in the State lessons learned process are agencies with emergency response responsibilities. The findings largely relate to these response activities, with very few lessons learned relating to recovery. Only a limited number of agencies are involved in this activity, and the 2022 review did not incorporate the views of a number of agencies that were involved in the recovery phase of the Northern Rivers and Central West flood events.

While it is important that lessons are learned from the response phase of an emergency, it is equally important that State-wide lessons are learned from the recovery phase to ensure that appropriate State-wide changes can be made, or positive experiences can be continued. There is currently no process in place to capture these lessons learned from the recovery phase from all agencies involved in the recovery phase.

Appendix one – Responses from entities

Appendix two – About the audit

Appendix three – Performance auditing

 

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Parliamentary reference - Report number #389 - released 22 February 2024

Published

Actions for Driver vehicle system

Driver vehicle system

Transport
Finance
Cyber security
Information technology
Internal controls and governance
Project management
Service delivery

What this report is about

Transport for NSW (TfNSW) uses the Driver vehicle System (DRIVES) to support its regulatory functions. The system covers over 6.2 million driver licences and over seven million vehicle registrations.

DRIVES first went live in 1991 and has been significantly extended and updated since, though is still based around the same core system. The system is at end of life but has become an important service for Service NSW and the NSW Police Force.

DRIVES now includes some services to other parts of government and non-government entities which have little or no connection to transport. There are 141 users of DRIVES in total, including commercial insurers, national regulators, and individual citizens.

This audit assessed whether TfNSW is effectively managing DRIVES and planning to transition it to a modernised system.

Audit findings

TfNSW has not effectively planned the replacement of DRIVES.

It is now working on its third business case for a replacement system but has failed to learn lessons from its past attempts.

In the meantime, TfNSW has not taken a strategic approach to managing DRIVES’ growth.

TfNSW has been slow to reduce the risk of misuse of personal information held in DRIVES. With its delivery partner Service NSW, TfNSW has also been slow to develop and implement automatic monitoring of access.

TfNSW uses recognised processes for managing most aspects of DRIVES, but has not kept the system consistently available for users. TfNSW has lacked accurate service availability information since June 2022, when it changed its technology support provider.

TfNSW needs to significantly prioritise cyber security improvements to DRIVES. TfNSW is seeking to lift DRIVES’ cyber defences, but it will not achieve its stated target safeguard level until December 2025.

Even then, one of the target safeguards will not be achieved in full until DRIVES is modernised.

Audit recommendations

TfNSW should:

  • implement a service management framework including insight into the views of DRIVES users, and ensuring users can influence the service
  • ensure it can accurately and cost effectively calculate when DRIVES is unavailable due to unplanned downtime
  • ensure implementation of a capability to automatically detect anomalous patterns of access to DRIVES
  • ensure that DRIVES has appropriate cyber security and resilience safeguards in place as a matter of priority
  • develop a clear statement of the future role in whole of government service delivery for the system
  • resolve key issues currently faced by the DRIVES replacement program including by:
    • clearly setting out a strategy and design for the replacement
    • preparing a specific business case for replacement.

The DRIver VEhicle System1 (often known as DRIVES) is the Transport for NSW (TfNSW) system which is used to manage over 6.2 million driver licences and over seven million vehicle registrations in New South Wales.

DRIVES first went live in 1991 and has been significantly extended and enhanced over the past 33 years. DRIVES is a significant NSW Government information system — containing personal information such as home addresses for most of the NSW adult population, sensitive health information such as medical conditions, and biometric data in photographs.

Service NSW, part of the Department of Customer Service, is the NSW Government's 'one stop shop' for services to NSW citizens and businesses. It uses DRIVES when it delivers many transport-related services to NSW citizens such as licence renewals and checks the identity information stored in DRIVES as part of other services delivered to NSW citizens, such as a 'working with children check'.

DRIVES supports TfNSW's regulatory functions and the collection of more than $5 billion in revenue annually for the NSW Government. The system is also used by many organisations outside of the NSW Government including commercial insurers and national regulators, as well as individual citizens who access DRIVES for services such as 'Renew my registration' or 'Book a driver knowledge test'.

TfNSW owns and manages DRIVES. It intends to replace DRIVES with a modernised system to improve its cost, performance, and security.

The objective of this performance audit was to assess whether TfNSW is effectively:

  • managing the current system, and 
  • planning to transition DRIVES to a modernised system.

The auditee is TfNSW. We have consulted with the Department of Customer Service as a key stakeholder during the audit process.

This part of the report considers whether Transport for NSW (TfNSW) is effectively managing the current system. It considers DRIVES’:

  • role in NSW Government service delivery
  • ease of use and appropriateness for a modern system
  • mechanisms to ensure the service is available for users.

This part of the report considers whether Transport for NSW (TfNSW) is effectively planning to transition DRIVES to a modernised system. It makes findings on the:

  •  effort to develop a business case to fund the replacement of DRIVES
  • issues which have contributed to the slow progress of the replacement program.

Published

Actions for Regional road safety

Regional road safety

Transport
Health
Community Services
Internal controls and governance
Management and administration
Project management
Risk

What this report is about

Around one-third of the state’s population lives in regional NSW, but deaths on regional roads make up around two-thirds of the state’s road toll.

Transport for NSW (TfNSW) is responsible for managing road safety outcomes across the NSW road network. This audit assessed the effectiveness of TfNSW’s delivery of road safety strategies, plans and policies in regional areas.

The NSW Road Safety Action Plan 2022–2026 has the stated goal of ‘no death or serious injury occurring on the road transport network’ by 2050.

What we found

There is a disproportionate amount of trauma on regional roads, but there are no specific road safety plans or trauma reduction targets for regional NSW.

TfNSW advises that the setting of state-wide road safety targets is consistent with other jurisdictions and international best practice. However, the proportion of road fatalities and serious injuries in regional NSW is almost the same as ten years ago.

There is no regional implementation plan to assist TfNSW to target the Road Safety Action Plan 2026 to regional areas.

TfNSW considers that local road safety outcomes should be managed by councils, but only 52% of regional councils participated in its Local Government Road Safety Program (LGRSP) in 2022–23. This program has not been updated since 2014, despite commitments to do so in 2021 and 2022.

TfNSW has not undertaken a systematic and integrated analysis of the combined impact of its road safety strategies and plans in regional NSW since 2012.

TfNSW reports against the Community Road Safety Fund (CRSF) annually but there is no consolidated, public reporting on total road safety funding allocated to regional NSW. The Fund underspend increased from 12% in 2019–20 to 20% in 2022–23.

What we recommended

We recommended TfNSW:

  • develop a regional implementation plan to support the NSW Road Safety Action Plan, including a framework to annually measure, analyse and publicly report on progress
  • develop a plan to measure and mitigate risks causing underspend in the CRSF
  • expedite the review of the LGRSP including recommendations to increase involvement of regional councils.

Disclosure of confidential information

Under the Government Sector Audit Act 1983 (the Act), the Auditor-General may disclose confidential information if, in the Auditor-General’s opinion, the disclosure is in the public interest, and that disclosure is necessary for the exercise of the Auditor-General’s functions.

Confidential information in the Act means Cabinet information or information subject to legal privilege. This performance audit report contained confidential information.

The NSW Premier has certified that in his opinion the disclosure of the confidential information was not in the public interest.

The confidential information has been redacted from this report.

Under section 36A(2) of the Government Sector Audit Act 1983, the Auditor-General may authorise the disclosure of confidential information if, in the Auditor-General’s opinion, the disclosure is in the public interest and necessary for the exercise of the Auditor-General’s functions. Confidential information under the Government Sector Audit Act 1983 means Cabinet information, or information that could be subject to a claim of privilege by the State or a public official in a court of law. This performance audit report contained confidential information which, in the opinion of the Auditor-General, is in the public interest to disclose and that disclosure is necessary for the exercise of the Auditor-General’s functions.

On 26 October 2023, pursuant to section 36A(2)(b) of the Government Sector Audit Act 1983, the Auditor-General notified the NSW Premier of the intention to include this information in the published report, having formed the opinion that its disclosure is in the public interest and is necessary for the exercise of the Auditor-General’s functions.

On 23 November 2023, pursuant to section 36A(2)(c) of the Government Sector Audit Act 1983, the NSW Premier certified that, in his opinion, the proposed disclosure of the confidential information contained in this report was not in the public interest. The Premier’s certificate follows. Section 36A(4) states that a certificate of the Premier that it is not in the public interest to disclose confidential information is conclusive evidence of that fact.

The issuance of the certificate by the NSW Premier prevents the publication of this information. The relevant sections of the report containing confidential information have been redacted.

One-third of the New South Wales population resides in regional areas, but two-thirds of the state’s road crash fatalities take place on regional roads.

Between 2017 and 2021, the average number of fatalities for every 100,000 of the population living in regional New South Wales was 8.33 — approximately four times higher than the equivalent measure for Greater Sydney. Similarly, the average number of serious injuries in regional New South Wales over the same period was 75.24 per 100,000 of the population, compared with 50.53 in Greater Sydney. Further, more than 70% of people who lose their lives in accidents on regional roads are residents of regional areas.

Residents of regional areas face particular transport challenges. They often need to travel longer distances for work, health care, or recreation purposes, yet their public transport options are more limited than metropolitan residents. Vehicle safety is also an issue. According to the NSW Road Safety Progress Report 2021, of the light vehicles registered in New South Wales that were manufactured in or after 2000, 48.4% of light vehicles in regional areas had a five-star Australasian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP) rating, compared to 54.8% in metropolitan areas. Road conditions in regional areas can also be more challenging for drivers.

Regional New South Wales covers 98.5% of the total area of the state. The road network in New South Wales is vast — spanning approximately 200,000 kilometres.

The road network includes major highways, state roads and local roads. Speed limits range from 10 km/hr in high pedestrian shared zones, up to 110 km/hr on high volume and critical road corridors. Eighty per cent of the network has a 100 km/h speed limit, which is mostly applied as a default speed limit, regardless of the presence of safety features and treatments.

Speed is the primary causal factor in more crashes in New South Wales than any other factor, and car crashes in regional areas are more likely to be fatal because of the higher average speeds involved.

The responsibility for managing road safety outcomes across the entire New South Wales road network lies with Transport for NSW (TfNSW), pursuant to Schedule 1 of the Transport Administration Act 1988.

While its safety responsibilities are state-wide, TfNSW does not own or directly manage all of the road network in regional New South Wales, which spans approximately 200,000 kilometres. Approximately 80% of the roads are classified as Local Roads and are administered and managed by local councils. Local councils also maintain Regional Roads that run through their local government areas. TfNSW is responsible for managing State Roads (approximately 20% of roads), which are major arterial roads. It also provides funding for councils to manage over 18,000 km (approximately 10%) of state-significant Regional Roads.

According to TfNSW, between 2016 and 2020, there were 9,776 people killed or seriously injured on roads in regional New South Wales. Adding to the tragic loss of life, according to TfNSW, the estimated cost to the community between 2016 and 2020 resulting from regional road trauma and fatalities was around $13.7 billion.

TfNSW also noted that the ‘risk of road trauma is pervasive, and a combination of effective road safety measures is required to systematically reduce this risk’.

TfNSW released its first long-term road-safety strategy in December 2012, which introduced the goal of ‘Vision Zero’ — a long-term goal of zero deaths or serious injuries on NSW roads. The terminology was changed to ‘Towards Zero’ in the 2021 Road Safety Plan and has been retained in the NSW Road Safety Action Plan 2022–2026. Towards Zero has the stated goal of ‘no death or serious injury occurring on the road transport network’ by 2050.

The objective of this audit is to assess the effectiveness of TfNSW’s delivery of ‘Towards Zero’ in regional areas.

In making this assessment, the audit examined whether TfNSW:

  • is effectively reducing the number of fatalities and serious injuries on regional roads
  • has an effective framework, including governance arrangements, for designing and refreshing the NSW Road Safety Strategy 2012–2021 and the NSW Road Safety Action Plan 2022–2026
  • effectively makes use of whole-of-government and other relevant sources of data to support decision-making, and to evaluate progress and outcomes
  • effectively manages accountabilities, including roles and responsibilities, with respect to road safety outcomes and the use of data.

This audit focused on the policies and strategies used by TfNSW for managing road safety outcomes in regional areas. We did not evaluate individual road safety projects, programs and initiatives as part of this audit.

Whilst Regional Roads and Local Roads (as defined by the Road Network Classifications) are owned and maintained by local councils, we included these roads in this audit as TfNSW may advise and assist councils to promote and improve road safety, as well as manage grant programs that focus on improving road safety outcomes on these roads. Hereafter, unless otherwise stated, references to ‘regional roads’ refer to all classifications of roads in the state which are in regional New South Wales, irrespective of their ownership.

Local councils in regional areas are key stakeholders for the purposes of this audit, and we interviewed eight as part of the audit process (noting that this was not intended to be a representative sample). Road asset management by local councils is also out of scope for this audit as it is the focus of a subsequent performance audit by the Audit Office of New South Wales.b

The Audit Office of New South Wales has undertaken several performance audits relating to road safety since 2009 and these have been referenced while undertaking this audit. They include:

  • Condition of State Roads (August 2006)
  • Improving Road Safety: Heavy Vehicles (May 2009)
  • Improving Road Safety: School Zones (March 2010)
  • Improving Road Safety: Speed Cameras (July 2011)
  • Regional Assistance Programs (May 2018)
  • Mobile speed cameras (October 2018)
  • Rail freight and Greater Sydney (October 2021).

Conclusion

TfNSW has acknowledged that there is a disproportionate amount of road trauma on regional roads in the NSW Road Safety Strategy 2012–2021, the NSW Road Safety Plan 2021, and the NSW Road Safety Action Plan 2022–2026. However, TfNSW has not articulated or evaluated a strategy for implementing road safety policy in regional New South Wales to assist in guiding targeted activities to address regional road trauma. There is also no transparency about the total amount of funding invested in improving road safety outcomes for regional New South Wales.

People living in regional New South Wales make up one-third of the state’s population, but deaths on regional roads make up around two-thirds of the state’s total road toll. This statistic is almost the same in 2023 as it was ten years ago when TfNSW released its first long-term road safety strategy.

More than 70% of people who died on roads between 2012 and 2022 in regional New South Wales were residents of regional areas. Speed is the greatest contributing factor to road fatalities and serious injuries across the entire state. However, it is responsible for more fatalities on regional roads (43%) than in Greater Sydney (34%).

TfNSW’s road safety strategies and plans acknowledge that most road fatalities occur in regional New South Wales but none of its existing strategies or plans show evidence of tailoring measures to suit particular regional settings or ‘hot spots’. There are infrastructure initiatives (such as Saving Lives on Country Roads) and behavioural programs targeting regional areas (such as Driver Reviver). However, these activities are not aligned to a regional-specific strategy or plan that addresses issues specific to regional areas.

TfNSW has state-wide responsibility for managing road safety outcomes. TfNSW advised the audit that a regional plan and regional trauma reduction targets are not needed as the state-wide plan and targets apply equally for all areas of New South Wales, and local road safety factors are best managed by local councils. TfNSW partners with local councils. However, only 52% of councils in regional New South Wales participate in TfNSW’s Local Government Road Safety Program, compared to 84% of councils in metropolitan areas. TfNSW has not undertaken any evaluations to determine whether projects completed under the Local Government Road Safety Program have reduced road trauma at the local level.

Notwithstanding the above points, TfNSW works with local councils (who are road authorities for local roads in their respective areas under the Roads Act 1993) and other key stakeholders such as the NSW Police Force to achieve the NSW Government’s road safety policy objectives.

TfNSW advised that ‘the setting of state-wide road safety targets is consistent with other jurisdictions and international best practice. Importantly, delivery of road safety countermeasures is tailored and applied with a focus on road user groups across all geographic locations to maximise trauma reductions’. There may be legitimate reasons for the existing approach, as articulated by TfNSW. However, the proportion of road fatalities in regional New South Wales roads has not reduced since 2012 – despite a long-term reduction in the overall number of deaths on the state’s roads between 2012–2021. The audit report has recommended that a regionally focused implementation plan could address this issue. TfNSW has accepted this report’s recommendation that such a plan be developed.

Specific road safety initiatives targeted to regional areas have not been implemented or expanded

Text removed pursuant to section 36A of the Government Sector Audit Act 1983 (NSW), in compliance with the issuance of a Premier’s certificate preventing the publication of this information.

TfNSW increased the use of other forms of automated enforcement (such as tripling enforcement hours in mobile speed cameras).
However, the use of automated enforcement has a strong metropolitan focus with most red light and fixed speed cameras being in metropolitan areas. Average speed cameras are the only camera type overwhelmingly located in regional areas but these apply only to heavy vehicles and are positioned on major freight routes. 

There is no consolidated, public reporting of what proportion of total road safety funding is directed to regional New South Wales each year. The main source of funding for road safety in New South Wales, the Community Road Safety Fund, has been underspent since 2019.

Fines from camera-detected speeding, red-light and mobile phone use offences are required to be used solely for road safety purposes through the Community Road Safety Fund (CRSF), as set out in the Transport Administration Amendment (Community Road Safety Fund) Act 2012.

The CRSF has been underspent every year since 2019–20. The underspend has increased from 12% in 2019–20 to 20% in 2022–23 where the full year underspend was forecasted to be $104 million. Of this underspend, $13.5 million was dedicated for regional road infrastructure projects. TfNSW advised the audit that much of the underspend is the result of delays to infrastructure projects due to COVID-19, bushfires, and floods, as well as skills shortages. However, TfNSW has not provided any evidence that it had a plan to mitigate these risks – meaning the level of underspend could continue to grow. TfNSW also advised ‘there is no reason to expect budget management and controls will not return to pre-COVID circumstances’.

In total, TfNSW received $700 million in funding for road safety in 2021–22 (including federal contributions and the Community Road Safety Fund). Of this, $411 million (or ~59%) was directed to regional New South Wales. This is the most recent comprehensive financial data that was provided by TfNSW to the audit team. The 2022–23 NSW Budget allocated $880 million for road safety in 2022–23, with a forecasted total allocation for road safety of $1.6 billion in recurrent expenses and $0.8 billion in capital expenditure over the period 2022–23 to 2025–26.

Appendix one – Response from Transport for NSW

Appendix two – The Safe Systems framework and NSW road safety strategies and plans

Appendix three – About the audit

Appendix four – Performance auditing

 

© Copyright reserved by the Audit Office of New South Wales. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced without prior consent of the Audit Office of New South Wales. The Audit Office does not accept responsibility for loss or damage suffered by any person acting on or refraining from action as a result of any of this material.

 

Parliamentary reference - Report number #386 - released 30 November 2023

Published

Actions for Regional, rural and remote education

Regional, rural and remote education

Education
Management and administration
Project management
Service delivery

What this report is about

Students in rural and remote areas of NSW face greater challenges compared to their metropolitan peers.

This report examined how the NSW Department of Education (the department) is ensuring that rural and remote students have access to the same quality of early childhood, school education, and skills pathways as metropolitan students.

What we found

A decade since the previous (2013) strategy to address educational disadvantage, there remain considerable gaps in access and outcomes between rural and remote students and metropolitan students.

The Rural and Remote Education Strategy (2021–24) is unlikely to address these longstanding and known issues of educational disadvantage in rural and remote areas.

Key enabling factors such as resourcing a dedicated team, setting performance measures, and establishing suitable governance arrangements were not put in place to support effective implementation of the 2021 strategy.

The department has programs aimed at addressing remoteness challenges, but does not know if these initiatives improve access or outcomes.

The department does not monitor or report on student access or outcomes according to geographic location.

What we recommended

The Department of Education should:

  • develop a new strategy that addresses disadvantage in regional, rural and remote education
  • establish and report publicly on regional, rural and remote key performance indicators
  • improve data collection by using a standard remoteness classification
  • improve governance arrangements for regional, rural and remote education
  • review the resources provided for regional, rural and remote areas that recognises the additional costs
  • develop an approach that ensures all students can access best practice modes of delivery.

In February 2021, the department of Education (the department) released the ‘Rural and Remote Education Strategy (2021–2024)’. The strategy sets a vision that ‘every child in regional New South Wales has access to the same quality of education as their metropolitan peers’. It recognises that students in rural and remote areas of New South Wales face greater challenges compared to students in metropolitan locations. These challenges contribute to regional, rural and remote students underperforming on major educational indicators compared to their metropolitan peers.

In recent years, regional, rural and remote communities experienced a series of natural disasters as well as the COVID-19 pandemic. In response to the pandemic and subsequent school closures, the department introduced new initiatives aimed at minimising the disruption to children including online learning and small group tuition.

The department established a regional, rural and remote education policy unit in 2021 to support delivery of the strategy and its vision.

The objective of this audit was to assess the effectiveness of the department’s activities to ensure that regional, rural and remote students have access to the same quality of early childhood, school education, and skills pathways as their metropolitan peers.

In making this assessment, the audit examined whether:

  • The department developed and implemented a strategy that enables regional, rural and remote students to access the same quality of early childhood education, school education, and skills pathways as students in metropolitan New South Wales.
  • The department has been addressing the complexities and needs of regional, rural and remote early childhood education, school education, and skills pathways.
Conclusion

The department's rural and remote education strategy is unlikely to achieve its vision that every child in regional New South Wales has access to the same quality of education as their metropolitan peers. Shortcomings in the design and implementation of the strategy have meant there is little to report on its impact after more than two years since its release.

The department did not take on board lessons learned from the previous strategy. The department did not provide additional resources to meet the strategy aims, establish strong central coordination, set timeframes, set measures of success, or identify new programs to address gaps in regional and remote access and outcomes. Instead, the department relied on matching existing programs and activities across its business areas to meet the stated actions and goals of the strategy.

There was not enough work put in to plan for successful implementation. A changeover in staff responsible for coordinating implementation of the strategy and lack of fit-for-purpose governance arrangements slowed its momentum. The department took one year to recruit a central team and almost two years to set up governance that gives relevant department executives oversight of the strategy. This was not fast enough to support a four-year strategy with an ambitious vision.

The department did not establish a program logic model, set baseline measures or develop an evaluation plan to assess the impact of the strategy. Consequently, it has not adequately monitored changes in access or outcomes for regional, rural and remote students. Two years after its release, there has not been any public reporting against the actions or outcomes of the strategy.

The department is not addressing the complexities of delivering regional, rural and remote early childhood, school education and skills pathways. There are a range of programs targeted to overcoming challenges of remoteness, but the department does not monitor data to determine whether these programs are sufficient to close the persistent gaps in access and outcomes for regional, rural and remote students.

A decade after the Rural and Remote Education Blueprint was launched in 2013, there remain considerable gaps in access and outcomes between metropolitan and regional, rural and remote areas. The department identifies 'equity' as a key value in its strategic plan but does not monitor or report on performance against key indicators according to geographic location. Data produced in response to our requests for this report demonstrate that previously identified gaps in access and outcomes remain.

Different areas of the department recognise the challenges of delivering services in regional, rural and remote locations and have developed specific programs or approaches aimed at addressing these challenges. The department does not know whether these interventions are sufficient to close the gaps in access or outcomes. Schools we spoke with as part of the audit reported significant ongoing challenges with attracting and retaining staff, providing a full curriculum and accessing support services when needed. 

This chapter examines the process to develop the Rural and Remote Education Strategy (2021–2024). It considers whether there was a comprehensive program of stakeholder consultation, whether relevant research and evidence was incorporated and whether an effective performance monitoring system was established.

The department made genuine efforts to consult with stakeholders on the new strategy

The department had a clear process to engage and obtain feedback from key stakeholders during the development of the new strategy. It developed a range of documents to support the consultation process including a stakeholder engagement plan, communications plan, and presentation. The department used the International Association for Public Participation (IAP2) Spectrum of Public Participation principles to help ensure that relevant stakeholders were included in the planning and decision-making process.

In late 2019, the department began its first phase of consultations with internal and external stakeholders to get their views on rural and remote education. It consulted internally with department directors, advisory groups, and learning communities, and externally with government agencies, service providers, non-government schools, and universities.

In March 2020, the department developed a stakeholder engagement paper to test the key issues from stakeholder consultations. Four focus areas were identified and included in a consultation paper that went out to key stakeholders for the second round of consultations in May 2020.

In the third consultation phase, the department conducted a workshop with stakeholders to review the earlier feedback, prioritise issues, identify gaps, and provide further input.

This consultation process enabled the department to identify issues and challenges to inform the new strategy. However, it was already aware that the blueprint was having limited success, and had already identified potential focus areas, following the evaluation of the blueprint in 2019.

The department did not consider recent research when developing the new strategy

The department's guidance materials promote the importance of considering research during policymaking. The guidelines describe the need to understand a topic, consult with stakeholders, identify gaps in existing knowledge, and ensure future work is informed by current literature.

In 2013, the department published a literature review on rural and remote education to inform the blueprint. The literature review found that students in rural and remote schools were not performing as well as their metropolitan peers, and that this performance gap was widening. The review attributed this to the higher number of children from low socio-economic backgrounds attending rural and remote schools. The review also identified several other factors that could negatively impact performance outcomes for rural and remote students. The department used the findings of the literature review to develop the key focus areas in the 2013 blueprint.

When the department began developing the new rural and remote education strategy in 2019, it recognised the need to review the literature on recent international initiatives. However, it has not yet released this review. This means that the department could have missed important new developments since it last examined the literature in 2013. Incorporating up-to-date research is important where past strategies have not met all their intended outcomes.

A national review into rural and remote education in 2018 examined Australian and international literature to inform its findings. The review made 11 recommendations to the Australian and state governments. While the NSW Government was not required to formally respond to the review, it could have considered the work done by that review when developing the new strategy. Several review recommendations are addressed in the strategy, while several others are only partly addressed. Gaps between review recommendations and specific strategy actions include improving the availability of quality accommodation, substantially reducing the waiting times for specialist assessments of students with learning difficulties and disabilities and increasing access to high quality distance education.

In 2019, the department commissioned a rural and remote project to contribute a research and evidence base to the new strategy. The main aim of the project was to help the department understand how it could better support rural and remote schools to increase educational outcomes. There was not enough time for this review to be completed prior to the release of the strategy. As of June 2023, the research project had not yet been released.

The strategy did not address all findings and recommendations from a recent evaluation

In 2020, the department's Centre for Education Statistics and Evaluation (CESE) published an evaluation of the blueprint. The evaluation examined how the actions in the blueprint were implemented. It recommended that a new strategy be developed, and made recommendations for things that should be incorporated into the strategy.

The blueprint aimed to ensure students in rural and remote areas could access the same quality of education as their metropolitan peers. The blueprint identified four focus areas to meet that aim:

  • quality early childhood education
  • great teachers and school leaders
  • curriculum access for all
  • effective partnerships and connections.

The department developed several initiatives to help meet the objectives of each of the four focus areas. These initiatives are described in Exhibit 5 below.

Exhibit 5: Key initiatives in the Rural and Remote Education Blueprint (2013)
Key focus area Initiative
Quality early childhood education
  • Funding model to help vulnerable and disadvantaged children access preschool.
Great teachers and school leaders
  • Rental subsidy to help attract and retain teachers.
Curriculum access for all
  • Virtual school to provide a varied curriculum for high potential and gifted students.
Effective partnerships and connections
  • Education networks for teachers and school leaders to access expert advice to support student learning.
  • Networked specialist centres to bring together services to support student health and wellbeing.

Source: Department of Education, Rural and remote education: A blueprint for action 2013.

The evaluation found that initiatives in two of the four focus areas – Quality early childhood education and Curriculum access for all – had performed well. However, the evaluation found that initiatives in the other two focus areas – Great teachers and school leaders and Effective partnerships and connections – did not achieve intended outcomes.

On the whole, the evaluation found that the 'remoteness gap' between rural and remote students and metropolitan students had not reduced since the blueprint was introduced. It recommended that the department continue its focus on rural and remote education by developing a new evidence-based strategy that focused on student outcomes and clear measures of success.

Objectives and actions in the new strategy were similar to those in the blueprint

The 2021 strategy sets an overall vision that 'every child in regional New South Wales has access to the same quality of education as their metropolitan peers'. It also states that the department 'is committed to ensuring all rural and remote students have equitable access to educational opportunities'.

Exhibit 6: Comparison of objectives in the blueprint and the new strategy
Rural and Remote Education Blueprint (2013) Rural and Remote Education Strategy (2021–24)
Provide more children with access to quality early child education in the year before school. Ensure all students have access to quality preschool in the year before school.
Ensure rural and remote schools have greater capacity to attract and retain quality teachers and leaders. Increase supply of high-quality educators in rural and remote communities.
Build the capacity of teachers and leaders in rural and remote schools. Better develop rural and remote teachers to deliver quality learning opportunities.
Address wellbeing needs through effective partnerships and connections. Address wellbeing needs through connections with local communities.
Develop partnerships so that rural and remote students have access to quality pathways into further education, training, or employment. Build partnerships to increase student access to post-school opportunities.

Source: Audit Office summary of Department of Education information.

Four areas in the blueprint remained a focus in the new strategy – early childhood education, teacher recruitment and retention, curriculum, and student wellbeing support services. Each focus area identifies a goal, as well as the aims and actions that contribute to those goals.

While this shows the department identified that these areas required continued attention, most actions were to 'increase', 'expand' or 'improve' existing programs and resources. The new strategy did not propose any new ideas or solutions, despite the blueprint achieving limited success in improving outcomes for rural and remote students.

There were no baseline or target measures set to monitor progress of the new strategy

The blueprint evaluation recommended that the department develop a new evidence-based strategy which focused on improving student outcomes. It also recommended the department use a program logic methodology to ensure there was a clear definition of success, adequate measures of success, and continual monitoring to ensure success.

Program logic models are a visual representation of the various components of a program. They can be used to illustrate program priorities, inputs, activities, outputs, outcomes, and assumptions. Logic models are used to explain how a proposed solution will address a specific problem. They are important because they can help test assumptions, build business cases, and identify potential enablers or barriers that could impact the project.

The department did not complete a program logic model during development of the new strategy, nor did it define measures to monitor whether the strategy's overall vision for quality education or the commitment to equitable access was on track to be achieved.

The department has not comprehensively monitored changes in educational outcomes in regional, rural and remote areas since the evaluation of the blueprint in 2020. This evaluation had seven indicators of educational outcomes by remoteness. The measures used in the evaluation could have provided a starting point given the similarity in focus areas between the blueprint and the new strategy. Not addressing past review recommendations increases risks that issues will be repeated.

The policy unit advised it has plans to set up a dashboard to monitor performance across the department's business plan measures by remoteness. This is intended to identify areas where system-wide improvements are required. This is not a comprehensive account of the strategy outcomes because the business plan measures don't capture all the goals of the strategy.

There were no timeframes or resources identified for implementing new strategy actions

The strategy has an overall timeframe of 2021–2024 but does not clarify when it expects the vision, goals, or aims to be achieved, or actions to be implemented.

The department's guidance on policymaking sets out how projects should be transitioned between the policy and implementation teams. This guidance is intended to help ensure the policy intent and scope of the project are not lost during the delivery of the project. The guidance highlights that the policy team should establish clear project implementation timeframes. It is important to have clear timeframes because it enables teams to measure progress, manage resources, and prioritise actions to ensure project outcomes are achieved.

The strategy states that there is a further $1 billion of investment planned over the next three years for rural and remote education but does not identify how this is allocated across its focus areas. It is important to identify the resources required to support the implementation of a program so that program objectives are met in a timely and cost-effective manner. The previous blueprint identified much lower funding of $80 million but more clearly showed how it would be allocated for identified actions across the four focus areas.

In response to our requests, the department separately identified $1.286 billion in expenditure for regional, rural and remote schools referenced in the strategy. Most of this expenditure related to existing department programs and activities rather than new initiatives. The total amount included:

  • $576.9 million for new and upgraded schools
  • $365.8 million for upgraded information technology equipment and resources
  • $120 million for school facility upgrades to be co-funded by schools
  • $60 million to replace school roofs
  • $60 million for the COVID Intensive Learning Support Program
  • $32 million for the Early Action for Success program
  • $29.7 million for staffing incentives
  • $21.7 million for literacy and numeracy interventions
  • $18.8 million in school location allowances
  • $1.45 million for the Rural Learning Exchange Pilot
  • $0.4 million for Rural and Remote Network initiatives.

This chapter examines the arrangements in place to implement the strategy. It considers whether effective governance arrangements are in place and how progress is monitored and reported.

This chapter considers the effectiveness of arrangements to ensure regional, rural and remote students have access to quality early childhood education, school education, and post‑school transitions.

This chapter considers the department's arrangements to monitor educational and wellbeing outcomes of students by remoteness. It reports on differences in outcomes between students in metropolitan areas and those in regional, rural and remote areas.

Those living in regional, rural and remote areas can have greater difficulty in accessing government services, often needing to travel long distances, or facing lower service levels than provided in major cities. This context is important when considering educational and wellbeing outcomes, given the disruptive effects of waiting or missing out on important services.

The rest of this chapter details key measures in the department's outcome and business plan.

Appendix one – Response from agency

Appendix two – About the audit

Appendix three – Performance auditing

 

© Copyright reserved by the Audit Office of New South Wales. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced without prior consent of the Audit Office of New South Wales. The Audit Office does not accept responsibility for loss or damage suffered by any person acting on or refraining from action as a result of any of this material.

 

Parliamentary reference - Report number #385 - released 10 August 2023

Published

Actions for State heritage assets

State heritage assets

Environment
Local Government
Planning
Compliance
Management and administration
Regulation
Risk

What the report is about

This audit assessed how effectively the Department of Planning and Environment (Heritage NSW) is overseeing and administering heritage assets of state significance.

Heritage that is rare, exceptional or outstanding to New South Wales may be listed on the State Heritage Register under the Heritage Act 1977. This provides assets with legal recognition and protection. Places, buildings, works, relics, objects and precincts can be listed, whether in public or private ownership.

Heritage NSW has administrative functions and regulatory powers, including under delegation from the Heritage Council of NSW, relevant to the listing, conservation and adaptive re-use of heritage assets of state significance.

In summary, the audit assessed whether Heritage NSW:

  • is effectively administering relevant advice and decisions
  • is effectively supporting and overseeing assets
  • has established clear strategic priorities and can demonstrate preparedness to implement these.

What we found

Heritage NSW does not have adequate oversight of state significant heritage assets, presenting risks to its ability to promote the objects of the Heritage Act.

Information gaps and weaknesses in quality assurance processes limit its capacity to effectively regulate activities affecting assets listed on the State Heritage Register.

Heritage NSW has adopted a focus on customer service and recently improved its timeliness in providing advice and making decisions about activities affecting listed assets. But Heritage NSW has not demonstrated how its customer-focused priorities will address known risks to its core regulatory responsibilities.

Listed assets owned by government entities are often of high heritage value. Heritage NSW could do more to promote effective heritage management among these entities.

What we recommended

The report made eight recommendations to Heritage NSW, focusing on:

  • improving quality assurance over advice and decisions
  • improving staff guidance and training
  • defining and maintaining data in the State Heritage Register
  • clarifying its regulatory intent and approach
  • sector engagement and interagency capability to support heritage outcomes.

The Heritage Act 1977 (the Heritage Act) and accompanying regulation provide the legal framework for the identification, conservation and adaptive re-use of heritage assets in New South Wales.

The Department of Planning and Environment (Heritage NSW) has responsibility for policy, legislative and program functions for state heritage matters, including supporting the Minister for Heritage to administer the Heritage Act.

Heritage assets that are rare, exceptional or outstanding beyond a local area or region may be listed on the State Heritage Register under the Heritage Act. These assets include places, buildings, works, relics, moveable objects and precincts, and assets that have significance to Aboriginal communities in New South Wales. Assets nominated for and listed on the State Heritage Register ('listed assets') may be owned privately or publicly, including by local councils and state government entities.

The Heritage Act establishes the Heritage Council of NSW (the Heritage Council) to undertake a range of functions in line with its objectives. Heritage NSW provides administrative support to the Heritage Council, for example providing advice on assets that have been nominated for listing on the State Heritage Register. Many of Heritage NSW’s core activities also relate to exercising functions and powers under delegation from the Heritage Council. These include making administrative decisions about works affecting listed assets, and exercising powers to regulate asset owners’ compliance with requirements under the Heritage Act.

Heritage NSW states that heritage:

…gives us a sense of our history and provides meaningful insights into how earlier generations lived and developed. It also enriches our lives and helps us to understand who we are.  

According to Heritage NSW, an effective heritage system will facilitate the community in harnessing the cultural and economic value of heritage.

The objective of this audit was to assess how effectively the Department of Planning and Environment (Heritage NSW) is overseeing and administering heritage assets of state significance.

For this audit, ‘heritage assets of state significance’ refers to items (including a place, building, work, relic, moveable object or precinct) listed on the State Heritage Register ('listed assets'), and those which have been nominated for listing.

Conclusion

The Department of Planning and Environment (Heritage NSW) does not have adequate oversight of state significant heritage assets. Information gaps and weaknesses in certain assurance processes limit its capacity to effectively regulate activities affecting assets listed on the State Heritage Register. These factors also constrain its ability to effectively support voluntary compliance and promote the objects of the Heritage Act, which include encouraging conservation and adaptive re-use.
Heritage NSW has adopted a focus on customer service and recently improved the timeliness of its advice and decisions on activities affecting listed assets. But Heritage NSW has not demonstrated how its customer service priorities will address known risks to its regulatory responsibilities. It could also do more to enable and promote effective heritage management among state government entities that own listed assets.

The information that Heritage NSW maintains about assets listed on the State Heritage Register ('listed assets') is insufficient for its regulatory and owner engagement purposes. Data quality and completeness issues have arisen since the register was established in 1999. But Heritage NSW's progress to address important gaps in the register, and its other information systems, has been limited in recent years. These gaps limit Heritage NSW’s capacity to detect compliance breaches early and implement risk-based regulatory responses, and to strategically target its owner engagement activities to promote conservation and re-use.

Heritage NSW makes decisions on applications for works on listed assets, requiring technical skills and professional judgement. But Heritage NSW does not provide its staff with adequate guidance to ensure that consistent approaches are used, and it lacks sufficient quality assurance processes. There are similar weaknesses in Heritage NSW's oversight of decisions on applications that are delegated to other government entities.

Heritage NSW has prioritised the implementation of customer service-focused activities, policies, and programs to reduce regulatory burdens on asset owners since 2017. For example, Heritage NSW has refreshed its website, introduced new information management systems, and implemented new regulation for the self-assessment of exemptions for minor works. However, Heritage NSW has not taken steps to mitigate oversight and quality risks introduced with the reduced regulatory burdens. Heritage NSW has made some, but to date insufficient, progress on a key project to update its publications. These documents (over 150 publications) are intended to play an important role in promoting voluntary compliance and supporting heritage outcomes. Heritage NSW started a new project to update relevant publications in April 2023.

Heritage NSW has recently implemented processes to improve its efficiency, such as screening new nominations for listing on the State Heritage Register. Heritage NSW has also reported improvements in the time it takes to decide on applications for works affecting listed assets. In the third quarter of 2022–23, 87% of decisions were made within the statutory timeframes. This compares to 48% in 2021–22. Heritage NSW has similarly improved how quickly it provides heritage advice on major projects, with 90% of advice reported as delivered on time in the third quarter of 2022–23, compared to 44% in 2020–21.

Assets owned by state government entities comprise a large proportion of State Heritage Register listings. These assets are often of high heritage value or situated within large and complex precincts or portfolios. But Heritage NSW does not implement targeted capability building activities to support good practice heritage management among state government entities and to promote compliance with their obligations under the Heritage Act.

The expected interaction between Heritage NSW's strategic plans and activities, and the priorities of the Heritage Council of NSW, is unclear. Actions to clarify the relevant governance arrangements have also been slow following a review in 2020 but this work re-commenced in late 2022.

Heritage NSW has been progressing work to draft reforms to the Heritage Act. This follows recommendations made in a 2021 Upper House Inquiry into the Heritage Act. To build preparedness for future reforms, Heritage NSW will need to do more to address the risks and opportunities identified in this audit report. In particular, it will need to ensure it has sufficient information and capacity to implement a risk-based regulatory approach; clear and effective governance arrangements with the Heritage Council of NSW; and enhanced engagement with government entities to promote the conservation and adaptive re-use of listed assets in public ownership.

This chapter assesses the effectiveness of Heritage NSW's oversight of state heritage assets, including its visibility of listed assets, and its oversight of regulatory decision-making. It also assesses Heritage NSW's activities to engage with owners to meet their obligations under the Heritage Act and to support heritage outcomes.

This chapter assesses the timeliness of Heritage NSW’s provision of advice, recommendations, and decisions on heritage issues to support heritage management outcomes with respect to listed assets.

This chapter assesses whether the Department of Planning and Environment (Heritage NSW) has established clear strategic priorities to effectively oversee and administer activities related to listed assets, and its preparedness to implement reforms. It also assesses the adequacy of planning activities and governance arrangements to support the achievement of strategic directions.

Appendix one – Response from agency

Appendix two – About the audit

Appendix three – Performance auditing

 

© Copyright reserved by the Audit Office of New South Wales. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced without prior consent of the Audit Office of New South Wales. The Audit Office does not accept responsibility for loss or damage suffered by any person acting on or refraining from action as a result of any of this material.

 

Parliamentary reference - Report number #384 - released 27 June 2023

Published

Actions for Management of the Critical Communications Enhancement Program

Management of the Critical Communications Enhancement Program

Finance
Health
Justice
Whole of Government
Cyber security
Information technology
Infrastructure
Internal controls and governance
Project management
Risk
Service delivery
Shared services and collaboration

What the report is about

Effective radio communications are crucial to NSW's emergency services organisations.

The Critical Communications Enhancement Program (CCEP) aims to deliver an enhanced public safety radio network to serve the five emergency services organisations (ESOs), as well as a range of other users.

This report assesses whether the NSW Telco Authority is effectively managing the CCEP.

What we found

Where it has already been delivered (about 50% of the state), the enhanced network meets most of the requirements of ESOs.

The CCEP will provide additional infrastructure for public safety radio coverage in existing buildings agreed to with ESOs. However, radio coverage inside buildings constructed after the CCEP concludes will be at risk because building and fire regulations do not address the need for in-building public safety radio coverage.

Around 98% of radios connected to the network can be authenticated to protect against cloning, though only 42% are.

The NSW Telco Authority has not settled with ESOs on how call encryption will be used across the network. This creates the risk that radio interoperability between ESOs will not be maximised.

When completed, the public safety radio network will be the only mission critical radio network for ESOs. It is unclear whether governance for the ongoing running of the network will allow ESOs to participate in future network operational decisions.

The current estimated capital cost for the NSW Telco Authority to complete the CCEP is $1.293 billion. This is up from an estimated cost of $400 million in 2016. The estimated capital cost was not publicly disclosed until $1.325 billion was shown in the 2021–22 NSW Budget Papers.

We estimate that the full cost to government, including costs to the ESOs, of implementing the enhanced network is likely to exceed $2 billion.

We made recommendations about

  • The governance of the enhanced Public Safety Network (PSN) to support agency relationships.
  • The need to finalise a Traffic Mitigation Plan for when the network is congested.
  • The need to provide advice to the NSW Government about the regulatory gap for ensuring adequate network reach in future buildings.
  • The need to clarify how encryption and interoperability will work on the enhanced network.
  • The need for the NSW Telco Authority to comply with its policy on Infrastructure Capacity Reservation.
  • Expediting measures to protect against the risk of cloning by unauthenticated radios.

Public safety radio networks are critical for operational communications among Emergency Services Organisations (ESOs), which in New South Wales include:

  • NSW Ambulance
  • Fire and Rescue NSW
  • NSW Police Force
  • NSW Rural Fire Service
  • NSW State Emergency Service.1

Since 1993, these five ESOs have had access to a NSW Government owned and operated radio communications network, the Public Safety Network (PSN), to support their operational communications. Around 60 to 70 other entities also have access to this network, including other NSW government entities, Commonwealth government entities, local councils, community organisations, and utility companies.

Pursuant to the Government Telecommunications Act 2018 ('the Act'), the New South Wales Government Telecommunications Authority ('NSW Telco Authority') is responsible for the establishment, control, management, maintenance and operation of the PSN.2

Separate to the PSN, all ESOs and other government entities have historically maintained their own radio communication capabilities and networks. Accordingly, the PSN has been a supplementary source of operational radio communications for these entities.

These other radio networks maintained by ESOs and other entities are of varying size and capability, with many ageing and nearing their end-of-life. There was generally little or no interoperability between networks, infrastructure was often co-located and duplicative, and there were large gaps in geographic coverage.

In 2016, the NSW Telco Authority received dedicated NSW Government funding to commence the Critical Communications Enhancement Program (CCEP).

According to NSW Telco Authority's 2021–22 annual report, the CCEP is a transformation program for operational communications for NSW government agencies. The CCEP '…aims to deliver greater access to public safety standard radio communications for the State’s first responders and essential service agencies'. The objective of CCEP is to consolidate the large number of separate radio networks that are owned and operated by various NSW government entities and to enhance the state’s existing shared PSN. The program also aims to deliver increased PSN coverage throughout New South Wales.

The former NSW Government intended that as the enhanced PSN was progressively rolled-out across NSW, ESOs would migrate their radio communications to the enhanced network, before closing and decommissioning their own networks.

About this Audit

This audit assessed whether the CCEP is being effectively managed by the NSW Telco Authority to deliver an enhanced PSN that meets ESOs' requirements for operational communications.

We addressed the audit objective by answering the following two questions:

  1. Have agreed ESO user requirements for the enhanced PSN been met under day-to-day and emergency operational conditions?
  2. Has there been adequate transparency to the NSW Government and other stakeholders regarding whole-of-government costs related to the CCEP?

In answering the first question, we also considered how the agreed user requirements were determined. This included whether they were supported by evidence, whether they were sufficient to meet the intent of the CCEP (including in considering any role for new or alternative technologies), and whether they met any relevant technical standards and compliance obligations (including for cyber security resilience).

While other NSW government agencies and entities use the PSN, we focused on the experience of the five primary ESOs because these will be the largest users of the enhanced PSN.

Both the cost and time required to complete the CCEP roll-out have increased since 2016. While it was originally intended to be completed in 2020, this is now forecast to be 2027. Infrastructure NSW has previously assessed the reasons for the increases in time and cost. A summary of the findings made by Infrastructure NSW is presented in Chapter 1 of this report. Accordingly, as these matters had already been assessed, we did not re-examine them in this performance audit.

The auditee for this performance audit is the NSW Telco Authority, which is a statutory authority within the Department of Customer Service portfolio.

In addition to being responsible for the operation of the PSN, section 5 of the Act also prescribes that the NSW Telco Authority is:

  • to identify, develop and deliver upgrades and enhancements to the government telecommunications network to improve operational communications for government sector agencies
  • to develop policies, standards and guidelines for operational communications using telecommunications networks.

The NSW Telco Authority Advisory Board is established under section 10 of the Act. The role of the board is to advise the NSW Telco Authority and the minister on any matter relating to the telecommunications requirements of government sector agencies and on any other matter relating to the functions of the Authority. As of 2 June 2023, the responsible minister is the Minister for Customer Service and Digital Government.

The five identified ESOs are critical stakeholders of the CCEP and therefore they were consulted during this audit. However, the ESOs were not auditees for this performance audit.

Conclusion

In areas of New South Wales where the enhanced Public Safety Network has been implemented under the Critical Communications Enhancement Program, the NSW Telco Authority has delivered a radio network that meets most of the agreed requirements of Emergency Services Organisations for routine and emergency operations.
In April 2023, the enhanced Public Safety Network (PSN) was approximately 50% completed. In areas where it is used by Emergency Services Organisations (ESOs), the PSN generally meets agreed user requirements. This is demonstrated through extensive performance monitoring and reporting, which shows that agreed performance standards are generally achieved. Reviews by the NSW Government and the NSW Telco Authority found that the PSN performed effectively during major flood events in 2021 and 2022.

Where it is completed, PSN coverage is generally equal to or better than each ESO's individual pre-existing coverage. The NSW Telco Authority has a dedicated work program to address localised coverage gaps (or 'blackspots') in those areas where coverage has otherwise been substantively delivered. Available call capacity on the network far exceeds demand in everyday use. Any operational issues that may occur with the PSN are transparent to ESOs in real time.

The NSW Telco Authority consulted extensively with ESOs on requirements for the enhanced PSN, with relatively few ESO requirements not being included in the specifications for the enhanced PSN. Lessons from previous events, including the 2019–20 summer bushfires, have informed the design and implementation of the enhanced PSN (such as the need to ensure adequate backup power supply to inaccessible sites). The network is based on the Project 25 technical standards for mission-critical radio communications, which is widely-accepted in the public safety radio community throughout Australia and internationally.

There is no mechanism to ensure adequate radio coverage within new building infrastructure after the CCEP concludes, but the NSW Telco Authority and ESOs have agreed an approach to prioritise existing in-building sites for coverage for the duration of the CCEP.
The extent to which the PSN works within buildings and other built structures (such as railway tunnels) is of crucial importance to ESOs, especially the NSW Police Force, NSW Ambulance, and Fire and Rescue NSW. This is because a large proportion of their operational communications occurs within buildings.

There is no mechanism to ensure the adequacy of future in-building coverage for the PSN in new or refurbished buildings after the CCEP concludes. Planning, building, and fire regulations are silent on this issue. We note there are examples in the United States of how in-building coverage for public safety radio networks can be incorporated into building or fire safety codes.

In regard to existing buildings, it is not possible to know whether a building requires its own in-building PSN infrastructure until nearby outside radio sites, including towers and antennae, have been commissioned into the network. Only then can it be determined whether their radio transmissions are capable of penetrating inside nearby buildings. Accordingly, much of this work for in-building coverage cannot be done until outside radio sites are finished and operating.

In March 2023, the NSW Telco Authority and ESOs agreed on a list of 906 mandatory and 7,086

non-mandatory sites for in-building PSN coverage. Most of these sites will likely be able to receive radio coverage via external antennae and towers, however this cannot be confirmed until those nearby external PSN sites are completed. The parties also agreed on an approach to prioritising those sites where coverage is needed but not provided by antennae and towers. Available funding will likely only extend to ensuring coverage in sites deemed mandatory, which is nonetheless expected to meet the overall benchmark of achieving 'same or better' coverage than what ESOs had previously.

There is a risk that radio interoperability between ESOs will not be maximised because the NSW Telco Authority has not settled with ESOs how encryption will be used across the enhanced PSN.
End-to-end encryption of radio transmissions is a security feature that prevents radio transmissions being intercepted or listened to by people who are not meant to. The ability of the PSN to provide end-to-end encryption of operational communications is of critical importance to the two largest prospective users of the PSN: the NSW Police Force and NSW Ambulance. Given that encryption excludes other parties that do not have the requisite encryption keys, its use creates an obstacle to achieving a key intended benefit of the CCEP, that is a more interoperable PSN, where first responders are better able to communicate with other ESOs.

Further planning and collaboration between PSN participants are necessary to consider how these dual benefits can be achieved, including in what operational circumstances encrypted interoperability is necessary or appropriate.

The capital cost to the NSW Telco Authority of the CCEP, originally estimated at $400 million in 2016, was not made public until the 2021–22 NSW Budget disclosed an estimate of $1.325 billon.
The estimated capital cost to complete all stages of the CCEP increased over time. This increasing cost was progressively disclosed to the NSW Government through Cabinet processes between 2015–16 and 2021–22.

In 2016, the full capital cost to the NSW Telco Authority of completing the CCEP was estimated to be $400 million. This estimated cost was not publicly disclosed, nor were subsequent increases, until the cost of $1.325 billion was publicly disclosed in the 2021–22 NSW Budget (revised down in the 2022–23 NSW Budget to $1.293 billion).

There has been no transparency about the whole-of-government cost of implementing the enhanced PSN through the CCEP.
In addition to the capital costs incurred directly by the NSW Telco Authority for the CCEP, ESOs have incurred costs to maintain their own networks due to the delay in implementing the CCEP. The ESOs will continue to incur these costs until they are able to fully migrate to the enhanced PSN, which is expected to be in 2027. These costs have not been tracked or reported as part of transparently accounting for the whole-of-government cost of the enhanced PSN. This is despite Infrastructure NSW in 2019 recommending to the NSW Telco Authority that it conduct a stocktake of such costs so that a whole-of-government cost impact is available to the NSW Government.

1 The definition of 'emergency services organisation' is set out in the State Emergency and Rescue Management Act 1989 (NSW). In addition to the five ESOs discussed in this report, the definition also includes: Surf Life Saving New South Wales; New South Wales Volunteer Rescue Association Inc; Volunteer Marine Rescue NSW; an agency that manages or controls an accredited rescue unit; and a non-government agency that is prescribed by the regulations for the purposes of this definition.
2 Section 15(1) of the Government Telecommunications Act 2018 (NSW).

The NSW Telco Authority established and tracked its own costs for the CCEP

Over the course of the program from 2016, the NSW Telco Authority prepared a series of business cases and program reviews that estimated its cost of implementing the program in full, including those shown in Exhibit 6 below.

Exhibit 6: Estimated costs to fully implement the CCEP
Source Capital cost ($ million) Operating cost
($ million)
Completion date
March 2016 business case 400 37.3 2020
November 2017 internal review 476.7 41.7 2022
March 2020 business case 950–1,050 -- 2025
October 2020 business case 1,263.1 56.1 2026

Source: CCEP business cases as identified.

In response to the 2016 CCEP business case, the then NSW Government approved the NSW Telco Authority implementing the CCEP in full, with funding provided in stages. The NSW Telco Authority tracked its costs against approved funding, with monthly reports provided to the multi-agency Program Steering Committee

Throughout the program, the NSW Government was informed of increasing costs being incurred by the NSW Telco Authority for the CCEP

The various business cases, program updates, and program reviews prepared by the NSW Telco Authority were provided to the NSW Government through the required Cabinet process when seeking approval for the program proceeding and requests for both capital and operational funding. These provided clear indication of the changing overall cost of the CCEP to the NSW Telco Authority, as well as the delays that were being experienced.

There was no transparency to the Parliament and community about changes in the capital cost of the CCEP until the 2021–22 NSW Budget

As the business cases for the CCEP were not publicly available, the only sources of information about capital cost were NSW Budget papers and media releases. The information provided in the annual Budget papers prior to the 2021–22 NSW Budget provided no visibility of the estimated full capital cost to complete all stages of the CCEP. As shown in Exhibit 7 below, this information was fragmented and complex.

Media releases about the progress of the CCEP did not provide the estimated total cost to the NSW Telco Authority of $1.325 billion to complete all stages of the CCEP until June 2021. Prior to this date, media releases only provided funding for the initial stages of the program or for the stages subject to a funding announcement.

Even during the September 2019 and March 2020 Parliamentary Estimate Committee hearings where the costings and delays to the CCEP were raised, the estimated full cost of the CCEP was not revealed.

Exhibit 7: CCEP funding in NSW Budget papers from 2015–16 to 2022–23
Financial year Type of major work Description of expenditure Forecast estimate to complete ($ million) Estimated duration
2015–16 New work Infrastructure Rationalisation Program: Planning and Pilot 18.3 2015–16
2016–17 Work in progress CCEP Planning and Pilot 18.3 2015–17
New work CCEP 45 2016–17
2017–18 New work CCEP 190.75 2017–21
2018–19 Work in progress CCEP North Coast and State-wide Detailed Design 190.75 2017–21
New work CCEP Greater Metropolitan Area 236 2018–22
2019–20 Work in progress CCEP 426.9 2018–22
2020–21 Work in progress CCEP 664.8 2018–22
2021–22 Work in progress CCEP 1,325 2018–26
2022–23 Work in progress CCEP 1,292.8 2018–26

Source: NSW Treasury, Annual State Budget Papers.

The original business case for the CCEP included estimated ESO costs, though these costs were not tracked throughout the program

Estimates for ESO costs for operating and maintaining their own radio networks over the four years from 2016–17 were included in the original March 2016 business case. They included $75.2 million for capital expenditure and $95 million for one-off operating costs. These costs, as well as costs incurred by ESOs due to the delay in the program, were not subsequently tracked by the NSW Telco Authority.

In January 2017, Infrastructure NSW reviewed the CCEP business case of March 2016. In this review, Infrastructure NSW recommended that the NSW Telco Authority identify combined and apportioned costs and cashflow for all ESOs over the CCEP funding period reflecting all associated costs to deliver the CCEP. These to include additional incidental capital costs accruing to ESOs, transition and migration to the new network and the cost (capital and operational) of maintaining existing networks. This recommendation was implemented in the November 2017 program review, with ESO capital costs estimated as $183 million.

In 2019, Infrastructure NSW conducted a Deep Dive Review on the progress of the CCEP. In this review, Infrastructure NSW made what it described as a 'critical recommendation' that the NSW Telco Authority:

…coordinate a stocktake of the costs of operational bridging solutions implemented by PSAs [ESOs] as a result of the 18-month delay, so that a whole-of-government cost impact is available to the NSW Government.  

It should be noted that the delay to CCEP completion now is seven years and that further ‘operational bridging solutions’ have been needed by the ESOs.

'Stay Safe and Keep Operational' costs incurred by ESOs will be significantly higher than originally estimated

Stay Safe and Keep Operational (SSKO) funding was established to provide funding to ESOs to maintain their legacy networks while the CCEP was refreshing and enhancing the PSN. This recognised that much of the network infrastructure relied on by ESOs had reached – or was reaching – obsolescence and would either require extensive maintenance or replacement before the PSN was available for ESOs to migrate to it. ESOs may apply to NSW Treasury for SSKO funding, with their specific proposals being reviewed (and endorsed, where appropriate) by the NSW Telco Authority. Accordingly, SSKO expenditure does not fall within the CCEP budget allocation.

As shown in the table below, extracted from the March 2016 CCEP business case, the total expected cost for SSKO purposes over the course of the CCEP was originally $40 million, assuming the enhanced PSN would be fully available by 2020.

Exhibit 8: Stay Safe and Keep Operational forecast costs, 2017 to 2020
Year 2017 2018 2019 2020 Total
SSKO forecast ($ million) 12.5 15 10 2.5 40

Source: March 2016 CCEP business case.

In October 2022, the expected completion date for the CCEP was re-baselined to August 2027. Accordingly, ESOs will be required to continue to maintain their radio networks using legacy equipment for seven years longer than the original 2020 forecast. This will likely become progressively more expensive and require additional SSKO funding. For example, NSW Telco Authority endorsed SSKO bids for 2022–23 exceeded $35 million for that year alone.

Compared to the original forecast made in the March 2016 CCEP business case of $40 million, we found ESOs had estimated SSKO spending to 2027 will be $292.5 million.

A refresh of paging network used by ESOs and the decommissioning of redundant sites were both removed from the original 2016 scope of the CCEP

Paging

A paging network is considered an important user requirement by the Fire and Rescue NSW, NSW Rural Fire Service, and NSW State Emergency Service. The 2016 CCEP business case included a paging network refresh within the program scope of works. This was reiterated in the November 2017 internal review of the program. These documents did not estimate a cost for this refresh. The March 2020 and October 2020 business cases excluded paging from the program scope. The audit is unable to identify when, why or by whom the decision was made to remove paging from the program scope, something that was also not well communicated to the affected ESOs.

In 2021, after representations from the affected ESOs, the NSW Telco Authority prepared a separate business case for a refresh of the paging network at an estimated capital cost of $60.31 million. This program was subsequently approved by the NSW Government and included in the 2022–23 NSW Budget.

In determining an estimated full whole-of-government cost of delivering the enhanced PSN, we have included the budgeted cost of the paging network refresh on the basis that:

  • it was expressly included in the original approved March 2016 business case
  • the capability is deemed essential to the needs of three ESOs.

Decommissioning costs

The 2016 CCEP business case included cost estimates for decommissioning surplus sites (whether ‘old’ GRN sites or sites belonging to ESOs’ own networks). These estimates were provided for both the NSW Telco Authority ($38 million) and for the ESOs ($55 million). However, while these estimates were described, they were not included as part of the NSW Telco Authority's estimated capital cost ($400 million) or (more relevantly) operating cost ($37.3 million) for the CCEP. This is despite decommissioning being included as one of eight planned activities for the rollout of the program.

In the October 2020 business case, an estimate of $201 million was included for decommissioning agency networks based on a model whereby:

  • funding would be coordinated by the NSW Telco Authority
  • scheduling and reporting through an inter-agency working group and
  • where appropriate, agencies would be appointed as the most appropriate decommissioning party.

This estimated cost is not included in the CCEP budget.

In determining an estimated full whole-of-government cost of the enhanced PSN, we have included the estimated cost of decommissioning on the basis that:

  • decommissioning was included in the 2016 CCEP business case as one of eight 'planned activities for the rollout of the program'
  • effective decommissioning of surplus sites and equipment (including as described in the business case as incorporating asset decommissioning, asset re-use, and site make-good) is an inherent part of the program management for an enhanced PSN
  • costs incurred in decommissioning are entirely a consequence of the CCEP program.

The estimated minimum cost of building an enhanced PSN consistent with the original proposal is over $2 billion

We have derived two estimated minimum whole-of-government costs for delivering an enhanced PSN. These are:

  • $2.04 billion when calculated from NSW Telco Authority data – shown as estimate A in Exhibit 9 below.
  • $2.26 billion when calculated from ESO supplied data – shown as estimate B in Exhibit 9.

Both totals include:

  • budgeted amounts for both CCEP capital expenditure ($1,292.8 million) and operating expenditure ($139 million)
  • the NSW Telco Authority's 2020 estimated cost for decommissioning ($201 million)
  • the NSW Telco Authority's approved funding for paging refresh ($60.3 million).

The two estimated totals primarily vary around the capital expenditure of ESOs (particularly SSKO funding). To determine these costs, we used ESO provided actual SSKO costs to date, as well as their estimates for maintaining their legacy radio networks through to 2027.

The equivalent cost estimates from the NSW Telco Authority were sourced from the November 2017 internal review and the October 2020 business case for CCEP. It should be noted that the amounts for both estimates are not audited, or verified, but do provide an indication of how whole-of-government costs have grown over the course of the program.

The increase in and reasons for the increase in total CCEP costs (capital and one-off operating) incurred or forecast by the NSW Telco Authority (from $437.3 million in 2016 to $1,431.8 million in 2022) have been provided to the NSW Government through various business cases and reviews prepared by the NSW Telco Authority, as well as by reviews conducted by Infrastructure NSW as part of its project assurance responsibilities.

However, the growth in ESO costs and other consequential costs, such as paging and decommissioning, from around $263 million in the 2016 CCEP business case to between $600 million and $800 million, has to a large degree remained invisible and unexplained to the NSW Government and other stakeholders

Exhibit 9: Estimated whole-of-government costs of the enhanced PSN
  Estimated whole-of-government cost, over time
Cost type 20161 20172 20203 2023–Estimate A4 2023–Estimate B5
$ million $ million $ million $ million $ million
CCEP capital expenditure 400a 476.7b 1,263.1c 1,292.8d 1,292.8d
CCEP operating expenditure 37.3a 41.7b 41.5e 139d 139d
CCEP total 437.3 518.4 1,304.6 1,431.8 1,431.8
ESO capital expenditure 75.2a,f 183b,e 75.4e 258.4g 292.5
ESO one-off operating expenditure 93a n.a.l 86.5e 86.5h 273
ESO total 168.2 183 161.9 344.9 565.5
Paging n.a.i n.a.i n.a.j 60.3k 60.3k
Decommissioning 93 n.a.l 201.0 201h 201
Paging and decommissioning total 93 n.a. 201 261.3 261.3
Whole-of-government total 698.5 701.4 1,667.5 2,038 2,258.6

Notes:
  1. Financial year 2016 to Financial year 2020.
  2. Financial year 2016 to Financial year 2021.
  3. Financial year 2016 to Financial year 2025.
  4. Financial year 2016 to Financial year 2026.
  5. Financial year 2022 to Financial year 2025.
  6. Stay Safe and Keep Operational (SSKO) costs plus terminals costs.
  7. November 2017 internal review and October 2020 Business case.
  8. October 2020 Business case.
  9. Included in CCEP capital expenditure at that time.
  10. By 2020, a refresh of the paging network had been removed from the CCEP scope.
  11. A separate business case for a refresh of the paging network was approved by government in 2022.
  12. Figure not included in the source document.
Sources:
  1. March 2016 CCEP business case.
  2. November 2017 Internal Review conducted by the NSW Telco Authority.
  3. October 2020 CCEP business case.
  4. Derived from business cases, with ESO costs drawn from NSW Telco Authority data.
  5. Derived from business cases, with ESO costs based on data provided to the Audit Office of New South Wales by each of the five ESOs.

Appendix one – Response from agency

Appendix two – Trunked public safety radio networks

Appendix three – About the audit

Appendix four – Performance auditing

 

 

© Copyright reserved by the Audit Office of New South Wales. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced without prior consent of the Audit Office of New South Wales. The Audit Office does not accept responsibility for loss or damage suffered by any person acting on or refraining from action as a result of any of this material.

 

Parliamentary reference - Report number #383 - released 23 June 2023

 

Published

Actions for Regulation and monitoring of local government

Regulation and monitoring of local government

Planning
Whole of Government
Environment
Local Government
Compliance
Regulation
Risk

What the report is about

The Office of Local Government (OLG) in the Department of Planning and Environment is responsible for strengthening the local government sector, including through its regulatory functions.

This audit assessed whether the OLG is effectively monitoring and regulating the sector under the Local Government Act 1993. The audit covered:

  • the effectiveness of departmental arrangements for the OLG to undertake its regulatory functions
  • whether the OLG has effective mechanisms to monitor and respond to risks and issues relating to council compliance and performance.

What we found

The OLG does not conduct effective, proactive monitoring to enable timely risk-based responses to council performance and compliance issues.

The OLG has not clearly defined and communicated its regulatory role to ensure that its priorities are well understood.

The OLG does not routinely review the results of its regulatory activities to improve its approaches.

The department lacks an adequate framework to define, measure and report on the OLG's performance, limiting transparency and its accountability.

The OLG's new strategic plan presents an opportunity for the OLG to better define, communicate, and deliver on its regulatory objectives.

What we recommended

The OLG should:

  • publish a tool to support councils to self-assess risks and report on their performance and compliance
  • ensure its council engagement strategy is consistent with its regulatory approach
  • report each year on its regulatory activities and performance
  • publish a calendar of its key sector support and monitoring activities
  • enhance processes for internally tracking operational activities
  • develop and maintain a data management framework
  • review and update frameworks and procedures for regulatory responses.

 

The Local Government Act 1993 (the LG Act) provides the legal framework for the system of local government in New South Wales. The LG Act describes the functions of councils, county councils and joint organisations which should be exercised consistent with the guiding principles and requirements of the LG Act. Councils also have functions and responsibilities under other Acts.

There are 128 local councils, nine county councils and 13 joint organisations of councils in the New South Wales local government sector. Each council is unique in size and location, owns and manages assets, and delivers services for their communities. According to 2021–22 data provided by the Department of Planning and Environment (the department), local councils managed $175.2 billion in infrastructure, property plant and equipment, held $16.8 billion of cash and investments, collected $7.8 billion in rates and charges and entered into $3.7 billion of borrowings. Councils' decision-making responsibilities directly impact the communities they serve, including responsibilities relevant to financial management, economic development, environmental sustainability and community wellbeing.

Under the LG Act, each elected council is accountable to the community they serve. In addition to Auditor-General reports, issues relating to council performance and compliance have been identified in public inquiries commissioned by the Minister for Local Government and investigations by the Independent Commission Against Corruption, NSW Ombudsman and Office of Local Government (OLG). Challenges and opportunities related to the operations and sustainability of the local government sector have also been reported by the sector and identified in reports by NSW government agencies such as the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal.

The department is the primary state government agency with responsibility for policy, legislative, regulatory and program functions for local government matters. The Office of Local Government (OLG) is a business unit within the department that advises the Minister for Local Government and exercises delegated functions of the Secretary of the Department of Planning and Environment under the LG Act.

Key departmental planning documents state that the OLG is responsible for strengthening the sustainability, performance, integrity, transparency and accountability of the local government sector. As the state regulator of the local government sector, the OLG aims to promote voluntary compliance, build councils' capacity for high performance, and intervene only when 'warranted and appropriate'. Relevant regulatory activities include issuing guidelines, investigating councils and councillors, and supporting the Minister for Local Government's discretionary intervention powers. The OLG's other functions include developing policy, administering grants and programs, supporting local government election processes, and issuing certain approvals.

The objective of this audit was to assess whether the OLG is effectively monitoring and regulating the local government sector under the LG Act. The assessment included:

  • the effectiveness of departmental arrangements for the OLG to undertake its regulatory functions
  • whether the OLG has effective mechanisms to monitor and respond to risks and issues relating to council compliance and performance.

This report focuses on the OLG’s activities relevant to powers under Chapter 13 of the LG Act, and related regulatory activities, such as monitoring risks, issuing guidance and engaging with councils. It also examines strategic and operational planning for these activities in the context of the OLG's other activities, and departmental arrangements to oversee and enable the OLG's regulatory effectiveness.

Other OLG activities were not in scope of the audit but are commented on in this report where contextually relevant. This includes the OLG's responsibilities under the LG Act with respect to councillor misconduct, and the 2022 review of the councillor misconduct framework commissioned by the former Minister for Local Government.

Conclusion

The Office of Local Government (OLG) in the Department of Planning and Environment (the department) does not conduct effective, proactive monitoring to enable timely risk-based responses to council performance and compliance issues. Council performance and compliance varies and a range of issues continue across the local government sector – some significant – that can impact on councils' operations and sustainability.

The department recognises that an effective and efficient sector is 'crucial to the economic and social wellbeing of communities across the State,' but the OLG does not routinely review the results of its regulatory activities to improve its approaches. The OLG has also not clearly defined and communicated its regulatory role to ensure that its priorities are well understood.

Inadequate performance measurement and reporting on its regulatory activities is a significant transparency and accountability issue, and the OLG cannot demonstrate that it is effectively regulating the local government sector.

The department lacks an adequate framework to define, measure and report on the OLG's performance as the state regulator of the sector under the Local Government Act 1993 (the LG Act). The OLG's various council engagement activities are not well structured and coordinated towards delivering on a clearly defined regulatory role and its regulatory priorities are not well understood. In 2022, the OLG identified, in its new strategic plan, that there is a need for it to define its role in the sector. It would be expected that a clearly defined role already underpins its aim to 'strike the right mix of monitoring, intervention, capability improvement and engagement activities'.

The OLG collects various sources of information about council compliance and performance but its systems and processes do not enable structured, proactive sector monitoring to enable timely, risk-based responses. Ineffective sector monitoring is a particular issue in the context of compliance, financial management and governance risks that have been identified in inquiries and reviews by other government agencies including integrity bodies and reported by the sector. Audit Office data for 2021–22 shows that 62 councils did not have or regularly update key corporate governance policies, and 63 do not have basic controls to manage cyber security risks. Further, 31 councils or joint organisations did not meet the statutory requirement to have an audit, risk and improvement committee by 30 June 2022.1

Overall, the OLG has made limited progress on projects that have been identified since 2019 to improve its sector monitoring, such as updating its performance measurement framework for councils. These factors limit its capacity to identify and act on issues early. In early 2023, the OLG started to implement a new council risk assessment tool.

The OLG's two main frameworks to guide its sector improvement and intervention activities were last updated in 2014 and 2017. The OLG considered relevant statutory criteria when advising the Minister on the use of powers to issue performance improvement and suspension orders under the LG Act. But the OLG lacks complete and approved procedures to guide staff when preparing advice and recommendations related to interventions, and other response options. This creates risks to the consistency and transparency of relevant processes.

The department and the OLG have identified that resourcing issues present a risk to the OLG's regulatory functions. Projects since 2021 to review the OLG's budget did not progress. The OLG does not routinely review the costs or evaluate the effectiveness of its regulatory activities.

The OLG's 2022–2026 strategic plan sets out a vision to be, 'A trusted regulator and capability builder enabling councils to better serve their communities'. Implementing the strategic plan presents an opportunity for the OLG to better define, communicate, and deliver on its regulatory objectives towards strengthening the sector. The OLG advises that a delivery plan and performance indicators for its new strategy are being developed, alongside work resulting from the 2022 review of the councillor misconduct framework.

 


1 This data has been sourced through the Audit Office's financial audits of councils. The Local Government 2022 report, which compiles results from the local government sector financial statement audits for the year ended 30 June 2022, will include this and additional data, and related information. This report is expected to be tabled in June 2023.

This chapter considers the effectiveness of departmental arrangements for the OLG to undertake its regulatory functions.

This chapter assesses whether the OLG has effective mechanisms to monitor and respond to risks and issues relating to council compliance and performance.

The OLG’s 2017 Improvement and Intervention Framework is intended to guide appropriate responses to council compliance or performance risks and issues. The publicly available framework states that generally, the OLG will encourage councils to meet their obligations before a more formal intervention will be considered. It also states that any intervention or improvement response will be proportionate to the circumstances.

Appendix one – Response from agency

Appendix two – Statutory powers relevant to council accountability under the Local Government Act

Appendix three – About the audit

Appendix four – Performance auditing

 

Copyright notice

© Copyright reserved by the Audit Office of New South Wales. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced without prior consent of the Audit Office of New South Wales. The Audit Office does not accept responsibility for loss or damage suffered by any person acting on or refraining from action as a result of any of this material.

 

Parliamentary reference - Report number #380 - released 23 May 2023

Published

Actions for Planning and managing bushfire equipment

Planning and managing bushfire equipment

Community Services
Justice
Planning
Environment
Local Government
Asset valuation
Compliance
Financial reporting
Information technology
Infrastructure
Internal controls and governance
Management and administration
Procurement
Regulation
Risk
Shared services and collaboration
Workforce and capability

What the report is about

This audit assessed the effectiveness of the NSW Rural Fire Service (RFS) and local councils in planning and managing equipment for bushfire prevention, mitigation, and suppression.

What we found

The RFS has focused its fleet development activity on modernising and improving the safety of its firefighting fleet, and on the purchase of new firefighting aircraft.

There is limited evidence that the RFS has undertaken strategic fleet planning or assessment of the capability of the firefighting fleet to respond to current bushfire events or emerging fire risks.

The RFS does not have an overarching strategy to guide its planning, procurement, or distribution of the firefighting fleet.

The RFS does not have effective oversight of fleet maintenance activity across the State, and is not ensuring the accuracy of District Service Agreements with local councils, where maintenance responsibilities are described.

What we recommended

  1. Develop a fleet enhancement framework and strategy that is informed by an assessment of current fleet capability, and research into appropriate technologies to respond to emerging fire risks.
  2. Develop performance measures to assess the performance and capabilities of the fleet in each RFS District by recording and publicly reporting on fire response times, fire response outcomes, and completions of fire hazard reduction works.
  3. Report annually on fleet allocations to RFS Districts, and identify the ways in which fleet resources align with district-level fire risks.
  4. Develop a strategy to ensure that local brigade volunteers are adequate in numbers and appropriately trained to operate fleet appliances in RFS Districts where they are required.
  5. Establish a fleet maintenance framework to ensure regular update of District Service Agreements with local councils.
  6. Review and improve processes for timely recording of fleet asset movements, locations, and maintenance status.

This audit assessed how effectively the NSW Rural Fire Service (the RFS) plans and manages the firefighting equipment needed to prevent, mitigate, and suppress bushfires. This audit also examined the role of local councils in managing bushfire equipment fleet assets. Local councils have vested legal ownership of the majority of the land-based firefighting fleet, including a range of legislated responsibilities to carry out fleet maintenance and repairs. The RFS has responsibilities to plan and purchase firefighting fleet assets, and ensure they are ready for use in response to fires and other emergencies.

This report describes the challenges in planning and managing the firefighting fleet, including a confusion of roles and responsibilities between the RFS and local councils in relation to managing certain land-based rural firefighting fleet – a point that has been made in our Local Government financial audits over several years. This role confusion is further demonstrated in the responses of the RFS and local councils to this audit report – included at Appendix one.

The lack of cohesion in roles and responsibilities for managing rural firefighting vehicles increases the risk that these firefighting assets are not properly maintained and managed, and introduces a risk that this could affect their readiness to be mobilised when needed.

While the audit findings and recommendations address some of the operational and organisational inefficiencies in relation to rural firefighting equipment management, they do not question the legislative arrangements that govern them. This is a matter for the NSW Government to consider in ensuring the fleet arrangements are fit for purpose, and are clearly understood by the relevant agencies.

The NSW Rural Fire Service (hereafter the RFS) is the lead combat agency for bushfires in New South Wales, and has the power to take charge of bushfire prevention and response operations anywhere in the State. The RFS has responsibilities to prevent, mitigate and suppress bushfires across 95% of the State, predominantly in the non-metropolitan areas of New South Wales. Fire and Rescue NSW is responsible for fire response activity in the cities and large townships that make up the remaining five per cent of the State.

The RFS bushfire fleet is an integral part of the agency's overall bushfire risk management. The RFS also uses this fleet to respond to other emergencies such as floods and storms, motor vehicle accidents, and structural fires. Fleet planning and management is one of a number of activities that is necessary for fire mitigation and suppression.

The Rural Fires Act 1997 (Rural Fires Act) imposes obligations on all landowners and land managers to prevent the occurrence of bushfires and reduce the risk of bushfires from spreading. Local councils have fire prevention responsibilities within their local government areas, principally to reduce fire hazards near council owned or managed assets, and minor roads.

The RFS is led by a Commissioner and is comprised of both paid employees and volunteer rural firefighters. Its functions are prescribed in the Rural Fires Act and related legislation such as the State Emergency Rescue Management Act 1989. The RFS functions are also described in Bush Fire Risk Management Plans, the State Emergency Management Plan, District Service Agreements, and RFS procedural documents. Some of the core responsibilities of the RFS include:

  • preventing, mitigating, and suppressing fires across New South Wales
  • recruiting and managing volunteer firefighters in rural fire brigades
  • purchasing and allocating firefighting fleet assets to local councils
  • establishing District Service Agreements with local councils to give the RFS permissions to use the fleet assets that are vested with local councils
  • carrying out fleet maintenance and repairs when authorised to do so by local councils
  • inspecting the firefighting fleet
  • supporting land managers and private property owners with fire prevention activity.

In order to carry out its legislated firefighting functions, the RFS relies on land-based vehicles, marine craft, and aircraft. These different firefighting appliance types are referred to in this report as the firefighting fleet or fleet assets.

RFS records show that in 2021 there were 6,345 firefighting fleet assets across NSW. Most of the land-based appliances commonly associated with firefighting, such as water pumpers and water tankers, are purchased by the RFS and vested with local councils under the Rural Fires Act. The vesting of firefighting assets with local councils means that the assets are legally owned by the council for which the asset has been purchased. The RFS is able to use the firefighting assets through District Service Agreements with local councils or groups of councils.

In addition to the land-based firefighting fleet, the RFS owns a fleet of aircraft with capabilities for fire mitigation, suppression, and reconnaissance during fire events. The RFS hires a fleet of different appliances to assist with fire prevention and hazard reduction works. These include aircraft for firefighting and fire reconnaissance, and heavy plant equipment such as graders and bulldozers for hazard reduction. Hazard reduction works include the clearance of bush and grasslands around major roads and protected assets, and the creation and maintenance of fire trails and fire corridors to assist with fire response activity.

The RFS is organised into 44 RFS Districts and seven Area Commands. The RFS relies on volunteer firefighters to assist in carrying out most of its firefighting functions. These functions may include the operation of the fleet during fire response activities and training exercises, and the routine inspection of the fleet to ensure it is maintained according to fleet service standards. Volunteer fleet inspections are supervised by the RFS Fire Control Officer.

In 2021 there were approximately 73,000 volunteers located in 1,993 rural fire brigades across the State, making the RFS the largest volunteer fire emergency service in Australia. In addition to brigade volunteers, the RFS has approximately 1,100 salaried staff who occupy leadership and administrative roles at RFS headquarters and in the 44 RFS Districts.

Local councils have legislative responsibilities relating to bushfire planning and management. Some of the core responsibilities of local councils include:

  • establishing and equipping rural fire brigades
  • contributing to the Rural Fire Fighting Fund
  • vested ownership of land-based rural firefighting equipment
  • carrying out firefighting fleet maintenance and repairs
  • conducting bushfire prevention and hazard reduction activity.

The objective of this audit was to assess the effectiveness of the RFS and local councils in planning and managing equipment for bushfire prevention, mitigation, and suppression. From the period of 2017 to 2022 inclusive, we addressed the audit objective by examining whether the NSW RFS and local councils effectively:

  • plan for current and future bushfire fleet requirements
  • manage and maintain the fleet required to prevent, mitigate, and suppress bushfires in NSW.

This audit did not assess:

  • the operational effectiveness of the RFS bushfire response
  • the effectiveness of personal protective equipment and clothing
  • the process of vesting of rural firefighting equipment with local councils
  • activities of any other statutory authorities responsible for managing bushfires in NSW.

As the lead combat agency for the bushfire response in NSW, the RFS has primary responsibility for bushfire prevention, mitigation, and suppression.

Three local councils were selected as case studies for this audit, Hawkesbury City Council, Wagga Wagga City Council and Uralla Shire Council. These case studies highlight the ways in which the RFS and local councils collaborate and communicate in rural fire districts.

Conclusion

The RFS has focused its fleet development activity on modernising and improving the safety of its land-based firefighting fleet, and on the purchase of new firefighting aircraft

The RFS has reduced the average age of the firefighting fleet from approximately 21 years in 2017, to approximately 16 years in 2022. The RFS has also enhanced the aerial fleet with the addition of six new aircraft to add to the existing three aircraft.

Recommendations from inquiries into the 2019–20 bushfires have driven significant levels of fleet improvement activity, mainly focused on the addition of safety features to existing fleet appliances. The RFS has dedicated most of its efforts to purchasing and refurbishing firefighting appliances of the same type and in the same volumes year on year.

However, the RFS is unable to demonstrate how the composition, size, or the locations of the NSW firefighting fleet is linked to current fire prevention, mitigation, and suppression requirements, or future fire risks.

There is limited evidence that the RFS has undertaken strategic fleet planning or assessment of the capability of the firefighting fleet to respond to current bushfire events or emerging fire risks

The RFS has not established a methodology to assess the composition or volumes of the firefighting fleet against fire activity and fire risks in the 44 NSW Rural Fire Districts. The RFS has not developed performance measures or targets to assess or report on fire response times in each of its districts, nor has it developed measures to assess the effectiveness of responses according to fire sizes and fire types. Similarly, the RFS has limited performance measures to assess fire prevention activity, or to assess fuel load reduction works, so it is not possible to assess whether its fleet capabilities are fit for these purposes.

The RFS does not have an overarching strategy to guide its planning, procurement, or distribution of the firefighting fleet

RFS fleet planning and fleet allocations are based on historical fleet sizes and compositions, and distributed to locations where there are appropriately trained brigade volunteers.

The RFS takes an asset protection approach to bushfire prevention and planning that is based on the Australian and New Zealand Standard for Risk Management. This approach requires that the RFS identify assets at risk of fire, and develop treatment plans to protect these assets. However, fleet requirements are not linked to NSW asset protection plans, meaning that fleet is not allocated according to the identified risks in these plans. Further, the RFS does not develop fire prevention plans for areas where there are no identified assets.

The RFS has not conducted future-focused fleet research or planning into technologies that match fleet capabilities to emerging or future fire risks. Since the significant fire events of 2019–2020, the RFS has not changed its approach to planning for, or assessing, the operational capabilities of the fleet. The RFS advises it is scoping a project to match resources to risk, which it plans to commence in 2023.

The RFS does not have effective oversight of fleet maintenance activity across the State, and is not ensuring the accuracy of District Service Agreements where maintenance responsibilities are described

The RFS does not have a framework to ensure that District Service Agreements with local councils are accurate. Almost two thirds of service agreements have not been reviewed in the last ten years, and some do not reflect actual maintenance practices. There is no formalised process to ensure communication occurs between the RFS and local councils for fleet management and maintenance.

RFS fleet management systems at the central level are not integrated with RFS district-level databases to indicate when fleet assets are in workshops being maintained and serviced. The RFS has a new centralised Computer Aided Dispatch System that relies on accurate fleet locations and fleet condition information in order to dispatch vehicles to incidents and fires. A lack of interface between the district-level fleet systems and the centralised RFS fleet dispatch system, may impact on operational responses to bushfires. 

The RFS has not made significant changes to the size or composition of the firefighting fleet in the past five years and does not have an overarching strategy to drive fleet development

Since 2017, the RFS has made minimal changes to its firefighting fleet volumes or vehicle types. The RFS is taking a fleet renewal approach to fleet planning, with a focus on refurbishing and replacing ageing firefighting assets with newer appliances and vehicles of the same classification and type. While the RFS has adopted a fleet renewal approach, driven by its Appliance Replacement Program Guide, it does not have a strategy or framework to guide its future-focused fleet development. There is no document that identifies and analyses bushfire events and risks in NSW, and matches fleet resources and fleet technologies to meet those risks. The RFS does not have fleet performance measures or targets to assess whether the size and composition of the fleet is meeting current or emerging bushfire climate hazards, or fuel load risks across its 44 NSW Fire Districts.

The RFS fleet currently comprises approximately 4,000 frontline, operational firefighting assets such as tankers, pumpers, and air and marine craft, and approximately 2,300 logistical vehicles, such as personnel transport vehicles and specialist support vehicles. Of the land-based firefighting vehicles, the RFS has maintained a steady number of approximately 3,800 tankers and 65 pumpers, year on year, for the past five years. This appliance type is an essential component of the RFS land-based, firefighting fleet with capabilities to suppress and extinguish fires.

Since 2017, most RFS fleet enhancement activity has been directed to upgrades and the modernisation of older fleet assets with new safety features. There is limited evidence of research into new fleet technologies for modern firefighting. The RFS fleet volumes and fleet types have remained relatively static since 2017, with the exception of the aerial firefighting fleet. Since 2017, the RFS has planned for, and purchased, six additional aircraft to add to the existing three aircraft in its permanent fleet.

While the RFS has made minimal changes to its fleet since 2017, in 2016 it reduced the overall number of smaller transport vehicles, by purchasing larger vehicles with increased capacity for personnel transport. The consolidation of logistical and transport vehicles accounts for an attrition in fleet numbers from 7,058 in 2016, to 6,315 in 2017 as shown in Exhibit 2.

The firefighting fleet management system is not always updated in a timely manner due to insufficient RFS personnel with permissions to make changes in the system

The RFS uses a fleet management system known as SAP EAM to record the location and status of firefighting fleet assets. The system holds information about the condition of the firefighting fleet, the home location of each fleet asset, and the maintenance, servicing, and inspection records of all assets. The RFS uses the system for almost all functions related to the firefighting fleet, including the location of vehicles so that they can be dispatched during operational exercises or fire responses.

Staff at RFS Headquarters are responsible for creating and maintaining asset records in the fleet management system. RFS District staff have limited permissions in relation to SAP EAM. They are able to raise work orders for repairs and maintenance, upload evidence to show that work has been done, and close actions in the system.

RFS District staff are not able to enter or update some fleet information in the system, such as the location of vehicles. When an RFS District receives a fleet appliance, it cannot be allocated to a brigade until the location of the asset is accurately recorded in the system. The location of the asset must be updated in the SAP EAM system by staff at RFS Headquarters. District staff can request system support from staff at RFS Headquarters to enter this information. At the time of writing, the position responsible for updating the fleet management system at RFS Headquarters was vacant, and RFS District personnel reported significant wait times in response to their service requests.

The RFS conducts annual audits of SAP EAM system information to ensure data is accurate and complete. RFS staff are currently doing data cleansing work to ensure that fleet allocations are recorded correctly in the system.

Communication between brigades, local councils and the RFS needs improvement to ensure that fleet information is promptly updated in the fleet management system

RFS brigade volunteers do not have access to the fleet management system. When fleet assets are used or moved, volunteers report information about the location and condition of the fleet to RFS District staff using a paper-based form, or by email or phone. Information such as vehicle mileage, engine hours, and defects are all captured by volunteers in a logbook which is scanned and sent to RFS District staff. RFS District staff then enter the relevant information into the fleet management system, or raise a service ticket with RFS Headquarters to enter the information.

Brigade volunteers move fleet assets for a range of reasons, including for fire practice exercises. If volunteers are unable to report the movement of assets to RFS District staff in a timely manner, this can lead to system inaccuracies. Lapses and backlogs in record keeping can occur when RFS staff at district offices or at Headquarters are not available to update records at the times that volunteers report information. A lack of accurate record keeping can potentially impact on RFS operational activities, including fire response activity.

Brigade volunteers notify RFS District staff when fleet appliances are defective, or if they have not been repaired properly. District staff then enter the information into the fleet management system. The inability of volunteers to enter information into the system means they have no visibility over their requests, including whether they have been approved, actioned, or rejected.

Local councils are responsible for servicing and maintaining the firefighting fleet according to the Rural Fires Act, but this responsibility can be transferred to the RFS through arrangements described in local service agreements. Council staff record all fleet servicing and maintenance information in their local systems. The types of fleet information that is captured in local council records can vary between councils. RFS staff described the level of council reporting, and the effectiveness of this process, as 'mixed'.

Councils use different databases and systems to record fleet assets, and some councils are better resourced for this activity than others

Firefighting fleet information is recorded in different asset management systems across NSW. Each council uses its own asset management system to record details about the vested fleet assets. All three councils that were interviewed for this audit had different systems to record information about the fleet. In addition, the type of information captured by the three councils was varied.

Exhibit 10: Systems used by local councils to manage the firefighting fleet
System Hawkesbury City Council Uralla Shire Council Wagga Wagga City Council
Financial asset management system TechnologyOne Civica Assetic
Asset management system TechnologyOne Manual MEX

Source: Audit Office analysis of information provided by the RFS and local councils.

Local councils have varying levels of resources and capabilities to manage the administrative tasks associated with the firefighting fleet. Some of the factors that impact on the ability of councils to manage administrative tasks include: the size of the council; the capabilities of the information management systems, the size of the staff team, and the levels of staff training in asset management.

Uralla Shire Council is a small rural council in northern NSW. This council uses financial software to record information about the firefighting fleet. While staff record information about the condition of the asset, its replacement value, and its depreciation, staff do not record the age of the asset, or its location. Staff manually enter fleet maintenance information into their systems. Uralla Shire Council would like to purchase asset maintenance software that generates work orders for fleet repairs and maintenance. However, the council does not have trained staff in the use of asset management software, and the small size of the fleet may not make it financially worthwhile.

The Hawkesbury City Council uses a single system to capture financial and asset information associated with the firefighting fleet. Hawkesbury is a large metropolitan council located north-west of Sydney, with a relatively large staff team in comparison with Uralla Shire Council. The Hawkesbury City Council has given RFS District staff access to their fleet information system. RFS District staff can directly raise work orders for fleet repairs and maintenance through the council system, and receive automated notifications when the work is complete.

Two of the three audited councils report that they conduct annual reviews of fleet assets to assess whether the information they hold is accurate and up-to-date.

More than half of the fleet maintenance service agreements between the RFS and local councils have not been reviewed in ten years, and some do not reflect local practices

Local councils have a legislated responsibility to service, repair, and maintain the firefighting fleet to service standards set by the RFS. Councils may transfer this responsibility to the RFS through District Service Agreements. The RFS Districts are responsible for ensuring that the service agreements are current and effective.

The RFS does not have monitoring and quality control processes to ensure that service agreements with local councils are reviewed regularly. The RFS has 73 service agreements with local councils or groups of councils. Sixty-three per cent of service agreements had not been reviewed in the last ten years. Only four service agreements specify an end date and, of those, one agreement expired in 2010 and had not been reviewed at the time of this audit.

The RFS does not have a framework to ensure that service agreements with local councils reflect actual practices. Of the three councils selected for audit, one agreement does not describe the actual arrangements for fleet maintenance practices in RFS Districts. The service agreement with Hawkesbury City Council specifies that the RFS will maintain the firefighting fleet on behalf of council when, in fact, council maintains the firefighting fleet. The current agreement commenced in 2012, and at the time of writing had not been updated to reflect local maintenance practices.

When District Service Agreements are not reviewed periodically, there is a risk that neither local councils nor the RFS have clear oversight of the status of fleet servicing, maintenance, and repairs.

RFS District Service Agreements set out a requirement that RFS and local councils establish a liaison committee. Liaison committees typically include council staff, RFS District staff, and RFS brigade volunteers. While service agreements state that liaison committees must meet periodically to monitor and review the performance of the service agreement, committee members determine when and how often the committee meets.

RFS District staff and staff at the three audited councils are not meeting routinely to review or update their service agreements. At Wagga Wagga City Council, staff meet with RFS District staff each year to report on activity to fulfil service agreement requirements. Uralla Shire Council staff did not meet routinely with RFS District staff before 2021. When liaison committees do not meet regularly, there is a risk that the RFS and local councils have incorrect or outdated information about the location, status, or condition of the firefighting fleet. Given that councils lack systems to track and monitor fleet locations, regular communication between the RFS and local councils is essential.

The RFS has not established processes to ensure that local councils and RFS District personnel meet and exchange information about the fleet. Of the three councils selected for this audit, one council had not received information about the number, type, or status of the fleet for at least five years, and did not receive an updated list of appliances until there was a change in RFS District personnel. This has impacted on the accuracy of council record keeping. Councils do not always receive notification about new assets or information about the location of assets from the RFS, and therefore cannot reflect this information in their accounting and reporting.

RFS area commands audit system records to ensure fleet inspections occur as planned, but central systems are not always updated, creating operational risks

RFS District staff are required by the Rural Fires Act to ensure the firefighting fleet is inspected at least once a year. Regular inspections of the fleet are vital to ensure that vehicles are fit-for-purpose and safe for brigade volunteers. Inspections are also fundamental to the operational readiness and capability of RFS to respond to fire incidents.

RFS Area Command personnel conduct audits of fleet maintenance data to ensure that fleet inspections are occurring as planned. These inspections provide the RFS with assurance that the fleet is being maintained and serviced by local council workshops, or third-party maintenance contractors.

Some RFS Districts run their own fleet management systems outside of the central management system. They do this to manage their fleet inspection activity effectively. Annual fleet inspection dates are programmed by staff at RFS Headquarters. Most of the inspection dates generated by RFS Headquarters are clustered together and RFS Districts need to separate inspection times to manage workloads over the year. Spreading inspection dates is necessary to avoid exceeding the capacity of local council workshops or third party contractors, and to ensure that fleet are available during the bushfire season.

The fleet inspection records at RFS Headquarters are not always updated in a timely manner to reflect actual inspection and service dates of vehicles. District staff are not able to change fleet inspection and service dates in the central management system because they do not have the necessary permissions to access the system. The usual practice is for RFS District staff to notify staff at RFS Headquarters, and ask them to retrospectively update the system. As there is a lag in updating the central database, at a point in time, the actual inspection and service dates of vehicles can be different to the dates entered in the central fleet management system.

Fleet inspection and maintenance records must be accurately recorded in the central RFS management system for operational reasons. RFS Headquarters personnel need to know the location and maintenance status of fleet vehicles at all times in order to dispatch vehicles to incidents and fires. The RFS fleet management system is integrated with a new Computer Aided Dispatch System. The Computer Aided Dispatch System assigns the nearest and most appropriate vehicles to fire incidents. The system relies on accurate fleet locations and fleet condition information in order to dispatch these vehicles.

There is a risk that RFS Headquarters' systems do not contain accurate information about the location and status of vehicles. Some may be in workshops for servicing and repair, while the system may record them as available for dispatch. As there are many thousands of fleet vehicles, all requiring an annual service and inspection, a lack of accurate record keeping has wide implications for State fire operations.

RFS is currently exploring ways to improve the ways in which fleet inspections are programmed into the fleet management system.

RFS provides funds to councils to assist with maintaining the firefighting fleet, but does not receive fleet maintenance cost information from all local councils

Each year the RFS provides local councils with a lump sum to assist with the cost of repairing and maintaining the firefighting fleet. This lump sum funding is also used for meeting the costs of maintaining brigade stations, utilities, and other miscellaneous matters associated with RFS business.

In 2020–21, the RFS provided NSW local councils with approximately $23 million for maintenance and repairs of appliances, buildings, and utilities. Ninety councils were provided with lump sum funding in 2021, receiving on average $257,000. The amounts received by individual councils ranged from $56,200 to $1,029,884.

Some councils provide itemised repairs and maintenance reports to RFS District staff, showing the work completed and the cost of that work. However, not all councils collect this information or provide it to the RFS. Local councils collect fleet maintenance information in their local council systems. In some cases, the responsibility for fleet maintenance is shared across a group of councils, and not all councils have oversight of this process.

The RFS has not taken steps to require local councils to provide itemised maintenance costings for the firefighting fleet. Thus, the RFS does not have a clear understanding of how local councils are spending their annual fleet maintenance funding allocations. The RFS does not know if the funding allocations are keeping pace with the actual cost of repairing and maintaining the fleet.

RFS District staff report that funding shortfalls are impacting on the prioritisation of fleet servicing and maintenance works in some council areas. When fleet servicing and maintenance is not completed routinely or effectively, there is a risk that it can negatively impact the overall condition and lifespan of the vehicle. Poor processes in relation to fleet maintenance and repair risk impacting on the operational capabilities of the fleet during fire events.

The timeliness and effectiveness of fleet servicing and maintenance is affected by resource levels in RFS Districts and local councils

Local councils have a legislated responsibility to service and maintain the firefighting fleet to the service standards set by the RFS. Fleet maintenance is usually done by the entity with the appropriate workshops and resources, and the maintenance arrangements are described in District Service Agreements. RFS District staff conduct annual inspections to ensure that the firefighting fleet has been serviced and maintained appropriately, and is safe for use by brigade volunteers. If the fleet has not been maintained to RFS service standards or timelines, RFS District staff may work with local councils to support or remediate these works.

The effectiveness of this quality control activity is dependent on relationships and communication between the RFS Districts and local councils. While some RFS staff reported having positive relationships with local councils, others said they struggled to get fleet maintenance work done in a timely manner. Some councils reported that funding shortfalls for fleet maintenance activity was impacting on the prioritisation of RFS fleet maintenance works. When fleet maintenance work is not completed routinely or effectively, it can negatively impact on the overall condition and lifespan of the vehicle. It can also reduce the capacity of the RFS to respond to fire events.

Fleet quality control activities are carried out by RFS District staff. In some of the smaller RFS Districts, one person is responsible for liaising with local councils and brigade volunteers about fleet maintenance and repairs. In the regions where resources are limited, there is less ability to maintain ongoing communication. This is impacting on fleet service and maintenance timelines and the timeliness of fleet monitoring activity.

The RFS has mutual support arrangements with agencies in NSW and interstate, though shared fleet levels are yet to be quantified

The RFS has arrangements with state, federal, and international fire authorities to provide mutual support during fire incidents. In NSW, the RFS has agreements with the three statutory authorities – Fire and Rescue NSW, the Forestry Corporation of NSW, and the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service. The agreement with Fire and Rescue NSW provides a framework for cooperation and joint operations between the agencies. The agreements with the Forestry Corporation of NSW and the NSW National Parks and Wildlife Service describe the control and coordination arrangements for bush and grass fires across NSW. These arrangements are set out in legislation and incorporated into local Bush Fire Risk Management Plans.

The RFS has agreements with fire authorities in three of the four Australian states and territories that share a border with NSW – the Australian Capital Territory, Queensland, and South Australia. Each agreement sets out the arrangements for mutual assistance and joint operations, including arrangements for sharing aircraft. The agreement between the RFS and Victoria had lapsed. The RFS told the NSW Bushfire Inquiry that the agreement with Victoria would be finalised by June 2020. In June 2022, the RFS reported that the agreement was in the process of being finalised.

The arrangements for mutual aid from Western Australia, Northern Territory and Tasmania, are managed by the National Resource Sharing Centre. These agreements set out the arrangements for interstate assistance between Australian fire services, emergency services, and land management agencies in those states and territories.

These mutual support arrangements may assist during state-based fire events. However, when there are competing demands for resources, such as during the bushfires of 2019–2020, there can be limits on fleet availability. During the 2019–2020 fires, resources were stretched in all jurisdictions as these fires affected NSW, Victoria, and Queensland.

There are opportunities for the RFS and other NSW agencies to quantify fleet resources across the State and identify assets that can be mobilised for different fire activities. This form of fleet planning may be used to enhance surge capabilities during times of high fire activity. There are also opportunities for the RFS and other agencies to match the levels of shared assets to projected bushfire risks.

Appendix one – Responses from agencies 

Appendix two – About the audit 

Appendix three – Performance auditing

 

Copyright notice

© Copyright reserved by the Audit Office of New South Wales. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced without prior consent of the Audit Office of New South Wales. The Audit Office does not accept responsibility for loss or damage suffered by any person acting on or refraining from action as a result of any of this material.

 

Parliamentary reference - Report number #376 - released 27 February 2023

 

Published

Actions for Government's acquisition of private property: Sydney Metro project

Government's acquisition of private property: Sydney Metro project

Transport
Planning
Whole of Government
Compliance
Infrastructure
Internal controls and governance
Project management
Risk

What the report is about

Sydney Metro is Australia’s largest public transport project. It requires the acquisition of many private properties, including residential and business properties.

This audit assessed the effectiveness of the acquisition of private properties for the Sydney Metro project. The audited agencies were Sydney Metro, the Department of Planning and Environment (Valuer General NSW) and Transport for NSW (the Centre for Property Acquisition).

The audit assessed agencies against the framework for property acquisitions in New South Wales. It did not re-perform the valuations done for individual properties that were acquired by Sydney Metro.

What we found

Acquisitions of private property for the Sydney Metro project were mostly effective in the sample of acquisitions we assessed. We found Sydney Metro:

  • complied with legislative and policy requirements for compensation and communication with people subject to property acquisitions
  • kept accurate records of its acquisitions and applied probity controls consistently
  • did not complete detailed plans or negotiation strategies for the high-risk and high-value acquisitions we reviewed
  • did not comply with legislative timelines for most compulsory acquisitions because of delays in receiving the required information from the Valuer General in these cases.

The Centre for Property Acquisition has overseen the implementation of reforms to residential acquisition processes, but its assessment of the effectiveness of these reforms has not been comprehensive.

What we recommended

The audit made four recommendations to the audited agencies to improve:

  • plans and strategies for the acquisition of high-risk and high-value properties
  • timeliness of issuing compensation determinations for compulsory acquisitions
  • data quality on the experience of people subject to property acquisitions.

The NSW Government has the power to acquire land that is owned or leased by individuals or businesses, if it is needed for a public purpose. The power arises from the Land Acquisition (Just Terms Compensation) Act 1991 (the Just Terms Act). Government agencies that have the power to compulsorily acquire private property are referred to as ‘acquiring authorities’. People who are subject to acquisitions are referred to as ‘affected parties’ and include property owners (business or residential), businesses with a commercial lease on a property, or individuals with residential tenancy leases. In recent years, the vast majority of acquisitions by the NSW Government have been for public transport or road projects.

Sydney Metro is a NSW Government agency with responsibility for building the Sydney Metro railway project. Sydney Metro is Australia’s largest public transport project. The project requires the acquisition of a large number of private properties. Sydney Metro has been one of the largest acquirers of private property in recent years, completing over 500 acquisitions between 2020 and mid-2022, with a total acquisition value of over $2 billion. Other agencies and statutory officers involved in the acquisition of property for the Sydney Metro project include:

  • the Department of Planning and Environment (DPE), which supports the minister responsible for the Just Terms Act. DPE also provides staff to the Valuer General of NSW
  • the Valuer General of NSW, an independent statutory officer that determines compensation in cases where the acquiring authority and the affected party cannot agree on compensation for property that has been acquired
  • Transport for NSW, which includes the Centre for Property Acquisition (CPA). The CPA does not have a direct role in acquiring properties, but its responsibilities include developing guidance for acquiring agencies and monitoring and reporting on their activities.

About this audit

The objective of this audit was to assess the effectiveness of acquisitions of private properties for Sydney Metro projects. The audit assessed agencies against the legislative and policy requirements in place for government acquisitions of private property in New South Wales. In line with the Audit Office's legislative mandate, the audit does not comment on the merits of the policy objectives reflected in the Just Terms Act.

The audit examined a sample of 20 property acquisitions. This was not a statistically representative sample. While our report provides comments on Sydney Metro’s overall acquisition processes, it does not provide assurance regarding the acquisitions that were not examined for this audit.

The audit did not re-perform the valuations done for individual properties that were acquired by Sydney Metro. Affected parties who disagree with the valuation of their property have the right to seek independent assessment of this via the Valuer General and the Land and Environment Court.

Conclusion

Acquisitions of property for the Sydney Metro project were mostly effective in the sample of acquisitions we assessed. Sydney Metro followed requirements for communication with affected parties. Compensation processes were conducted in compliance with legislative requirements, but compensation determinations for compulsory acquisitions were not completed within legislated time frames due to delays in receiving these from the Valuer General. Governance and probity processes were followed consistently, with some relatively minor exceptions. 

Sydney Metro has detailed guidelines for acquisitions that are based on relevant legislation and government policy. In the 20 acquisitions we assessed for this audit, these procedures were followed consistently. This included adhering to minimum timelines for negotiation periods, engaging independent valuers and other experts when needed, and complying with governance and probity processes.

Sydney Metro staff followed requirements for communication and support for residential acquisitions by assigning ‘personal managers’ and providing additional support to affected parties when needed. The Centre for Property Acquisition (CPA) has overseen reforms to the residential property acquisition process in recent years. These reforms include the introduction of the NSW Property Acquisition Standards and the use of personal managers, in addition to the existing acquisition managers, for residential acquisitions. However, the CPA has not assessed the impact of these changes on the experiences on people affected by property acquisitions.

Sydney Metro did not comply with the legislative requirement to provide a formal compensation notice to the affected party within 45 days of a compulsory acquisition starting in any of the eight relevant acquisitions in our sample. This was because Sydney Metro must wait for the Valuer General to complete a compensation determination before Sydney Metro can send the compensation notice, and the Valuer General did not do this within 45 days. We acknowledge that Sydney Metro does not have full control over this process, and that it has taken steps to mitigate the impact of delays on affected parties. 

This chapter presents our findings on Sydney Metro's acquisition of industrial and commercial properties. Industrial properties include construction businesses and manufacturing facilities. Commercial properties were mostly properties such as shopping centres and office towers. Many of these acquisitions involve businesses and properties that are relatively complex and have high values. This means the valuation process can require multiple experts and can be lengthy and contested. Adherence to governance and probity requirements is important for these acquisitions in order to demonstrate that the acquiring authority has achieved value for money.

This chapter presents our findings on Sydney Metro's acquisition of residential properties, which include apartments and houses, and small business leases, which mostly affected businesses in small shopping centres or arcades. Most of these acquisitions were lower value compared to industrial and commercial property acquisitions and did not require as much expert advice on complex technical issues. However, residential property acquisitions can be personally distressing for the affected parties and require staff from the acquiring authority to provide support and show empathy while ensuring legislative compliance and value for money.

Appendix one – Responses from agencies

Appendix two – About the audit 

Appendix three – Performance auditing 

 

Copyright notice

© Copyright reserved by the Audit Office of New South Wales. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced without prior consent of the Audit Office of New South Wales. The Audit Office does not accept responsibility for loss or damage suffered by any person acting on or refraining from action as a result of any of this material.

 

Parliamentary reference - Report number #375 - released 9 February 2023