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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.


Actions for Performance audit insights: key findings from 2014-2018

Performance audit insights: key findings from 2014-2018

Whole of Government
Information technology
Internal controls and governance
Project management

A report released today by the Auditor-General for New South Wales, Margaret Crawford, presents key findings from four years of performance audits. The report findings are presented around six areas of government activity including planning for the future, meeting community expectations for key services, investment in infrastructure, managing natural resources, ensuring good governance and digital disruption.

In this report, we present common findings and lessons from the past four years of performance audits, and offer insights to the public sector on elements of effective performance. We have analysed the key findings and recommendations from 61 performance audits tabled in the NSW Parliament between July 2014 and June 2018, spanning varied areas of government activity. We will also use this report to help determine areas of unaddressed risk across all parts of government, and to shape our future audit priorities.

Governments play an important stewardship role. Their decisions need to consider intergenerational equity by ensuring that investment strategies are sustainable. Governments also need to consider the impact of their decisions on different parts of the community. We recognise that governments face challenges in delivering programs and services, targeting complex social issues with finite resources.

Governments are changing how they deliver services to respond to citizen needs and deliver greater value for money. In this section, we reflect on audits that looked at how government entities are planning their activities to meet the needs of the community into the future.

State and local government exist to provide services to citizens, and citizens are playing a greater role in defining what services they want or need. Expectations about consultation, ease of access, timeliness, and customisation of services are rising. Governments face challenges to continually improve the way they plan and deliver services to meet these expectations. Governments also need to provide quality services for a growing and ageing population whilst working within a constrained financial environment.

Over the past four years, our performance audits have assessed aspects of State and local government services, including education, health services, disability support, corrective services, and many others. In this section, we draw together common findings that government entities should reflect on when providing services to the community.

The NSW Government’s 2018–19 Budget forecasts an $87.2 billion infrastructure investment program over the next four years. Infrastructure investment of this size carries significant opportunities and risks. Competition for resources is high and maintaining the capability to manage and deliver projects effectively is challenging. Governments also need to plan effectively to ensure infrastructure built today will meet future needs.

Over the past four years, we have looked at some of the ways NSW Government agencies justify and prioritise projects for funding, work with contractors to deliver projects, and track and report on progress. In this section, we draw together common findings from our audits that government entities should consider when planning future infrastructure projects.

Governments face challenges in balancing the use of natural resources to meet diverse interests, while supporting a sustainable natural environment for the future. They need to supply communities with water, produce energy, protect natural habitats, and support farming, industry, and economic development.

Some of our recent audits have considered how government agencies are managing natural resources and protecting the environment for future generations. In this section, we have drawn together common findings across our audits that government entities should consider in managing the environment and natural resources.

A range of checks and balances is needed to support public confidence in government decision making. To maintain trust, government agencies should act transparently, and in accordance with relevant legislation and policy. This is particularly important as the public sector increasingly engages with external partners to deliver services and provide a more contestable environment.

Good governance arrangements should result in improved service delivery and more effective and efficient use of resources. Our audits have looked at many different elements of governance, including making sure the necessary processes and workplace cultures are in place to help government entities achieve their aims. In this section, we have drawn together various aspects of governance that government entities should consider.

The global increase in digital technology provides governments with opportunities to interact with citizens in more immediate and responsive ways than was previously possible. Data can be used in powerful ways such as predicting future demand for services, targeting interventions, responding to crises, and evaluating outcomes. Governments face challenges in doing this while maintaining secure digital environments that protect citizen interests, privacy, and autonomy.

Our audits have assessed some of the ways that government entities are incorporating digital change into their work. In this section, we draw together common themes that governments could consider in protecting their digital assets, or expanding their digital capabilities.