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About this report

This audit assessed the effectiveness of the Department of Communities and Justice (DCJ) in planning, designing, and overseeing the NSW child protection system.

The audit used 'follow the dollar' powers to assess the performance of five non-government organisations (NGOs), that were contracted to provide child protection services. More information about how we did this is included in the full report.

Findings

The NSW child protection system is inefficient, ineffective, and unsustainable.

Despite recommendations from numerous reviews, DCJ has not redirected its resources from a ‘crisis driven’ model, to an early intervention model that supports families at the earliest point in the child protection process.

DCJ's organisational structure and governance arrangements do not enable system reform.

DCJ has over 30 child protection governance committees with no clarity over how decisions are made or communicated, and no clarity about which part of DCJ is responsible for leading system improvement.

DCJ's assessments of child protection reports are labour intensive and repetitive, reducing the time that caseworkers have to support families with services.

DCJ has limited evidence to inform investments in family support services due to a lack of data about the therapeutic service needs of children and families. This means that DCJ is not able to provide relevant services for families engaged in the child protection system. DCJ is not meeting its legislated responsibility to ensure that families have access to services, and to prevent children from being removed to out of home care.

DCJ does not monitor the wellbeing of children in out of home care. This means that DCJ does not have the information needed to meet its legislative responsibility to ensure that children 'receive such care and protection as is necessary for their safety, welfare and well-being’.

In August 2023, there were 471 children living in costly and inappropriate environments, such as hotels, motels, and serviced apartments. The cost of this emergency accommodation in 2022–2023 was $300 million. DCJ has failed to establish ‘safe, nurturing, stable and secure’ accommodation for children in these environments.

Since 2018–19, the number of children being returned to their parents from out of home care has declined. During the five years to 2022–23, families have had limited access to restoration services to support this process.

Recommendations

The audit made 11 recommendations to DCJ. They require the agency to identify accountability for system reform, and to take steps to ensure that children and families have access to necessary services and support.

 

The child protection system aims to protect children and young people under 18 years old from risk of abuse, neglect, and harm. In NSW, child protection services can include investigations of alleged cases of child abuse or neglect, referrals to therapeutic services for family members, the issuing of care and protection orders, or the placement of children and young people in out of home care if it is deemed that they are unable to live safely in their family home.

A key activity in the child protection process is to determine whether a child is at ‘risk of significant harm’ as defined by Section 23 of the Children and Young Persons (Care and Protection) Act 1998. The Act describes significant harm as when ‘the child's or young person's basic physical or psychological needs are not being met or are at risk of not being met'. The Department of Communities and Justice (DCJ) has developed a process for determining risk of significant harm. It requires multiple assessments of child concern reports and at least two separate assessments of the child in the home. This process can take a number of months, and until all of these activities are complete, DCJ describes the child as suspected or presumed to be at risk of significant harm.

DCJ has primary responsibility for the child protection system in NSW. DCJ is both a provider of child protection services and a purchaser of child protection services from non-government organisations (NGOs). As system steward, DCJ has a role to establish the policy environment for child protection services and operations. In addition, DCJ is responsible for all governance and reporting arrangements for the commissioned NGOs that deliver services on its behalf, as well as for the governance and reporting arrangements of its own DCJ staff. DCJ must ensure that the child protection system is achieving its intended outcomes – to protect and support children in ways that meet their best interests - as described in legislation.

This audit assessed the effectiveness of DCJ’s planning, design, and oversight of the statutory child protection system in NSW. We assessed whether DCJ was effective in ensuring:

  • there is quality information to understand and effectively plan for child protection services and responses
  • there are effective processes to manage, support, resource, and coordinate child protection service models and staffing levels
  • there is effective oversight of the quality and outputs of child protection services and drivers of continuous improvement.

To do this, the audit assessed the statutory child protection system with a particular focus on:

  • initial desktop assessments and triaging of child protection reports
  • family visits and investigations of child protection reports
  • case management services and referrals to services
  • the management of all types of care and protection orders
  • the assessments and placements of children in out of home care.

The audit also assessed the performance of five NGOs that provide commissioned child protection services. Collectively, in 2021–2022, the five audited NGOs managed approximately 25% of all out of home care services in NSW. The policies, practices, and management reporting of the five NGOs was assessed for effectiveness in relation to the following:

  • quality of data used to understand service requirements
  • arrangements for operational service delivery to meet identified needs
  • governance arrangements to deliver safe and quality out of home care services under contract arrangements with DCJ.

This audit was conducted concurrently with another audit: Safeguarding the rights of Aboriginal children in the child protection system.

The child protection system aims to protect children and young people (aged less than 18 years) from the risks of abuse, neglect, and harm. Child protection services can include investigations, (which may or may not lead to substantiated cases of child abuse or neglect), care and protection orders, and out of home care placements.

The Department of Communities and Justice (DCJ) has statutory responsibility for assessing whether a child or young person is in need of care and protection. DCJ’s Child Protection Helpline receives and assesses reports of possible child abuse or neglect. If the information in the report is assessed as meeting a threshold for risk of significant harm, DCJ caseworkers at Community Service Centres investigate the report and decide on a course of action. Follow-up actions can include referring the family to services, visiting the family to conduct ongoing risk and safety assessments of the child, or closing the case. If a child is determined to be unsafe, the child may be removed from the family home and placed in out of home care.

Non-government organisations (NGOs) are funded by the NSW Government to provide services to children and young people who require out of home care and other support services. NGOs provide approximately half of all out of home services in NSW, and DCJ provides the other half.

Government agencies such as Health, Education and Police also play a role in child protection processes, particularly in providing support for children and families where there are concerns about possible abuse or neglect. NSW Health provides some support services for families, along with the Department of Communities and Justice. Exhibit 1 shows some headline child protection statistics for NSW in 2022–2023.

Exhibit 1: Child protection statistics in 2022–2023
 

404,611

Report to the Child Protection Helpline

 

112,592

Children suspected to be at risk of significant harm

27,782

Children received a safety assessment by DCJ caseworker 

10,059

Children (and families) provided with caseworker services or targeted therapeutic services to support safety

$3.1b

Total expenditure on child protection, out of home care, and family support services

$1.9b

Expenditure on out of home care services

$0.4b

Expenditure of family support services 

14,473

Children in out of home care 30 June 2023

 

471

Children living in high cost, emergency arrangements

Source: Audit Office summary of DCJ data on child protection statistics.

DCJ has not made progress in shifting the focus and resources of the child protection system to an early intervention model of care, as recommended by major system reviews

DCJ has not readjusted its resource profile so that its operating model can take a more preventative approach to child protection. A preventative approach requires significant early intervention and support for families and children soon after a child has been reported as being at risk of significant harm. This approach has been recommended by a number of reviews into the child protection system.

In 2015, the Independent Review of Out of Home Care in New South Wales recommended an investment approach that uses client data and cost-effective, evidence-based interventions to reduce entries to out of home care and improve outcomes for families and children.

The NSW Government response to the Independent Review of Out of Home Care in New South Wales was a program entitled: Their Futures Matter. This program commenced in November 2016 and was intended to place vulnerable children and families at the heart of services through targeted investment of resources and services. A 2020 report from our Audit Office found that ‘while important foundations were laid and new programs trialled, the key objective of establishing an evidence-based whole of government early intervention program … was not achieved. The majority of $380 million in investment funding remained tied to existing agency programs, with limited evidence of their comparative effectiveness.’

DCJ’s expenditure since 2018–2019 shows that most additional funding has been used to address budget shortfalls for out of home care, and to expand the numbers of frontline case workers. Budget increases show that during the period from 2018–2019 to 2022–2023, DCJ’s expenditure on out of home care increased by 36%, and expenditure on caseworkers increased by 26%. DCJ’s expenditure on family support services, including early intervention and intensive support services, increased by 31% during the audit period.

These resourcing priorities indicate that DCJ has not shifted its focus or expenditure in ways which reorient the child protection system. DCJ has not dedicated sufficient resources to early intervention, and therapeutic support for families and children, in order to implement the recommended changes made by systemwide child protection reviews.

In 2019, the Family is Culture Review recommended increased investment in early intervention support services to prevent more Aboriginal children entering out of home care, with a preference for these services to be delivered by Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations. Progress towards enhancing a culturally appropriate service profile has been limited. DCJ last published progress against the Family is Culture recommendations in August 2021, when it reported that projects to increase financial investment in early intervention services were under review.

Data from March 2023 shows that 89% of the DCJ-funded, family support service volume across NSW is delivered by mainstream providers compared with ten per cent provided by Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations, and one per cent by culturally specific providers. Given that Aboriginal children make up approximately half of all children in out of home care, there is still significant work required to shift the service profile.

DCJ’s governance arrangements are not structured in a way that ensures transparency and accountability for system reform activity and service improvements

DCJ’s organisational structure reflects multiple operational and policy functions across its three branches - the Commissioning Branch, the Operational Branch, and the branch responsible for Transforming Aboriginal Outcomes. Some branches have responsibility for similar functions, and it is not clear where overall executive-level accountability resides for system reform. For example, all three branches have a policy function, and there is no single line of organisational responsibility for this function, and no indication about which branch is responsible for driving system reform.

DCJ has over 30 governance committees and working groups with responsibilities for leadership and oversight of the statutory child protection and out of home care system. DCJ’s governance committees include forums to provide corporate and operational direction, to make financial and resourcing decisions, and to provide leadership and program oversight over the different functions of child protection and out of home care. Some committees and working groups oversee DCJ’s activity to meet government strategic priorities and respond to the findings and recommendations of child protection and out of home care reviews and commissions of inquiry.

Much of DCJ’s work in child protection and out of home care is interdependent, but its governance arrangements have not been structured in a way that show the lines of communication across the Department. There is no roadmap to show the ways in which decisions are communicated across the various operational and corporate segments of DCJ’s child protection and out of home care business operations.

In 2022, DCJ commenced activity to reorganise its operational committees into a four-tier structure, with each tier representing a level in the hierarchy of authority, decision-making and oversight. Draft documents indicate the ways in which the new organisational structure will facilitate communication through the different business areas of DCJ to the Operations Committee where most of the high-level decisions are made or authorised before being referred to the Executive Board for sign off. The new governance arrangements indicate a more transparent process for identifying Department and divisional priorities across policy and programs, though the process for reforming governance processes was not complete at the time of this audit.

DCJ’s strategic planning documents do not contain plans to address the pressure points in the child protection system or address the increasing costs of out of home care. After the merger of the Department of Family and Community Services (FACS) and the Department of Justice, DCJ’s Strategic Directions 2020–2024 document sets out the direction for the expanded Department in generalised terms. While it describes DCJ’s values, and describes an intention to improve outcomes for Aboriginal people and reduce domestic and family violence, it does not contain enough detail to describe a blueprint for Departmental action.

In April 2023, DCJ published a Child Safe Action Plan for 2023 to 2027. This plan includes a commitment to hear children’s voices and to ‘improve organisational cultures, operations and environment to prevent child abuse’. In September 2023, the NSW Government committed to develop ‘long-term plans to reform the child protection system and repair the budget, as part of its plan to rebuild essential services and take pressure off families and businesses'. Any activity to implement these commitments was not able to be audited, as it was too soon to assess progress at the time of this report publication.

DCJ’s expenditure priorities predominantly reinforce its longstanding operating model – to focus on risk assessments and out of home care services rather than early intervention

More than 60% of DCJ’s budget for child protection is spent on out of home care. In the five years from 2018–2019, DCJ’s expenditure on out of home care increased by 36% from $1.39 billion in 2018−19 to $1.9 billion in 2022–23.

During the same timeframe, DCJ’s expenditure on risk report assessments and interventions at the Helpline and Community Service Centres increased by 25%. It grew from $640 million in 2018–2019 to $800 million in 2022–2023. This not only reinforced the existing model of child protection, it expanded upon it, at the expense of other activity.

While DCJ’s expenditure on family support services increased by 31% from $309 million in 2018–2019 to $405 million in 2022–2023, it remains a small component of DCJ’s overall expenditure at 13% of the total budget spend in 2022−2023, as shown at Exhibit 6.

Exhibit 6: Report on Government Services - Productivity Commission
Expenditure ($b)

2018–19

2019–20

2020–21

2021–22

2022–23

% of total 2022–23

Increase 2018–19 to 2022–23 (%)

Out of Home Care

1.392

1.527

1.561

1.713

1.892

61

36

Risk and safety assessments & interventions at the Helpline & Community Service Centres

0.640

0.651

0.685

0.737

0.800

26

25

Family support services inc. early intervention and intensive support services

0.309

0.322

0.319

0.338

0.405

13

31

Total

2.342

2.501

2.565

2.788

3.097

100

32


Note: Expenditure is actual spending in each year, not adjusted for inflation. Totals may be more than the sum of components due to rounding. percentages may not sum to 100 due to rounding.

Source: Audit Office analysis of Productivity Commission data published in Reports on Government Services 2024, Table 16A.8.

DCJ has not done enough to support the transition of Aboriginal children to the Aboriginal community controlled sector as planned

In 2012, the NSW Government made a policy commitment to ensure the transfer of all Aboriginal children in out of home care to Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations. DCJ acknowledges that over the past 12 years, the NSW Government has made limited progress in facilitating this transition.

In June 2023, a total of 1,361 children were managed by Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations across NSW. At the same time, 1,746 Aboriginal children were being case managed by non-Aboriginal NGO providers, and 3,456 Aboriginal children were case managed by DCJ. In total there were 5,202 Aboriginal children waiting to be transferred to Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations in June 2023.

The transition process was planned and intended to occur over a ten year timeframe from 2012 to 2022. This has not been successful. DCJ has revised its timeframes for the transition process, and now aims to see the transfer of the ‘majority’ of Aboriginal children to Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations by June 2026. At the current rate of transition, it would take over 50 years to transfer all 5,202 children to Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations, so this timeframe is ambitious and will require close monitoring by DCJ.

The cost of transitioning all 5,202 Aboriginal children from DCJ and the non-Aboriginal NGOs to the Aboriginal Community Controlled sector will add close to $135 million to the NSW Government out of home care budget. The increased costs are due to the higher costs of administration, accreditation, and oversight of services provided by the Aboriginal Community Controlled sector.

DCJ has prioritised the transfer of Aboriginal children from non-Aboriginal NGOs to Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations before the transfer of Aboriginal children from DCJ’s management. This prioritisation is due, in part, to the fact that most of the non-Aboriginal carers of Aboriginal children are with NGOs. NGO contract requirements should have been one of the drivers of the transition of Aboriginal children to Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations.

The most recent NGO contracts, issued in October 2022, required that NGOs develop an Aboriginal Community Controlled transition plan by 31 December 2022. This timeframe was extended to 30 June 2023. All of the NGOs we audited have now prepared detailed transition plans for the transition of Aboriginal children, including service plans that identify risks and document collaborative efforts with Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations.

One important requirement in the success of the transitions, is the willingness of carers to switch from their existing NGO provider to an Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisation. During the period of this audit DCJ failed to provide sufficient information to carers, to assure them of the NSW Government’s commitment to the transition process. Since July 2023 DCJ has written to carers of Aboriginal children case managed by non-Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations and provided them with more information about the transition process.

NGOs have had limited success in transitioning Aboriginal children to Aboriginal services, and can do more to report on activity, so that system improvements can be made

Non-Aboriginal NGOs have had limited success in transferring Aboriginal children to the Aboriginal-controlled out of home care sector. For example, of the approximately 1,700 Aboriginal children that were managed by non-Aboriginal providers in 2022–2023, 25 Aboriginal children were transferred from non-Aboriginal NGOs to Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations in that year. While DCJ controls the key drivers in this transition, there is limited evidence that NGOs have initiated consultations with Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations during the audit period.

NGOs advised that some of their carers do not want to transition to Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations, and this is slowing the transfer process. NGO contracts in force until September 2022 required that: ‘The express agreement of carers must be sought prior to the transfer of an Aboriginal Child to an Aboriginal Service Provider.’ This audit was not able to verify the extent to which carers have resisted the move to Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations.

DCJ did not provide NGOs with sufficient direction, coordination, or governance through its contract arrangements to effect transitions from non-Aboriginal NGOs to Aboriginal NGOs. DCJ has established a project control group with representatives from NGO peak bodies and has set up an internal program management office to manage the transition.

There are limited drivers for the transition of Aboriginal children to Aboriginal-controlled services, and financial risks for both Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations and non-Aboriginal NGOs in the process

Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations and non-Aboriginal NGOs are carrying significant financial risk due to a lack of certainty in the transition process of Aboriginal children to the Aboriginal Community Controlled sector. These agencies are responsible for planning and making changes to their business models in order to facilitate the transition process. DCJ does not provide funds for this activity.

Some non-Aboriginal NGOs have high numbers of Aboriginal children in their care. These agencies risk financial viability if children and their carers are transitioned in a short space of time. There is a degree of uncertainty about the timelines for transitions to Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations, and the numbers of children that will be transitioned at any given time.

Non-Aboriginal NGOs are not in a position to require Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations to take Aboriginal children. Similarly, Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations cannot compel the transition of children to their care. There are no real system drivers for this activity, and some financial disincentives for NGOs supporting large Aboriginal caseloads.

Throughout 2023, some Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations have been upscaling their businesses to prepare for the transition of Aboriginal children to their care. They have employed additional caseworkers and enhanced administrative and infrastructure arrangements to take on new children, without receiving new intakes. They report that they have been financially disadvantaged by the failure of the transition process. Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations advise that they don’t expect confirmation of the child transition process and timelines until 2024 and must carry the financial consequences of upscaling.

 

DCJ does not collect sufficient data to assess the effectiveness of its child protection service interventions and does not know whether they lead to improved outcomes

DCJ does not collect sufficient information to understand whether its child protection risk and safety interventions are effective in protecting children from abuse, neglect, exploitation, and violence.

DCJ is the sole entity with responsibility to make assessments of children after there has been a child protection report. After a child has been reported, DCJ caseworkers conduct a range of assessments of the child and family context, to determine whether the child is at risk of significant harm. If DCJ caseworkers determine that a child is ‘in need of care and protection,’ Section 34 of the Care Act requires DCJ to ‘take whatever action is necessary to safeguard and promote the safety, welfare and well-being of the child or young person’, including ‘providing, or arranging for the provision of, support services for the child or young person and his or her family’.

DCJ has limited measures to assess the effectiveness of its service interventions. DCJ monitors and reports on the number of children who are re-reported within 12 months after receiving a DCJ caseworker intervention. However, DCJ does not monitor or report any comparative data that would potentially demonstrate the effectiveness of its service interventions. For example, DCJ does not collate and publish data on re-report rates of children who do not receive a DCJ service intervention. This comparative data would give DCJ greater understanding about the effectiveness of its service interventions.

In addition, DCJ’s re-report data does not differentiate between re-reports of children that are substantiated, from those that are not. Children can be re-reported for a variety of reasons. Some re-reports are of children who are not at increased risk of significant harm. Therefore, the current re-report data is a limited measure of the effectiveness of DCJ’s service interventions.

DCJ does not collect data or compare outcomes based on the kinds of services that are accessed by children and families. For example, DCJ does not report on instances where families were denied service interventions because support services were full, or did not exist in their region. DCJ does not collect data or report on children who were taken into out of home care in areas where there were no available services to support the family.

DCJ caseworkers can support families by making referrals to drug and alcohol rehabilitation services, family violence services, parenting support courses, or mental health services. It is not known whether families receive services that are relevant to their needs. Some services are offered as additional DCJ caseworker support, some are NGO funded support packages, some offer therapeutic interventions, and some are provided via external government agency services, such as NSW Health. Support services are highly rationed in NSW, and many families engaged in the child protection system do not have access to them.

Limited outcomes data and reporting means that DCJ cannot demonstrate how its actions and service interventions are reducing risks and harms to children, and promoting their safety, welfare, and wellbeing in line with the Care Act.

While child protection reports have significantly increased over the past ten years, around 40% do not meet the threshold for suspected abuse and neglect to warrant a response

The overall number of child protection reports received by the Helpline has increased significantly over the past ten years. Reports to the Helpline ensure that children at risk of significant harm come to the attention of DCJ, but around 40% of reports do not meet the threshold of abuse and neglect to warrant a child protection report and response from child protection caseworkers. DCJ has finite resources, and responding to reports that do not require intervention reduces the capacity of DCJ to effectively respond to children who are at risk of significant harm.

In 2022–2023, the Helpline received 404,611 concern reports, an increase of over 60% since 2012–2013 when there were 246,173 reports. Between 2012–2013 and 2017–2018, reports grew slowly, then increased rapidly for three following years up until 2021. While the number of Helpline reports fell in 2021–2022, this reduction was partly due to a drop in reports by teachers during COVID school closures, and was not maintained in 2022–2023.

DCJ attributes the rapid growth in child protection reports to increasing awareness amongst mandatory reporters about their statutory responsibilities to report, along with the introduction of the online reporting option. Mandatory reporters include medical practitioners, psychologists, teachers, social workers, and police officers. These personnel are legally required to report children that they suspect are at risk of significant harm. In one 3-month period from April to June 2021 there were over 40,000 reports from mandatory reporters that did not meet the threshold that activates a statutory child protection response from DCJ caseworkers. The assessment of these reports consumes significant resources, costing over $4 million during the three month period in 2021, which equates to over $15 million per annum.

In 2010, Child Wellbeing Units were established so that mandatory reporters from Education, Police and Health could be assisted in child protection reporting. The units were established in response to recommendations made by the Wood Special Commission of Inquiry into Child Protection Services. They aimed to reduce the number of reports to the Helpline and to support mandatory reporters to assist children and families to receive an appropriate response. DCJ managers advise that the units are underutilised, and mandatory reporters continue to submit reports to the Helpline. The Child Wellbeing Units have not successfully reduced the overall number of reports to the Helpline.

DCJ advised that it is evaluating the Child Wellbeing Units and is developing new guidance for mandatory reporters that aims to address the culture of over-reporting.

Exhibit 7 shows the ten years of Helpline reports from 2012–2013 to 2022–2023.

DCJ does not collate or analyse its service referral data, and as a result, is unable to commission relevant services for families engaged in the child protection system

DCJ lacks data to understand the supply and demand requirements for therapeutic services across the child protection system. DCJ does not collect or report aggregate data about service referrals for children and families, nor does DCJ report data about service uptake across its Districts. DCJ does not collect the necessary information to plan for commissioned therapeutic services, or to fill its service gaps. DCJ does not know whether its funded services are competing with, or complimentary to, services funded by other agencies.

DCJ is required to monitor its therapeutic service interventions in order to comply with the objectives and principles of the Care Act. The Care Act requires that ‘appropriate assistance is rendered to parents and other persons … in the performance of their child-rearing responsibilities in order to promote a safe and nurturing environment’, and that any intervention ‘must … promote the child’s or young person’s development.

DCJ does not collect reliable data on the success of service referrals after a child has been identified as being at risk of significant harm. DCJ does not collect information or report on the uptake and outcomes of its referrals where there is a low to intermediate risk of significant harm to the child or young person. In most cases, DCJ does not know whether children or families received a therapeutic service after a referral. The uptake of referrals is voluntary, and families may decide that they do not want to access therapeutic services. DCJ does not routinely record data about the numbers of families that decline services.

DCJ does not collect data on instances where a referral was needed but not made because there was no available service in the District or there were no available places in the service. It is well known within DCJ that therapeutic services are lacking in regional and remote NSW. These include poor access to paediatricians and adolescent psychiatrists, disability assessors, mental health services, alcohol and other drug rehabilitation services, and domestic violence services.

Over the past five years, there is no evidence that DCJ has conducted an assessment of the statewide therapeutic service needs of children and families in NSW, or matched its statewide service profile to these needs through the targeted commissioning of therapeutic services. There has been a lack of system stewardship to ensure there is equity of service access for children and families in all Districts.

In each District, Commissioning and Planning units undertake market analyses at the point when programs are due for recommissioning, generally every three to five years. This market analysis includes an assessment of the availability of local services. There is no consistency in how this work is done across the Districts. While the purpose of District-level, market analysis is to identify gaps and opportunities for services, we did not find evidence of services being newly commissioned where gaps were identified.

District-level Commissioning and Planning units conduct some assessment of the demographics of the local area, as well as information about socio-economic characteristics, and expected population growth. For example, one DCJ District identified that their population is expected to grow by 33% by 2031. This means that more contracts for family preservation places will be needed. Another District identified that they do not have culturally appropriate services. However, the contracts for this District are in place for at least three years, so the District cannot provide the required service profile for local families.

While DCJ is taking some steps to arrange an expanded service profile, the efforts are piecemeal. Different programs are managed and commissioned across different parts of DCJ. For example, one District has developed a localised partnership with the Ministry of Health, but DCJ has not developed a state-wide Memorandum of Understanding with NSW Health to give priority access to all children engaged in the statutory child protection system.

In 2015, the Independent Review of Out of Home Care in New South Wales recommended that DCJ ‘establish local cross-agency boards in each … district to provide local advice, and commission services in line with its priorities and defined outcomes.’ In response, DCJ developed a program known as Their Futures Matter. In 2020, the NSW Audit Office’s assessed this program and found that DCJ had not established any cross-agency boards with the power to commission services. At the time of this audit, in 2024, there is no evidence that DCJ has created cross-agency boards.

DCJ advises that, in future, it plans to issue extra contracts to increase the number of intensive therapeutic care services. DCJ is using data on the locations of children in emergency out of home care placements as part of its needs analysis. The process includes mapping the service system across the State. DCJ’s work to date, has identified a lack of intensive therapeutic care places in Western NSW. The lack of services in Western NSW impacts on the ability of DCJ to keep Aboriginal children on their traditional country, and connected to family and kin.

DCJ is using District-level data in its future-focused recommissioning for family preservation services. DCJ advises that, commencing in 2024, the agency will identify family support service requirements by matching data on instances of risk of significant harm to children by category of harm, and assess service availability at the District level. This audit has not received evidence that the work has begun.

DCJ lacks an integrated performance management system to collect, collate, and compare data about the effectiveness of NGO providers or the outcomes of child support programs

DCJ does not have an integrated performance management system to manage its many programs and contracts with NGO service providers. DCJ advises that at March 2024, it had 1,816 active contracts in its contract management system. DCJ has multiple reporting systems for its different program streams, with information on early intervention programs provided through a different information technology system than the system that is used for out of home care placements. Central program teams do not have good oversight of historical data or trends.

Until 2022, data related to DCJ’s Family Preservation Program was collected separately from each NGO provider, via quarterly spreadsheets. There was no consistency in the ways in which the data was collated or analysed. This means that DCJ does not know how many families entered the Brighter Futures program in each District, even though contracts were issued at a District level and over 7,000 families entered Brighter Futures program in 2018–2019, 2019–2020 and 2020–2021. DCJ does not have a statewide view of the location or effectiveness of this, or any of its other family preservation services.

Contracts with NGOs for out of home care contain service volume requirements, for example a minimum number of children in out of home care each year. Contracts also include performance measures and financial penalties for underperformance. Underperformance includes failure to notify DCJ about out of home care placement changes within contracted time periods. Due to problems with NGOs accessing the ChildStory system, DCJ does not collect reliable data on out of home care placements provided by NGOs and therefore DCJ is not able to issue financial penalties.

DCJ has also failed to deliver expected outcomes from the Human Services Dataset. The dataset was recommended by the 2015 Independent Review of Out of Home Care, and approved by the NSW Government in August 2016. The aim of the dataset was to bring together a range of service demand data in order to prioritise support for the most vulnerable children and families. It was intended to deliver whole-of-system reform that would lead to improved outcomes for children and families with the highest needs.

The dataset brings together 27 years of data, and over seven million records about children, young people, and families. The records contain de-identified information about all NSW residents born on or after 1 January 1990 (the Primary Cohort) and their relatives such as family members, guardians, and carers (the Secondary Cohort). The Independent Review of Out of Home Care recommended that the dataset include information about the service requirements of the most vulnerable families. This recommendation has not been implemented to date. The Human Services Dataset does not contain records about the service interventions made by NGOs, and has minimal child protection and out of home care placement data.

DCJ’s package-based funding system has not been successful in tailoring services to children in out of home care

When a child is transferred to an NGO for out of home care services, DCJ provides the NGO with relevant funding packages to support the child. NGOs receive different funding packages according to the care needs of the child. Some packages relate to the placement of the child, whether it be a foster care placement, or an intensive therapeutic care placement for children with complex needs. Other packages relate to the permanency goals for each child. These goals can include restoring the child to their parents, establishing the child in long-term foster care, or supporting the child through an adoption process. Each funding package is based on an average cost for the different service type.

While the funding packages are attached to individual children, in practice, NGOs can allocate this funding flexibly. NGOs can integrate the funds from the packages into their global budgets and use the funds for a range of activities. The package-based system that was intended to deliver tailored services to individual children in out of home care, is not being implemented in the ways it was intended.

NGOs do not receive funding for administrative or management costs. They are not funded for supporting Children’s Court work, or the recruitment of new foster carers. NGOs calculate how much they need for these different activities, and use the required funds from funding packages and other sources of income.

DCJ does not collect data from NGOs to determine the nature of the services that were delivered to the child against the funding for each package. In fact, NGOs are not required to report on the expenditure of package funds in relation to any outcomes that relate to the child’s health, wellbeing, cultural, or educational needs.

An external evaluation of the permanency support package system was completed in 2023. It found that children receiving permanency support packages did not achieve better outcomes than children in a control group who did not receive them. This indicates that the package-based system has not achieved its objective to shift the out of home care system from a bed per night payment model, to a child-centred funding model, aimed at supporting safety, wellbeing, and permanency in out of home care.

DCJ’s contract arrangements for NGO funding are overly complex and administratively burdensome

NGO recipients of package-based funding must liaise with separate DCJ contract managers for the different types of funding packages they receive. Within each DCJ District, a range of contract managers have oversight of the different package types – including the packages for out of home care placements, and for the family preservation program. In addition, many NGOs have contracts in more than one DCJ District. This means that NGOs must liaise with a number of different contract managers and operational teams across different units in multiple DCJ Districts. NGOs advise that the time spent navigating the DCJ system reduces the time they can spend actively supporting children and families.

NGOs report that DCJ District personnel can vary in their preferred communication styles and channels. Some District staff prefer email contact, others prefer phone calls, and some prefer service requests that are entered into ChildStory. NGOs must adapt to these different styles depending on the District.

DCJ Districts also vary in the processes that NGOs must follow to have a child’s needs reassessed. This is a routine process, but some Districts take three months to consider and approve a reassessment, while others complete the process more rapidly. If a child is reassessed as requiring a higher category of support, DCJ does not back-pay any increased allowances. This is regardless of the time during which the NGO has provided the child with increased services. In these Districts, NGOs must carry the financial burden for the time it takes for re-assessment approval processes.

The NSW Procurement Policy Framework includes an objective of ‘easy to do business’. This includes a requirement to pay suppliers within specific timeframes, and recommends that government agencies should limit contract length and complexity.

An external evaluation of the package-based system found that that the funding packages are complex and administratively burdensome, and that DCJ Districts have different models and approaches to implementing them. As a result, a child and family living in one District could receive very different care from a child in another District. In 2023, DCJ advised that it is considering the recommendations of the evaluation with the aim of operationalising relevant system reforms, while not increasing the administrative burden on NGOs.

Exhibit 16 shows the multiple stages that NGOs must navigate in DCJ’s complex, contract environment.

DCJ’s case management system lacks an effective business to business interface with NGO partners, and has not produced data on key deliverables

DCJ’s case management system promised a single entry point for NGOs to interact with DCJ. In 2017, DCJ commenced the rollout of ChildStory, its new case management system, at a cost of more than $130 million. While the ChildStory system has become an important repository for information about children in the child protection system, it has failed to deliver on some of its key intended functionalities. ChildStory does not provide an integrated business to business system interface with commissioned NGOs where they can record information about children and families in their care.

Most of the ChildStory system is locked off to NGOs, meaning that NGOs cannot use it as a case management system. NGO personnel must enter data into their own client information systems before manually replicating any required data into the ChildStory system. Until June 2022, NGO staff lost access to ChildStory if they did not log onto the system for a three month period, and staff had to reapply for access, increasing the administrative burden on some NGO personnel.

The lack of an integrated business to business interface between DCJ’s ChildStory and the NGO case management systems, has vastly increased levels of administrative handling for all parties, and frequently results in mismatched data between DCJ and NGOs. The process for NGOs to correct data errors in ChildStory requires contact with DCJ, and the process can be protracted. NGOs advise that they spend significant time on complex data reconciliation processes and that these processes have financial implications. In some instances, NGOs are asked to repay contract ‘underspends’ as a result of DCJ data errors.

The lack of system interface between DCJ and NGOs has been a lost opportunity to produce and report NGO trend data on a wide range of metrics. While some data is manually entered by NGOs into ChildStory Partner, and some systemwide data produced, it is only available for a limited number of key performance indicators. For example, it was intended that ChildStory would be used to collect and collate information about the status and wellbeing of children. According to DCJ, this has not been possible, as the system does not have the functionality to collate data from questionnaires or instruments that assess child wellbeing.

Given that many of the smaller NGO data systems have limited sophistication and functionality, the failure of ChildStory to become a case management system for all NGOs, means they are not able to produce trend data on a wider range of metrics. The inability to collate key data from all NGO service providers limits the statewide data that is available for service planning.

Until 2022−2023, DCJ did not contribute all required data to a national, publicly-reported dataset on child protection. The Australian Institute for Health and Wellbeing (AIHW) collates data from Australian states and territories every year. Child protection information is published on the AIHW website and provided to the Productivity Commission for the annual Report on Government Services. Since 2014−2015, AIHW requested that all states and territories provide anonymised child-level data for reporting and research purposes. DCJ did not provide this requested child-level data until 2022−2023. In previous years, DCJ provided the AIHW with aggregated data tables that lacked some of the required information.

ChildStory has not been effective for the contract management of NGOs and commissioned services. The system cannot be used to report and generate information about NGO contract activity, nor can it be used to make payments to NGOs.

Caseworkers advise that they spend significant time updating the case management system, limiting the time they have for child and family visits

DCJ has not quantified the amount of time that staff spend entering information and updating records. While DCJ completed a time and motion study on caseworker activity in 2021, the study did not include information on the time it takes for caseworkers to enter data for individual tasks. The DCJ caseworkers who were interviewed for this audit, advised that they spend a large proportion of their total working week entering data into the case management system, rather than visiting families or providing phone support to families.

DCJ’s ChildStory system does not display all of the summary information that caseworkers need in order to be efficient and effective in their role. For example, triage caseworkers need to know when a report was made to the Helpline, in order to meet the statutory period for response of 28 days after the report was received. This information is not shown in the triage transfer list and is only visible by clicking into case notes for each child, one at a time.

ChildStory does not contain accurate information about decisions made by frontline staff. Caseworkers are required to choose a reason when they close a child protection case. Reasons can include that the family was referred to an external service. There is no field for a caseworker to indicate that a case was closed because the child protection report related to a person who was external to the family. ChildStory does not have a case closure field to record that the parents were protective in instances when a child was at risk from someone outside the home. These cases are closed with the reason ‘No capacity to allocate’, resulting in inaccurate management reporting. This incorrect record keeping can be problematic for the family. It can mean that if the child is re-reported, there may be unnecessary interventions by DCJ in future.

DCJ advises that ChildStory is not being used to its full functionality and that District DCJ Offices have created arrangements that increase the administrative burden on staff. For example, in some Districts before a caseworker can submit an approval request in ChildStory to the relevant Director, the caseworker must attach an email with the same Director’s written approval. DCJ managers advise that ChildStory is not being used in ways that would allow for efficient approvals of ‘out of guidelines’ expenses. It is not known whether this is a training deficit, or related to another matter.

Up until recently, DCJ’s information management system did not have functionality to record and collate information about the service needs of children and families. DCJ advises that in 2022, a referral function was added to ChildStory. While DCJ advise that this functionality is being used for referrals to family preservation services, there is no evidence that caseworkers are using the function, or that referral data is collated and reported. Prior to July 2022, decisions to refer a child or family to therapeutic services were recorded in individual ChildStory case notes, and could not be extracted and reported as trend data.

Some Districts have developed local monitoring systems to track vacancies in local family preservation and targeted early intervention services. These local initiatives go some way to improving the planning for child protection services responses at the local level, but they are yet to be systematised.

DCJ advises that it is developing a service vacancy dashboard and it is due to be rolled out to all Districts in late 2023. In order for service information to be visible to DCJ staff, NGO partner agencies will need to regularly update their service vacancy information in the dashboard. Initially DCJ will collect data on which families were referred to services, and NGOs will be expected to enter information on attendance at program sessions at a later date.

DCJ has management reporting systems to track activity and outputs for child protection work, however some key metrics are missing

DCJ’s interactive internal dashboards effectively report against an agreed performance framework that measures caseworker activity. This provides DCJ managers with caseworker progress against targets such as seeing new children and families within specified timeframes. Managers can drill into the dashboard data to see individual cases and the caseworkers behind the numbers. This assists managers in allocating new cases to their frontline staff. While DCJ managers advise that they use the dashboards on a daily or weekly basis, they raised concerns that dashboards did not account for staff vacancies or new recruits who cannot carry a full caseload.

DCJ dashboards do not allow managers to focus on groups of children who are at greater risk of harm, or on children who require a tailored service. This limits the effectiveness of DCJ’s response. While Aboriginal children are identified on most internal dashboards, there are gaps in the identification of Aboriginal children, especially at the early Helpline assessments of child protection reports and at the initial caseworker assessment of child safety and risk. There is no indication in DCJ’s system to show whether a family has experienced intergenerational removal, despite these families needing a specific trauma-informed response. Children from Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD) backgrounds are not reported clearly on dashboards and refugee children are not flagged.

Children and parents with disability are not identified accurately in ChildStory and are not reported on dashboards. The Disability Royal Commission found that parents with disability are over-represented in all stages of the child protection system, and that they are more likely to have their children removed from their care. The Commission found that child protection agencies are less likely to try to place children back in the care of parents with disability.

DCJ data is stored in a Corporate Information Warehouse, which combines child protection data and data about children in out of home care. This information is sourced from ChildStory. The Corporate Information Warehouse also includes staffing data, and contract management data from the Contracting Online Management System. The Warehouse is updated every night to ensure that management reports and dashboards are current. However, some key datasets are not included in the Warehouse, such as the Helpline report backlog, which means that the DCJ Executive does not have easy visibility of Helpline workload or delays in responding to electronic reports.

DCJ’s external dashboards provide limited public transparency about child protection and out of home care activity. Until early 2024 the dashboards did not show the numbers of children in emergency out of home care. In addition, the main quarterly and annual dashboards do not show the average time that children have been in out of home care. 

External reporting is managed by DCJ’s Insights Analysis and Research directorate, known as FACSIAR. In addition to quarterly and annual dashboards reporting key statistics, FACSIAR hosts monthly seminars presenting research findings aimed at improving caseworker practice. The seminars are well attended by DCJ and NGO caseworkers. FACSIAR also maintains a public evidence hub summarising research papers and evaluations.

While regular quantitative data is necessary for day-to-day management purposes, it is not sufficient to understand the experience and outcomes of children in out of home care. In order to deliver additional insights, DCJ has invested in a long-term study of children in out of home care through the Pathways of Care Longitudinal Study. This study follows children who entered care in NSW for the first time between May 2010 and October 2011 and includes data from external sources such as Medicare data, health and education records, and youth offending data. DCJ has used this data for research studies on topics such as outcomes for children with disability in out of home care, and to assist caseworkers in working with children and families through Evidence to Action notes.

DCJ’s system for requesting out of home care placements is ineffective, resulting in multiple unsuccessful requests to NGOs to place children

DCJ does not have a centralised system where its NGO service providers can indicate that they are able to take on new children requiring out of home care. There are almost 50 providers of out of home care services across the State, but no consolidated database showing that there are foster carers who are able to take on new children by location.

DCJ uses a system (known as the broadcast system) to notify NGOs that it needs a foster care placement or another placement type for a child. The number of placement broadcasts has increased from around 450 per month in 2018–2019, to over 1200 per month in 2022–2023, even though the number of children in out of home care has not risen during this timeframe.

Exhibit 17 shows the monthly numbers of children that were ‘broadcast’ to NGOs as requiring out of home care placements from July 2018 to June 2023.

Appendix one – Response from entities

Appendix two – DCJ Organisational Structure for Child Protection

Appendix three – Child protection flowchart from Family is culture review report 2019

Appendix four – About the audit

Appendix five – Performance auditing

 

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

 

Parliamentary reference - Report number #394 - released 6 June 2024

Published

Actions for Safeguarding the rights of Aboriginal children in the child protection system

Safeguarding the rights of Aboriginal children in the child protection system

Community Services
Compliance
Internal controls and governance
Management and administration
Project management
Regulation
Risk
Service delivery
Shared services and collaboration

About this report

The Department of Communities and Justice (DCJ) is responsible for safeguarding the rights of Aboriginal children, families, and communities when they encounter the child protection system. These rights are known as the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Principles (the Principles), which are set out in legislation.

DCJ provides early intervention, prevention and out of home care services and also subcontracts non-government organisations to provide these services.

This audit assessed whether DCJ, and five funded non-government organisations that provide out of home care services, are effectively safeguarding the rights of Aboriginal children in the child protection system.

Findings

DCJ cannot demonstrate its compliance with the Principles. DCJ has not embedded the Principles in its governance, accountability arrangements, policy and day-to-day casework practice.

Insufficient governance and accountability arrangements have contributed to DCJ's failure to deliver on Aboriginal strategies and reforms in the last five years.

DCJ has not developed holistic family preservation models based on Aboriginal ways of healing.

DCJ is aware that its structured decision-making tools, used to make significant casework decisions, adversely affect Aboriginal children and their families. However, DCJ continues to use the tools.

DCJ has no quality assurance mechanisms over its child protection system and casework practice.

As system steward, DCJ has not provided non-government organisations with means to satisfy the Principles.

Recommendations

The audit recommends that DCJ:

  • establish governance and accountability arrangements that provide oversight of the safeguards and outcomes for Aboriginal children and families
  • develop and implement a quality assurance framework to ensure compliance with safeguards for Aboriginal children at all points in the child protection system
  • fulfil its commitment to develop and implement a healing framework for child protection services
  • commission family preservation services consistent with the principles of self-determination and participation set out in the Principles.

In this report, the term Aboriginal people is used to describe Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. The Audit Office of NSW acknowledges the diversity of traditional Nations and Aboriginal language groups across the state of New South Wales.

The Department of Communities and Justice (DCJ) is responsible for the administration of the child protection system in NSW.

Aboriginal children and their families' rights in the child protection system are contained in the Children and Young Persons (Care and Protection) Act 1998 and the United Nations Conventions on the Rights of the Child and the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. These rights are also binding on DCJ funded non-government organisations (NGOs) through the administration of service contracts.

In 2022–23, DCJ spent $3.1 billion on child protection and out of home care services. This includes $1.9 billion on out of home care services, $800 million on child protection services and $405 million on early and intensive family preservation services.

DCJ subcontracts various early intervention, prevention programs and out of home care services to NGOs. However, DCJ is responsible, as system steward, for the effectiveness of the entire child protection system.

This audit assessed whether DCJ and five of its funded NGOs are effectively safeguarding the rights of Aboriginal children in the child protection system. The audit period was June 2018 to June 2023 (five years). In this report, children and young people under 18 are described together as children.

We addressed the audit objective by answering three questions:

  1. Does DCJ and its funded non-government organisations have established governance and accountability arrangements to understand and track performance in safeguarding the rights of Aboriginal children in the child protection system?
  2. Does DCJ and its funded non-government organisations have effective policies, practices, systems, and resources to support and enable staff to safeguard the rights of Aboriginal children in the child protection system?
  3. Does DCJ and its funded non-government organisations have effective monitoring and quality assurance systems to ensure that the outcomes for Aboriginal children in the child protection system are consistent with their legislative rights and their human rights?

This audit was conducted concurrently with the Oversight of the child protection system performance audit.

The child protection system aims to protect children and young people from the risks of abuse, neglect and harm. This report refers to several parts of the child protection system including:

  • Helpline: DCJ receives and triages reports about children suspected to be at risk of significant harm
  • Investigation of reports (mostly performed at community service centres): DCJ determines if reports meet the suspected risk of significant harm threshold and the subsequent assessment and investigation of suspected risk of significant harm reports
  • Case work: where risk of significant harm has been substantiated, DCJ provides and procures services to prevent a child’s entry into the child protection system
  • Entry into care decisions: DCJ determines when a child enters out of home care
  • Out of home care services: where a child cannot safely remain at home, DCJ or a contract service provider, place the child in foster care, kinship care, temporary care arrangements or residential care.

DCJ is not monitoring or reporting on safeguards for the rights of Aboriginal children 

Decisions and actions that affect families and children in contact with the child protection system are often made within the context of complex circumstances. They are also deeply impactful on children and their families and can have lifelong implications in areas such as mental health and wellbeing, social inclusion and the likelihood for descendants to also be in contact with the child protection system. Legislative safeguards exist to ensure that the rights of children are paramount.

DCJ governance arrangements are not informed by, and do not reflect, legislative safeguards for the rights of Aboriginal children. Such safeguards include the Convention on the Rights of the Child or the Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Principles (the Principles) contained in sections 11 to 13 of the Children and Young Persons (Care and Protection) Act 1998.

DCJ has not established mechanisms to:

  • address the reasons, including those arising from its own process deficiencies, that Aboriginal children are disproportionately reported at suspected Risk of Significant Harm, seen by caseworkers and enter statutory out of home care
  • assess and hold its funded non-government organisations (NGO) accountable for the quality and outcomes of family preservation services that aim to prevent Aboriginal children entering out of home care
  • hold departmental districts and NGOs accountable for outcomes for Aboriginal children in out of home care.

Department districts are instead held accountable against nine key performance indicators at Quarterly Business Review Meetings. The performance indicators reflect activity in the child protection and out of home care system. None are disaggregated by Aboriginality, and no indicators require districts to demonstrate casework outcomes for Aboriginal children and families.

DCJ has not developed effective accountability mechanisms for its staff to safeguard the rights of Aboriginal children in the child protection system

DCJ does not have formal accountability mechanisms for any of its staff to safeguard the rights of Aboriginal children. Because of this, DCJ does not have a framework to address staff non-compliance with safeguards for Aboriginal children and their families.

DCJ does not collect data to demonstrate adherence to the Principles or consistently collect feedback from the Aboriginal community to understand its performance. Without Aboriginal outcomes focused data and feedback from Aboriginal stakeholders, DCJ cannot understand its performance or hold its staff accountable for complying with the Principles.

DCJ advises that it plans to introduce a new performance framework that will require senior executives to demonstrate their performance with respect to Aboriginal children in the child protection system. DCJ has not nominated when the framework will come into effect.

DCJ has made negligible progress in implementing key recommendations, strategies and reforms designed to improve outcomes for Aboriginal children and their families

DCJ has not delivered on any Aboriginal specific child protection reform strategy and made negligible progress in implementing key recommendations from the Family is Culture report.

Exhibit 5 identifies major Aboriginal specific reforms to address longstanding issues that impact Aboriginal children and their families. These reviews attempted to reorient the system toward preventing children from entering care and focused on improving outcomes for Aboriginal children in contact with the child protection and out of home care system.

Exhibit 5: Major Aboriginal specific reforms

The Aboriginal Outcomes Strategy 2017–2021, Target 2: reduce the long-term and continued over-representation of Aboriginal children in out of home care

In February 2023, the NSW Ombudsman reported ‘DCJ effectively abandoned the [Aboriginal Outcomes Strategy] at some point, without either reporting on what it had or had not achieved and without announcing it had been abandoned’. DCJ in reply to the NSW Ombudsman’s report noted that a machinery of government change in 2019 had impeded continuity of the Aboriginal Outcomes Strategy and that without clear governance, projects to address the over-representation of Aboriginal children in out of home care ‘continued but were disconnected from each other’.

Family is Culture report 2019: recommendation implementation

The Family is Culture report is the first Aboriginal led review on the experiences of Aboriginal children, young people and their families in the child protection system. The report made 126 systemic recommendations to the NSW Government in addition to over 3,000 recommendations based on individual case studies developed to inform the report.

DCJ released progress updates on the implementation of the recommendations in November 2020, May and November 2021 and February 2024.

In four years, only 12 of the 105 systemic recommendations accepted by the NSW Government and for which DCJ is responsible have been implemented. DCJ reports that it has implemented all individual recommendations about the cohort of Aboriginal children identified during the Family is Culture report.

Implementing the Aboriginal Case Management Policy

In 2018, DCJ commissioned AbSec to design the Aboriginal Case Management Policy, to translate the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Principles into practice. Published in 2019, the Aboriginal Case Management Policy is yet to be implemented anywhere in the state.

Transition of case management of Aboriginal children to Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations

In 2012, the NSW Government committed to transferring case management of all Aboriginal children and young people in out of home care to Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations (ACCOs) within ten years. DCJ did not achieve this.

However, in September 2022 DCJ inserted an obligation into the Service Level Agreements of NGOs to the transition of Aboriginal children in out of home care to ACCOs. Currently, ACCOs manage approximately 20% of Aboriginal children in out of home care.

In the 2022–23 financial year, DCJ recorded 25 transfers of case management responsibility for Aboriginal children and young people from non-ACCOs to ACCOs across the entire sector. At 30 June 2023, there were 6,563 Aboriginal children in out of home care. Around half of these children were case managed by DCJ. To achieve the renewed commitment, DCJ will need to oversee the transfer of almost 500 Aboriginal children each year. In July 2023, DCJ estimated that at the current pace it will take 57 years to transition the case management of Aboriginal children to ACCOs.

DCJ’s organisational structure and governance arrangements are not enabling the system reform needed to meet the NSW Government’s commitment to Closing the Gap Target 12

The NSW Government is a signatory to the National Agreement on Closing the Gap 2021-2031. The objective of the Agreement ‘is to overcome the entrenched inequality faced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people so that their life outcomes are equal to all Australians’. The agreement commits the NSW Government to ‘mobilise all avenues and opportunities available, to meet the objectives’.

DCJ established a temporary Deputy Secretary Transforming Aboriginal Outcomes (TAO) role and associated unit in November 2021 to lead its Closing the Gap targets, which includes Target 12 (to reduce the proportion of Aboriginal children in out of home care by 45% by 2031). The TAO unit does not have decision-making powers over policy, commissioning of DCJ funded services or operational decisions. Instead DCJ has nominated a series of 18 disparate projects to achieve Target 12, which are monitored by TAO.

DCJ districts make significant child protection decisions that would likely contribute to achieving Target 12, including whether Aboriginal children enter out of home care and whether Aboriginal children currently in out of home care are restored to their families. However, there are no targets, measures or data to hold districts accountable to demonstrate progress in these key areas which would likely contribute to achieving Target 12.

Although senior executives meet regularly, the meetings are not used to drive the structural reform needed to achieve Target 12. DCJ is not on track to achieve Target 12.

Aboriginal children are over-represented in the child protection system. Approximately 6,500 Aboriginal children were in out of home care as at 30 June 2023, making up 45% of the out of home care population. By comparison, around seven per cent of children in NSW are Aboriginal. Aboriginal children are three times more likely than non-Aboriginal children to be reported at risk of significant harm and four times more likely to be allocated to a community service centre for a caseworker to undertake a face-to-face safety assessment. One in eight Aboriginal children seen by caseworkers enters out of home care.

DCJ does not have a quality assurance framework in child protection to safeguard the rights of Aboriginal children

DCJ has no quality assurance framework over systems and processes prior to the removal of a child into out of home care. Without such a framework, DCJ cannot be assured of its compliance with legislative safeguards afforded to Aboriginal children.

In late 2022, DCJ engaged a consultant to examine Aboriginal quality assurance for the child protection system. In July 2023, the consultant report highlighted deficient quality assurance systems and concerns with cultural capacity of staff to support Aboriginal families and children. DCJ has not indicated how or when it plans to address this deficiency.

DCJ does not have assurance that out of home care services are safeguarding the rights of every Aboriginal child in out of home care

The Office of the Children’s Guardian accredits out of home care providers, including DCJ and its funded NGOs, to a minimum standard set out in the Child Safe Standards for Permanent Care. As a result, DCJ and NGOs can demonstrate a range of internal quality controls and processes for children in out of home care to support the Office of the Children’s Guardian accreditation process.

However, the Office of the Children’s Guardian cannot provide qualitative assurance that DCJ and the NGOs have adhered to safeguards for each of the approximately 6,500 Aboriginal children in statutory out of home care at any given time. For example, the Office of the Children’s Guardian looks at whether a cultural plan exists for an Aboriginal child, but generally does not provide feedback for agencies to improve cultural plans.

DCJ, as the system steward, has a duty of care to ensure that it, and all NGOs it contracts with, have quality assurance processes to demonstrate compliance with safeguards for every Aboriginal child that is placed in out of home care. DCJ needs to do more than the minimum requirements of Office of the Children’s Guardian accreditation to gain assurance, commensurate with the risk of poor compliance and practice set out in this report, that it is adequately safeguarding the rights of every Aboriginal child in out of home care.

DCJ contracts NGOs to provide out of home care services through Service Level Agreements, aligned with the Principles in the Children and Young Persons (Care and Protection) Act 1998. This audit assessed whether NGOs are effectively safeguarding the rights of Aboriginal children in out of home care.

Five NGOs were selected as auditees for this performance audit. Selection of the providers was based on criteria which included:

  • a mix of faith- and non-faith-based entities
  • Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal entities
  • number of children in care
  • funding
  • location
  • service model.

Collectively, the NGOs selected for this audit were contracted to provide 2,600 foster care places in the 2021–22 financial year. This equated to one third of the total number of contracted foster care places in NSW in 2021–22. The two Aboriginal Community Controlled NGOs selected case managed about 20% of Aboriginal children in out of home care who were contracted out to NGOs.

Appendix one – Response from entities

Appendix two – The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Principles (extract from the Children and Young Persons (Care and Protection) Act 1998

Appendix three – Data tables

Appendix four – About the audit

Appendix five – Performance auditing

 

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

Parliamentary reference - Report number #395 - released 6 June 2024.

Published

Actions for Flood housing response

Flood housing response

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

What this report is about

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

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

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

Findings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Audit recommendations

The NSW Reconstruction Authority should:

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

All audited agencies should:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The SRC provided oversight of the work of subcommittees

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Appendix one – Responses from entities

Appendix two – About the audit

Appendix three – Performance auditing

 

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

Published

Actions for Regional road safety

Regional road safety

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

What this report is about

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

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

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

What we found

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

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

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

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

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

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

What we recommended

We recommended TfNSW:

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

Disclosure of confidential information

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

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

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

The confidential information has been redacted from this report.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In making this assessment, the audit examined whether TfNSW:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Appendix one – Response from Transport for NSW

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

Appendix three – About the audit

Appendix four – Performance auditing

 

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

 

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

Published

Actions for Stronger Communities 2023

Stronger Communities 2023

Community Services
Whole of Government
Asset valuation
Compliance
Cyber security
Financial reporting
Information technology
Internal controls and governance
Management and administration
Procurement
Project management
Shared services and collaboration

What this report is about

Results of the Stronger Communities financial statement audits for the year ended 30 June 2023.

What we found

Unqualified audit opinions were issued on all completed Stronger Communities portfolio agencies.

Machinery of government changes during the year returned the sports-related agencies to the Stronger Communities portfolio.

Resilience NSW was abolished on 16 December 2022 with most of its functions transferred to the newly created NSW Reconstruction Authority.

The Trustee for the First Australian Mortgage Acceptance Corporation (FANMAC) is a prescribed entity under the Government Sector Finance Regulation 2018. The Trustee should have presented the FANMAC's financial statements for audit after it became a GSF agency on 1 July 2020.

The number of monetary misstatements identified in our audits decreased from 42 in 2021–22 to 29 in 2022–23.

What the key issues were

In 2022–23, agencies in the portfolio recorded net revaluation uplifts to land and buildings totalling $643 million.

Out of home care and permanency support grant expenditure has increased by 27% since 2019–20. An upcoming performance audit report will focus on the timeliness and quality of the child protection services provided by the department and its non-government service providers.

A high-risk matter was raised for the department over segregation of duties deficiencies in the Justice Link system.

Four high-risk matters reported in 2021–22 have been resolved.

Thirty-three agencies were onboarded into a new government-wide enterprise resource planning system. Additional agencies will be onboarded in three tranches from April 2024 through to October 2024.

What we recommended

Portfolio agencies should:

  • ensure any changes to employee entitlements are assessed for their financial statement impact under the relevant Australian Accounting Standards
  • prioritise and address internal control deficiencies identified in our management letters.

This report provides Parliament and other users of the Stronger Communities portfolio of agencies’ 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 portfolio of agencies (the portfolio) for 2023.

Section highlights

  • Unqualified audit opinions were issued on all completed 30 June 2023 financial statements audits of portfolio agencies, including the audit of the Crown Solicitor's Office's Trust Account for compliance with clause 14 of the Legal Profession Uniform Law Application Regulation 2015.
  • The financial statement audits of the NSW Trustee and Guardian Common Funds (the common funds) – year ended 30 June 2022 were certified by management on 6 December 2022 and independent auditor's reports issued 21 December 2022. The 30 June 2023 financial statements audits of the common funds are ongoing.
  • A variation to an agreement between the Commonwealth Attorney-General and the Legal Aid Commission of New South Wales for legal services to support the Royal Commission into Violence, Neglect and Exploitation of people with disability program extended the reporting period from 30 June 2023 to 29 September 2023 – the conclusion of the Royal Commission. The audit of the financial report acquitting expenditure under the agreement is expected to be completed before 28 February 2024.
  • The audit of the Home Purchase Assistance Fund's (the fund) 30 June 2022 financial statements remains incomplete. Those charged with governance of the fund have not provided sufficient and appropriate evidence to support the carrying value of material investments reported in the fund's financial statements. The financial audit of the fund's 2023 financial statements remain incomplete as a result.
  • The Trustee for the First Australian Mortgage Acceptance Corporation Master and Pooled Super Trusts had not prepared general purpose financial statements since 30 June 2021 when the financial reporting provisions of the Government Finance Sector Act 2018 were enacted and the Trustee was prescribed as a GSF agency under the regulations. The audits of these financial statements are ongoing.
  • Reported corrected misstatements decreased from 28 in 2021–22 to six with a gross value of $8.8 million in 2022–23 ($277 million in 2021–22).
  • Portfolio agencies met the statutory deadline for submitting their 2022–23 early close financial statements and other mandatory procedures.
  • In 2022–23, portfolio agencies collectively recorded net revaluation uplifts to the carrying values of land and buildings totalling $643 million (2021–22: $993 million) initiated through a combination of comprehensive and desktop valuations.
  • The Department of Communities and Justice (the department) had previously deferred performing a comprehensive revaluation of its land and building portfolio relating to the Corrective Services and Youth Justice functions. The deferral was due to the challenges in providing valuers sufficient access to the facilities due to the pandemic. The department is scheduled to perform a comprehensive revaluation of its full land and building portfolio in 2023–24. 

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 portfolio.

Section highlights

  • The number of findings reported to management has decreased from 142 in 2021–22, to 71 in 2022–23, and 35% were repeat issues (36% in 2021–22). Repeat issues related to non-compliance with key legislation and/or agency policies, information technology and internal control deficiencies.
  • A long-standing issue about segregation of duties over the JusticeLink system managed by the department has been elevated from moderate to high risk.
  • Four out of six high-risk issues reported in the prior year have been addressed.
  • Of the 15 newly identified moderate risk issues, 11 related to information technology and internal control deficiencies. 

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 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.

Planned

Actions for Achieving outcomes across the prison system

Achieving outcomes across the prison system

Justice
Community Services

The NSW corrective system comprises both public and private prison operators, with approximately three quarters of the inmate population in publicly operated prisons, and the remaining quarter in privately managed prisons. In 2018, Corrective Services NSW (CSNSW) commenced a project to use consistent measures to monitor and benchmark service delivery outcomes across the NSW prison system.

This audit may examine whether the benchmarking project is achieving its objectives to enhance performance and service delivery outcomes in the prisons operated by CSNSW and three privately managed prisons in NSW (Clarence Correction Centre, Junee Correctional Centre, and Parklea Correctional Centre). The audit could use 'follow the dollar' powers to directly engage with and request information from the private prison operators.

Published

Actions for Natural disasters

Natural disasters

Community Services
Environment
Finance
Local Government
Planning
Transport
Treasury
Whole of Government
Asset valuation
Compliance
Financial reporting
Infrastructure
Regulation
Risk
Service delivery

What this report is about

This report draws together the financial impact of natural disasters on agencies integral to the response and impact of natural disasters during 2021–22.

What we found

Over the 2021–22 financial year $1.4 billion from a budget of $1.9 billion was spent by the NSW Government in response to natural disasters.

Total expenses were less than the budget due to underspend in the following areas:

  • clean-up assistance, including council grants
  • anticipated temporary accommodation support
  • payments relating to the Northern Rivers Business Support scheme for small businesses.

Natural disaster events damaged council assets such as roads, bridges, waste collection centres and other facilities used to provide essential services. Additional staff, contractors and experts were engaged to restore and repair damaged assets and minimise disruption to service delivery.

At 30 June 2022, the estimated damage to council infrastructure assets totalled $349 million.

Over the first half of the 2022–23 financial year, councils experienced further damage to infrastructure assets due to natural disasters. NSW Government spending on natural disasters continued with a further $1.1 billion spent over this period.

Thirty-six councils did not identify climate change or natural disaster as a strategic risk despite 22 of these having at least one natural disaster during 2021–22.

Section highlights

  • $1.4 billion from a budget of $1.9 billion was spent by the NSW Government in response to natural disasters during 2021–22.
  • Budget underspent for temporary housing and small business support as lower than expected need.

Section highlights

  • 83 local council areas were impacted by natural disasters during 2021–22, with 58 being impacted by more than one type of natural disaster.
  • $349 million damage to council infrastructure assets at 30 June 2022.

 

Published

Actions for Managing the affairs of people under financial management and/or guardianship orders

Managing the affairs of people under financial management and/or guardianship orders

Justice
Community Services
Management and administration
Project management
Regulation
Risk
Service delivery
Workforce and capability

Click here for the Easy English version of the report highlights

The Easy English version of the report highlights is intended to meet the needs of some people with lower literacy skills, some people with an intellectual disability, and some people from different cultural backgrounds.

The Easy English document is not the final audit report that has been prepared and tabled in NSW Parliament under s.38EB and s.38EC of the Government Sector Audit Act 1983. It should not be relied on or quoted from as the final audit report.


What this report is about

This audit assessed whether NSW Trustee and Guardian is effectively delivering public guardianship and financial management services in line with legislative requirements and standards.

What we found

NSW Trustee and Guardian is delivering guardianship and financial management services in line with its broad legal authority.

However, NSW Trustee and Guardian does not have sufficient oversight to ensure that its services are consistent with legislative principles which aim to promote positive client outcomes.

The agency's governance and practices could be better supported by relevant training and guidance to account for the diversity of its clients.

It does not track the actual costs of service delivery, the quality of services or client experiences and key findings from previous reviews remain unresolved.

Government funding for public guardianship services and direct financial management services for low-wealth clients has not kept pace with the growth in clients.

There is a risk that some fee-paying clients are unknowingly subsidising others.

NSW Trustee and Guardian has applied additional funding to increase frontline staff, but gaps in monitoring and IT system constraints create a risk that it will not address service quality issues, nor be able to demonstrate the impact of this new funding.

What we recommended

We recommended that NSW Trustee and Guardian:

  • Broaden governance arrangements to enable input to key decisions from people with lived experience, relevant peak bodies and representatives of diverse communities.
  • Implement mechanisms to seek feedback on the effectiveness and quality of services from clients under orders.
  • Assess staff competency and implement regular training in effectively serving clients with disability, dementia, mental illness, cognitive impairments and other factors relevant to decision-making incapacity.
  • Implement a risk-based quality framework to assess whether public guardian and financial management decisions are in line with policy and the legislative principles.
  • Improve data collection and monitoring to track performance, the costs to serve, and client outcomes and report on these publicly.

NSW Trustee and Guardian is a NSW Government agency in the Stronger Communities cluster. It supports the NSW Trustee and the Public Guardian in the exercise of their statutory functions. It is accountable to the relevant Minister, the Attorney General.

The legislative responsibilities for the Public Guardian and the NSW Trustee are provided in separate statutes (NSW Trustee and Guardian Act 2009 and Guardianship Act 1987). Together, these establish a number of functions and services that NSW Trustee and Guardian as an agency is expected to deliver, including:

  • acting as executor and administrator of deceased estates
  • acting as a trustee responsible for managing trust property on behalf of another person or organisation in line with the trust terms
  • drafting Will, Power of Attorney and Enduring Guardianship instruments, and educating the community about the importance of having these documents in place
  • making decisions on behalf of people under guardianship or financial management orders as a guardian or a financial manager 'of last resort', or overseeing and assisting private financial managers.

This audit focuses on the last of these - NSW Trustee and Guardian's financial management and guardianship services.

The NSW Trustee and the Public Guardian are appointed to provide direct financial management and/or guardianship services (respectively) to over 13,300 people (as at 30 June 2022) who are deemed by a court or tribunal unable to manage their own affairs. This involves making decisions for people under a relevant court or tribunal order, within the terms of the order. The court or tribunal order enables the appointed guardian or financial manager to make decisions on behalf of the person for whom the order is made. The legislation allows the financial manager or guardian to exercise all the functions of the person under management has or would have were they not incapable of managing for themselves. From a legal perspective, these 'substitute decisions' have the same effect as if the person had made the decision themselves. While the legal presumption is that a person has capacity to care for themselves and manage their own affairs, a financial manager or guardian can be appointed without the person's consent if the court or tribunal finds the person does not have relevant decision-making capacity.

There can be a range of factors that impact on a person's decision-making capacity, including cognitive impairment, intellectual disability, dementia, mental illness and addiction. Guardianship (of both the person and their estate) developed as a response, through European and English law over hundreds of years. In Australia, it was a function of the Supreme Court of NSW before the establishment of government agencies. What is now known as substitute decision-making can sometimes be referred to as a 'protective' function because:

  • it relates to decisions or actions that need to be taken, which the person under an order cannot take because they are incapable of managing their own affairs
  • due to this lack of competence, the person may be disadvantaged in the conduct of their affairs (for example, their money or property may be dissipated or lost, they may enter agreements unwisely or they may be at risk of abuse or exploitation)
  • substitute decisions must be made in the best interests of the person on whose behalf they are made.

An alternative model is 'supported decision-making'. This refers to processes and approaches that assist people with impaired decision-making capacity to exercise their autonomy and legal capacity by supporting them to make decisions. This approach seeks to give effect to the will and preferences of the person requiring decision-making support wherever possible, including decisions involving risk. There has been a longstanding legal and community push for Australian guardianship and administration systems to move from substituted to supported decision-making. However, the legislation in New South Wales provides for 'best interests' substitute decision-making and this is the framework against which we have audited NSW Trustee and Guardian.

The Public Guardian and the NSW Trustee may be appointed as substitute decision makers by the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal (NCAT) and the Supreme Court. The NSW Trustee may also be appointed by the Mental Health Review Tribunal for financial management orders only.1 They are intended to be appointed as a 'last resort' when there is no one willing or suitable to fill the role, or there is significant family conflict regarding decision-making for the person. The Public Guardian and the NSW Trustee cannot refuse to accept a court or tribunal appointment to administer an order for guardianship or financial management.

Public Guardian decisions cover healthcare, lifestyle, accommodation and/or medical decisions such as where a person should live (for example: at home, in an aged care facility or disability group home), what disability or other support services they receive, who can have access to them (for example: through establishing visiting schedules between conflicting family members) and consent to the use of restrictive practices on the advice of independent experts (for example: seclusion, chemical restraint such as anti-psychotic medication, environmental restraints such as limiting access to knives).

Under a financial management order where the NSW Trustee is appointed as financial manager, the NSW Trustee carries out such functions as securing and collecting assets, income and entitlements, paying expenses, debts and designing budgets, investing financial assets, lodging tax returns and paying maintenance for dependents, taking or defending legal proceedings and managing other financial and legal affairs for the person. This is referred to as direct financial management.

A court or tribunal may appoint a private financial manager, such as a family member, friend, private trustee company or other commercial provider. Where a private manager is appointed, the NSW Trustee provides authorisation and directions to the private manager and oversees their performance. As at 30 June 2022, over 6,200 people had private managers.

As an agency, the majority of NSW Trustee and Guardian's overall revenue is from fees (including for services outside the scope of the audit, such as will preparation) and investments. The remainder is from the NSW Government as funding for non-commercial services including guardianship services and subsidised financial management services for low-wealth clients. Public guardian clients do not pay fees. Financial management clients pay fees, but these are subsidised where the client does not have capacity to pay full fees. NSW Trustee and Guardian is considered a self-funded agency by NSW Treasury definitions.

Demand for financial management and guardianship services, and the complexity of clients' circumstances for these services, has grown over the last decade. In November 2020, NSW Trustee and Guardian advised the Attorney General that it had run an operating deficit in 2019–20 driven by an increase in non/low fee paying customers and an increase in the complexity of matters. NSW Trustee and Guardian advised the Attorney General that government funding was no longer meeting the full cost of guardianship services, and of direct financial management services for people with low balances. NSW Trustee and Guardian's analysis had identified a shortfall in government funding of $8.4 million in 2019–20 that was expected to increase over the forward estimates. A working group was established with officers from NSW Trustee and Guardian, NSW Treasury and the Department of Communities and Justice to advise the government on options for improving the financial sustainability of NSW Trustee and Guardian overall.

NSW Trustee and Guardian subsequently received a funding boost of $41.5 million across four years in the 2021–22 State Budget. NSW Trustee and Guardian applied the majority of the budget enhancement to recruit approximately 120 new roles mostly in financial management and guardianship services.

The objective of this audit was to assess whether NSW Trustee and Guardian is effectively delivering guardianship and financial management services in line with legislative requirements and relevant non-legislative standards. These include a legislative duty to observe certain principles when exercising the relevant legislative functions, including to: give primary consideration to clients’ welfare and interests, restrict their freedom of decision and action as little as possible, take account of their views, and encourage their self-reliance.

The audit was guided by three questions:

  • Does NSW Trustee and Guardian align its service delivery with its legislative functions and principles, and relevant standards?
  • Does NSW Trustee and Guardian drive and monitor performance to give effect to its legislative functions and principles, and relevant standards?
  • Has NSW Trustee and Guardian effectively planned the use of additional funding to improve service delivery and adherence to its legislative functions and principles, and relevant standards?

The audit review period was the five years between 1 July 2017 - 30 June 2022.

Throughout this report:

  • 'client' refers to a person who is under a guardianship order and/or whose estate is under financial management, for whom the Public Guardian and/or the NSW Trustee is appointed to act or responsible to oversee their private financial manager
  • 'financial management' refers to clients under financial management orders (direct and private financial management) and/or the services provided by NSW Trustee and Guardian to these clients or their private managers
  • 'guardianship' refers to clients under guardianship orders where the Public Guardian is appointed, and/or the services provided by the Public Guardian to these clients
  • 'frontline staff' refers to the staff responsible for engagement with, and decision-making for, clients and private managers (titled client service officers, senior client service officers and principal client service officers in NSW Trustee and Guardian)
  • Aboriginal refers to the First Nations peoples of the land and waters now called Australia and includes Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

Conclusion

NSW Trustee and Guardian is delivering guardianship and financial management services in line with its legal authority. However, it does not have sufficient oversight to ensure that its services are consistent with legislative principles which aim to promote positive client outcomes

NSW Trustee and Guardian's guardianship and direct financial management services rightly emphasise the legal requirement to give paramount consideration to the welfare and interests of its clients when making decisions for them. However, NSW Trustee and Guardian does not consistently obtain and record relevant client information to determine which of the other legislative principles should be applied to individual decisions. It also does not test that staff decision-making aligns with the legislative principles in practice.

Staff caseloads for financial management and guardianship services have limited the amount of time that staff can spend in building a relationship with each client or working on each client matter. This constrains the extent to which they can get to know a client and understand their circumstances - both of which are central to applying the legislative principles. Poor client information sharing in legacy IT systems, insufficient quality monitoring, and limited staff training and staff supports exacerbate this further.

NSW Trustee and Guardian governance and practices for financial management and guardianship do not reflect the nature and diversity of its client base

Despite direct financial management and public guardian clients having, by definition, impaired decision-making capacity often related to traumatic brain injury, dementia, intellectual disability and mental illness, an understanding of the sometimes-complex conditions that affect its clients has only been expected of all frontline staff since late 2021, and relevant training has been insufficient.

NSW Trustee and Guardian also does not have a consumer advisory entity to provide it with advice on financial management and guardianship services from the perspective of clients with lived experience.

Despite a significant over-representation amongst its client group, NSW Trustee and Guardian does not have specific governance, consultation, staff roles or practice guidance for its engagement with Aboriginal clients and their representatives.

NSW Trustee and Guardian does not know how well it delivers financial management and guardianship services

NSW Trustee and Guardian does not routinely track its performance with respect to service quality or how well it gives effect to the legislative functions, principles and standards for direct financial management and guardianship services. It has not been effectively monitoring whether these services are improving over time. Nor does it measure its performance with respect to the experiences and outcomes of clients of these services.

Key findings and recommendations from previous reviews remain unresolved. This includes a repeated finding by the Independent Pricing and Regulatory Tribunal (IPART) that direct financial management services should be subject to transparent fee-for-service charges rather than fees calculated as a proportion of client estate value.

NSW Trustee and Guardian does not have effective monitoring in place to know the actual costs of service delivery

Direct financial management services are resourced predominantly by client fees, comprising 81% of revenue between FY2018-FY2022. Government funding makes up the balance and is directed to fee subsidies and waivers for low-wealth clients (those with assets apart from their principal place of residence, motor vehicle and furniture valued under $75,000). Sixty-eight per cent of direct financial management clients at 30 June 2022 were low-wealth and eligible for fee subsidies. Private financial management services are resourced predominantly by client fees; government funding is not provided. Fees for both direct financial management and private management are capped by regulation.

On the other hand, guardianship services are funded entirely by government funding as an annual grant, with the objective of providing these services for free to the client.

NSW Trustee and Guardian has taken steps to try to capture data on the actual cost of providing guardianship and subsidised financial management services, and to estimate these costs in the absence of such data collection. However, system limitations have frustrated attempts to fully identify and quantify the costs of service provision, including the varying complexity of client needs and related staff effort. Without data on actual costs to serve, NSW Trustee and Guardian cannot confidently demonstrate that its guardianship and financial management expenses are efficient, or determine whether revenue - either from government funding or client fees - is sufficient to meet these costs. This is hampering its efforts to address a gap between the rate of growth in client numbers and complexity, and government funding for guardianship and subsidised direct financial management services.

Government funding for guardianship services and direct financial management services for low-wealth clients has not kept pace with the growth in clients. There is a risk that some fee-paying clients are unknowingly subsidising others

Under its enabling legislation, NSW Trustee and Guardian cannot decline to receive a guardianship or direct financial management client once the court or tribunal make relevant orders. It is intended to be a provider of 'last resort' where no other suitable person is willing or able to be the guardian or financial manager for a client. It also cannot decline to oversee a private financial manager.

Demand for guardianship and direct financial management services is growing. Over the five- year audit review period (FY2018-FY2022), there has been an eight per cent increase in the number of people who have the NSW Trustee as their financial manager, a 32% increase in the number of people who have private managers and a 46% increase in the number of people who have the Public Guardian as their guardian. NSW Trustee and Guardian data suggests the complexity of client circumstances has also grown over time, increasing the staff effort required on client matters.

The risk of cross-subsidisation arises when the revenue or income for a service (whether from fees, government funding or other sources) is less than the cost to provide the service. IPART found in a 2014 review that NSW Trustee and Guardian's fee structure across all its charged services at that time was resulting in significant cross-subsidies between services and between clients within each service. Such a gap remains evident with respect to NSW Trustee and Guardian's private management, direct financial management and guardianship services.

However, NSW Trustee and Guardian cannot determine whether high-wealth direct financial management clients are subsidising services for guardianship and low-wealth direct financial management clients or private management clients without data on the actual costs to serve each client. There is a risk that some clients of these or other NSW Trustee and Guardian services are unknowingly subsidising financial management or guardianship clients.

Cross-subsidisation is inequitable, inefficient and not aligned with NSW Treasury policy on government funding for non-commercial activities. NSW Trustee and Guardian has recognised this and repeatedly sought increased government funding for guardianship services, and subsidised direct financial management services, over the five-year audit review period.

NSW Trustee and Guardian has applied additional funding received in the 2021–22 Budget to increase frontline service delivery staff, but gaps in monitoring and continuing IT system constraints create a risk that it will not address service quality issues, nor be able to demonstrate the impact of this new funding

NSW Trustee and Guardian received a funding boost of $41.5 million across four years in the 2021–22 State Budget. The budget enhancement represented a significant increase in government funding for NSW Trustee and Guardian to provide free guardianship services and subsidised direct financial management services. Nevertheless, NSW Trustee and Guardian expects the budget enhancement will address immediate funding shortfalls for these services, but not those forecast to occur in the future on existing client growth and fee revenue trends.

NSW Trustee and Guardian has targeted the additional funding received in 2021–22 to improve adherence to its legislation through new operating models and a significant uplift in frontline staff numbers for guardianship and financial management services. Capital funding for IT system enhancements was not included in the additional funding allocated.

However, there is a risk that existing gaps in monitoring service quality, performance and consumer experiences - and continuing IT system constraints - could lead to increasing frontline staff numbers without also addressing key issues in service quality, or in being able to demonstrate impact from the budget enhancement in seeking future funding.


1 Some direct financial management clients are not subject to court or tribunal order, but are voluntary patients admitted to a mental health facility in accordance with the Mental Health Act 2007. NSW Trustee and Guardian may assume a financial management role if requested by the patient or, if the patient is under 18 years, a person with parental responsibility: NSW Trustee and Guardian Act 2009, s 53.

NSW Trustee and Guardian has only recently identified measures to track the performance of its financial management and guardianship services

Between 2021 and 2022, NSW Trustee and Guardian developed new divisional key performance indicators which aim to track the quality of services delivered to people under financial management and guardianship orders. These measures are reported quarterly to the organisation's executive leadership team. The divisions have started measuring some of these new performance indicators, but many will require changes to consumer engagement processes and IT legacy systems to collect additional data. At this stage it is unclear when these necessary changes will occur, and when relevant data will begin to be collected and analysed.

Before 2021, NSW Trustee and Guardian measured the performance of some of its financial management and guardianship operational processes. While these operational measures identify whether it is fulfilling some of its legislative functions, they are predominantly activity measures and do not inform on the quality of decision-making for direct financial management or guardianship clients, or on client experiences and outcomes.

Operational performance targets and measures have only recently been developed and used to centrally track the time elapsed between requests for certain decisions and the decisions made or relevant actions taken by relevant frontline staff. Baseline data for these measures show that target timeframes are not close to being met for minor medical decisions for people under guardianship orders, or for first customer payment, and redirection of income for people who are directly financially managed.

NSW Trustee and Guardian has proactively developed a benefits realisation framework to monitor the expected benefits from the additional funding received in 2021–22

NSW Trustee and Guardian has developed a benefits realisation framework to monitor the expected benefits from the additional funding (and other elements of the budget bid including increased fees and business improvements for efficiencies). This is not a requirement imposed by NSW Treasury, but a proactive step taken by NSW Trustee and Guardian to account for the use of the additional funding and to attempt to identify its impacts.

The benefits realisation framework includes interim and preferred measures, which reflect the things that can be tracked with existing data, and those that require new data collection, respectively. The measures are underpinned by separate program logics for direct and private financial management, and guardianship, and an overall investment logic. 'Logics' articulate the inputs, outputs and short/medium/long term outcomes expected from a project, program or investment, as well as the underpinning assumptions about how desired changes will occur (the 'mechanism' or 'theory' of change).

The targets and measures for NSW Trustee and Guardian's benefits realisation framework are the responsibility of the organisational divisions delivering guardianship and financial management services. The baseline data against which change will be measured is 30 June 2021, as the budget enhancement funds were allocated from 1 July 2021. The audit has been provided with baseline data, but not first year results (covering 2021–22) and as such, cannot assess whether any progress has been made towards the targets.

The benefits realisation framework may not provide the information needed to demonstrate the effectiveness of the budget enhancement

A lack of available data and limited measures in the benefits realisation framework may mean NSW Trustee and Guardian will not be able to meaningfully assess the impact of the additional funding.

The 22 measures in the benefits realisation framework across guardianship and financial management functions are predominantly monitoring activity and outputs which seek to track staff caseloads, the number of decisions made, the timeliness of key actions/tasks, and annual consumer engagements.

There is one service quality outcome measure: that customers, family and carers report an improved experience. The metrics for this measure will initially be monitored using the whole-of-government customer satisfaction measurement survey administered by the Department of Customer Service, until such time as other additional sources are developed. The whole-of-government survey is built around six core customer commitments relating to respondents' experiences with government services and staff - that they are: 'easy to access, act with empathy, respect my time, explain what to expect, resolve the situation and engage the community'. It is not clear whether or how the whole-of-government survey targets and engages people with impaired decision-making capacity or accessible communication needs.

Some measures in the NSW Trustee and Guardian benefits realisation framework do not yet have targets set, such as the ratio of the number of clients to the number of guardians or financial managers. Many relate to compliance with internal operational policies.

One interim measure for a direct financial management service indicator is 'increased personalised face-to-face consultations by phone or virtually'. It is intended to be replaced with the preferred measure 'ensure the client’s story is understood by staff and systems by consulting stakeholders and adding to the client’s story in the IT system'. However, the interim measure would better align with the national standards regarding regular and accessible engagement (discussed above).

A lack of availability of key data to track the preferred measures was identified by NSW Trustee and Guardian as an enterprise risk, and issues with existing data collected were identified early on, including that:

  • data can be entered into systems inconsistently by staff
  • current systems mask some issues – for example, a task can be completed within internal timeframes but not reflect the actual waiting time of consumers
  • current systems cater to measuring outputs rather than service quality.

IT system improvements are slated in order to allow data to be collected to inform on preferred measures, but these depend on capital funding that has not yet been secured. At the time of writing, data sources were yet to be identified for three of the 22 measures, and NSW Trustee and Guardian did not have staff trained and available to run and analyse data for the benefits realisation framework.

The mechanisms of change and the underlying assumptions in the program and investment logics are also not clearly articulated in the benefits realisation framework, and nor is the underpinning evidence (such as from earlier reviews, research or pilots, or experiences elsewhere). Identifying and evidencing these would give some confidence that the assumptions are sound and that the mechanisms of change will operate as expected (for example, that a decline in frontline staff caseloads will translate into more time spent on individual matters, and improved service quality).

Given these limitations in measures, data collection and logics, there is a risk that the benefits realisation framework may not provide the performance and impact evidence necessary to assess the effectiveness of the budget enhancement, or to justify further additional funding in the future.

NSW Trustee and Guardian cannot track its financial management and guardianship service performance over time

NSW Trustee and Guardian's operational performance activity measures have changed over the audit review period, which limits NSW Trustee and Guardian’s ability to identify whether it has sustained or improved performance in its guardianship and financial management services over time.

NSW Trustee and Guardian has consistently tracked the number and themes of complaints about financial management and guardianship services, which do provide some insight into service quality and experiences. However, this is an incomplete measure as people under financial management and guardianship orders are a more vulnerable cohort than other NSW Trustee and Guardian customers and may require support to make a complaint. There is also a structural power imbalance between clients and their guardian or financial manager which may dissuade clients and their stakeholders from raising concerns. Therefore, it is not clear whether the numbers and themes in complaints received are representative of broader experiences.

Appendix one – Response

Appendix two – Client characteristics

Appendix three – Easy English, Easy Read and Plain English formats

Appendix four – Financial management fees

Appendix five – NSW Trustee and Guardian Common Funds

Appendix six – About the audit

Appendix seven – 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 #379 - released 18 May 2023

Published

Actions for Planning and managing bushfire equipment

Planning and managing bushfire equipment

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

What the report is about

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

What we found

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

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

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

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

What we recommended

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This audit did not assess:

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Appendix one – Responses from agencies 

Appendix two – About the audit 

Appendix three – Performance auditing

 

Copyright notice

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

 

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

 

Published

Actions for 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