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Actions for Engagement of probity advisers and probity auditors

Engagement of probity advisers and probity auditors

Internal controls and governance
Project management
Workforce and capability

Three key agencies are not fully complying with the NSW Procurement Board’s Direction for engaging probity practitioners, according to a report released today by the Acting Auditor-General for New South Wales, Ian Goodwin. They also do not have effective processes to achieve compliance or assure that probity engagements achieved value for money.

Probity is defined as the quality of having strong moral principles, honesty and decency. Probity is important for NSW Government agencies as it helps ensure decisions are made with integrity, fairness and accountability, while attaining value for money.

Probity advisers provide guidance on issues concerning integrity, fairness and accountability that may arise throughout asset procurement and disposal processes. Probity auditors verify that agencies' processes are consistent with government laws and legislation, guidelines and best practice principles. 

According to the NSW State Infrastructure Strategy 2018-2038, New South Wales has more infrastructure projects underway than any state or territory in Australia. The scale of the spend on procuring and constructing new public transport networks, roads, schools and hospitals, the complexity of these projects and public scrutiny of aspects of their delivery has increased the focus on probity in the public sector. 

A Procurement Board Direction, 'PBD-2013-05 Engagement of probity advisers and probity auditors' (the Direction), sets out the requirements for NSW Government agencies' use and engagement of probity practitioners. It confirms agencies should routinely take into account probity considerations in their procurement. The Direction also specifies that NSW Government agencies can use probity advisers and probity auditors (probity practitioners) when making decisions on procuring and disposing of assets, but that agencies:

  • should use external probity practitioners as the exception rather than the rule
  • should not use external probity practitioners as an 'insurance policy'
  • must be accountable for decisions made
  • cannot substitute the use of probity practitioners for good management practices
  • not engage the same probity practitioner on an ongoing basis, and ensure the relationship remains robustly independent. 

The scale of probity spend may be small in the context of the NSW Government's spend on projects. However, government agencies remain responsible for probity considerations whether they engage external probity practitioners or not.

The audit assessed whether Transport for NSW, the Department of Education and the Ministry of Health:

  • complied with the requirements of ‘PBD-2013-05 Engagement of Probity Advisers and Probity Auditors’
  • effectively ensured they achieved value for money when they used probity practitioners.

These entities are referred to as 'participating agencies' in this report.

We also surveyed 40 NSW Government agencies with the largest total expenditures (top 40 agencies) to get a cross sector view of their use of probity practitioners. These agencies are listed in Appendix two.


We found instances where each of the three participating agencies had not fully complied with the requirements of the NSW Procurement Board Direction ‘PBD-2013-05 Engagement of Probity Advisers and Probity Auditors’ when they engaged probity practitioners. We also found they did not have effective processes to achieve compliance or assure the engagements achieved value for money.

In the sample of engagements we selected, we found instances where the participating agencies did not always:

  • document detailed terms of reference
  • ensure the practitioner was sufficiently independent
  • manage probity practitioners' independence and conflict of interest issues transparently
  • provide practitioners with full access to records, people and meetings
  • establish independent reporting lines   reporting was limited to project managers
  • evaluate whether value for money was achieved.

We also found:

  • agencies tend to rely on only a limited number of probity service providers, sometimes using them on a continuous basis, which may threaten the actual or perceived independence of probity practitioners
  • the NSW Procurement Board does not effectively monitor agencies' compliance with the Direction's requirements. Our enquiries revealed that the Board has not asked any agency to report on its use of probity practitioners since the Direction's inception in 2013. 

There are no professional standards and capability requirements for probity practitioners

NSW Government agencies use probity practitioners to independently verify that their procurement and asset disposal processes are transparent, fair and accountable in the pursuit of value for money. 

Probity practitioners are not subject to regulations that require them to have professional qualifications, experience and capability. Government agencies in New South Wales have difficulty finding probity standards, regulations or best practice guides to reference, which may diminish the degree of reliance stakeholders can place on practitioners’ work.

The NSW Procurement Board provides direction for the use of probity practitioners

The NSW Procurement Board Direction 'PBD-2013-15 for engagement of probity advisers and probity auditors' outlines the requirements for agencies' use of probity practitioners in the New South Wales public sector. All NSW Government agencies, except local government, state owned corporations and universities, must comply with the Direction when engaging probity practitioners. This is illustrated in Exhibit 1 below.