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Published

Actions for Coordination of the response to COVID-19 (June to November 2021)

Coordination of the response to COVID-19 (June to November 2021)

Premier and Cabinet
Community Services
Health
Justice
Whole of Government
Internal controls and governance
Risk
Service delivery
Shared services and collaboration

What the report is about

This audit assessed the effectiveness of NSW Government agencies’ coordination of the response to COVID-19, with a focus on the Delta variant outbreak in the Dubbo and Fairfield Local Government Areas (LGA) between June and November 2021. We audited five agencies - the Department of Premier and Cabinet, NSW Health, the NSW Police Force, Resilience NSW and the Department of Customer Service.

The audit also considered relevant planning and preparation activities that occurred prior to June 2021 to examine how emergency management and public health responses learned from previous events.

What we found

Prior to Delta, agencies developed capability to respond to COVID-19 related challenges.

However, lessons learned from prior reviews of emergency management arrangements, and from other jurisdictions, had not been implemented when Delta emerged in June 2021. As a result, agencies were not as fully prepared as they could have been to respond to the additional challenges presented by Delta.

Gaps in emergency management plans affected agencies' ability to support individuals, families and businesses impacted by restrictions to movement and gathering such as stay-at-home orders. In LGAs of concern, modest delays of a few days had a significant impact on people, especially those most vulnerable.

On 23 July 2021, the NSW Government established a cross-government coordinating approach, the Delta Microstrategy, which complemented existing emergency management arrangements, improved coordination between NSW Government agencies and led to more effective local responses.

Where possible, advice provided to government was supported by cross-government consultation, up-to-date evidence and insights. Public Health Orders were updated as the response to Delta intensified or to address unintended consequences of previous orders. The frequency of changes hampered agencies' ability to effectively communicate changes to frontline staff and the community in a rapidly evolving situation.

The NSW Government could provide greater transparency and accountability over decisions to apply Public Health Orders during a pandemic.

What we recommended

The audit made seven recommendations intended to improve transparency, accountability and preparedness for future emergency events.

This audit assessed the effectiveness of NSW Government agencies’ coordination (focused on the Department of Premier and Cabinet, NSW Health, the NSW Police Force, Resilience NSW and the Department of Customer Service) of the COVID-19 response in selected Local Government Areas (Fairfield City Council and Dubbo Regional Council) between June and November 2021.

As noted in this report, Resilience NSW was responsible for the coordination of welfare services as part of the emergency management arrangements. On 16 December 2022, the NSW Government abolished Resilience NSW.

During the audited period, Resilience NSW was tasked with supporting the needs of communities subject to stay-at-home orders or stricter restrictions and it provided secretariat support to the State Emergency Management Committee (SEMC). The SEMC was, and remains, responsible for the coordination and oversight of emergency management policy and preparedness.

Our work for this performance audit was completed on 15 November 2022, when we issued the final report to the five audited agencies. While the audit report does not make specific recommendations to Resilience NSW, it does include five recommendations to the State Emergency Management Committee. On 8 December 2022, the then Commissioner of Resilience NSW provided a response to the final report, which we include as it is the formal response from the audited entity at the time the audit was conducted.

The community of New South Wales has experienced significant emergency events during the past three years. COVID-19 first emerged in New South Wales after bushfire and flooding emergencies in 2019–20. The pandemic is now into its third year, and there have been further extreme weather and flooding events during 2021 and 2022.

Lessons taken from the experience of these events are important to informing future responses and reducing future risks to the community from emergencies.

This audit focuses on the NSW Government's response to the COVID-19 pandemic, and in particular, the Delta variant (Delta) that occurred between June and November 2021. The response to the Delta represents six months of heightened challenges for the NSW Government.

Government responses to emergencies are guided by legislation. The State Emergency and Rescue Management Act 1989 (SERM Act) establishes emergency management arrangements in New South Wales and covers:

  • coordination at state, regional and local levels through emergency management committees
  • emergency management plans, supporting plans and functional areas including the State Emergency Management Plan (EMPLAN)
  • operations centres and controllers at state, regional and local levels.

This audit focuses on the activities of five agencies during the audit period:

  • The NSW Police Force led the emergency management response and was responsible for coordinating agencies across government in providing the tactical and operational elements that supported and enhanced the health response to the pandemic. The NSW Police Force also led the compliance response which enforced Public Health Orders and included household checks on those required to isolate at home after testing positive to COVID-19. In some parts of NSW, they were supported by the Australian Defence Force in this role.
  • NSW Health was responsible for leading the health response which coordinated all parts of the health system, initially to prevent, and then to manage, the pandemic.
  • Resilience NSW coordinated welfare services as part of the emergency management arrangements and provided secretariat support to the State Emergency Management Committee (SEMC). The SEMC is responsible for the coordination and oversight of emergency management policy and preparedness. Resilience NSW was also tasked with supporting the needs of communities subject to stay-at-home orders or stricter restrictions.
  • The Department of Customer Service (DCS) was responsible for the statewide strategic communications response.
  • The Department of Premier and Cabinet (DPC) held a key role in providing policy and legal services, as well as supporting the coordination of activity across a range of functional areas and decision-making by our State’s leaders.

This audit assessed the effectiveness of NSW Government agencies’ coordination (focused on the Department of Premier and Cabinet, NSW Health, the NSW Police Force, Resilience NSW and the Department of Customer Service) of the COVID-19 response in selected Local Government Areas (LGA) (Fairfield City Council and Dubbo Regional Council) after June 2021.

The audit investigated whether:

  • government decisions to apply LGA-specific Public Health Orders were supported by effective crisis management governance and planning frameworks
  • agencies effectively coordinated in the communication (and enforcement) of Public Health Orders.

While focusing on the coordination of NSW Government agencies’ response to the Delta variant in June through to November 2021, the audit also considered relevant planning and preparation activities that occurred prior to June 2021 to examine how emergency management and public health responses learned from previous events.

This audit does not assess the effectiveness of other specific COVID-19 responses such as business support. It refers to the preparedness, planning and delivery of these activities in the context of supporting communities in selected LGAs. NSW Health's contribution to the Australian COVID-19 vaccine rollout was also subject to a separate audit titled 'New South Wales COVID-19 vaccine rollout' tabled in NSW Parliament on 7 December 2022. 

This audit is part of a series of audits which have been completed, or are in progress, regarding the New South Wales COVID-19 emergency response. The Audit Office of New South Wales '2022–2025 Annual Work Program' details the ongoing focus our audits will have on providing assurance on the effectiveness of emergency responses.

In this document Aboriginal refers to the First Nations peoples of the land and waters now called Australia, and includes Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

Conclusion

Prior to June 2021, agencies worked effectively together to adapt and refine pre-existing emergency management arrangements to respond to COVID-19. However, lessons learned from prior reviews of emergency management arrangements, and from other jurisdictions, had not been implemented when Delta emerged in June 2021. As a result, agencies were not as fully prepared as they could have been to respond to the additional challenges presented by Delta.

In the period March 2020 to June 2021, the State's Emergency Management (EM) arrangements coordinated the New South Wales emergency response to COVID-19 with support from the Department of Premier and Cabinet (DPC) which led the cross-government COVID-19 Taskforce. NSW Government agencies enhanced the EM arrangements, which until then had typically been activated in response to natural disasters, to meet the specific circumstances of the pandemic.

However, the State Emergency Management Committee (SEMC), supported by Resilience NSW, did not address relevant recommendations arising from the 2020 Bushfires Inquiry before June 2021 and agencies did not always integrate lessons learned from other jurisdictions or scenario training exercises into emergency management plans or strategies before Delta. As a result, deficiencies in the EM arrangements, including representation of vulnerable communities on EM bodies, well-being support for multicultural communities in locked down environments and cross-agency information sharing, persisted when Delta emerged in June 2021.

It should be noted that for the purposes of this audit there is no benchmark, informed by precedent, that articulates what level of preparation would have been sufficient or proportionate. However, the steps required to address these gaps were reasonable and achievable, and the failure to do so meant that agencies were not as fully prepared as they could have been for the scale and escalation of Delta’s spread across the State.

The Delta Microstrategy complemented the EM arrangements to support greater coordination and agencies are working to improve their capability for future events

The Delta Microstrategy (the Microstrategy) led to innovations in information sharing and collaboration across the public service. Agencies involved in the response have completed, or are completing, reviews of their contribution to the response. That said, none of these reviews includes a focus on whole-of-government coordination.

On 23 July 2021, the NSW Government approved the establishment of the Microstrategy to respond to the additional challenges presented by Delta including the need to support communities most impacted by restrictions to movement and gathering in the LGAs of concern. An extensive range of government agencies were represented across eight Microstrategy workstreams, which coordinated with the existing EM arrangements to deliver targeted strategies to communities in high-risk locations and improve data and information sharing across government. This enhanced the public health, compliance, income and food support, communications and community engagement aspects of the response.

Agencies also leveraged learnings from early weeks of the Delta wave and were able to replicate those lessons in other locations. The use of pre-staging hubs in Fairfield to support food and personal hamper distribution was used a month later in Dubbo which acted as a central hub for more remote parts of the State.

Emergency management plans did not enable government to respond immediately to support vulnerable communities in high-risk LGAs or regional NSW

There are gaps in the emergency management plans relating to the support for individuals, families and businesses impacted by the stay-at-home orders and other restrictions to movement and gathering. These gaps affected agencies' ability to respond immediately when the need arose during Delta.

Emergency management plans and supporting instruments did not include provision for immediate relief for households, which meant arrangements for isolation income support and food security measures had to be designed in the early stages of Delta before it could be approved and deployed.

There were delays – sometimes only days, on occasion, weeks - in providing support to affected communities. In particular, there were delays to the provision of income support and in scaling up efforts to coordinate food and grocery hampers to households in isolation. In LGAs of concern, modest delays of a few days had a significant impact on people, especially those most vulnerable.

Although government issued stricter restrictions for workers in the Fairfield LGA on 14 July 2021, it only approved targeted income support for people in LGAs of concern on 16 August 2021.

Overall, agencies coordinated effectively to provide advice to government but there are opportunities to learn lessons to improve preparedness for future events

Agencies coordinated in providing advice to government. The advice was supported by timely public health information, although this was in the context of a pandemic, where data and information about the virus and its variants was changing regularly. However, agencies did not always consider the impact on key industries or supply chains when they provided advice to government, which meant that Public Health Orders would sometimes need to be corrected.

Public Health Orders were also updated as the response to Delta intensified or to address unintended consequences of previous orders. The frequency of changes hampered agencies' ability to effectively communicate changes to frontline staff and the community in a rapidly evolving situation.

The audit identified several occasions where there were delays, ranging from three to 21 days, between the provision of advice to government and subsequent decision-making (which we have not detailed due to the confidentiality of Cabinet deliberations). Agency officers advised of instances where they were not provided sufficient notice of changes to Public Health Orders to organise local infrastructure (such as traffic support for testing clinics) to support compliance with new requirements.

The COVID-19 pandemic arrived in Australia in late January 2020 as the bushfire and localised flooding emergencies were in their final stages. Between 2020 and mid-2021, agencies responded to the initial variants of COVID-19, managed a border closure with Victoria that lasted nearly four months and dealt with localised ‘flare-ups’ that required postcode-based restrictions on mobility in northern parts of Sydney and regional New South Wales. During this period, New South Wales had the opportunity to learn from events in Victoria which imposed strict restrictions on mobility across the State and the growing emergence of the Delta variant (Delta) across the Asia Pacific.

This section of the report assesses how emergency management and public health responses adapted to these lessons and determined preparedness for, and responses to, widespread community transmission of Delta in New South Wales.

The previous chapter discusses how agencies had refined the existing emergency management arrangements to suit the needs of a pandemic and describes some gaps that were not addressed. This chapter explores the first month of Delta (mid-June to mid-July 2021). It explores the areas where agencies were prepared and responses in place for the outbreak. It also discusses the impact of the gaps that were not addressed in the period prior to Delta and other issues that emerged.

NSW Health provided advice on the removal of restrictions based on up-to-date advice

The NSW Government discussed the gradual process for removing restrictions using the Doherty Institute modelling provided to National Cabinet on 10 August 2021. NSW Health highlighted the importance of maintaining a level of public health and safety measure bundles to further suppress case numbers. This was based on additional modelling from the Doherty Institute.

The Department of Regional NSW led discussion and planning around reopening with a range of proposal through August and September 2021. The Department of Premier and Cabinet and NSW Health jointly developed a paper to provide options on the restrictions when the State reached a level of 70% double dose vaccinations.

The roadmap to reopening was originally published on 9 September 2021. However, by 11 October 2021, the restrictions were relaxed when the 70% double dose threshold was reached to allow:

  • up to ten fully vaccinated visitors to a home (increased from five)
  • up to 30 fully vaccinated people attending outdoor gatherings (increased from 20)
  • weddings and funerals limits increased to 100 people (from 50)
  • the reopening of indoor pools for training, exercise and learning purposes only.

On the same day, the NSW Government announced further relaxation of restrictions once the 80% double dose threshold was reached. These restrictions were further relaxed on 8 November 2021. This included the removal of capacity restrictions to the number of visitors to a private residence, indoor pools to reopen for all purposes and density limits of one person for every two square metres, dancing allowed in nightclubs and 100% capacity in major stadia.

The NSW Government allowed workers in regional areas who received one vaccination dose to return to their workplace from 11 October 2021.

The Premier extended the date of easing of restrictions for unvaccinated people aged over 16 from 1 December to 15 December 2021.

Many agencies have undertaken reviews of their response to the Delta outbreak but a whole-of-government review has yet to be conducted

Various agencies and entities associated with the response to the Delta outbreak conducted after-action review processes. These processes assessed the achievements delivered, lessons learned and opportunities for improvement. However, a whole-of-government level review has not been conducted. This limits the New South Wales public service's ability to improve how it coordinates responses in future emergencies.

The agencies/entities that conducted reviews included:

  • South West Metropolitan region, Western NSW region, Fairfield Local Emergency Management Committee (LEMC), Dubbo Local Emergency Operations Controller (LEOCON), which were collated centrally by the State Emergency Operations Centre (SEOC)
  • Aboriginal Affairs NSW assessed representation and relevance of the emergency management arrangements for Aboriginal communities following the 2019 bushfires
  • Resilience NSW developed case studies to capture improved practice with regard to food security and supply chains
  • a community support and empowerment-focused after-action review undertaken by the Pillar 5 workstream of the Microstrategy.

Key lessons collated from the after-action reviews include:

  • the impact of variation in capability across agencies on the management of key aspects of the response including welfare support and logistics
  • issues with boundary differences between NSW Police Force regions, local government areas (LGA and local health districts (LHD) caused issues in delivering and coordinating services in an emergency situation 
  • the need to improve relationships between state and local Government outside of acute emergency responses to improve service delivery 
  • issues arising from impediments to information sharing between agencies and jurisdictions, such as:
    • timeliness and accuracy of data used to direct compliance activities
    • the impact of insufficient advance notice on changes to Public Health Orders
    • timely access to data across public sector agencies and other jurisdictions to inform decision-making, analysis and communications
    • gaps in data around ethnicity, geolocation of recent positive cases and infection/vaccination rates in Aboriginal communities.
  • the lack of Aboriginal community representation on many LEMCs
  • compared with the response to COVID-19 in 2020, improved coordination of communications with Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD) populations with a reduction in overlapping messages and over-communication
  • improved attendance from agency representatives in LEMCs, and regional emergency operations centres (REOC) to improve interagency communications, planning, capability development and community engagement issues
  • deficiencies in succession planning and fatigue management practices
  • the potential for REOC Welfare/Well-being subgroups to be included as part of the wider efforts to community needs during emergencies.

NSW Health commenced a whole of system review of its COVID-19 response in May 2022. At the time of writing, the completion due date for the debrief is 7 November 2022. This debrief is expected to explore:

  • governance
  • engagement 
  • innovation and technology 
  • community impact 
  • workforce impact
  • system impact and performance.

NSW Health is also undertaking a parallel Intra-Action Review that is focused on the public health aspects of the response with finalisation estimated for the end of November 2022. At the time of completing this performance audit report, NSW Health had not finalised these reviews and, as a result, we cannot validate their findings against our own observations.

Recent inquiries are likely to impact the governance of emergency management in New South Wales

In March 2022, the NSW Government established an independent inquiry to examine and report on the causes of, preparedness for, response to and recovery from the 2022 floods. The Flood Inquiry report made 28 recommendations, which the NSW Government supported in full or in principle. Some of the recommendations relate directly to the governance and leadership of emergency management arrangements in New South Wales. 

The State Emergency Management Committee (SEMC) will likely be involved in, and impacted by, the recommendations arising from the Flood Inquiry with potential changes to its membership and reshaping of functional areas and agencies. At the same time, the SEMC may have a role in overseeing the changes that emerge from the SEOC consolidated after-action reviews. This can also extend to ensuring local and regional bodies have incorporated the required actions. There is a risk that the recommendations from the pandemic-based after-action reviews may not be considered due to the priority of action resulting from the Flood Inquiry.

Furthermore, there is potential for the SEMC to work with NSW Health during its system-wide review. Such an approach is likely to improve preparedness for future events.

Appendix one – Response from agencies

Appendix two – Chronology 2020–2021

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 #371 - released 20 December 2022

Published

Actions for Members' additional entitlements 2022

Members' additional entitlements 2022

Premier and Cabinet
Compliance

What the report is about

The Auditor-General's review analyses claims made by members of the NSW Parliament during the 2021–22 financial year by testing a sample of transactions. Our sample consisted of 63 claims submitted by 59 of the 142 members.

What we found

While we did not identify any instances of material non-compliance with the Parliamentary Remuneration Tribunal's Determination, we did identify 38 departures from the determination, which were of an administrative nature.

What we recommended

The Department of Parliamentary Services (the department) should continue to work with the presiding officers, members, the clerk of the Parliaments and the clerk of the Legislative Assembly to enhance reporting of members' expenditure.

The Auditor-General has reviewed the compliance of the members of the NSW Parliament (members) with certain requirements outlined in the Parliamentary Remuneration Tribunal's Determination (the determination) for the year ended 30 June 2022.

The Auditor-General's review analyses claims made by members during the 2021–22 financial year. We use data analytics to select a sample of members' claims, and focus on claims that data analysis identifies as being at higher risk. We do not test every claim made by members. Our sample consisted of 63 claims submitted by 59 of the 142 members.

Results

Although our review did not identify any instances of material non-compliance with the determination for the year ended 30 June 2022, we did identify 38 departures from the determination, which were of administrative nature. Such departures may help identify areas in the current processes where greater clarity is needed or where training or education for members is warranted. These departures were as follows:

  • 12 claims were not submitted for payment within 60 days of receipt or occurrence of the expense
  • 16 annual loyalty scheme declarations were submitted by members after the due date specified in the guidelines
  • 6 reconciliations for the Sydney Allowance were submitted after the due date
  • 4 publications claimed under the Communications Allowance had not made the required authorisations and attributions on the publication.

Background

The Parliamentary Remuneration Tribunal (the tribunal) determines the salary and additional entitlements of the members, details of which are set out in the tribunal's annual determination. The NSW Parliament, through the Department of Parliamentary Services (the department), administers payments of additional entitlements to members. An overview is presented below:

Twelve claims were not submitted for payment within 60 days of receipt or occurrence of the expense

The determination requires members' expense claims to be submitted to the department within 60 days of when the expense is incurred or receipted. Our audit procedures identified 12 instances where members submitted their claims between 15 and 280 days late.

Sixteen annual loyalty/incentive scheme declarations were submitted by members after the due date specified in the guidelines

At the end of each financial year, members must declare they have not used loyalty/incentive scheme benefits accrued from their parliamentary duties for private purposes. The determination requires current members to complete the declarations at the end of each year (by 31 July 2022 per the department's administrative process). Former members must complete the declarations within 30 days of leaving Parliament.

We found 16 current members submitted their declarations between one and nine days late. The declaration is important as it affirms that loyalty benefits accrued using the members' parliamentary allowances and entitlements were not used for private purposes. Additionally, we found two members who did not submit their declaration form.

Six reconciliations for the Sydney Allowance reconciliations were submitted after the due date

Open prior period recommendations

Enhanced public reporting

In 2016, the Auditor-General's Report to Parliament recommended the tribunal consider requiring the department to regularly publish full details of members' expenditure claims on its website in an accessible and searchable format. The tribunal had developed a plan requiring greater public reporting of members' additional expenditure from 1 July 2019 but does not have the power to require the department to facilitate this. This matter has been raised every year since 2016 and it continues to remain an open recommendation in 2022.

The Annual Reports of the Legislative Assembly and the Legislative Council, published on the Parliament's website, currently list the total amount claimed during the year by each member for each allowance. However, transparency around members’ claims would be enhanced if information was more extensively and regularly published on the Parliament’s website. The department should continue to work with the presiding officers, members, the clerk of the Parliaments and the clerk of the Legislative Assembly to enhance reporting of members' expenditure.

Resolved prior period recommendations

Clarifying key parameters of the annual determination

In 2020, the Auditor-General's Report to Parliament recommended the department work with the tribunal to provide additional guidance to members to clarify the:

  • definition of 'parliamentary duties'
  • activities that meet the definition
  • requirements for retaining documents.

To address this recommendation, the department performed a review of the definitions and activities used by other jurisdictions in their administration of members' entitlements. The department has clarified these items as part of their submission with respect to the 2022 determination. The department will continue to monitor for changes in the administration of members' entitlements occurring at the federal level.

Appendix one – response from Department of Parliamentary Services

 

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.

Published

Actions for Stronger Communities 2022

Stronger Communities 2022

Justice
Community Services
Asset valuation
Compliance
Cyber security
Financial reporting
Information technology
Internal controls and governance
Management and administration
Procurement
Project management
Risk

What the report is about

Results of the Stronger Communities cluster agencies' financial statement audits for the year ended 30 June 2022.

What we found

Unqualified audit opinions were issued on all completed 30 June 2022 financial statement audits. One audit is ongoing.

All 13 cluster agencies that have accommodation arrangements with Property NSW derecognised right-of-use assets and lease liabilities of $917 million and $1 billion respectively. The agencies also collectively recorded a gain on derecognition of $136 million.

The Department of Communities and Justice (the department) assumed the responsibility for delivery of the Process and Technology Harmonisation program from the Department of Customer Service. In 2021–22, the department incurred costs of $42.8 million in relation to the project, which remains ongoing.

The number of monetary misstatements identified during the audits decreased from 50 in 2020–21 to 48 in 2021–22.

What the key issues were

Six of the 15 cluster agencies required to submit 2021–22 mandatory early close procedures did not meet the statutory deadlines. One agency did not complete all mandatory procedures.

Five high-risk findings were identified in 2021–22. They related to deficiencies in:

  • user access administration at the department, NSW Rural Fire Service and New South Wales Aboriginal Land Council (NSWALC)
  • segregation of duties at the NSW Trustee and Guardian and NSWALC.

Recommendations were made to those agencies to address these control deficiencies.

This report provides Parliament and other users of the Stronger Communities cluster’s financial statements with the results of our audits, analysis, conclusions and recommendations in the following areas:

  • financial reporting
  • audit observations.

Financial reporting is an important element of good governance. Confidence and transparency in public sector decision making are enhanced when financial reporting is accurate and timely.

This chapter outlines our audit observations related to the financial reporting of agencies in the Stronger Communities cluster (the cluster) for 2022.

Section highlights

  • Unqualified audit opinions were issued on all completed 30 June 2022 financial statement audits of cluster agencies, including the acquittal and compliance audits for the Legal Aid Commission of New South Wales and Crown Solicitor's Office. One audit is ongoing.

  • Reported corrected misstatements decreased from 30 in 2020–21 to 23 with a gross value of $187 million in 2021–22 ($101 million in 2020–21). Reported uncorrected misstatements increased from 20 in 2020–21 to 25 with a gross value of $92.3 million in 2021–22 ($107 million in 2020–21).

  • Six of the 15 cluster agencies required to submit 2021–22 early close financial statements and all other mandatory procedures did not meet the statutory deadlines. One agency did not complete all mandatory procedures.

  • All 13 cluster agencies that have accommodation arrangements with Property NSW accepted the changes in the Client Acceptance Letters, resulting in the derecognition of right-of-use assets and lease liabilities of $917 million and $1 billion respectively. The agencies also collectively recorded a gain on derecognition of $136 million.

  • The Department of Communities and Justice (the department) assumed the responsibility to deliver the Process and Technology Harmonisation program from the Department of Customer Service. In 2021–22, the department incurred costs of $42.8 million in relation to the project.

  • In 2021–22, the department continued to implement the International Financial Reporting Standards Interpretations Committee's agenda decision on 'Configuration or customisation costs in a cloud computing arrangement'. The department's review of the remaining arrangements, with a net book value of $233 million at 30 June 2021, resulted in the recognition as an expense (through accumulated funds at 1 July 2020) of previously capitalised intangible assets totalling $106 million.

Appropriate financial controls help ensure the efficient and effective use of resources and administration of agency policies. They are essential for quality and timely decision making.

This chapter outlines our observations and insights from our financial statement audits of agencies in the Stronger Communities cluster.

Section highlights

  • The number of issues reported to management has decreased from 130 in 2020–21, to 110 in 2021–22, and 43% were repeat issues (51% in 2020–21). Many repeat issues related to information technology, governance and oversight controls, and non-compliance with key legislation and/or agency policies.

  • Five high-risk issues were identified in 2021–22, all of which are repeat issues and related to user access administration and segregation of duties.

  • Of the 24 newly identified moderate risk issues, 11 related to information technology. The rest related to governance and oversight controls and internal control deficiencies or improvements in payroll, asset management and other processes.

Appendix one – Misstatements in financial statements submitted for audit

Appendix two – Early close procedures

Appendix three – Timeliness of financial reporting

Appendix four – Financial data

 

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.

Published

Actions for Education 2022

Education 2022

Education
Asset valuation
Compliance
Cyber security
Financial reporting
Information technology
Internal controls and governance
Procurement
Risk

What the report is about

Result of the Education cluster financial statement audits for the year ended 30 June 2022.

What we found

Unmodified audit opinions were issued for Education cluster agencies.

An 'other matter' paragraph was included in the TAFE Commission's independent auditor's report as it did not have a delegation or sub-delegation from the Minister for Education and Early Learning to incur expenditure from cluster grants.

What the key issues were

Annual fair value assessments of land and buildings showed material differences in their carrying values. As a result, the Department of Education and the TAFE Commission completed desktop revaluations of land and buildings, collectively increasing the value of these assets by $1.2 billion and $4.7 billion respectively.

The Department of Education and the NSW Education Standards Authority accepted changes to their office leasing arrangements managed by Property NSW. These changes resulted in the collective derecognition of $270.6 million of right-of-use assets and $382.9 million in lease liabilities.

What we recommended

A high-risk matter was reported in the management letter for the TAFE Commission highlighting non-compliance with policies and procedures guiding appropriate use of purchasing cards.

We recommended cluster agencies prioritise and address internal control deficiencies.

This report provides Parliament and other users of the Education cluster’s financial statements with the results of our audits, analysis, conclusions and recommendations in the following areas:

  • financial reporting
  • audit observations.

Financial reporting is an important element of good governance. Confidence and transparency in public sector decision-making are enhanced when financial reporting is accurate and timely.

This chapter outlines our audit observations related to the financial reporting of agencies in the Education cluster (the cluster) for 2022.

Section highlights

  • Unqualified audit opinions were issued on the financial statements of cluster agencies.
  • An 'other matter' paragraph was included in the independent auditor's report for the Technical and Further Education Commission (TAFE Commission) as they did not have a delegation or sub-delegation from the Minister for Education and Early Learning to incur expenditure from cluster grants.
  • The Department of Education and the TAFE Commission's land and buildings were revalued upwards by a collective $5.9 billion. These uplifts were the result of managerial fair value assessments showing that the carrying values of land and buildings had materially departed from fair value.
  • Changes to accommodation arrangements managed by Property NSW on behalf of the department and the NSW Education Standards Authority resulted in the collective derecognition of approximately $270.6 million in right-of-use assets and corresponding lease liabilities totalling $382.9 million from the balance sheets of these agencies. 

Appropriate financial controls help ensure the efficient and effective use of resources and administration of agency policies. They are essential for quality and timely decision-making.

This chapter outlines our observations and insights from our financial statement audits of agencies in the Education cluster.

Section highlights

  • The 2021–22 audits identified 18 moderate issues across the cluster. Seven moderate risk issues were repeat issues related to general and application information technology controls and control deficiencies in key transactional systems used in preparing financial statements.
  • Of the 11 newly identified moderate risk issues, five related to information technology controls deficiencies; and five related to internal control deficiencies in key transactional systems used in preparing financial statements.
  • A high-risk matter was raised at the TAFE Commission relating to identified instances of non-compliance with policies and procedures guiding purchasing card use. 

The number of findings reported to management has increased, and 31% were repeat issues

Breakdowns and weaknesses in internal controls increase the risk of fraud and error. Deficiencies in internal controls, matters of governance interest and unresolved issues were reported to management and those charged with governance of agencies. The Audit Office does this through management letters, which include observations, related implications, recommendations and risk ratings.

In 2021–22, there were 29 findings raised across the cluster (28 in 2020–21). Thirty-one per cent of all issues were repeat issues (50% in 2020–21).

The most common new and repeat issues related to internal control deficiencies in agencies’ information technology general controls, application controls, and procurement and payroll practices.

A delay in implementing audit recommendations increases the risk of intentional and accidental errors in processing information, producing management reports and generating financial statements. This can impair decision-making, affect service delivery and expose agencies to fraud, financial loss and reputational damage. Poor controls may also mean agency staff are less likely to follow internal policies, inadvertently causing the agency not to comply with legislation, regulation and central agency policies. 

A high-risk matter was reported at the TAFE Commission highlighting instances of non-compliance with policies and procedures guiding appropriate purchasing card use

As part of our audit of the TAFE Commission, we integrated the use of data analytics into the audit approach. We performed data analytics over aspects of payroll, procurement and accounts payable activities. This helped us to highlight anomalies or risks in those data sets that are relevant to the audit of the TAFE Commission and plan testing procedures to address those risks. Data analytics also assisted us in providing an insight into the internal control environment of the TAFE Commission, highlighting areas where key controls are not in place or are not operating as management intended.

Our analysis over purchasing card data supplied by the TAFE Commission for the period July 2021 to March 2022 found deficiencies in the provisioning, use and cancellation of purchasing cards. This included identified instances of:

  • controls effectively bypassed when a purchasing card surrendered by a former employee had been used by another employee
  • split payments, circumventing delegation / cardholder limits
  • delays in the submission and approval of purchasing card transactions.

The table below describes the common issues identified across the cluster by category and risk rating:

Risk rating Issue
Information technology

High: 0 new, 0 repeat 1

Moderate: 5 new, 3 repeat 2

Low: 2 new, 1 repeat 3

The financial audits identified areas for agencies to improve information technology processes and controls that support the integrity of financial data used to prepare agencies' financial statements. Of note were deficiencies identified in:

  • agencies' user access administration and change management procedures, notably in the timing and frequency of managerial reviews over the granting and revocation of access to key systems relevant to financial reporting
  • the level of cyber security maturity
  • the monitoring of privileged user activities.
Internal control deficiencies or improvements

High: 1 new, 0 repeat 1

Moderate: 5 new, 3 repeat 2

Low: 4 new, 1 repeat 3

The financial audits identified internal control weaknesses across key business processes relevant to financial reporting. Of note were deficiencies identified in:

  • the adequacy of monitoring and oversight activities over the use of multiple financial delegation configurations in finance systems for specific users
  • the timely recording and approval of overtime claims and higher duties allowances
  • the timely finalisation of policies and procedures
  • the management of excessive annual leave balances
  • formalisation of service-provider arrangements between government agencies
  • non-compliance with policies and procedures to guide secondary employment and pecuniary interest declarations
  • non-compliance with policies and procedures to guide the appropriate use of purchasing cards.
Financial reporting

High: 0 new, 0 repeat 1

Moderate: 1 new, 1 repeat 2

Low: 2 new, 0 repeat 3

The financial audits identified:

  • opportunities for agencies to strengthen their financial preparation processes to facilitate a timelier and more efficient year-end audit
  • matters in respect of the timely capitalisation of work-in-progress
  • the need for agencies with non-financial assets subject to fair value to reconsider policy settings governing the frequency of revaluations
  • refinements in considering the outcomes of interim fair value assessments to ensure asset carrying values reflect fair value at each balance date.

1 High risk from the consequence and/or likelihood of an event that has had, or may have a negative impact on the entity.
2 Moderate risk from the consequence and/or likelihood of an event that has had, or may have a negative impact on the entity.
3 Low risk from the consequence and/or likelihood of an event that has had, or may have a negative impact on the entity.
Note: Management letter findings are based either on final management letters issued to agencies, or draft letters where findings have been agreed with management.

 

Recommendation

We recommend cluster agencies prioritise and action recommendations to address the internal control deficiencies outlined above. 

Published

Actions for Premier and Cabinet 2022

Premier and Cabinet 2022

Whole of Government
Premier and Cabinet
Compliance
Cyber security
Financial reporting
Information technology
Internal controls and governance
Management and administration
Procurement
Risk

What the report is about

Result of the Premier and Cabinet cluster financial statement audits for the year ended 30 June 2022. 

What we found

Unmodified audit opinions were issued for all Premier and Cabinet cluster agencies.

The machinery of government changes within the Premier and Cabinet cluster resulted in the transfer of net assets of $1 billion from the Department of Premier and Cabinet.

The Department of Premier and Cabinet, Public Service Commission and Parliamentary Counsel's Office accepted changes to their office leasing arrangements managed by Property NSW. These changes resulted in the collective de-recognition of $167.3 million of right-of-use assets, $225.1 million in lease liabilities and recognition of $47.8 million of other gains/losses. 

What the key issues were

The number of issues we reported to management decreased. 

Forty per cent of issues were repeated from the prior year.

Four moderate risk issues were reported in the management letters for Department of Premier and Cabinet and New South Wales Electoral Commission. Three out of the four moderate risk issues were repeat issues. 

The repeat issues related to internal control deficiencies in agencies' including lack of updated procurement policies and procedures and information technology general controls.

Fast facts 

The Premier and Cabinet cluster comprises seven agencies, delivering the government's objectives and facilitating stewardship of the public service.

  • $0.2b property, plant and equipment as at 30 June 2022
  • $3b total expenditure incurred in 2021–22
  • 100% unqualified audit opinions issued on agencies’ 30 June 2022 financial statements
  • moderate risk findings identified
  • 15 monetary misstatements reported in 2021–22
  • 40% of reported issues were repeat issues

This report provides Parliament and other users of the Premier and Cabinet’s financial statements with the results of our audits, analysis, conclusions and recommendations in the following areas:

  • financial reporting
  • audit observations.

Financial reporting is an important element of good governance. Confidence and transparency in public sector decision-making are enhanced when financial reporting is accurate and timely.

This chapter outlines our audit observations related to the financial reporting of agencies in the Premier and Cabinet cluster for 2022.

Section highlights

  • Unqualified audit opinions were issued on all the cluster agencies 2021–22 financial statements.
  • There were two corrected misstatements greater than $5 million.
  • Changes to accommodation arrangements managed by Property NSW on behalf of the department resulted in the collective derecognition of approximately $167.3 million in right of use assets and corresponding lease liabilities totalling $225.1 million from the balance sheets of these agencies.

Appropriate financial controls help ensure the efficient and effective use of resources and administration of agency policies. They are essential for quality and timely decision making.

This chapter outlines our observations and insights from our financial statement audits of agencies in the Premier and Cabinet cluster.

Section highlights

  • The 2021–22 audits identified four moderate risk issues across the cluster.
  • Three out of the four moderate risk issues were repeat issues.
  • The repeat issues related to password and security configuration and a lack of updated procurement policies and procedures.

Appendix one – Early close procedures

 

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.

Published

Actions for Student attendance

Student attendance

Education
Management and administration
Service delivery

What the report is about

Poor attendance at school is related to poor student outcomes, particularly once patterns of non-attendance have been established.

This report examined how the NSW Department of Education (the department) is managing student attendance in NSW government schools.

What we found

Around a third of students in Years 1–10 attended school less than 90% of the time in semester one, 2021. Missing more than 10% of school may put a student's educational outcomes at risk.

Since 2018, the department has improved the quality of student attendance data, analysis and reporting. However, there are still gaps in understanding the reasons for absence at a system level.

The department set state-wide and school-level targets to increase the proportion of students attending school at least 90% of the time. This emphasis risks diverting attention away from students with very low attendance rates.

There are gaps in central programs to support schools in lifting student attendance. Schools are taking a variety of approaches to this work.

There is a large gap in attendance between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal students, which has increased since 2018.

What we recommended

The Department of Education should:

  • set new state-wide and school level attendance targets
  • evaluate its attendance support programs
  • update its attendance strategies and programs
  • publish the attendance level for each school in their annual reports
  • improve internal analysis and reporting of attendance data
  • finalise the review of the attendance policy, procedure and codes
  • review programs supporting Aboriginal student attendance and address any gaps
  • review the approach to enforcing compulsory school attendance.

Fast facts

  • 90% - attending school less than 90% of the time can put a student's educational outcomes at risk
  • 67.9% of Year 1–10 students in NSW government schools attended at least 90% of the time in semester one, 2021
  • 42.7% of Aboriginal Year 1–10 students in NSW government schools attended school at least 90% of the time in semester one, 2021.

Regular attendance at school is important for academic and other long-term outcomes. Students who do not attend regularly are less likely to complete school and more likely to experience poorer long-term health and social outcomes. A range of factors influence student attendance including student engagement and wellbeing, family and community factors and the school environment.

The NSW Department of Education's (the department's) Strategic Plan for 2018–2022 identifies improving student attendance as a priority. It has identified 95% as its expected level of attendance. It set targets to increase the proportion of students attending school at least 90% of the time, from 79.4% to 82% in primary schools and 64.5% to 70% for secondary schools.

This report focuses on attendance data for semester one of 2018, 2019 and 2021. Unless otherwise noted, attendance data refers to Years 1–10 in alignment with national reporting conventions. Changes in recording systems and definitions mean attendance data prior to 2018 is not comparable. Attendance data for semester one of 2020 and 2022 was significantly affected by COVID-related disruptions, which prevented many students across the State from attending school. Data for semester one of 2021 is considered relatively less affected by COVID-related disruptions.

The Education Act 1990 (the Act) sets out the responsibilities of students, parents and the department for ensuring students receive compulsory schooling. The department has developed policies, procedures and guidance to assist schools in managing their responsibilities to promote regular attendance. In this report, we define 'regular' attendance as at least 90% of the time. This is equivalent to missing one day of school each fortnight or four weeks of school across a school year.

The objective of this audit was to assess whether student attendance is effectively managed in NSW government schools for students from kindergarten to Year 10. In making this assessment, the audit examined whether:

  • there are effective systems and policies for managing student attendance
  • the department effectively supports schools to manage student attendance
  • schools are effectively managing student attendance.

Conclusion

There are too many students in NSW Government schools who regularly miss school. In semester one of 2021, around a third of students in Years 1–10 attended school less than 90% of the time — a level that puts their educational outcomes at risk. Attendance problems are widespread. 775 of 2,200 schools in NSW had an average attendance rate below 90% in 2021. Aboriginal student attendance is significantly below non-Aboriginal students and there is no specific strategy to address this gap. The department needs to place greater attention on supporting schools to lift student attendance.

Good quality data on attendance patterns is critical to developing strategies to address the underlying reasons for absence. The quality of the department's data on student attendance has improved from 2018. This has allowed it to monitor attendance more closely throughout the year, rather than relying on a yearly collection. However, there are still gaps in capturing and analysing the reasons for absence.

The improved data collection allowed the department to begin reporting on the 'attendance level' for the first time in 2018. This measures the proportion of students attending more than 90% of the time. The department has set state-wide and school-level targets to improve the attendance level. The new targets have influenced the focus of strategies to lift attendance. There is now a greater focus on lifting students above the reportable benchmark of 90% rather than addressing more serious attendance concerns.

The School Success Model formalises the focus on achieving school-level targets. When introduced, the department stated that schools would receive targeted support as part of the rollout of the model. Targeted support for attendance was initially planned to be delivered in late 2021 but was delayed due to the impact of COVID. The two main attendance support programs do not cater to schools with fewer than 100 students and there are gaps in support due to two different methodologies being used to select schools.

The Home School Liaison Program is a longstanding program to support students with low attendance. Requests for support are rationed pending availability of case officers, which leads to younger students being prioritised. Older students are not supported because there is a lower chance of prosecution in the legal system if attendance is not restored by the program. There is insufficient monitoring of the adequacy of resources, activities and long-term outcomes of this program.

The department's Aboriginal Education Policy aims to have Aboriginal students matching or exceeding outcomes of non-Aboriginal students. In semester one, 2021 42.7% of Aboriginal students attended school regularly (at least 90% of the time) compared with 70.3% of non-Aboriginal students. The gap in attendance between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal students has grown since 2018. There are relatively new programs supporting Aboriginal students in secondary school to attain their Higher School Certificate, but greater attention should be placed on supporting attendance for Aboriginal students in primary schools.

Schools are using a wide range of strategies to improve student attendance depending on their local contexts. Schools we spoke with told us of allocating responsibility to key staff members, closer monitoring of data, community engagement, rewards and incentives, before school sporting and breakfast programs, and partnerships with external agencies. The school planning and annual reporting process prompts schools to evaluate the impact of their strategies on progress towards their targets. The department could do more to promote evidence-based programs, showcase better practice examples from schools in NSW and identify the circumstances where these approaches are most effective. 

This chapter considers the effectiveness of systems to accurately collect, analyse and report student attendance data. It also considers the effectiveness of policies and procedures to support attendance and central oversight of attendance issues.

This chapter considers the effectiveness of the department's strategies to improve student attendance and the support it provides to schools to achieve this. It also considers the effectiveness of school-level strategies and actions for students with low attendance.

Appendix one – Response from agency

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 #368 - released 27 September 2022

Published

Actions for Audit Insights 2018-2022

Audit Insights 2018-2022

Community Services
Education
Environment
Finance
Health
Industry
Justice
Local Government
Premier and Cabinet
Planning
Transport
Treasury
Universities
Whole of Government
Asset valuation
Cross-agency collaboration
Compliance
Cyber security
Financial reporting
Fraud
Information technology
Infrastructure
Internal controls and governance
Management and administration
Procurement
Project management
Regulation
Risk
Service delivery
Shared services and collaboration
Workforce and capability

What the report is about

In this report, we have analysed the key findings and recommendations from our audit reports over the past four years.

This analysis includes financial audits, performance audits, and compliance audits of state and local government entities that were tabled in NSW Parliament between July 2018 and February 2022.

The report is framed by recognition that the past four years have seen significant challenges and emergency events.

The scale of government responses to these events has been wide-ranging, involving emergency response coordination, service delivery, governance and policy.

The report is a resource to support public sector agencies and local government to improve future programs and activities.

What we found

Our analysis of findings and recommendations is structured around six key themes:

  • Integrity and transparency
  • Performance and monitoring
  • Governance and oversight
  • Cyber security and data
  • System planning for disruption
  • Resource management.

The report draws from this analysis to present recommendations for elements of good practice that government agencies should consider in relation to these themes. It also includes relevant examples from recent audit reports.

In this report we particularly call out threats to the integrity of government systems, processes and governance arrangements.

The report highlights the need for balanced advice to government on options and risks, for transparent documentation and reporting of directions and decisions, and for early and open sharing of information with integrity bodies and audit.

A number of the matters highlighted in this report are similar to those described in our previous Insights Report, (Performance Audit Insights: key findings from 2014–2018) specifically in relation to cyber and information security, to performance measurement, reporting and evaluation, and system and workforce planning and capability.

Fast facts

  • 72 audits included in the Audit Insights 2018–2022 analysis
  • 4 years of audits tabled by the Auditor-General for New South Wales
  • 6 key themes for Audit Insights 2018–2022.

picture of Margaret Crawford Auditor-General for New South Wales in black dress with city skyline as backgroundI am pleased to present the Audit Insights 2018–2022 report. This report describes key findings, trends and lessons learned from the last four years of audit. It seeks to inform the New South Wales Parliament of key risks identified and to provide insights and suggestions to the agencies we audit to improve performance across the public sector.

The report is framed by a very clear recognition that governments have been responding to significant events, in number, character and scale, over recent years. Further, it acknowledges that public servants at both state and council levels generally bring their best selves to work and diligently strive to deliver great outcomes for citizens and communities. The role of audit in this context is to provide necessary assurance over government spending, programs and services, and make suggestions for continuous improvement.

A number of the matters highlighted in this report are similar to those described in our previous Insights Report, (Performance Audit Insights: key findings from 2014–2018) specifically in relation to cyber and information security, to performance measurement, reporting and evaluation, and system and workforce planning and capability.

However, in this report we particularly call out threats to the integrity of government systems, processes and governance arrangements. We highlight the need for balanced advice to government on options and risks, for transparent documentation and reporting of directions and decisions, and for early and open sharing of information with integrity bodies and audit. Arguably, these considerations are never more important than in an increasingly complex environment and in the face of significant emergency events and they will be key areas of focus in our future audit program.

While we have acknowledged the challenges of the last few years have required rapid responses to address the short-term impacts of emergency events, there is much to be learned to improve future programs. I trust that the insights developed in this report provide a helpful resource to public sector agencies and local government across New South Wales. I would be pleased to receive any feedback you may wish to offer.

Margaret Crawford
Auditor-General for New South Wales

Integrity and transparency Performance and monitoring Governance and oversight Cyber security and data System planning Resource management
Insufficient documentation of decisions reduces the ability to identify, or rule out, misconduct or corruption. Failure to apply lessons learned risks mistakes being repeated and undermines future decisions on the use of public funds. The control environment should be risk-based and keep pace with changes in the quantum and diversity of agency work. Building effective cyber resilience requires leadership and committed executive management, along with dedicated resourcing to build improvements in cyber security and culture. Priorities to meet forecast demand should incorporate regular assessment of need and any emerging risks or trends. Absence of an overarching strategy to guide decision-making results in project-by-project decisions lacking coordination. Governments must weigh up the cost of reliance on consultants at the expense of internal capability, and actively manage contracts and conflicts of interest.
Government entities should report to the public at both system and project level for transparency and accountability. Government activities benefit from a clear statement of objectives and associated performance measures to support systematic monitoring and reporting on outcomes and impact. Management of risk should include mechanisms to escalate risks, and action plans to mitigate risks with effective controls. In implementing strategies to mitigate cyber risk, agencies must set target cyber maturity levels, and document their acceptance of cyber risks consistent with their risk appetite. Service planning should establish future service offerings and service levels relative to current capacity, address risks to avoid or mitigate disruption of business and service delivery, and coordinate across other relevant plans and stakeholders. Negotiations on outsourced services and major transactions must maintain focus on integrity and seeking value for public funds.
Entities must provide balanced advice to decision-makers on the benefits and risks of investments. Benefits realisation should identify responsibility for benefits management, set baselines and targets for benefits, review during delivery, and evaluate costs and benefits post-delivery. Active review of policies and procedures in line with current business activities supports more effective risk management. Governments hold repositories of valuable data and data capabilities that should be leveraged and shared across government and non-government entities to improve strategic planning and forecasting. Formal structures and systems to facilitate coordination between agencies is critical to more efficient allocation of resources and to facilitate a timely response to unexpected events. Transformation programs can be improved by resourcing a program management office.
Clear guidelines and transparency of decisions are critical in distributing grant funding. Quality assurance should underpin key inputs that support performance monitoring and accounting judgements. Governance arrangements can enable input into key decisions from both government and non-government partners, and those with direct experience of complex issues.     Workforce planning should consider service continuity and ensure that specialist and targeted roles can be resourced and allocated to meet community need.
Governments must ensure timely and complete provision of information to support governance, integrity and audit processes.          
Read more Read more Read more Read more Read more Read more

 

This report brings together a summary of key findings arising from NSW Audit Office reports tabled in the New South Wales Parliament between July 2018 and February 2022. This includes analysis of financial audits, performance audits, and compliance audits tabled over this period.

  • Financial audits provide an independent opinion on the financial statements of NSW Government entities, universities and councils and identify whether they comply with accounting standards, relevant laws, regulations, and government directions.
  • Performance audits determine whether government entities carry out their activities effectively, are doing so economically and efficiently, and in accordance with relevant laws. The activities examined by a performance audit may include a selected program or service, all or part of an entity, or more than one government entity. Performance audits can consider issues which affect the whole state and/or the local government sectors.
  • Compliance audits and other assurance reviews are audits that assess whether specific legislation, directions, and regulations have been adhered to.

This report follows our earlier edition titled 'Performance Audit Insights: key findings from 2014–2018'. That report sought to highlight issues and themes emerging from performance audit findings, and to share lessons common across government. In this report, we have analysed the key findings and recommendations from our reports over the past four years. The full list of reports is included in Appendix 1. The analysis included findings and recommendations from 58 performance audits, as well as selected financial and compliance reports tabled between July 2018 and February 2022. The number of recommendations and key findings made across different areas of activity and the top issues are summarised at Exhibit 1.

The past four years have seen unprecedented challenges and several emergency events, and the scale of government responses to these events has been wide-ranging involving emergency response coordination, service delivery, governance and policy. While these emergencies are having a significant impact today, they are also likely to continue to have an impact into the future. There is much to learn from the response to those events that will help the government sector to prepare for and respond to future disruption. The following chapters bring together our recommendations for core elements of good practice across a number of areas of government activity, along with relevant examples from recent audit reports.

This 'Audit Insights 2018–2022' report does not make comparative analysis of trends in public sector performance since our 2018 Insights report, but instead highlights areas where government continues to face challenges, as well as new issues that our audits have identified since our 2018 report. We will continue to use the findings of our Insights analysis to shape our future audit priorities, in line with our purpose to help Parliament hold government accountable for its use of public resources in New South Wales.

Appendix one – Included reports, 2018–2022

Appendix two – About this report

 

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.

Published

Actions for COVID-19: response, recovery and impact

COVID-19: response, recovery and impact

Community Services
Education
Health
Justice
Premier and Cabinet
Transport
Treasury
Whole of Government
Cross-agency collaboration
Financial reporting
Management and administration
Service delivery
Shared services and collaboration

What the report is about

This report draws together the financial impact of COVID-19 on the agencies integral to responses across the state government sector of New South Wales.

What we found

Since the COVID-19 pandemic hit NSW in January 2020, and until 30 June 2021, $7.5 billion was spent by state government agencies for health and economic stimulus. The response was largely funded by borrowings.

The key areas of spending since the start of COVID-19 in NSW to 30 June 2021 were:

  • direct health response measures – $2.2 billion
  • personal protective equipment – $1.4 billion
  • small business grants – $795 million
  • quarantine costs – $613 million
  • increases in employee expenses and cleaning costs across most agencies
  • vaccine distribution, including vaccination hubs – $71 million.

The COVID-19 pandemic significantly impacted the financial performance and position of state government agencies.

Decreases in revenue from providing goods and services were offset by increases in appropriations, grants and contributions, for health and economic stimulus funding in response to the pandemic.

Most agencies had expense growth, due to additional operating requirements to manage and respond to the pandemic along with implementing new or expanded stimulus programs and initiatives.

Response measures for COVID-19 have meant the NSW Government is unlikely to meet targets in the Fiscal Responsibility Act 2012 being:

  • annual expense growth kept below long-term average revenue growth
  • elimination of State’s unfunded superannuation liability by 2030.

 Fast facts

  • First COVID-19 case in NSW on 25 January 2020
  • COVID-19 vaccinations commenced on 21 February 2021
  • By 31 December 2021, 25.2 million PCR tests had been performed in NSW and 13.6 million vaccines administered, with 93.6% of the 16 and over population receiving two doses
  • During 2020–21, NSW Health employed an extra 4,893 full-time staff and incurred $28 million in overtime mainly in response to COVID-19
  • During 2020–21, $1.2 billion was spent on direct health COVID-19 response measures and $532 million was spent on quarantine for incoming international travellers

Section highlights

  • Up to 30 June 2021, $7.5 billion has been spent by state government agencies for health and economic stimulus.
  • Revenue increased for most agencies as falling revenue from providing goods and services was offset by additional funding from appropriations, grants and contributions.
  • Expenses increased as most agencies incurred additional costs to manage and respond to the pandemic along with delivering stimulus and support programs.
  • Borrowings of $7.5 billion over the last two years helped to fund the response to COVID-19.

Section highlights

  • NSW Government unlikely to meet targets in Fiscal Responsibility Act 2012.

Published

Actions for Facilitating and administering Aboriginal land claim processes

Facilitating and administering Aboriginal land claim processes

Planning
Environment
Industry
Local Government
Premier and Cabinet
Whole of Government
Cross-agency collaboration
Compliance
Management and administration

What the report is about

The Aboriginal Land Rights Act 1983 (NSW) (the Act) provides land rights over certain Crown land for Aboriginal Land Councils in NSW.

If a claim is made over Crown land (land owned and managed by government) and meets other criteria under the Act, ownership of that land is to be transferred to the Aboriginal Land Council.

This process is intended to provide compensation for the dispossession of land from Aboriginal people in NSW. It is a different process to the recognition of native title rights under Commonwealth law.

We examined whether relevant agencies are effectively facilitating and administering Aboriginal land claim processes. The relevant agencies are:

  • Department of Premier and Cabinet (DPC)
  • Department of Planning and Environment (DPE)
  • NSW Aboriginal Land Council (NSWALC).

We consulted with Local Aboriginal Land Councils (LALCs) and other Aboriginal community representative groups to hear about their experiences.

What we found

Neither DPC nor DPE have established the resources required for the NSW Government to deliver Aboriginal land claim processes in a coordinated way, and which transparently commits to the requirements and intent of the Act.

Delays in determining land claims result in Aboriginal Land Councils being denied the opportunity to realise their statutory right to certain Crown land. Delays also create risks due to uncertainty around the ownership, use and development of Crown land.

DPC has not established governance arrangements to ensure accountability for outcomes under the Act, and effective risk management.

DPE lacks clear performance measures for the timely and transparent delivery of its claim assessment functions. DPE also lacks a well-defined framework for prioritising assessments.

LALCs have concerns about delays, and lack of transparency in the process.

Reviews since at least 2014 have recommended actions to address numerous issues and improve outcomes, but limited progress has been made.

The database used by DPC (Office of the Registrar) for the statutory register of land claims has not been upgraded or fully validated since the 1990s.

In 2020, DPE identified the transfer of claimable Crown land to LALCs to enable economic and cultural outcomes as a strategic priority. DPE has some activities underway to do this, and to improve how it engages with Aboriginal Land Councils – but DPE still lacks a clear, resourced strategy to process over 38,000 undetermined claims within a reasonable time.

What we recommended

In summary:

  • DPC should lead strategic governance to oversee a resourced, coordinated program that is accountable for delivering Aboriginal land claim processes
  • DPE should implement a resourced, ten-year plan that increases the rate of claim processing, and includes an initial focus on land grants
  • DPE and DPC should jointly establish operational arrangements to deliver a coordinated interagency program for land claim processes
  • DPC should plan an interagency, land claim spatial information system, and the Office of the Registrar should remediate and upgrade the statutory land claims register
  • DPC and NSWALC should implement an education program (for state agencies and the local government sector) about the Act and its operations
  • DPE should implement a five-year workforce development strategy for its land claim assessment function
  • DPE should finalise updates to its land claim assessment procedures
  • DPE should enhance information sharing with Aboriginal Land Councils to inform their claim making
  • NSWALC should enhance information sharing and other supports to LALCs to inform their claim making and build capacity.

Fast facts

  • 53,800 the number of claims lodged since the Act was introduced in 1983
  • 38,200 the number of claims awaiting DPE assessment and determination (about 70 per cent of all claims lodged)
  • 207 the number of claims granted by DPE in six months to December 2021
  • 120 LALCs, and the NSWALC, have the right to make a claim and have it determined
  • +5 years around 60 per cent of claims have been awaiting determination for more than five years
  • 22 years the time it will take DPE to determine existing claims, based on current targets

The return of land under the Aboriginal Land Rights Act 1983 (NSW) (the Act) is intended to provide compensation for the dispossession of land from Aboriginal people in New South Wales. A claim on Crown land1 made by an Aboriginal Land Council that meets criteria under the Act is to be transferred to the claimant council as freehold title. The 2021 statutory review of the Act recognises the spiritual, social, cultural and economic importance of land to Aboriginal people.

The Minister for Aboriginal Affairs administers the Act, with support from Aboriginal Affairs NSW (AANSW) in the Department of Premier and Cabinet (DPC). AANSW also leads the delivery of Opportunity, Choice, Healing, Responsibility and Empowerment (OCHRE), the NSW Government's plan for Aboriginal affairs, and assists the Minister to implement the National Agreement on Closing the Gap – which includes a target for increasing the area of land covered by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people's legal rights or interests.

The Act gives responsibility for registering land claims to an independent statutory officer, the Registrar of the Aboriginal Land Rights Act (the Registrar), whose functions are supported by the Office of the Registrar (ORALRA) which is resourced by AANSW.2

The Land and Environment Court of New South Wales has stated that there is an implied obligation for land claims to be determined within a reasonable time. The Minister administering the Crown Land Management Act 2016 (NSW) is responsible for determining land claims. This function is supported by the Department of Planning and Environment (DPE),3 whose staff assess and recommend claims for determination based on the criteria under section 36(1) of the Act. There is also a mechanism under the Act for land claims to be negotiated in good faith through an Aboriginal Land Agreement.

The NSW Aboriginal Land Council (NSWALC) is a statutory corporation constituted under the Act with a mandate to provide for the development of land rights for Aboriginal people in NSW, in conjunction with the network of 120 Local Aboriginal Land Councils (LALCs). LALCs are constituted over specific areas to represent Aboriginal communities across NSW. Both NSWALC and LALCs can make land claims.

DPC and DPE are responsible for governance and, in partnership with NSWALC, operational and information-sharing activities that are required to coordinate Aboriginal land claim processes. LALCs, statutory officers, government agencies, local councils, and other parties need to be engaged so that these processes are coordinated effectively and managed in a way that is consistent with the intent of the Act, and other legislative requirements.

The first land claim was lodged in 1983. The number of undetermined land claims has increased over time, and at 31 December 2021 DPE data shows 38,257 undetermined claims.

The issue of undetermined land claims has been publicly reported by the Audit Office since 2007. Recommendations to agencies to better facilitate processes and improve how functions are administered have been made in multiple reviews, including two Parliamentary inquiries in 2016.

The objective of this audit was to assess whether relevant agencies are effectively facilitating and administering Aboriginal land claim processes. In making this assessment, we considered whether:

  • agencies (DPE, DPC (AANSW and ORALRA) and NSWALC) coordinate information and activities to effectively facilitate Aboriginal land claim processes
  • agencies (DPE and DPC (ORALRA)) are effectively administering their roles in the Aboriginal land claim process.

We consulted with LALCs to hear about their experiences and priorities with respect to Aboriginal land claim processes and related outcomes. We have aimed to incorporate their insights into our understanding of their expectations of government with respect to delivering requirements, facilitating processes, and identifying opportunities for improved outcomes. 

Conclusion

The Department of Premier and Cabinet (DPC) and the Department of Planning and Environment (DPE) are not effectively facilitating or administering Aboriginal land claim processes. Neither agency has established the resources required for the NSW Government to operate a coordinated program of activities to deliver land claim processes in a way that transparently commits to the requirements and intent of the Aboriginal Land Rights Act 1983 (NSW) (the Act). Arrangements to engage the NSW Aboriginal Land Council (NSWALC) in these activities have not been clearly defined.

There are more than 38,000 undetermined land claims that cover approximately 1.12 million hectares of Crown land. As such, DPE has not been meeting its statutory requirement to determine land claims nor its obligation to do so within a reasonable time. Over 60 per cent of these claims were lodged with the Registrar of the Aboriginal Land Rights Act, for DPE to determine, more than five years ago.

DPE’s Aboriginal Outcomes Strategy 2020–23 identifies transferring claimable Crown land to Local Aboriginal Land Councils (LALCs) as a priority to enable economic and cultural outcomes. Since mid-2020 DPE has largely focused on supporting LALCs to identify priority land claims for assessment and on negotiating Aboriginal Land Agreements. This work may support the compensatory intent of the Act but is in its early stages and is unlikely to increase the pace at which land claims are determined. Based on current targets, it will take DPE around 22 years to process existing undetermined land claims.

Delays in processing land claims result in Aboriginal Land Councils being denied the opportunity to realise their statutory right to certain Crown land in NSW. The intent of the Act to provide compensation to Aboriginal people for the dispossession of land has been significantly constrained over time.

Since 2014, numerous reviews have made recommendations to agencies to address systemic issues, improve processes, and enhance outcomes: but DPC and DPE have made limited progress with implementing these. Awareness of the intent and operations of the Act was often poor among staff from some State government agencies and local government representatives we interviewed for the audit.

DPC has not established culturally informed, interagency governance to effectively oversee Aboriginal land claim processes – and ensure accountability for outcomes consistent with the intent of the Act, informed by the expectations of the NSWALC and LALCs. Such governance has not existed since at least 2017 (the audited period) and we have not seen evidence earlier. DPE still does not have performance indicators for its land claim assessment function that are based on a clear analysis of resources, that demonstrate alignment to defined outcomes, and which are reported routinely to key stakeholders, including NSWALC and LALCs.

LALCs have raised strong concerns during our consultations, describing delays in the land claim process and the number of undetermined land claims as disrespectful. LALCs have also noted a lack of transparency in, and opportunity to engage with, Aboriginal land claim processes. DPE’s role in assessing Aboriginal land claims, and identifying opportunities for Aboriginal Land Agreements, requires specific expertise, evidence gathering and an understanding of the complex interaction between the Act and other legislative frameworks, including the Native Title Act 1993 (Cth) and the Crown Land Management Act 2016 (NSW). In mid-2020, DPE created an Aboriginal Land Strategy Directorate within its Crown lands division, increased staffing in land claim assessment functions, and set a target to increase the number of land claims to be granted in 2021–22. In the six months to December 2021, DPE granted more land claims (207 claims) than in most years prior. DPE has also assisted some LALCs to identify priority land claims for assessment.

But the overall number of claims processed per year remains well below the historical (five-year) average number of claims lodged (2,506 claims). As such, DPE has not yet established an appropriately resourced workforce to assess the large number of undetermined land claims and engage effectively with Aboriginal Land Councils and other parties in the process. There also are notable gaps in DPE’s procedures that impact the transparency of the process, especially with respect to timeframes and the prioritisation of land claims for assessment.

DPC (the Office of the Registrar of the Aboriginal Land Rights Act, ORALRA) has not secured or applied resources that would assist the Registrar to use discretionary powers, introduced in 2015, not to refer certain land claims to DPE for assessment (those not on Crown land). This could have improved the efficiency and coordination of end-to-end land claim processes.

DPC (ORALRA) is also not effectively managing data and ensuring the functionality of the statutory Register of Aboriginal land claims. This contributes to inefficient coordination with DPE and NSWALC, and creates a risk of inconsistent information sharing with LALCs, government agencies, local councils and other parties. More broadly, responsibilities for sharing information about the location and status of land under claim are not well defined across agencies. These factors contribute to risks to Crown land with an undetermined land claim, which case law has found to establish inchoate property rights for the claimant Aboriginal Land Council.4 It can also lead to uncertainty around the ownership, use and development of Crown land, with financial implications for various parties.


1 Crown land is land that is owned and managed by the NSW Government.
 AANSW and ORALRA were previously part of the Department of Education, before the 1 July 2019 Machinery of Government changes.
 Previously, these functions were undertaken by the Department of Industry (2017–June 2019) and the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment (July 2019 to December 2021). 
 The lodgement of a land claim creates an unformed property interest for the claimant Aboriginal Land Council over the claimed land. This interest will be realised if the Crown Lands Minister determines that the land is claimable.

Since 1983, 53,861 Aboriginal land claims have been lodged with the Registrar.25

The Land and Environment Court of New South Wales has stated there is an implied obligation on the Crown Lands Minister to determine land claims within a reasonable time.26

As at 31 December 2021, DPE has processed less than a third (31 per cent) of these land claims: 14,273 were determined by the Crown Lands Minister (that is, granted or refused, in whole or part) and 2,562 were withdrawn. This amounts to 16,835 claims processed, including the negotiated settlement of 15 claims through three Aboriginal Land Agreements. As a result, DPE reports that approximately 163,900 hectares of Crown land has been granted to Aboriginal Land Councils since 1983 up to 31 December 2021.

There are 38,257 land claims awaiting determination, which cover about 1.12 million hectares of Crown land.

The 2017 report on the statutory review of the Act noted that the land claims ‘backlog’ was one of the ‘Top 5’ priorities identified by LALCs during consultations. The importance of this issue is consistent with findings from our consultations with LALCs in 2021 (see Exhibit 7).

Exhibit 7: LALCs report that delays undermine the compensatory intent of the Act

LALCs raised concerns about delays in the Aboriginal land claim process, including waiting decades for claims to be assessed and years for land to be transferred once granted.

The large number of undetermined claims has been described by LALCs as disrespectful, and as reflecting under-resourcing by governments.

LALCs reported that these delays undermine the compensatory intent of the Act, including by creating uncertainty for their plans to support the social and economic aspirations of their communities.

Source: NSW Audit Office consultation with LALCs.

Delays in delivering on the statutory requirement to determine land claims, and limited use of other mechanisms to process claims in consultation or agreement with NSWALC and LALCs, undermines the beneficial and remedial intent of Aboriginal land rights under the Act. It also:

  • impacts negatively on DPE’s ability to comply with the statutory requirement to determine land claims, because often the older a claim becomes the more difficult it can be to gather the evidence required to assess it
  • creates uncertainty around the ownership, use and development of Crown land, which can have financial impacts on Aboriginal Land Councils, government agencies, local councils and developers.

Risks that arise in the context of undetermined claims are discussed further in section 3.3.


25 According to DPC (ORALRA) data in the ALC Register up to 31 December 2021. DPC (ORALRA) data indicates that the Registrar has refused to refer claims to DPE for assessment under section 36(4A) of the Act in a small number of cases – for example, seven times in 2017 and none since that time.
26 Jerrinja Local Aboriginal Land Council v Minister Administering the Crown Lands Act [2007] NSWLEC 577 at 125. The Court stated, ‘While a reasonable time may vary on a case-by-case basis, a delay of 15 to 20 years in determining claims does not accord with any idea of reasonableness’.

NSW Treasury describes public sector governance as providing strategic direction, ensuring objectives are achieved, and managing risks and the use of resources responsibly with accountability.

Consistent with the NSW Treasury’s Risk Management Toolkit (TPP-12-03b), governance arrangements for Aboriginal land claim processes should ensure their effective facilitation and administration. That is, arrangements are expected to contribute to and oversee the performance of administrative processes and service delivery towards outcomes, and ensure that legal and policy compliance obligations are met consistent with community expectations of accountability and transparency.

DPC and DPE are responsible for governance and, in partnership with NSWALC, operational and information-sharing activities required to coordinate Aboriginal land claim processes. LALCs, statutory officers, government agencies, local councils, and other parties (such as native title groups and those with an interest in development on Crown land) need to be engaged so that these processes are coordinated effectively with risks managed – consistent with the intent of the Act, and other legislative requirements.

Policy commitments to Aboriginal people and communities made by the NSW Government in the OCHRE Plan and Closing the Gap priority reforms establish an expectation for culturally informed governance.

Exhibit 12: LALCs want their voices to be heard and responded to by government

LALCs expressed a strong desire to have their voices heard so that outcomes in the Aboriginal land claim process are informed by LALC aspirations and consistent with the intent of the Act. The importance of respect and transparency were consistently raised.

The following quotes are from our consultations with LALCs during this audit which illustrate the inherent cultural value of land being returned, as well as the importance of its social and economic value and potential.

There’s batches of land in and around town. This land is significant…We want to get the land activated to encourage economic development, and promote the community…our job is to step up to create infrastructure, employment, maintenance and services and lead by example.

One of the best things we were able to do is develop a long term 20-year plan and where Crown Land could directly see where land was transferred to us and it was going to things like education, housing, health and other social programs…

There has been a claim lodged on a parcel of land that has long lasting cultural significance, a place that is very special to the Aboriginal community members and holds a lot of history. If the claim lodged was successful this land would be used to strengthen the cultural knowledge of the local youth, through placing signage that depicts stories that have been passed down by the Elders, cultural talks and tours and school group visits. This land, although not large in size, has a significant number of cultural trees and artefacts. Aboriginal families and members of the LALC that have lived in our town are very protective of the site and others surrounding it, respecting the importance of the cultural history of the site. There is one, which is a cultural one. We received a land claim that contained a cultural site. This is the high point: we were given back lands that contained rock engravings, carvings. A real diamond for us, especially as an urban based land council.

At the heart of the ALRA is the ability to claim Crown Land…The slow determination of claims gets in the way of us doing what we want to do, which is focus on our communities and address our real needs which are about health, wellbeing and culture. If we could realise these rights, we can address all sorts of socio-economic needs. We would become an economic benefit to the state…If it was operating well there could be more caring for Country too.

Note: Permission has been granted by LALC interviewees to use these quotes in this context.
Source: Excerpts from NSW Audit Office interviews with LALC representatives, facilitated by Indigenous consultants.

The Crown Lands Minister, supported by DPE, is required to determine whether Aboriginal land claims meet the criteria to be ‘claimable Crown lands’ under section 36(1) of the Act. DPE staff within its Crown Lands division are responsible for assessing land claims and preparing recommendation briefs to the Crown Lands Minister, or their delegate, on determination outcomes. That is, on whether to grant or refuse the claim.38 DPE staff also make decisions about which land claims within the large number of undetermined claims should be processed first.

 

Appendix one – Response from agencies

Appendix two – About the audit

Appendix three – Performance auditing

Banner image used with permission.
Title: Forces of Nature
Artist: Lee Hampton – Koori Kicks Art
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 #365 - released 28 April 2022.

Published

Actions for Police responses to domestic and family violence

Police responses to domestic and family violence

Community Services
Justice
Service delivery

What the report is about

This audit assessed whether the NSW Police Force has effective systems, processes, resources, and capability to respond to domestic and family violence events in New South Wales.

What we found

The NSW Police Force has almost doubled its domestic violence specialist workforce in the past five years and is conducting higher levels of risk monitoring to check that frontline police comply with domestic and family violence policing procedures.

However, a lack of workload monitoring at a whole of agency level is limiting the ability of the NSW Police Force to assess whether specialist and frontline police are sufficient to manage domestic and family violence demands across all 57 local commands.

Rates of compliance checking of domestic violence events vary across local commands, and there is a lack of system level policy or oversight to guide this activity.

While the NSW Police Force has structured training for probationary constables on domestic and family violence policing practices, it does not monitor training or skill levels of the broader workforce to understand levels of expertise in domestic violence policing.

The NSW Police Force does not have regular or consistent methods for seeking feedback and it has a limited understanding of its service quality from the perspective of victim survivors of domestic and family violence.

Performance reporting on domestic and family violence is limited, with most measures focused on activity counts rather than service quality or outcomes.

What we recommended

Improve workforce and workload data collections, analysis and reporting on domestic and family violence workload volumes and allocations of specialist and frontline police to meet demands.

Structure and resource the domestic and family violence strategic policy function to a level commensurate with workload volumes and risks associated with domestic violence policing.

Review debriefing protocols, procedures, and resources for police after domestic and family violence incidents.

Improve databases and information systems for recording domestic violence events so that related events and individuals are automatically connected.

Design a procedure to collect, collate, and analyse service user and stakeholder feedback about police responses to domestic and family violence.

Review existing activity measures and targets for domestic and family violence and expand to include performance measures, service quality measures and outcomes reporting.

Review the process for investigating allegations of domestic and family violence against current and former serving police personnel and implement procedures to ensure processes are independent of interested parties and mitigate conflicts of interest.

Fast facts

  • 140,000 calls to police each year for assistance in relation to domestic and family violence
  • 280 domestic violence specialist police in NSW
  • A 145% increase in police compliance checks of Apprehended Domestic Violence Orders from 2018 to 2020.

The NSW Police Force describes domestic and family violence as a significantly under-reported and complex crime that is mainly perpetrated by men in intimate partner relationships. It is a crime that can include one or more of the following behaviours: emotional and psychological abuse, intimidation, harassment, stalking, physical and sexual assault.

The NSW Police Force responds to over 140,000 domestic and family violence calls for assistance every year. This equates to one call every four minutes. According to NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research statistics, the number and volume of domestic and family violence crime types have increased from October 2016 to September 2021.

The NSW Police Force's responses to domestic and family violence are prescribed in legislation and its own procedural guidance. Principally, the NSW Police Force is required to:

  • investigate incidents of domestic and family violence
  • take out Apprehended Domestic Violence Orders on behalf of victims and children
  • provide safety and support to victims, including taking offenders away from victims
  • place alleged perpetrators before the courts
  • investigate breaches of Apprehended Domestic Violence Orders and target repeat offenders
  • work with local service providers to reduce incidents of domestic and family violence.

Domestic and family violence incident dispatches are attended by general duties police – also described in this report as frontline police.

The objective of this audit was to assess the effectiveness of the NSW Police Force in responding to domestic and family violence. To do this, we assessed whether the NSW Police Force:

  • conducts capability planning to ensure its workforce can effectively respond to domestic and family violence incidents and support victim-survivors
  • resources its workforce with the required systems, skills, knowledge, and administrative support to monitor, record and respond to domestic and family violence events
  • assesses the effectiveness of police responses to domestic and family violence events and the effectiveness of support for victim-survivors.
Where to get help

If you or someone you know is experiencing violence or abuse, you can contact 1800 RESPECT (1800respect.org.au or 1800 737 732).

Conclusion

The NSW Police Force has almost doubled its domestic violence specialist workforce in the past five years. This has enabled higher levels of risk monitoring, and increased levels of support for general duties frontline police. However, a lack of workforce and workload monitoring at the system level, has limited the ability of the NSW Police Force to assess whether specialist and frontline police are sufficient in numbers to manage workload demands in all local commands.

The NSW Police Force does not measure the types or categories of police work that constitute the workload profiles of general duties frontline police. This limits the ability of the NSW Police Force to understand the proportion of police time that is spent managing domestic and family violence incidents and allocate resources accordingly.

While the NSW Police Force has increased the numbers of specialist domestic violence personnel, it lacks accurate data to assess whether the distribution of specialist personnel is adequate in number to support workload volumes across the different local commands. The NSW Police Force is currently expanding its use of a workforce modelling tool - Capacity Planning for Policing. This tool has the functionality to assess the distribution of the police workforce against incident dispatches by crime type, and other workload metrics.

There is potential for the NSW Police Force to use this tool to take a more proactive approach to domestic and family violence workforce planning. This could include enhanced monitoring and reporting of the domestic and family violence incident dispatches in each local command, and the levels of domestic violence specialist staff in these commands. Enhanced data reporting will assist local commanders to assess their staffing levels against crime statistics, compare to commands with similar activity levels, and ensure that staffing allocations are appropriate for workload demands.

The NSW Police Force has dedicated additional resources to improve the levels of monitoring of police compliance with domestic and family violence policing procedures. However, rates of compliance checking of domestic violence events vary across local commands, and there is a lack of system level policy or oversight to guide this activity.

The NSW Police Force has enhanced its quality control measures to improve domestic violence policing through a range of checking mechanisms to monitor compliance with standard operating procedures. However, there is significant variability in the levels of compliance checking across local commands and no system level data about the levels of quality assurance across commands. Some commands attempt to check 100% of domestic violence events, while others check far fewer, depending on their local workload requirements. The NSW Police Force does not provide advice about what constitutes minimum or optimal levels of compliance checking, and there is no centralised reporting on this activity.

The NSW Police Force provides a structured training program for probationary constables on domestic and family violence policing but does not monitor the training or skill levels of the broader workforce. This limits the ability of NSW Police Force managers to understand whether the workforce has the required skills and knowledge in this area.

During pre-service training probationary constables are provided with procedural knowledge and a structured skill development program in preparation for domestic and family violence policing. They develop further proficiency and skills through mentoring and on the job experience.

The NSW Police Force has processes to ensure that probationary police officers are monitored and mentored in domestic violence procedures and practices. However, it is unable to ensure that the broader workforce is completing targeted professional development to improve and update skills and knowledge levels over time. The NSW Police Force does not consistently assess workforce capabilities or gaps in workforce skills and knowledge about domestic violence policing. 

The NSW Police Force does not have regular or consistent methods for seeking feedback from service users. As a result, it has a limited understanding of its service quality from the perspective of victim-survivors of domestic and family violence.

The NSW Police Force is guided by its Domestic and Family Violence Code of Practice and Customer Service Guidelines to provide 'timely and appropriate victim support and referral'. These guidelines require victim follow-up within seven days of an incident where an offence is detected. The NSW Police Force has limited information to understand whether it is complying with these requirements for domestic violence incidents.

The NSW Police Force is not able to separate complaints about domestic and family violence service quality from other complaints. While the NSW Police Force participates in forums where it can receive feedback from stakeholder groups, there remains the risk that processes are not systematised, and are dependent on the commitment of local commands.

Police participation in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander feedback forums show significant variability in the levels of engagement across police regions. Through its Multicultural Plan, the NSW Police Force collects information about culturally and linguistically diverse communities. However, reporting is not specific to domestic violence, and only occurs every four years.

Performance reporting on domestic and family violence is limited, with most measures focused on activity counts rather than service quality or outcomes. Six of the seven NSW Police Force indicators for domestic and family violence are counts of incident types, rather than measures of police performance or outcomes.

Appendix one – Response from agency 

Appendix two – Workload and workforce numbers in 2020–21 supporting Exhibits 4, 6 and 7 

Appendix three – Key NSW Police Force initiatives, July 2016–present 

Appendix four – About the audit 

Appendix five – 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 #363 - released 4 April 2022.