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Regional Digital Connectivity program

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About this report

The Regional Digital Connectivity program (RDCP) is intended to improve mobile coverage and internet connectivity in regional NSW.

The RDCP includes two funding programs, one for improving mobile coverage and the other for improving internet connectivity. Both programs provide grant funding to commercial telecommunications providers for eligible mobile and internet projects.

This audit assessed whether the Department of Regional NSW (the department) is effectively administering the RDCP to meet program objectives.

Findings

The department's approach to identifying priority areas for RDCP funding was comprehensive and it largely distributed funding in line with these priorities.

The department has not specifically defined the overall objectives of the RDCP. The department has developed business cases that set out each program’s respective objectives, but these do not consistently describe the objectives of the RDCP.

The department also has not developed an overarching investment strategy, which would assist it in addressing potentially conflicting priorities.

Deficiencies in project and risk management have contributed to delays in the department’s implementation of the program.

The department is not monitoring progress against outcomes, which limits its ability to demonstrate that the program is achieving its intended purpose.

The department did not meet its original mobile coverage performance target but met its internet connectivity target.

Recommendations

To improve RDCP administration, the report recommends that by June 2025, the department should:

  1. develop an overarching investment strategy for the RDCP
  2. outline the expected timelines for RDCP projects and ensure that these timelines are updated regularly
  3. develop and report on RDCP outcome indicators
  4. update the RDCP evaluation plan
  5. update the expected benefits of the program to reflect changes in the RDCP.

The Regional Digital Connectivity program (RDCP) is funded through the Snowy Hydro Legacy Fund (SHLF). Under the Snowy Hydro Legacy Fund Act 2018 (SHLF Act), the purpose of the SHLF is to improve economic development in regional New South Wales and to fund infrastructure projects that primarily benefit regional New South Wales. A priority area for SHLF investment is delivering improved mobile coverage and internet connectivity in underserved and remote communities.

The RDCP has been implemented by the Department of Regional NSW (the department) since 2019. The RDCP is broadly split into two funding programs. The larger funding program is for improving mobile coverage and the other funding program is for improving internet connectivity and is referred to as the Gig State program. Both programs provide grant funding to commercial telecommunications providers for eligible mobile and internet projects.

Over $300 million from the RDCP was allocated to improve mobile phone coverage and increase the number of mobile service providers across regional NSW. The mobile coverage program is being delivered through the following sub-programs:

  • Snowy Mountains Highway Safety project – co-funding with Snowy Hydro Limited to build five mobile towers along the Snowy Mountains Highway to improve mobile coverage.
  • Active Sharing Partnership (ASP) pilot – co-funding with private providers to deliver active sharing mobile technology in regional areas.
  • ASP main program – This is the main round of the mobile coverage program. A business case has been developed, but no funding has been distributed through this sub-program.
  • Mobile Black Spot Program Round 5A – co-funding with the Australian Government’s Mobile Black Spot Program to deliver new or upgraded mobile towers in regional and remote locations.
  • Mobile Black Spot Program Round 7 (MBSP7) – co-funding with the Australian Government’s Mobile Black Spot Program to deliver new mobile infrastructure.

Over $100 million from the RDCP was allocated to the Gig State program to improve regional internet connectivity through partnering with multiple providers and using a range of technologies suitable for rural and regional locations. The Gig State program was launched in 2019 and underwent significant changes in 2021 following an Infrastructure NSW deep dive review into the project. These changes to the program are referred to as the Gig State addendum. The Gig State program is being delivered through the following sub-programs:

  • Cobar corridor connectivity – providing fixed wireless internet access to five locations between Narromine and Cobar.
  • nbn regional NSW fixed wireless – co-funding with nbn to deliver new or co-located fixed wireless broadband towers in 56 locations.
  • Wamboin, Bywong and Sutton connectivity – improving internet connectivity in these three towns as part of a NSW Government commitment.
  • Regional Connectivity Program Round 3 (RCP3) – co-funding with the Australian Government’s Regional Connectivity Program to provide additional internet infrastructure.

The objective of this audit was to assess whether the Department of Regional NSW is effectively administering the Regional Digital Connectivity program to meet program objectives. The audit examined:

  • how effectively the department identifies priority areas to target RDCP funding
  • how effectively the department distributes RDCP funding in line with program objectives
  • how effectively the department measures the performance of the RDCP.

The department has not specifically defined the overall objectives of the RDCP

The RDCP is delivered as part of the SHLF. Under the SHLF Act, the purpose of the SHLF is to improve economic development in regional New South Wales and, for that purpose, to fund infrastructure projects that primarily benefit regional New South Wales. One of the priority areas for SHLF investment is digital connectivity, which is being delivered through the RDCP.

While the purpose of the SHLF is set out in the SHLF Act, the department has not specifically set out the overall purpose and objectives of the RDCP and how it will focus the RDCP on achieving the SHLF’s purpose. Such a document would support future business case development, and support the coordination and prioritisation of objectives across the business cases that have already been developed.

While the overall objectives of the RDCP are yet to be defined, there are objectives set out in the business cases for the separate programs but these are not consistently described. The Gig State business case advises that the RDCP’s goal is to enable transformative long-term benefits for regional areas through investment in digital connectivity. This goal aligns with the purpose of the SHLF Act. However, this objective is not set out in the mobile coverage business case, or any other document, and it is not clear how the RDCP is intended to fulfil this objective.

The Gig State business case sets out three objectives for the RDCP that provide further definition to the SHLF Act’s purpose, though it is unclear how these were determined and whether these are intended to cover the entire RDCP:

  • address the digital divide between regional and metro NSW
  • resolve market failures in the regional NSW telecommunications market
  • leverage Government assets and capabilities wherever possible.

The mobile coverage ASP pilot business case sets out a similar set of objectives, though there are some differences, such as the third objective being to ‘leverage Government assets and capabilities to achieve transformative results.’ It is important for the department to clarify the RDCP’s objectives to ensure a unified approach to investment decisions. At the time of the audit, the department’s website had a different set of objectives for the RDCP. They are:

  • build digital infrastructure to increase capacity
  • expand mobile coverage and provider choice
  • improve internet service, speed and quality
  • bridge the digital divide between regions and cities.

The department also provided a 2022–23 ‘division plan’, with goals for the mobile coverage and Gig State programs. These include:

  •  extend and improve internet coverage to deserving locations in regional NSW
  • investigate emerging digital technologies to improve connectivity
  • deliver new and improved mobile coverage to regional NSW communities
  • encourage competition in the regional telecommunications market.

While these different sets of objectives broadly align, there is no consistency across these business cases in describing the objectives of the RDCP. This indicates that there is a lack of clarity about the intended objectives of the RDCP. Further, the origin of the list of objectives in the ‘division plan’ is unclear. This reinforces the need to clearly define objectives for the overall RDCP.

Each business case the department has developed for RDCP programs has defined objectives that align with the SHLF’s purpose

The Gig state and mobile coverage business cases also define objectives for each program. These objectives align with the SHLF’s purpose, set out above. The Gig State business case advises that the purpose of the Gig State program is to:

  • address the digital divide between metro and regional NSW so that the price, quality, and choice of digital connectivity options in metro areas are made available in regional areas of NSW
  • resolve market failures in regional NSW telecommunications
  • leverage Government assets or investment where appropriate to achieve transformative long-term benefits for regional areas.

The ASP pilot business case states similar objectives, though it does not mention the ‘price, quality, and choice’ stated in the Gig State business case. The ASP pilot business case also lists another three objectives:

  • address mobile black spots where people live and work
  • investigate new and emerging technologies to future proof mobile coverage in regional NSW
  • promote consumer choice in the delivery of mobile services.

The ASP main program has a different set of objectives to the ASP pilot and include:

  • reduce the digital divide and enhance social inclusion by improving mobile coverage in regional locations not covered by existing programs
  • encourage competition in the regional telecommunications market to provide consumers greater choice, lower prices and improved services
  • address commercial viability and technical constraints to providing mobile coverage in regional areas
  • improve community resilience to emergency events through improved regional mobile service.

The RDCP program objectives align with relevant whole-of-government strategic objectives

There are several whole-of-government strategies that seek to guide government investment in digital infrastructure. While there is no document setting out the overarching objectives of the RDCP, the objectives set out for the mobile coverage program and the Gig State program align with these whole-of-government objectives.

The objectives align with the 2018 and 2021 ‘20 Year Economic Vision for Regional NSW’. For example, the 2018 ‘20 Year Economic Vision for Regional NSW’ sets out principles for regional NSW investment, including ‘Affordable, reliable and fast internet to support people and businesses.’

The RDCP sub-programs also align with the 2018 and 2022 State Infrastructure Strategies. In particular, the 2018 strategy has a set of recommendations around improving connectivity across NSW and another set of recommendations around investing in technology that improves productivity and social outcomes. One of the roles of the Gig State program is to help to implement the 2018 strategy’s recommendation to support statewide access to 50Mbps download and 10Mbps upload capacity by 2025. These speeds are specifically stated in the Gig State grant guidelines as an eligibility requirement for funded programs.

Both sub-programs of the RDCP also align with the NSW Connectivity Strategy. The NSW Connectivity Strategy has two directions of particular relevance: ‘All customers have metropolitan equivalent digital capacity’ and ‘Connectivity blackspots continually decrease across the State’. The first of these objectives has three strategic directions which are directly relevant to both the Gig State program and the mobile coverage program:

  • remote, rural and peri-urban citizens can access and effectively use digital systems and services for employment, justice, education, health, social, personal and entertainment use
  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities have equitable access to connectivity that meets their local community needs
  • connectivity services are affordable for citizens no matter where they live, with access to a choice of providers.

Elements of both the Gig State and mobile coverage programs align with these, including the focus on expanding access and affordability.

In regard to regional Aboriginal communities, the RDCP may also contribute to the NSW Closing the Gap Implementation Plan, as the merit criteria in the grant guidelines for mobile coverage and Gig State grants include the extent to which the project will contribute to sustainable procurement and employment outcomes, including supporting Aboriginal businesses and employment. The criteria for prioritising locations for mobile coverage also includes extending coverage to discrete Aboriginal communities as something which could improve the score given to an application. However, this is not set out as an explicit objective of the program.

The department has not set out an overarching investment strategy for the RDCP to address potentially conflicting priorities or identify situations where funding may not align with program objectives

As noted above, the overall objectives of the RDCP have not been defined. The department does not have an overarching strategy setting out program objectives, how funding will be aligned with these objectives, and how the objectives will be prioritised. It is important to set out funding principles to establish how the elements of the stated objectives will be delivered and prioritised. Not setting these out risks funding decisions that do not align with program objectives.

As noted above, the mobile coverage ASP pilot business case lists two objectives around addressing mobile black spots and promoting consumer choice in the delivery of mobile services. These objectives may be potentially in conflict as expanding coverage can be done by funding one carrier to expand their own network, while promoting consumer choice could conceivably be done by funding a carrier to expand their network into areas already covered by only one existing carrier, thus increasing competition in those areas.

The department has not set out the relative weighting of its objectives across the RDCP funding packages and how it will prioritise funding in accordance with them. An overarching strategy would assist the department with prioritising funding in accordance with the objectives of the program, including determining the relative weight of each objective.

In addition, the department has not described the extent to which price reductions in the cost of internet will be prioritised as an objective of the Gig State program. The Gig State business case sets out that one of the objectives of the program will be to provide metropolitan equivalent or better service, quality and pricing for internet services in regional areas. It is unclear how internet pricing fits into the overarching objectives of the RDCP given that it is not mentioned as an objective of the SHLF. There would be value in setting out strategic investment principles and objectives to guide this decision-making and clarify the extent to which internet investment is intended to fulfil this purpose.

A lack of clarity about program objectives may also have impacted decisions about funding priorities. For example, the Gig State program business case sets out a plan to invest in Low Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites through a subsidy program. As noted above, the Gig State business case sets out some objectives for the RDCP, including leveraging government assets. While an investment in LEO satellites through subsidies may assist with bridging the digital divide, it is not clear how this aligns with the objective of leveraging government assets. More clarity over program objectives and a clear investment strategy may assist with clarifying this and similar investment decisions in future. As discussed below, the investment in LEO satellites did not proceed.

The department comprehensively identified priority areas that require improved mobile coverage for the mobile coverage program

As outlined above, the final business case for the mobile coverage ASP pilot program identifies three objectives for the mobile coverage program, including addressing the digital divide between metropolitan and regional NSW, and resolving market failures in regional NSW telecommunications. The department identified priority areas for improved mobile coverage in line with these objectives. The department refined its approach to prioritising locations for the mobile coverage ASP main program which resulted in a more comprehensive analysis of potential sites.

The department developed and implemented a structured process using a range of criteria to identify and prioritise suitable locations for funding. Before allocating funding to its mobile coverage program, it was necessary for the department to determine areas that required additional mobile coverage. The department undertook this work for both its mobile coverage ASP pilot program and the ASP main program as part of designing the grant programs. A key source of information it relied on for identifying priority areas for the pilot program was the Australian Government’s National Mobile Black Spot Database. The database identified around 4,000 mobile black spot locations across NSW. This database is no longer in use as it relied on community reports of mobile black spots which were unverified.

For its mobile coverage ASP pilot program, the department applied a series of filters to the mobile black spots identified in the database. It removed metropolitan areas, areas within a 10km radius of an existing mobile tower site, and areas that had already been selected for funding under either Commonwealth or State funded programs, such as the Connecting Country Communities Fund. This left the department with a list of around 1,200 potential sites.

The department then mapped the 1,200 identified black spot sites to their respective 383 unique locations and assessed and prioritised the mobile black spots and locations against a range of economic, community and feasibility criteria. Under the economic criteria, the department prioritised areas that had higher numbers of employed persons and higher proportions of land being used for agriculture or farming. Under the community criteria, the department prioritised areas based on the increase in the population that would benefit from expanded coverage, the increase in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people that would benefit from the coverage, the increase in the kilometres of highway and main roads that would benefit that were within five kilometres of a mobile black spot, and areas with more square kilometres prone to bushfires or flooding that would benefit. Under feasibility criteria, the department prioritised areas that were closer to government and nbn infrastructure. This process resulted in 50 prioritised locations containing 307 black spot sites across 34 Local Government Areas in NSW.

For its mobile coverage ASP main program, the department undertook a detailed coverage analysis to identify locations with no and limited mobile coverage. It identified these using the latest publicly available coverage maps from the three mobile network operators and the distance of locations from existing sites/towers as published by the Australian Communications and Media Authority and the Radio Frequency National Site Archive databases. Using this data as the key source of information in determining mobile coverage resulted in a more comprehensive outcome than relying on the National Mobile Black Spot Database. The department did not use the National Mobile Black Spot Database, as this information was considered unreliable and had not been updated since 2018, and the coverage maps were more reliable.

The analysis focused on locations with small populations, road corridors, and tourism locations. It identified 257 locations with no or poor coverage consisting of 68 small population locations, 117 road corridors and 72 tourism locations. The department then analysed these possible locations against a range of criteria. These included maximising the number of people and businesses that would be supported, increasing the extent of existing coverage, determining whether coverage would support government strategies or Premier’s Priorities, other positive social impacts, focusing on the greatest length of road and most heavily used roads, and maximising the number of tourism businesses and points of interest impacted.

The department conducted analysis based on these criteria and shortlisted 24 small population locations, 24 road corridor locations and 12 visitor economy locations. These locations were taken forward for concept design, cost estimation, and economic and financial appraisal as part of the final business case.

The department’s initial approach to prioritising Gig State funding was based around larger regional centres

The department undertook a two-stage process for identifying priority areas for Gig State program investment. The first involved the identification of larger NSW towns that would benefit from additional internet coverage and where data centres could be located, and the second involved a selection of more remote locations to receive additional funding.

The department did not undertake an initial detailed analysis of internet coverage across NSW to prioritise funding for the Gig State program. Undertaking this work would have been in line with the Gig State program objectives of addressing the digital divide between metropolitan and regional NSW and resolving market failures in regional NSW telecommunications. In order to meet these objectives, it was important to first establish the extent of the digital divide and market failure before seeking to resolve it.

Instead, it categorised NSW towns according to their relative size and importance from a connectivity perspective. It prioritised towns with larger populations and more business users to maximise the potential benefit of the infrastructure. The department also prioritised locations that were closer to other telecommunications infrastructure, and it also considered proximity to other potential elements of the Gig State network for greater connectivity and to ensure that it was taking a whole-of-State approach to investment decisions. This process identified 14 major regional towns.

The department then prioritised two of these regional towns, Dubbo and Wagga Wagga, due to the higher prices paid by NSW Government agencies in the two locations for average internet bandwidth usage when compared to other regional and metropolitan population centres across NSW. The costs to government were considered a proxy for how much business users are likely to be charged for connectivity services in regional NSW towns. The department conducted surveys in both towns indicating that business users were paying higher prices than their metropolitan counterparts for higher-grade connectivity. This aligned with the department’s Gig State program objectives which related to providing price, quality and choice.

The department also included five satellite towns along the road from Dubbo to Cobar (Cobar corridor) in the Gig State final business case as well as the towns of Wamboin, Bywong and Sutton. The department’s prioritisation of funding for these locations was not based on any detailed analysis of need. The department identified that as part of its initial plan to expand the internet connectivity from Dubbo to Cobar, it would be able to connect a number of towns between those two at a reduced cost. There was no analysis of alternative options for expending this money, such as expanding coverage to other areas, or to determine the extent of coverage required in each town. The Wamboin, Bywong and Sutton project was prioritised as a result of a $5 million NSW Government commitment. This project is discussed further below.

The department strengthened its approach to targeting Gig State funding in 2021

The department reviewed and updated its approach to the Gig State program in September 2021. As part of this, it revised its approach to targeting funding, including the use of additional data and identifying areas with greater digital connectivity issues. This represented an improved approach compared to the original business case and aligned more closely with the changes that were made to the Gig State program in 2021, outlined in the Gig State addendum, which focussed more on the delivery of fixed wireless services rather than data centres.

The department carried out an analysis of areas that only have satellite internet coverage (i.e., no fibre or fixed wireless internet availability) to identify areas suitable for different types of technology such as fibre optic cables, fixed wireless and LEO satellites. This was more in line with the Gig State program objectives of addressing the digital divide and resolving market failures. It identified that these locations had challenging digital connectivity issues that were not likely to be resolved without government intervention. This process identified around 1,000 locations. This list was then refined by looking to maximise the number of premises and businesses, maximising the density of premises, prioritising locations with other Government assets, mobile sites and other technology available in the area, and locations close to an existing exchange to leverage existing infrastructure.

The location list was then prioritised based on scoring criteria for economic drivers, feasibility, risk and stakeholders. The economic criteria included the number of residential and business premises, the number of businesses, and the estimated construction costs for the infrastructure. The feasibility criteria included availability of existing and planned infrastructure. Stakeholder related criteria included identifying synergies with other government led programs, as well as sites that scored low on Australian Digital Inclusion Index (ADII) scores and the Socio-Economic Indexes for Areas. These criteria are appropriate and align with the objectives of the Gig State program.

The department’s process resulted in a list of 23 prioritised areas. These were generally areas with a higher density of premises and affordable access to infrastructure for power supply and data transmission.

The department considered socio-economic data when planning for Gig State and mobile coverage programs but did not use this to inform its pilot mobile coverage program

NSW Government Business Case Guidelines (TPP18-06) state that one of the main reasons for government action is promotion of equity where the distribution of economic costs and benefits is considered inequitable. It is therefore important for the department to consider socio-economic data in the planning of the RDCP.

The department has included some socio-economic data and ADII scores in the profiles it developed for each Local Government Area. It applied socio-economic data to identify additional priority areas for new and improved internet coverage through the Gig State program. However, it did not apply this data to identify priority areas across the pilot mobile coverage program of the RDCP. It improved its approach when developing the ASP main program by including socio-economic data as a component of its scoring for prioritising locations.

The department considered socio-economic data when selecting locations for grant funding. The mobile coverage grant guidelines and the Gig State grant guidelines both include merit criteria that consider whether the proposed solution would address disadvantage within a community. Both guidelines ask the grant applicants to consider the Index of Relative Socio-economic Advantage and Disadvantage.

The department engaged with key stakeholders when developing the RDCP

Under TPP18-06, NSW Government departments are required to identify and consult with key stakeholders as they can contribute to the development of the investment proposal by providing their expert opinions, research, and evidence.

The department identified key stakeholders, developed stakeholder engagement plans, and used feedback gained through consultations to design and adjust the RDCP. Key stakeholders have been involved on the RDC Steering Committee and the RDC Project Control Group ensuring that they have an avenue to provide input into the overall RDCP. This includes the Commonwealth department responsible for telecommunications infrastructure and telecommunication providers.

The department engaged with stakeholders when developing the ASP pilot program. As discussed below, the department transitioned the program from a one-stage pilot program, where telecommunication providers would be procured to provide the solution, to a two-stage program where the department would first work with telecommunication providers to identify technical solutions and then carry out the procurement. This involved significant engagement with stakeholders to identify the technical solution and procurement model.

The department has assessed the suppliers of internet and mobile connectivity to determine their capacity and willingness to participate in RDCP sub-programs

As part of procurement planning, when building a business case, NSW Government agencies are required to analyse and engage with the market. This involves developing a profile of the market, the capabilities of suppliers, innovative and emerging technology, and factors that influence the market such as customer preferences and competition.

The department considered the capacity of telecommunications suppliers, their level of interest, and willingness to participate in the program when developing the business cases for its mobile and internet coverage programs. In addition to doing this when constructing initial business cases, the department adjusted its approach when market factors changed, as evidenced by the changes it made to its Gig State program in 2021. In September 2020, the nbn announced an expansion of its fibre network nationally, with a focus on regional improvements. This meant that internet coverage for some of the locations included in the Gig State business case would be addressed by nbn and continued investment was not needed in those areas. The initial Gig State business case also planned an initial investment in data centres in regional NSW. Following this, a private market operator also announced plans to construct 14 regional data centres across NSW. This meant that the planned Gig State data centres were no longer required. The department changed it approach to avoid duplication by ceasing its planned internet coverage expansion into regional centres, including the data centres, and prioritising a range of new sites for coverage.

Conflicts of interest and probity procedures have largely been followed, although there were some gaps in declarations

Maintaining a record of conflict of interest declarations is important to provide a higher level of transparency, and therefore control, over officials in high-risk roles. Disclosing an interest before it becomes a conflict of interest also reduces the likelihood that an official will be tempted to conceal or favour the interest.

Conflict of Interest declaration forms have been completed for staff involved in the mobile coverage program, Gig State program and the Australian Government co-funded Regional Connectivity Program Round 3 (RCP3) and Mobile Black Spot Program Round 7 (MBSP7). Whilst the list of declarations is extensive, it is unclear whether it includes all relevant staff from the department, the NSW Telco Authority and consultants involved with the program.

In relation to the mobile coverage and Gig State programs, there was no declaration recorded for one consultant and three staff from the department, including the program sponsor. These omissions have the potential to create risks that conflicts of interest go unmanaged. The department advises that the register is now complete for all those working directly on the program. It also advises that, due to the breadth of programs senior staff oversee, conflicts of interest are managed by the department's Governance team centrally through a Declarations App.

Four declarations of a ‘real, potential or perceived conflict of interest’ were made under the RCP3 and MBSP7 grant programs, which were co-funded with the Australian Government. No declared conflicts were made for the other programs. The identified conflicts of interest have documented actions to manage them, and there is evidence to indicate that these were implemented. For example, a senior staff member and a consultant excluded themselves from parts of a grant process due to declared conflicts.

The NSW Grants Administration Guide states that officials must seek probity advice for all grant opportunities that are complex, high-risk or high-value, to support the design, application, assessment and decision-making phases. The department followed appropriate probity processes throughout and these probity reports did not find any material breaches of probity in the grant processes.

There have been delays in all streams of the RDCP which may have been reduced through proactive project and risk management

The business cases set out expected timelines for each program of the RDCP. The department has not met any of these expected timelines, with some projects delayed by over a year compared to their initial planned timelines. Some of these delays have been caused by changes to the department’s approach to the mobile coverage and Gig State business cases. While some of these changes were outside of the department’s control, others could have been anticipated and better managed by a stronger approach to project management and risk management.

Exhibits 1 and 2 set out the status of each Gig State and mobile coverage project reviewed as part of this audit as at April 2024 and the planned completion date for that project at the outset of the program. Note that this does not include projects co-funded by the Australian Government due to the department’s limited ability to influence the process. This also excludes projects which have not yet distributed funding, such as the mobile coverage ASP main program.

Exhibit 1: Status of Gig State projects as at April 2024.
ProjectCurrent statusPlanned completion
Cobar corridorSolution designJune 2022
NBN fixed wirelessFeasibility studiesEarly 2024
Other provider fixed wirelessContract negotiationEarly 2024
Wamboin, Bywong and SuttonConstruction (paused)

Original business case:
June 2022

Gig State addendum:
Mid 2023


Source: Audit Office analysis.

Exhibit 2: Status of mobile coverage projects as at April 2024.
ProjectCurrent statusPlanned completion
Snowy Mountains Highway Safety programCompleted March 2023Early 2022
Active Sharing Partnership pilotConstructionJune 2023

Source: Audit Office analysis.

As can be seen from Exhibits 1 and 2, each project in the RDCP has been delayed past its initially planned completion date, and the Wamboin, Bywong and Sutton project has been delayed past both its original planned completion date and also the revised completion date in the Gig State addendum.

Some of these delays can be accounted for by the fact that the department revised its approach to both the mobile coverage ASP pilot and the Gig State programs. While some of these changes were outside of the department’s control, others could have been anticipated and managed by more proactive risk management. In the case of the mobile coverage program, some of this change in approach may have been foreseeable. The March 2021 mobile coverage ASP pilot business case set out a one-stage tendering process with construction planned for completion in June 2022. The department revised this approach in July 2021, when it changed to a two-stage process involving a technical stage and then a grant process. This was the result of additional research by the department that identified that the market may not have sufficient interest in the initial proposed approach. Undertaking this additional research earlier may have allowed for this alternative approach to be identified sooner.

In addition, the department only allowed two months in the business case for contract negotiations with providers for the mobile coverage ASP pilot program, however this has taken a significantly longer time and in one case has been ongoing for over twelve months. Given the complexities of the funding deed negotiations, this may also have been foreseeable. The department advised that some delays in the mobile coverage program can be attributed to the proposed merger of major mobile network operators which delayed funding deed negotiations.

As with the mobile coverage program, the Gig State program was also delayed by a change in approach, though this was driven by market changes. As part of the original Gig State business case, the department intended to deliver data centres in regional NSW, as well as expanding internet coverage. The business case was approved in December 2019 and the department intended to complete the Gig State program in June 2022. Little progress had been made by the time that the Gig State program underwent a significant change in scope following a review in September 2021. The department removed some aspects of the original business case, such as the construction of data centres in regional NSW, and changed the approach to other parts of the business case. The revised business case, called the Gig State addendum, delayed the planned delivery date of some projects into 2022.

The most significantly delayed sub-program has been the expansion of internet access to the towns of Wamboin, Bywong and Sutton as part of the Gig State program. In January 2019, the NSW Government announced $5 million of funding to provide internet access to these towns. The department ran a tender for this work in mid-2021 with a plan to start construction in late 2021. However, this tender resulted in no contract being awarded due to no providers being willing to provide the project within the proposed $5 million budget. The department started working on technical solutions with providers in late 2021 and gave them until May 2022 to identify solutions and potential budgets. The contract for Wamboin, Bywong and Sutton was executed in June 2022, with an expected completion date of June 2024, though given delays with construction this date will not be met. As discussed below, if the department had provided better advice to Government on the expected costs at the planning stage, it may have reduced the delays in this sub-program.

The department has not effectively managed RDCP timelines

The department has provided limited evidence of effective project management in place to monitor overall progress against program timelines, such as regularly updating a detailed project plan. The department may have identified and managed the above delays sooner through a stronger project management approach.

The department set out timelines at the outset of each of the sub-programs. This was not always done in detail but for all the sub-programs at least key milestones were mapped. While this was done at the outset, there is no evidence that the department regularly updated timelines across the various sub-programs to ensure that these projects were on track and to monitor expected completion dates.

The department provided regular updates on project status to relevant governance committees. This included providing information on upcoming milestones and associated delays. However, holistic monitoring of program completion dates and the impact of delays on subsequent milestones was not presented to the governance committees. As a result, there has been little monitoring and oversight of how projects are tracking against their target end dates.

Gaps in the governance framework have limited the oversight of the implementation of the RDCP

There are three key committees that oversee the implementation of the RDCP: the SHLF Steering Committee, the RDC Steering Committee, and the RDC Program Control Group. These three committees are intended to provide oversight of the implementation of the RDCP, however there are deficiencies that limit the effectiveness of their oversight.

The SHLF Steering Committee is intended to provide oversight of all programs funded through the SHLF, including the RDCP. Despite an intended meeting schedule of quarterly, the committee only met once in 2023 and three times in each of 2021 and 2022. While the Committee did receive reports on each of the programs funded through the SHLF at these meetings, this reporting did not identify any key risks for these projects that might affect achieving the objectives of the SHLF. This reduces the level of oversight that the SHLF Steering Committee can provide for these projects.

The RDC Steering Committee provides oversight of the RDCP and is intended to act as an escalation point for key issues in the program. While the committee receives regular reports on the components of the RDCP, including on program risks, there are some gaps that limit the oversight it can provide. The committee operated throughout 2021, 2022 and 2023 without finalised terms of reference, which were finalised in February 2024. Prior to this, it was unclear how often the RDC Steering Committee was intended to meet, but it met only four times in 2023 compared to six in 2022.

The RDC Steering Committee terms of reference include a role for the committee in making key decisions around program strategy and implementation. Prior to 2023, the committee was involved in many key decisions. For example, in 2022 it endorsed decisions around the ASP pilot grant guidelines. By contrast, a review of meeting minutes since the start of 2023 shows that the RDC Steering Committee has not made decisions or provided endorsements for any key decisions. The committee was not involved in endorsing the MBSP7 and RCP3 grant guidelines in 2023 and was not involved in strategic decision-making about the budget reprofiling in 2023 and the decision to remove the LEO satellite pilot from the Gig State program scope.

The RDC Program Control Group did not have terms of reference until February 2024. The purpose of the RDC Program Control Group is to oversee and support the strategic direction and implementation of the RDCP. This should be carried out through regular meetings and reporting, however the control group only met six times in 2023 despite an intention that they would meet monthly. The expected meeting frequency has since changed to every six weeks.

The RDC governance committees routinely discuss risks, but the department did not identify or mitigate all key risks at the outset of the program

The department has a structured approach to risk management for the RDCP, though this risk management approach has not always succeeded at mitigating key risks. The RDCP program team identified a number of key risks at the outset of each program and designed mitigations for them. In addition, the RDC Steering Committee and RDC Project Control Group both receive risk reports and discuss risks at meetings where appropriate. This reporting indicates a proactive approach to risk management throughout the program.

However, not all key risks were successfully mitigated or identified at the outset of the program. For example, one of the key causes of delays with the mobile coverage program has been protracted contract negotiations. Despite the fact that the program team understood the complexities of the mobile contract negotiations that would be required, this was not identified as a risk at the outset of the program. Later in the program this was identified by the RDC Program Control Group and Steering Committee as a key risk. While the risk was identified, it was not sufficiently mitigated, as demonstrated by the delays that resulted from the contract negotiations.

Other risks were not identified at the outset of the program. For example, the Snowy Mountains Highway Safety program was delayed due to the need to get development approval from the National Parks and Wildlife Service. There is no separate risk register for the Snowy Mountains Highway Safety program, and the potential for delays due to approval processes is not mentioned in any of the overall mobile business cases. Stronger initial project management may have allowed for this to be identified.

The Wamboin, Bywong and Sutton internet coverage program has been delayed numerous times throughout the course of its delivery. One of the key delays in 2023 was that, after the contract was signed and building works had commenced, it was discovered that challenging ground conditions with a higher than anticipated rock concentration around the towns was delaying construction. Potential delays from construction issues were not foreseen in the Gig State program risk register. While the specific issues relating to ground conditions may not have been easily foreseeable at the outset of the program, the department’s evaluation of potential providers in 2021 noted that rock was present and could have an impact on the cost of the program. It is reasonable to expect that this would have led to additional risk mitigation at the time, detailing the potential impact of the rock concentration on both cost and timelines. When the issue was eventually discussed in the RDC Project Control Group in 2023, the only mitigation for the risk was to review and monitor the existing and future schedule. This was not sufficient to mitigate the risk.

The department conducted cost-benefit analyses for all RDCP sub-programs, but did not implement the element with the highest return on investment

The ‘NSW Government Guide to Cost-Benefit Analysis’ requires that a cost-benefit analysis (CBA) be undertaken for capital, recurrent or ICT projects valued at more than $10 million. Undertaking a CBA provides a benefit-cost ratio (BCR) which helps to determine if a program will provide a net benefit to the people of New South Wales. A BCR greater than one indicates that the benefits will exceed the costs. For programs funded through the SHLF, such as the RDCP, there is no requirement for a program to achieve a BCR of greater than one.

The department conducted a CBA for the Gig State and mobile coverage programs, as well as all the sub-programs under both programs, including revising the CBA for the Gig State program after it was reviewed in late 2021. The BCR for the mobile coverage and Gig State programs are shown in Exhibit 3. Only the Gig State initial business case achieved a BCR of one, meaning that it delivers benefits equivalent to its costs. However, when this program was amended in 2021, this BCR reduced to 0.62. When combined, the RDCP does not have a BCR greater than one, meaning that it represents a net cost to New South Wales. However, as noted above, there is no requirement for the RDCP to reach a BCR of one.

Exhibit 3: BCR for each RDCP program.
Business CaseBCR
Mobile coverage project pilot0.59
Mobile coverage ASP main program0.19
Gig State1.00
Gig State addendum0.62

Source: Department of Regional NSW.

The highest BCR was calculated for the planned investment in Low-Earth Orbit (LEO) satellites which is an element of the Gig State addendum, but this investment did not go ahead. LEO satellites can be used to provide digital connectivity to isolated properties. They sit closer to the Earth’s surface than a geostationary satellite and can transmit data with lower delay and improved connectivity. This LEO satellite pilot was identified to deliver a BCR of 2.62, including approximately 40% of the benefits attributable to the Gig State addendum. The Gig State addendum anticipated that the pilot would commence in 2022, however the department did not proceed with this. The 2023 budget reduced the funding for the Gig State program, and the department decided to discontinue the proposed pilot. The department advises it plans to revisit the LEO satellite project in mid 2025.

The RDCP’s grant guidelines largely comply with mandatory NSW Government requirements

In September 2022, the NSW Government released the revised ‘Grants Administration Guide’ (the guide) which, among other things, sets out mandatory requirements for NSW Government grant guidelines. Premier’s Memorandum ‘M2022-07 Grants Administration Guide’ makes it mandatory for agencies to follow the requirements of the guide for all grants released from 19 September 2022.

The guide states that clear and consistent grant guidelines must be prepared that contain the purpose and objectives of the grant, selection criteria (comprising eligibility and assessment criteria) and assessment process, grant value, opening and closing dates, application outcome date, the source agency, and the decision-maker.

The department developed grant guidelines for grant schemes funded by the RDCP. The guidelines explain the application and selection process, eligibility criteria and assessment criteria, and key dates. These include:

  • Mobile Coverage Project – Active Sharing Partnership Grant Guidelines (September 2022)
  • Gig State Grant Guidelines (October 2022)
  • NSW Government Co-Investment in RCP3 and MBSP7 Program Guidelines (July 2023).

The guidelines for these three grant programs largely align with the requirements of the guide, but there were some gaps. The ASP pilot and Gig State program guidelines both note the contact person for complaints, but the RCP3 and MBSP7 guidelines do not state this. While the RCP3 and MBSP7 guidelines set out the relevant decision-maker and the role of key individuals in the assessment process, the guidelines for the ASP pilot did not identify the decision-maker and the Gig State Grant Guidelines did not provide the membership of the assessment panel making the recommendations.

The department’s grant programs were designed to target identified priority locations

Across the RDCP sub-programs, the department designed grant programs in a way that targeted funding towards its priority locations and other locations that met its eligibility criteria. The department has not been prescriptive about locations that would be funded through grant programs, but designed the programs in a way that encouraged providers to co-fund either the target locations or those that fit the criteria that the department was interested in funding.

For the Gig State grant program, the department released a list of preferred locations to potential applicants. The grant guidelines make clear that any proposals to build infrastructure to provide coverage to these areas would be given preferential treatment. The merit criteria are also aligned with this as the department awarded additional points for providing coverage to the target areas. Locations outside the preferred list were also eligible, provided they met the grant program’s objectives and eligibility criteria.

Similarly, for the mobile coverage ASP pilot program, the department released a list of preferred locations to potential applicants. The grant guidelines similarly encouraged potential applicants to follow this target list, both in terms of eligibility and also in terms of the way that the grants program provided additional points for providing coverage to the target areas. In addition, applicants could consider locations outside of the preferred list provided they met the grant program’s objectives and eligibility criteria set out in the grant guidelines.

For the co-funding opportunity with the Australian Government’s RCP3 and MBSP7 programs, a list of target locations was again provided. Applicants could consider locations outside of the target locations provided they were still eligible under Australian Government requirements for the RCP3 and MBSP7. Alternative solutions that provide mobile coverage on road corridors and mobile solutions for First Nations communities in other remote and very remote NSW locations could also be considered, however, funding was to be allocated to target locations and target transport corridors as a priority.

The department was not able to demonstrate a similar approach for the co-investment in the Mobile Black Spot Program Round 5A. The Australian Government developed eligibility criteria for the program, which align with the department’s mobile program objectives.

The department has selected grant recipients in line with its funding priorities

The department developed grant guidelines and an assessment methodology for the Gig State program and the ASP pilot program to guide its assessment panel, and applicants, through the process. The department assessed the applications for the Gig State and the ASP pilot grant programs against the eligibility and merit criteria contained in its guidelines, and in accordance with its assessment methodology. This resulted in the department funding locations that aligned with its target locations or areas that were in line with the purpose of each grant opportunity.

For the Gig State grant program, the department determined that projects were to be located in one of the 93 regional NSW Local Government Areas (LGA) identified in the grant guidelines. Eligible locations were in areas where internet access was via satellite services only and there were no committed or planned projects for fixed services in the area. The assessment panel for the Gig State grants recommended projects in 34 eligible locations from four applicants, for funding totalling $58.3 million (excl. GST), intended to bring improved connectivity to around 13,900 premises.

For the ASP pilot program, eligible locations were areas of regional NSW, where there was no existing handheld coverage provided by any Mobile Network Operators (MNO) or existing handheld coverage was provided by only one MNO. The assessment panel for the ASP pilot grants recommended 32 projects for funding totalling $30.4 million (excl. GST), intended to improve mobile coverage across ten regional LGAs. All other projects were considered not suitable for funding or ineligible.

The department provided a list of preferred locations for both grant programs. Applicants received a marginally higher score against assessment criteria if they put forward a preferred location but the location they identified could still be accepted if it was not in a preferred location but met the eligibility criteria. Funding was allocated to the majority of the Gig State program preferred locations identified in the Gig State business case addendum, but funding was allocated to only two of the 23 preferred locations identified in the business case for the ASP main program.

For the grants co-funded by the Australian Government (RCP3 and MBSP7), the department prioritised and selected grant recipients based on whether they met the eligibility criteria. It developed an assessment methodology to guide the assessment panel through this process. A probity advisor was present at both assessment panel meetings.

The department intends to further verify the RCP3 and MBSP7 application’s compliance with the RDCP objectives and eligibility criteria, following the assessment of applications by the Australian Government. Once verified, deeds will be negotiated and issued.

The department did not advise Government on the full cost of the Wamboin, Bywong and Sutton project, leading to a protracted and difficult process

The department’s process for awarding the grant to construct a fibre network for internet connectivity in the Wamboin, Bywong and Sutton regions was complex. The department appears to have estimated the initial costs of this program to be significantly higher than the funds allocated to the project. The department did not advise Government of this, and conducted the tender process based on the budget of $5 million committed by the Government. This budget proved insufficient, and the department had to request additional funds to contract the project. Not providing this advice to Government at an earlier stage means that the process which followed was more complex and protracted than it may have been if the department had provided this advice.

In January 2019, the NSW Government announced that it would provide $5 million to upgrade internet in the Wamboin, Bywong and Sutton region based on costings undertaken by a local community organisation. The department included this cost in the Gig State business case in December 2019 and also the Gig State addendum in September 2021. Documentation from late 2020 indicates that the department conducted an initial estimate that the full cost of the Wamboin, Bywong and Sutton project would be up to $16.3 million. It is unclear whether this was conducted before the Gig State business case was completed. The department was unable to provide the analysis that led to this initial cost estimate to the audit team. However, this indicates that the department was aware that the cost of the project would be greater than $5 million but did not provide this advice to Government. The additional cost was to be funded from the remainder of the Gig State business case.

In mid-2021, the department commenced a tender process with a budget of $5 million in January 2021. Only two applicants responded to this initial request for tender, and only one was evaluated as meeting the technical and construction requirements of the project. The cost estimates provided in the complying tender response were significantly higher than $5 million. As a result, the department did not award a contract following this tender.

The department then planned to undertake an in-depth analysis into alternative technology options. It noted the most promising option in terms of speed of delivery, quality of service, and value for money was LEO satellites. The department was unable to provide a copy of this analysis and so it is unclear the extent of the work undertaken to find alternative solutions for Wamboin, Bywong and Sutton rather than the construction of a fibre network to the premises.

After the initial market approach resulted in no contract being awarded, the department altered its procurement approach. A closed Expression of Interest (EOI) was sent to both respondents to the request for tender in November 2021 seeking a recommended technical solution, a proposed delivery method and timeframes. Both respondents achieved satisfactory scores for the EOI and were invited to submit a detailed design. As the department had determined through the tender process that the budget of $5 million was insufficient to ensure that it could provide internet services across the Wamboin, Bywong and Sutton region, the budget limit for the procurement was increased.

Both respondents submitted a detailed design and in May 2022 the department received approval to negotiate. The unsuccessful respondent scored marginally higher against the selection criteria. However, the assessment team considered that their proposal contained too much unmitigated risk. In May 2022, the department received approval to proceed to the negotiation phase with the successful proponent. Following this negotiation, a $9.5 million grant was awarded to the successful respondent to connect 1,352 premises. Around 140 premises were not included in the scope due to the significantly higher costs in connecting these premises.

The project cost has since increased to over $12 million, in part due to challenging terrain and ground conditions. Additional funding of around $1.7 million was also approved to connect an additional 134 properties that were identified during the detailed design phase. The department advises that these were initially missed due to boundary changes, incorrect council records and quality issues in the geospatial databases. It indicated that this is a separate group of properties to the 140 premises that were excluded due to higher connection costs.

The fact that the Wamboin, Bywong and Sutton project has a total cost of over $12 million, more closely aligned with the department’s internal cost estimate, indicates that fully advising Government of the costs may have saved significant time in the delivery of the project.

The department monitors the progress of its grant agreements but has not formalised its acquittal process

The department receives progress reports and milestone reports from grant recipients to assist in monitoring the progress of RDCP projects and assess if works provided match the requirements listed in the grant funding agreements. It also advises it has regular meetings with grant recipients, although no minutes are kept of these meetings.

The projects that have progressed to the construction phase are:

  • Mobile coverage to Brewarrina and Wilcannia through the mobile coverage ASP pilot
  • Improved internet to Wamboin, Bywong and Sutton.

The department receives regular progress reports for both projects, including some photographs and technical drawings. The reports provide information on progress against milestones and any changes to expected completion dates.

The department receives quarterly progress reports on improved internet for the Cobar corridor and the 56 other sites scheduled for fixed wireless internet, which are yet to progress to construction. The current scheduled completion date is March 2025. It also receives monthly reports on progress with mobile towers it is co-funding with the Australian Government as part of the Mobile Black Spot Program Round 5A.

The department provided few acquittal process documents or milestone acquittal documents, apart from the site qualification report for the Cobar corridor and its evaluation of the detailed design for the Wamboin, Bywong and Sutton project. The department advises it has an acquittal process in place for processing milestone reports, however it is yet to formalise this process. The three projects which have progressed enough to require acquittal are Wamboin, Bywong and Sutton, Wilcannia and Brewarrina, and the Cobar corridor.

The department has provided funding deeds for each project it has funded. Whilst the deeds include milestones, they do not include the dates for each milestone making it more difficult for the department to track the progress of each project.

The department’s approach to reporting its expenditure on consultants is inconsistent and does not always meet reporting requirements

Under the Annual Reports (Departments) Regulation 2015 agencies are required to report any consultancy engagements over $50,000 in their annual reports. The NSW Procurement Board Direction PBD-2023-05 Engagement of professional services suppliers defines a consultancy agreement as a type of professional services agreement where a person or organisation is engaged to provide recommendations or professional advice to assist decision-making by management.

The department has several professional services agreements as part of the RDCP, some of which are consultancy engagements within this definition and some of which contain elements of the contract that would be considered a consultancy agreement. For example, one of the major consultancy agreements involves providing strategic advice across the Gig State program, as well as providing advice on market engagement, and reviewing technical advice. This aligns with the definition of a consultancy agreement as the contracted organisation is providing professional advice to assist decision-making by management.

The department has not reported any of its agreements used as part of the RDCP in its annual reports, despite having several agreements that exceeded the $50,000 threshold which may fall into this definition.

The department advises that the agreements are categorised in the General Ledger as contractors and as such, are not required to be reported in the Department’s Annual Report. This interpretation is not in accordance with NSW Treasury and NSW Procurement Board requirements. It also identifies one contracted consultant as a ‘consultancy’ in its contract variation documentation but has not reported this expenditure in its annual reports.

Further, the department has not applied its interpretation consistently. For example, it has reported the preparation of some strategic and business planning documents as consultancies in its annual reports and not others.

The department is not monitoring the outcomes of the RDCP

Measuring outcomes of a program is important to determine whether that program is fulfilling its intended purpose. While many elements of the RDCP are still at an early stage, there is value in monitoring the outcomes of those elements which have completed construction to inform project implementation. There are no outcome measures for the effectiveness of the RDCP as a whole, and only limited measures for the mobile and Gig State programs. The department has the following outcome that it has set out for the Gig State program:

  • Improve the digital connectivity (accessibility) in rural and remote NSW communities.

When developing the final business case for the Gig State program, the department utilised the ADII scores to identify the digital divide between Metropolitan Sydney and rural NSW. The ADII uses data from the Australian Internet Usage Survey to measure digital inclusion across three dimensions of access, affordability and digital ability. While the department utilised the ADII to determine the baseline for accessibility of digital connectivity in regional and remote NSW communities, the department is not using the ADII to measure whether the program has led to improvements in these communities. This limits the department’s ability to determine whether the RDCP has met its objectives.

At the time of the Gig State business case being developed, rural NSW ADII scores were reported, allowing the department to utilise the figures as a baseline, but since 2020 these are not publicly reported. The department is in the process of determining how it can use ADII scores to measure the performance of the program over time.

In addition to the Gig State program outcome measure, the department has one outcome measure for its mobile coverage program:

  • Square kilometres with improved mobile coverage in regional NSW.

This outcome measure will not allow the department to understand the impact of the RDCP’s mobile coverage program. While measuring the number of square kilometres of coverage will allow the department to determine whether the mobile towers it is funding are achieving the intended extent of new mobile coverage, it will not allow the department to measure the quality of service, price of coverage, and other key information that could measure the impact of the new coverage.

In December 2023, the NSW Telco Authority released the NSW Digital Connectivity Index (DCI), which provides an overview of connectivity in each LGA and suburb across NSW. Each LGA and suburb is given a score out of 100 for access, affordability and demographics (as a proxy for the ability to use technology). The DCI includes several data points, including coverage from telecommunications providers, mobile signal strength, and internet speed. Given that the DCI includes useful data points and can allow for data to be inspected at the suburb level, there is an opportunity for the department to use this to identify the impact of its program both at a statewide level and in regions targeted for funding. However, the department has no plans to utilise the DCI to measure program performance.

In addition to not collecting data to measure the overall effectiveness of the RDCP, the department is also not collecting data to measure whether a number of the objectives of the Gig State and mobile coverage programs are being achieved. For example, both programs aim to reduce the price of digital services in regional areas, however there is no measurement of price in place to determine whether this is being achieved. Similarly, there is no plan in place to measure the speed of internet services or signal strength for mobile services, despite improvements in these things being part of the objectives of both programs as set out in their business cases.

The department is also not measuring whether there are improvements in competition in the mobile market through the mobile coverage program, despite one of the objectives of that program being to encourage competition in the regional telecommunications market. The department also has no plans to measure its contribution to the Closing the Gap target to understand the impact of the RDCP on Aboriginal communities. This is despite it identifying that seven locations with current or pending funding will support discrete Aboriginal communities. Four of these locations are part of the ASP project for Wilcannia and Brewarrina, and the other three are funded through the MBSP7 project.

The department has some output performance measures in place for the RDCP, but these focus on contracted outputs rather than outcomes

The department has identified performance measures for the program in reporting templates, in its final business cases for the Gig State and mobile coverage programs, and in its evaluation plan for the RDCP. These performance indicators measure the outputs of the program rather than the outcomes that would demonstrate whether program objectives have been met.

The measures that the department uses to report to NSW Treasury as part of its budgeting process have changed over time. Until June 2023, the department used two key output measures to determine the progress of the RDCP:

  • Number of premises covered by signed contracts to deliver upgraded internet connectivity.
  • Number of sites with signed contracts for new mobile coverage.

As noted, these are output measures and will not enable the department to determine whether the project is delivering its intended purpose. Since July 2023, the department has used two output measures:

  • Number of premises covered by signed contracts to deliver upgraded internet connectivity.
  • Contracted square kilometres for new and improved mobile coverage.

These four measures relate only to contracted coverage and do not provide a clear picture of ongoing progress with the construction and connection of new mobile and internet projects. Projects can have long lead times for a variety of reasons such as acquiring access to land, designing a solution and the time required to construct the solution. In addition, only measuring contracted coverage will not enable the department to determine whether these outputs are being delivered and will not reflect delays in those stages, nor will it enable the department to determine whether the towers are achieving their intended purpose. While there is value in measuring contracted coverage as an early lead indicator of performance, there is also value in reflecting the current state more accurately through measuring the progress of the construction of each project.

The department did not meet its original mobile coverage performance targets but met its Gig State program target

As noted above, the department had three metrics that it was using to measure the RDCP until June 2023. The department successfully achieved its Gig State program target but did not achieve its mobile coverage program targets. Exhibit 4 shows the results against targets for the RDCP measures. As can be seen, the result for square kilometres of improved mobile coverage delivered was significantly below the target.

Exhibit 4: Performance targets and results to June 2023.
MeasureTargetTarget dateResults
Square kilometres with improved mobile coverage in regional NSW36,00June 2023718
Number of premises covered by signed contracts to deliver upgraded internet connectivity2,500June 202313,330
Number of sites with signed contracts for new mobile coverage25June 202324*

* This comprises two towers funded through the ASP project and 22 towers co-funded through the Australian Government’s Mobile Black Spot Round 5A. This does not include five small towers for the Snowy Mountains Highway Safety project as the department has identified these as a temporary service.

Source: Audit Office analysis.

The department revised its performance measures after June 2023. This included revising output targets for the mobile and Gig state programs. The updated performance targets can be seen in Exhibit 5. The mobile coverage program performance measure was changed to measure the contracted square kilometres of new coverage rather than the actual square kilometres of new coverage. At the same time, the target value increased from 36,000 square kilometres to 60,000 square kilometres. The target value for the Gig State program was also updated compared to the 2023–24 target.

Exhibit 5: Revised 2023–24 performance targets.
MeasureTargetTarget date
Contracted square kilometres for new and improved mobile coverage60,000December 2028
Number of premises covered by signed contracts to deliver upgraded internet connectivity15,000December 2025

Source: Department of Regional NSW.

The department had nearly achieved its December 2025 target for contracted upgrades to internet connectivity by June 2023. As can be seen in Exhibit 4, 13,330 premises were covered by signed contracts to deliver upgraded internet connectivity as at June 2023.

In early 2023, the department estimated that it would have 12,279 square kilometres of new or improved mobile coverage delivered by December 2025. The department advised that it is likely to deliver on this forecast as early as December 2024, through its co-funding of two ASP locations and 22 locations under the Commonwealth’s Mobile Back Spot Program 5A.

There is uncertainty around whether the data the department is using is reliable to measure its performance

The department is collecting or planning to collect data from grant recipients to determine whether they are delivering the intended projects to the required quality. The funding deeds contain obligations on the quality and extent of the services to be provided by grant recipients and require that the contracted organisations report to the department on the construction and the extent of coverage (new ground covered for the mobile towers and number of premises connected for internet coverage). This aligns with the output measures set out above. The department is not collecting information that it could use to inform outcome measurement as part of its grant funding deeds with each grant recipient.

Grant recipients provide the department with the data that it has requested in line with the terms of the funding deeds. This information is collected through a regular schedule of status reporting. These status reports include information on progress with internet or mobile coverage, including the number of premises that will be able to connect to a service.

Information on the availability of fixed fibre connections to premises should be reliable, as with the Wamboin, Bywong and Sutton project. However, data on the availability and quality of fixed wireless internet connectivity and mobile coverage is likely to vary with terrain. While the department is collecting this information, it currently has no plans or a formal process to undertake validation testing following each project completion. This means that the department will not be able to provide assurance that the information collected is accurate.

The department has not updated the expected benefits of the program despite significant changes in scope

In September 2021, following a review of the Gig State program, the department prepared an addendum to the original Gig State business case to change the program from capital expenditure to operational expenditure, and set out a range of other changes. The department’s addendum to the business case noted that the approach to delivering benefits would remain the same, and it did not revisit the benefits realisation register nor attempt to recalculate expected benefits. Given the significant scope changes in the business case addendum, it is likely that there would have been an impact on expected benefits that would justify recalculating the program benefits.

This was not the only time where significant changes in the Gig State program’s operations did not result in an updated benefits realisation register. As noted in the introduction, the RDCP budget was reduced in the 2023 budget, and the remaining budget was extended out to 2028. As discussed above, the change in budget coincided with the department’s decision to discontinue the LEO satellite pilot, which was anticipated to deliver 40% of the financial benefits of the program. The change in budget profile for the program has likely led to a change in the benefits profile of the program, however the department has not updated its program assumptions in line with this change.

The department has documented key lessons learned from its funding rounds to date

Documenting lessons learned from early delivery of any given program is important, particularly pilot programs, to ensure that these can be incorporated into future program development. The department has documented lessons learned across the two programs of the RDCP, including the early grant rounds.

For its Gig State program, the department documented lessons learned in relation to the management of grants, industry engagement, the grant guidelines, the assessment of grants, and the time that the grants went to market. These lessons include reinforcing positive experiences, such as releasing a list of preferred locations to applicants, which the department believes served to encourage funds to be directed to those areas. The department also identified potential improvements, including how it communicated with industry and the data that it would request from future applicants. There have been no grant programs run through the Gig State program since these lessons were documented so it is not yet clear whether the department will implement changes as a result of these lessons learned.

As noted above, the mobile coverage ASP pilot program was delivered across two phases: the first phase involved working with industry to determine potential technical solutions, and the second phase was a grant program to deliver the preferred solutions. The department commissioned a lessons learned report of the first phase of the ASP pilot program with the intention of using this to inform the mobile coverage ASP main program business case development. The lessons learned report and the mobile coverage ASP main program business case were both completed in the same month, however, meaning that lessons could not be fully incorporated into that business case. The department has also identified additional lessons learned specifically in relation to the grant process. There have been no grant programs run through the mobile coverage ASP main program since these lessons were documented so it is not yet clear whether the department will implement changes as a result of these lessons learned.

In addition, the department has conducted an internal audit on the governance of the RDCP. The internal audit had largely positive findings about the governance structures and the grant guidelines. The internal audit did not make findings on the governance issues outlined above, such as not having finalised terms of reference. However, the internal audit did note that not all probity advice had been documented and some had been provided verbally, which increased the risk of grant processes not being undertaken with integrity.

The department has planned evaluations for all grant programs within the RDCP

The department has a draft evaluation plan for the RDCP that includes evaluations for each program to validate whether they have achieved their objectives, as well as finalised evaluation plans for each of the programs. Both process and outcome evaluations are planned. Process evaluations ensure that planned processes were followed and that lessons are learned for future grant programs. The department is planning process evaluations for when all funding deeds have been signed and outcome evaluations are planned for after project delivery is largely complete.

The sub-programs have not yet reached the point where the department will undertake outcome evaluations. The department has indicated that the outcome evaluations will be undertaken when each project has been delivered, which means that while it will determine whether the project has achieved its objectives, it will not be measuring outcomes on an ongoing basis to determine whether changes are needed for the program to meet its objectives. The funding deeds with grant recipients make it clear that the department will undertake an evaluation and may collect relevant information for this purpose. While the department should be able to collect information, the limitations in data collection noted above may need to be resolved to ensure that required data is available.

Appendix one – Response from agency

Appendix two – About the audit

Appendix three – Performance auditing

 

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

 

Parliamentary reference - Report number #397 released 27 June 2024.

Published

Actions for Effectiveness of SafeWork NSW in exercising its compliance functions

Effectiveness of SafeWork NSW in exercising its compliance functions

Finance
Industry
Health
Compliance
Internal controls and governance
Management and administration
Procurement
Project management
Regulation
Risk

What this report is about 

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

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

Findings 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Recommendations 

The report recommended that DCS should: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Issues noted by users of WSMS include:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SafeWork NSW also provides:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The accuracy of SafeWork NSW’s workforce planning is uncertain

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

The same report also observed that government activity should:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The discretionary factors that were included in the survey included:

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

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

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

Source: SafeWork NSW, Penalty Notice Procedure.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About the case study

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The senior manager further stated that they were:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Appendix one – Response from agency

Appendix two – About the audit

Appendix Three – Performance auditing

 

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

 

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

 

Published

Actions for Planning and Environment 2023

Planning and Environment 2023

Planning
Environment
Industry
Asset valuation
Compliance
Financial reporting
Information technology
Infrastructure
Internal controls and governance
Management and administration
Risk
Shared services and collaboration

What this report is about

Results of the Planning and Environment portfolio financial statement audits for the year ended 30 June 2023.

The audit found

Unqualified audit opinions were issued for all completed Planning and Environment portfolio agencies. Seven audits are ongoing.

The Catholic Metropolitan Cemeteries Trust (CMCT) did not comply with its obligations under the Government Sector Finance Act 2018 (GSF Act) to prepare and submit financial statements for audit.

The Department of Planning and Environment (the department) has not yet provided their assessment of the financial reporting requirements for the 579 Category 2 Statutory Land Managers (SLMs) for 2022–23.

One-hundred-and-nineteen Commons Trusts are non-compliant with the GSF Act as they have not submitted their financial statements for audit.

We issued unqualified opinions on the Water Administration Ministerial Corporation's 2020–21, 2021–22 and 2022–23 financial statements.

The number of monetary misstatements identified in our audits decreased from 59 in 2021–22 to 51 in 2022–23, however the gross value of misstatements increased.

The key audit issues were

The former Resilience NSW and NSW Reconstruction Authority (the Authority) re-assessed the accounting implications arising from contractual agreements relating to temporary housing assets associated with the Northern Rivers Temporary Homes Program. This resulted in adjustments to recognise the associated assets and liabilities.

We continue to identify significant deficiencies in NSW Crown land information records.

The department has not been effective in addressing the differing practices for the financial reporting of rural firefighting equipment vested to councils under section 119 (2) of the Rural Fires Act 1997.

The number of findings across the portfolio reported to management increased from 132 in 2021–22 to 140 in 2022–23. Thirty per cent of issues were repeated from the prior year.

Seven high-risk issues were identified. These related to the findings outlined above, deficiencies in quality reviews of asset valuations, internal control processes and IT general controls.

The audit recommended

Recommendations were made to the department and portfolio agencies to address these deficiencies.

This report provides Parliament and other users of the Planning and Environment 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 Planning and Environment 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. Seven audits are ongoing.
  • We have been unable to commence audits of the Catholic Metropolitan Cemeteries Trust (CMCT). NSW Treasury's position remains that the Catholic CMCT is a controlled entity of the State for financial reporting purposes. This means CMCT is a Government Sector Finance (GSF) agency and is obliged under Section 7.6 of the Government Sector Finance Act 2018 (GSF Act) to prepare financial statements and submit them to the Auditor-General for audit. To date, CMCT has not met its statutory obligations under the GSF Act.
  • The Department of Planning and Environment has not yet provided their assessment against the reporting exemption requirements in the Government Sector Finance Regulation 2018 (GSF Regulation) for the estimated 579 Category 2 Statutory Land Managers (SLMs) or 119 Commons Trusts for 2022–23 and no Category 2 SLM or Commons Trust has submitted its 2022–23

    financial statements for audit. Consequently, the lack of compliance with reporting requirements by these 698 agencies presents a challenge to obtaining reliable financial data for these agencies for the purposes of consolidation to the Total State Sector Accounts.

  • The audits of the Water Administration Ministerial Corporation's (WAMC) financial statements for the years ended 30 June 2021 and 30 June 2022 were completed in June 2023 and unqualified audit opinions issued. The 30 June 2023 audit was completed and an unqualified audit opinion was issued on 12 October 2023.
  • The number of reported corrected misstatements decreased from 46 in 2021–22 to 36, however the gross value of misstatements increased from $73 million in 2021–22 to $491.8 million in 2022–23.
  • Portfolio agencies met the statutory deadline for submitting their 2022–23 early close financial statements and other mandatory procedures.
  • A change to the NSW paid parental leave scheme, effective October 2023, created a new legal obligation that needed to be recognised by impacted government agencies. Impact to the agencies' financial statements were not material.

 

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 portfolio.

Section highlights 

  • The number of findings across the portfolio reported to management increased from 132 in 2021–22 to 140 in 2022–23 and 30% were repeat issues (34% in 2021–22).
  • The 2022–23 audits identified seven high-risk and 76 moderate risk issues across the portfolio. Four of the high-risk issues were repeat issues, one was a repeat issue with the risk rating reassessed to high-risk in the current year and two were new findings in 2022–23.
  • The former Resilience NSW and NSW Reconstruction Authority had previously assessed that they did not control the temporary housing assets associated with the administration of the Northern Rivers Temporary Homes Program, under relevant accounting standards. A re-assessment of the agreements was made subsequent to the submission of the Authority’s 2022–23 financial statements for audit, which determined that the Authority was the appropriate NSW Government agency to recognise these assets and associated liabilities not previously recognised by the Authority or the former Resilience NSW.
  • There continues to be significant deficiencies in Crown land records. The department should continue to implement their data strategy and action plan to ensure the Crown land database is complete and accurate.
  • Since 2017, the Audit Office has recommended that the department, through OLG should address the differing practices for the financial reporting of rural firefighting equipment vested to councils under section 119 (2) of the Rural Fires Act 1997. The department has not been effective in resolving this issue. In 2023, twenty-six of 108 completed audits of councils received qualified audit opinions on their 2023 financial statements (43 of 146 completed audits in 2022). Six councils had their qualifications for not recognising vested rural firefighting equipment removed in 2022–23.

 

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.

Published

Actions for Regional NSW 2023

Regional NSW 2023

Industry
Environment
Planning
Whole of Government
Asset valuation
Compliance
Cyber security
Financial reporting
Fraud
Information technology
Infrastructure
Procurement
Regulation
Risk
Service delivery
Shared services and collaboration

What this report is about

Results of the Regional NSW financial statements audits for the year ended 30 June 2023.

What we found

Unqualified audit opinions were issued on all completed audits in the Regional NSW portfolio agencies.

The number of monetary misstatements identified in our audits increased from 28 in 2021–22 to 30 in 2022–23.

What the key issues were

Effective 1 July 2023, staff employed in the Northern Rivers Reconstruction Corporation Division of the Department of Regional NSW transferred to the NSW Reconstruction Authority Staff Agency.

The Regional NSW portfolio agencies were migrated into a new government wide enterprise resourcing planning system.

The total number of audit management letter findings across the portfolio of agencies decreased from 36 to 23.

A high risk matter was raised for the NSW Food Authority to improve the internal controls in the information technology environment including monitoring and managing privilege user access.

What we recommended

Local Land Services should prioritise completing all mandatory early close procedures.

Portfolio agencies should:

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

This report provides Parliament and other users of the Regional NSW 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 Regional NSW portfolio of agencies (the portfolio) for 2023.

Section highlights

  • Unqualified audit opinions were issued on all completed 30 June 2023 financial statements audits of the portfolio agencies. Two audits are ongoing.
  • The total number of errors (including corrected and uncorrected) in the financial statements increased compared to the prior year.
  • Portfolio agencies met the statutory deadline for submitting their 2022–23 early close financial statements and other mandatory procedures.
  • Portfolio agencies continue to provide financial assistance to communities affected by natural disasters.
  • A change to the NSW paid parental leave scheme, effective October 2023, created a new legal obligation that needed to be recognised by impacted government agencies. Impact to the agencies' financial statements were not material. 

 

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 Regional NSW portfolio.

Section highlights

  • The 2022–23 audits identified one high risk and nine moderate risk issues across the portfolio. Of these, one was a moderate risk repeat issue.
  • The total number of findings decreased from 36 to 23 which mainly related to deficiencies in internal controls.
  • The high risk matter relates to the monitoring and managing of privilege user access at NSW Food Authority. 

 

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 The NSW Government's international offices

The NSW Government's international offices

Industry

Most Australian state and territory governments have trade and investment offices located overseas, which operate alongside the Australian government's international Austrade offices. The NSW Government has an international network, with offices and staff located in the Americas, Greater China, India, the Middle East, North Asia, ASEAN, and the UK, Europe and Israel. These offices aim to attract international businesses to NSW and assist NSW-based businesses to operate internationally.

This audit may examine areas including the effectiveness of international offices in achieving the NSW Government's trade and investment goals, and the accountability and governance of the offices.

Published

Actions for Regulation of public native forestry

Regulation of public native forestry

Environment
Industry
Compliance
Management and administration
Regulation
Risk

What this report is about

The Forestry Corporation of NSW (FCNSW) is a state-owned corporation that manages over two million hectares of public native forests and plantations supplying timber to sawmills across NSW.

The NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA) is responsible for regulating the native forestry industry in NSW.

FCNSW must comply with Integrated Forestry Operations Approvals (IFOAs), which set out rules for how timber harvesting may occur.

Most harvesting is undertaken under the Coastal IFOA, which commenced in 2018.

This audit assessed how effectively Forestry Corporation of NSW manages its public native forestry activities to ensure compliance, and how effectively the Environment Protection Authority regulates these activities.

What we found

Forestry Corporation of NSW (FCNSW) clearly articulates its compliance obligations.

While FCNSW undertakes monitoring of its contractors, it does not do so consistently and does not target its monitoring activities on a risk basis.

FCNSW has largely fulfilled mandatory Coastal IFOA training requirements, but has not yet trained other staff who would also benefit from the training.

Contractor compliance appears to be improving, but there are gaps and inconsistencies in FCNSW's documentation of this.

FCNSW is not measuring its overall compliance to determine how it is tracking against its target.

The EPA undertakes proactive inspections of Coastal IFOA harvesting operations on a risk basis. However, it does not assess the risk at harvest sites covered by other IFOAs.

Most EPA compliance staff have received basic training, but few have received more advanced training required to effectively undertake forestry inspections.

Some EPA offices do not have the necessary equipment to undertake forestry inspections.

The EPA and FCNSW are not implementing all elements of a Memorandum of Understanding that aims to promote a cooperative relationship between the agencies.

What we recommended

The report made recommendations to FCNSW which aim to improve:

  • staff training
  • consistency of compliance reviews and data capture
  • targeting of compliance activities
  • measurement of performance.

The report made recommendations to the EPA which aim to improve:

  • risk-assessments
  • staff training
  • staff equipment.

The report also recommended that FCNSW and EPA should fully implement their Memorandum of Understanding.

The Forestry Corporation of NSW (FCNSW) is a state-owned corporation that supplies timber to sawmills in New South Wales, including timber harvested from public native forests. FCNSW is responsible for the management of around two million hectares of public native forests and plantations. Around half the area of native forests is permanently set aside for conservation.

Public native forestry is regulated through the Forestry Act 2012, Biodiversity Conservation Act 2016, Protection of the Environment Operations Act 1997 and associated regulations. Under the Forestry Act 2012, the objectives of FCNSW include, where its activities affect the environment, to conduct its operations in compliance with the principles of ecologically sustainable development contained in section 6(2) of the Protection of the Environment Administration Act 1991. This involves the integration of social, economic and environmental considerations in decision-making processes.

In undertaking its native forestry operations, FCNSW must comply with Integrated Forestry Operations Approvals (IFOA), issued jointly by the Minister for the Environment and the Minister for Agriculture, which set out rules to protect species and ecosystems where timber harvesting is occurring, and aim to ensure forests are managed in an ecologically sustainable way. FCNSW must also ensure that its contractors undertake forestry operations in line with IFOAs. The Coastal IFOA, developed in 2018, consolidated the four IFOAs for the Eden, Southern, Upper and Lower North East coastal regions of New South Wales into a single IFOA. The other three current IFOAs are Brigalow Nandewar, South Western Cypress and Riverina Redgum (the Western IFOAs).

The NSW Environment Protection Authority (EPA) is responsible for regulating native forestry in New South Wales. Under the Protection of the Environment Administration Act 1991, one of the objectives of the EPA is to protect, restore and enhance the quality of the environment in New South Wales, having regard to the need to maintain ecologically sustainable development. This includes monitoring FCNSW’s compliance with IFOA conditions, including by maintaining and enforcing a compliance program.

The Coastal IFOA also introduced a new structure and regulatory approach for IFOAs, establishing outcomes, conditions and protocols. The conditions set mandatory actions and controls intended to protect threatened plants, animals, habitats, soils and water. The protocols, referenced in the conditions, set out additional enforceable actions and controls intended to support the effective implementation of the conditions.

Public native forestry is the largest component of hardwood supply in New South Wales. The 2019–20 bushfires had a major impact on regional communities, and large areas of native forest. This heightened environmental risks and challenges in public native forestry. Five million hectares of New South Wales was impacted, including more than 890,000 hectares of native State Forests. This is over 40% of the coastal and tablelands native State Forests in New South Wales.

In addition to effective compliance activities, the success of the regulatory approach to public native forestry operations depends on how wood supply yields are modelled, and ensuring that harvested volumes do not exceed these yields. This is of particular importance in areas where forests have been severely damaged by fire. This audit did not consider sustainable yields. Recent reviews of this include an independent review of the FCNSW sustainable yield model and a Natural Resources Commission review in 2021.

This audit assessed how effectively Forestry Corporation of NSW manages its public native forestry activities to ensure compliance, and how effectively the Environment Protection Authority regulates these activities.

Conclusion

Forestry Corporation of NSW (FCNSW) clearly articulates its compliance obligations at the corporate level and for each harvest site. However, there are deficiencies in FCNSW’s compliance approach. While FCNSW undertakes monitoring of its contractors in a number of ways, it does not consistently monitor compliance across its contractors and does not target its monitoring activities on a risk basis. This increases the risk that non-compliant practices will not be identified, potentially leading to environmental harm.

FCNSW has a compliance strategy and program that sets out its compliance obligations and how they will be managed. FCNSW’s Compliance Policy outlines compliance requirements, actions to ensure compliance, and responsibilities for staff, supervisors, senior management and board members. FCNSW also has a compliance monitoring system manual that outlines its monitoring program, and its risk-assessment and incident reporting procedures. These corporate documents set out FCNSW’s overall approach to managing compliance.

Harvesting in State Forests is undertaken by contractors or sub-contractors. FCNSW provides training to its staff and contractors and undertakes monitoring to identify contractor compliance with relevant requirements through a variety of means, including its quality assurance assessment (QAA) program. FCNSW also communicates compliance obligations to contractors in harvest plans.

FCNSW is not undertaking its monitoring activities on a risk basis. The frequency of contractor supervision is inconsistent and is not tied to the contractor’s past performance, meaning that monitoring resources are not necessarily being targeted at the areas of highest -risk.

FCNSW also does not target its QAAs on a risk basis. FCNSW does not have procedures for how QAAs should occur outside the North Coast region. QAAs are conducted inconsistently, with some reviews occurring in only part of the harvest site while others cover the whole harvest site. In addition, some QAAs do not meet FCNSW’s minimum standards. FCNSW’s record keeping of QAAs is also inconsistent, making it difficult to determine true levels of compliance and the cause of identified potential non-compliances.

In addition, FCNSW does not collate and analyse the results of its compliance monitoring to target its compliance audits. Undertaking these audits on a risk basis would allow FCNSW to apply its resources to the highest-risk harvest sites and contractors.

The EPA identifies native forestry as a high priority regulatory activity and undertakes proactive inspections of Coastal IFOA harvest sites on a risk basis. However, the EPA does not assess the risk at Western IFOA harvest sites, leaving a significant gap in its inspection regime. This means that the EPA may not be inspecting all high-risk harvest sites to ensure compliance with regulations across those sites. The EPA has started to train more of its staff in conducting forestry inspections, but it currently has a limited number of trained and experienced staff to undertake this work.

The EPA has developed a Regulatory and Compliance Priorities Statement 2022–23 which identifies native forestry as a key risk. This statement identifies that forestry is a priority area for its compliance activities because of the increased environmental risk and sensitivity in forests following the 2019–20 bushfires. A divisional plan for its regulatory operations contains specific actions for forestry, including ensuring that the EPA has a consistent approach to recording regulatory actions undertaken and identifying priority areas for assurance over State Forests.

As part of its compliance activities, the EPA responds to complaints received, or reports of non-compliance, across all four IFOA areas and also carries out proactive inspections in the Coastal IFOA area. To guide these inspections, the EPA determines the level of risk posed by each harvest site in the Coastal IFOA area using information it gathers from FCNSW. The EPA prioritises inspections of sites rated as high and medium-risk, but the EPA has not undertaken risk-assessments for the three Western IFOAs. By not determining the risks in these areas, the EPA does not have assurance that it is checking FCNSW compliance with regulations across all high-risk sites.

Most EPA staff have basic training in forestry matters, but few staff have the more advanced training required to effectively undertake forestry inspections. In addition, not all EPA officers have access to the technology required to undertake forestry inspections, such as internet-enabled tablets and specialised tapes for measuring tree diameter. This limits the EPA’s ability to determine the level of compliance with regulations and respond effectively to instances of environmental harm in relation to public native forestry.

The Coastal IFOA does not contain provisions which allow the EPA to unilaterally restrict forestry activities in the aftermath of a catastrophic event such as the 2019–20 bushfires. Following the bushfires, FCNSW approached the EPA and asked for additional site-specific operating conditions (SSOC) at some locations to assist it in maintaining compliance. The SSOCs were issued by the EPA and FCNSW was required to carry out forestry operations in accordance with the SSOCs at relevant harvest sites. These SSOCs were in place for 12 months. After a year, FCNSW decided not to renew this approach with the EPA, but implemented its own voluntary measures during harvesting operations. Unlike the SSOCs, the EPA was unable to undertake enforcement activities for breaches of voluntary measures.

Appendix one – Responses from agencies
Appendix two – About the audit
Appendix three – Performance auditing

 

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

 

Parliamentary reference - Report number #382 - released 22 June 2023

Published

Actions for Bushfire recovery grants

Bushfire recovery grants

Environment
Industry
Compliance
Internal controls and governance
Management and administration
Service delivery

What the report is about

The Bushfire Local Economic Recovery (BLER) program was created after the 2019–20 bushfires, and commits $541.8 million to bushfire affected areas in New South Wales. It is co-funded by the Commonwealth and NSW governments.

This audit assessed how effectively the Department of Regional NSW (the department) and Resilience NSW administered rounds one and two of the BLER program. These rounds were:

  • Round one: early co-funding, split between two streams:
    • ­Fast-Tracked projects 
    • ­Sector Development Grants (SDG)
  • Round two: open round.

What we found

The Department of Regional NSW did not effectively administer the Fast-Tracked stream of the BLER. 

The administration process lacked integrity, given it did not have sufficiently detailed guidelines and the assessment process for projects lacked transparency and consistency. 

At the request of the Deputy Premier's office, a $1 million threshold was applied, below which projects were not approved for funding. The department advises that some of the projects excluded were subsequently funded from other programs. 

This threshold resulted in a number of shortlisted projects in areas highly impacted by the bushfires being excluded, including all shortlisted projects located in Labor Party-held electorates.

The department's administration of the SDG stream had a detailed and transparent assessment process. However, conflicts of interest were not effectively managed. 

The department's administration of the open round included a clearly documented, detailed and transparent assessment framework. Some weaknesses in the approach to conflicts of interest remained.

What we recommended

The Department of Regional NSW should ensure that for all future grant programs it:

  1. establishes and follows guidelines that align with relevant good practice guidance 
  2. ensures a communications plan is in place, including the communication of guidelines to potential applicants
  3. ensures staff declare conflicts of interest prior to the commencement of a grants stream, and that these conflicts of interest are recorded and managed
  4. ensures regular monitoring is in place as part of funding deeds 
  5. documents all key decisions and approvals in line with record keeping obligations.

This audit assessed how effectively the Department of Regional NSW and Resilience NSW administered rounds one and two of the Bushfire Local Economic Recovery (BLER) program.

As noted in this report, Resilience NSW was involved in the set-up and ongoing administration and monitoring of the BLER program. During the audited period, Resilience NSW was tasked with working with the Department of Regional NSW to create program objectives, guidelines and criteria. Their role also involved liaising with the Commonwealth Government, which provided co-funding for the program. Resilience NSW also had an ongoing role in quality assurance and compliance to ensure agencies administering disaster assistance did so in accordance with relevant guidelines. On 16 December 2022, the NSW Government abolished Resilience NSW.

Our work for this performance audit was completed on 3 November 2022, when we issued the final report to the two audited agencies. The audit report does not make specific recommendations to Resilience NSW. On 24 November 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.

During the 2019–20 bushfire season, New South Wales experienced 11,774 fire incidents, burning 5.5 million hectares of the state. There were 26 fatalities and 2,476 homes destroyed. The agriculture sector was heavily impacted with 601,858 hectares of pasture damaged.

Due to the widespread impacts of these fires on the state, the NSW and Commonwealth governments committed $4.4 billion toward bushfire response, recovery, and preparedness. This included the establishment of the Bushfire Local Economic Recovery (BLER) program, with $541.8 million committed to support job retention and creation in areas impacted by bushfires. The program also aims to strengthen community resilience and reduce the impact of future natural disasters. The BLER program is co-funded, with the Commonwealth and NSW governments funding 50% each.

The BLER program is comprised of three funding rounds:

  • round one early co-funding, split between
    • Fast-Tracked projects
    • Sector Development Grants (SDG)
  • round two: open round
  • round three: final projects and initiatives.

Resilience NSW was involved in setting up the BLER program and the Department of Regional NSW (the department) is responsible for administering it. The Commonwealth National Recovery and Resilience Agency must also endorse any projects proposed by the NSW Government for funding as part of the funding agreement between the State and Commonwealth governments.

Successful projects under the SDG stream were announced in September 2020 and projects funded through the Fast-Tracked stream were announced in October 2020. Round two (the open round) was administered after these two streams and successful projects were announced in June 2021.

The Department of Premier and Cabinet established the 'Good Practice Guide to Grants Administration' (the Good Practice Guide) in 2010 to assist the NSW Government in ensuring grants administration was performed consistently across all NSW Government grants programs. Compliance with the Good Practice Guide was not compulsory, but provided an outline of best practice covering the entire lifecycle of a grants program. This guide was in place at the time these grants were designed and administered.

The design and delivery of round one of the program occurred quickly, as part of the response to the 2019–20 bushfires, and was responding to a request from the Commonwealth Government for rapid project identification.

The objective of this audit was to assess how effectively the Department of Regional NSW and Resilience NSW administered rounds one and two of the BLER program. Round three was excluded from this audit because it had not been announced at the time of the audit.

We addressed this objective by examining whether the audited agencies:

  • effectively planned administration of the BLER program and established appropriate guidelines
  • implemented an effective assessment process for the BLER program
  • are effectively monitoring implementation of projects and program outcomes.

Conclusion

The Department of Regional NSW did not effectively administer the Fast-Tracked stream of the Bushfire Local Economic Recovery program. The administration process lacked integrity, given it did not have sufficiently detailed guidelines, and the assessment process for projects lacked transparency and consistency.

There were significant gaps in the documentation of decision-making throughout this funding stream. At the request of the Deputy Premier's office, a $1 million threshold was applied, below which projects were not approved for funding. This threshold was applied without a documented reason and was not part of the program guidelines. The department advises that some of the projects excluded through application of the threshold were subsequently funded from other programs.

The department's administration of the Sector Development Grants stream had a detailed and transparent assessment process. That said, conflicts of interest were not effectively managed, and the department did not effectively engage with stakeholders during the grants process.

The department's administration of the open round included a clearly documented, detailed and transparent assessment framework that it followed throughout. The department also implemented probity arrangements in the open round, although some weaknesses in the department's approach to conflicts of interest remained.

Fast-Tracked stream

Following requests from the Commonwealth Government in May and June 2020 to identify projects rapidly and as soon as practical, the department used an expedited process to identify relevant projects that had applied for other grants programs but had not received funding or which were identified as local priority projects. The department developed a set of guidelines for the Fast-Tracked stream based on draft Commonwealth funding criteria, but the department's guidelines lacked sufficient detail to ensure transparent and consistent decision-making. The guidelines also did not contain detailed information on how the assessment and approval processes would work. The department did not implement conflict of interest declarations for staff involved in the assessment process.

The assessment process implemented for the Fast-Tracked stream deviated from the guidelines. For example, the guidelines did not set out a role for the then Deputy Premier or his office in the assessment process, but the Deputy Premier's office played a key role in project selection. At the direction of the Deputy Premier's office, a $1 million minimum threshold, not mentioned in the guidelines, was applied to projects, below which, projects would not be funded. This resulted in a number of shortlisted projects in areas highly impacted by the bushfires, including all shortlisted projects located in Labor Party-held electorates, being excluded without a rationale being documented at the time. The department advised that some of these projects were subsequently funded through other funding streams.

The department's assessment process was inconsistent, poorly documented and lacked transparency. The department initially identified 445 potential projects through consultation with councils and through identifying projects that had been unsuccessful for other grant programs. The department only assessed 164 of these 445 projects for funding against the criteria in the guidelines. The department did not document the rationale for not assessing the remaining 281 projects against the criteria. The department also sought advice from Public Works Advisory (PWA) on whether projects could commence within six months, which was an eligibility criterion for the Fast-Tracked stream. PWA were only asked to assess 25 of the 445 projects, of which 19 were funded through the Fast-Tracked stream. The department also did not consistently follow PWA's advice and funded projects which PWA had advised were unable to commence within six months, which was not in line with the guidelines.

The department monitors 21 of the 22 Fast-Tracked projects on a quarterly basis to ensure projects are on track. Resilience NSW is responsible for the remaining project and does not monitor this on a quarterly basis but has established a project control group that performs a similar function. The agencies advised that this project is being transitioned to the department's management.

Sector Development Grants (SDG)

The department designed and published guidelines for the SDG stream. The guidelines largely align with the Department of Premier and Cabinet's 'Good Practice Guide to Grants Administration', although they could have been strengthened by including more detail on the eligibility of projects and the role of cost benefit analyses in the assessment process. The guidelines included a detailed and transparent assessment process which the department largely followed.

There were gaps in the administration of the SDG stream assessment process. The department did not effectively manage conflicts of interest as it did not ensure all required conflict of interest forms were completed and some forms were completed after the assessment process was finalised. The department also advised that the final version of the conflict of interest register, which contained the declarations for the SDG stream, was lost during a record management system change. The department did not develop guidance for communicating with stakeholders for the SDG stream. Feedback was received from industries which had been excluded from the SDG stream, relaying their concerns, and requesting a broader range of agribusiness sectors be considered for eligibility. A communications plan or strategy could have incorporated guidance on engaging agribusiness stakeholders during the planning stages of the stream, ensuring they were aware of the rationale for the eligible industries selected.

The majority of SDG funding went to areas highly impacted by the bushfires, although some highly impacted areas received less funding than lower impacted areas, and there is no clear reason for this.

The department does not monitor SDG projects on a quarterly basis to ensure that they remain on track but it ensures it has sufficient evidence that milestones have been completed before making funding payments.

Open round

The department designed and implemented a clearly documented and detailed assessment process for the open round. There were some areas where the process could have been improved, for example, the published guidelines did not set out the role of the former Deputy Premier or include reference to consultation with members of Parliament (MP) as part of the process, despite the fact that MPs were consulted as part of this round.

The department improved its management of conflicts of interest compared to the Fast-Tracked and SDG streams by maintaining a conflict of interest register, though not all conflict of interest declarations were collected. The department also developed a communications plan which led to improvements in stakeholder engagement.

One of the purposes of the open round was to distribute funding to local government areas (LGA) which did not receive funding through the Fast-Tracked stream. This intention was not outlined in the guidelines for this funding stream. The majority of funding from the open round went to LGAs which had been highly impacted by the bushfires.

The department monitors the open round projects on a quarterly basis to ensure that they are on track.

1. Recommendations

To promote integrity and transparency, the Department of Regional NSW should ensure that for all future grant programs it:

  1. establishes and follows guidelines that align with relevant good practice guidance including accountabilities, key assessment steps and clear assessment criteria
  2. ensures a communications plan is in place, including the communication of guidelines to potential applicants
  3. ensures staff declare conflicts of interest prior to the commencement of a grants stream, and that these conflicts of interest are recorded and managed
  4. ensures regular monitoring is in place as part of funding deeds
  5. documents all key decisions and approvals in line with record keeping obligations.

Stage one of the BLER program consisted of early co-funded projects valued at a total of $180 million. This included 22 Fast-Tracked priority projects valued at a total of $107.8 million. The purpose of these projects was to deliver immediate and significant economic impacts to high and moderate bushfire-impacted areas.

A timeline of key dates may be found at Exhibit 5.

Fifty-two projects worth a total of $73.2 million were funded through the SDG stream. One grantee withdrew their project from the stream in early 2021, leaving a total of 51 projects (of which 49 are co-funded with the Commonwealth Government).

A timeline of key dates may be found at Exhibit 9.

The department distributed $283 million to 195 successful projects as part of the open round of the BLER program.

A timeline of key dates may be found at Exhibit 11.

The department entered into funding deeds with successful applicants

The Good Practice Guide advises that the agency administering a grant should enter into a formal agreement with each grant recipient which sets out the arrangements under which a grant is provided, received, managed and acquitted. Across all three streams, the department sent out a letter of offer to successful project managers to let them know that they had been successful in receiving funding, and then entered into funding deeds with grantees. The one exception was the project that RNSW managed, discussed below.

The reviewed funding deeds were signed by department staff with the appropriate level of delegation. They contained an appropriate level of information and key clauses that would allow the department to monitor the progress of the grant to ensure its completion as agreed with the grantee. The reviewed funding deeds contained key information, including:

  • total value of the grant
  • key deliverables at each milestone
  • expected completion date of both the overall project and each milestone
  • reporting requirements, including provisions to allow the department to request relevant information
  • variation procedures.

The department only makes payments after confirming that milestones have been reached

The department has provided payments to grantees only after they could demonstrate that they had completed the agreed milestone. To ensure each milestone has been completed, the department requires grantees to provide evidence that they have fulfilled the milestone. Types of evidence provided includes photographs and invoices. Where the grantee provides insufficient evidence to the department, the department follows-up with the grantee to ensure that enough information is provided to justify the milestone payment.

The department also plans to undertake site visits of projects at select milestones and at the completion of most projects. The department has undertaken a risk assessment of each SDG and open round project, and uses this risk assessment to determine the number of milestones for the project, as well as the number of site visits that the department will undertake. Fast-Tracked projects all had PWA providing either project management or assurance and as such oversight is being provided through that mechanism. The milestones and site visits at each level of risk can be seen in Exhibit 15 for SDG and Exhibit 16 for open round.

Exhibit 15: Milestones and site visits for each level of risk - SDG
Risk rating Milestones Site visits
Low Two Zero
Medium Three One
High Four Two
Source: Department of Regional NSW.
 
Exhibit 16: Milestones and site visits for each level of risk - open round
Risk rating Milestones Site visits
Low Three One
Medium Four Two
High Five Three
 Source: Department of Regional NSW.

The department does not monitor quarterly progress for SDG grants

As part of the LER framework, the department reports to the Commonwealth every quarter on the status and financials of each project, including whether there are any risks to project delivery and the mitigations in place for those risks. For projects funded through the Fast-Tracked stream and the open round, the department collects quarterly progress reports from the grantees. These progress reports allow the department to determine if there are project risks, which can then be reported to the Commonwealth. The progress reports also allow the department to determine if a milestone is likely to be met within the next quarter or whether a project variation may be needed.

While the department monitors projects funded through the Fast-Tracked stream and the open round on a quarterly basis, there is no quarterly monitoring of progress for projects funded through the SDG stream. The SDG funding deeds do not include a provision to require quarterly reporting to the department. The department only collects progress reports from grantees when the grantee reports that it has completed a milestone. Quarterly monitoring of the SDG stream would allow the department to determine if projects require corrective action.

Resilience NSW is not collecting quarterly reports for the Fast-Tracked grant it is responsible for administering

One of the projects funded through the Fast-Tracked stream was the rebuilding of three local halls across two LGAs, for a total value of $3 million. RNSW is responsible for managing this grant and entered into funding deeds with the relevant councils. It is not documented why RNSW is responsible for these funding deeds rather than the department, which is the signatory for all of the other Fast-Tracked stream funding deeds. RNSW advised it was due to the responsible RNSW Director having a strong working relationship with the relevant councils.

The funding deeds which RNSW signed with the relevant councils set out a requirement that the councils would report on this project to RNSW every quarter. The second milestone of each of these projects involved the submission of a quarterly report. However, RNSW was unable to provide evidence that it carried out this monitoring of the project. At the time of the audit, no second milestone payment had been made. Undertaking quarterly monitoring would provide RNSW with assurance that the money is being expended for the proper purpose and whether the projects will be completed by the target date.

RNSW and the relevant councils developed project control groups for each project, which allows it to monitor the implementation of the projects. PWA is also represented on these project control groups and provides an advisory role in the implementation of the projects.

RNSW and the department advised that responsibility for this project will be transitioned to the department and it will be monitored on a quarterly basis, in line with the other Fast-Tracked projects.

The department has a consistent approach to validating variations

The department's funding deeds with grantees allow for the variation of contracts at the department's discretion after the grantee has written to the department. It is important for the department to consider the impact of any project variation request on the overall program objectives, because a project which costs more than was originally planned or which takes additional time may put at risk the objectives of the BLER program. To ensure that requests for variation are handled consistently and appropriately, the department's Grants Management Office (GMO) has developed a process document which applies to variation requests across the BLER program.

For the grants reviewed as part of this audit, the GMO applied this variation process consistently and has documented the outcomes. Larger variations are reviewed at a higher level of delegation and sign-off. To determine whether a variation is accepted, the GMO considers the following factors:

  • consistency with BLER program objectives
  • delivery within the timeframes of the BLER program
  • eligibility under the BLER program guidelines
  • financial viability to deliver within the requested budget.

The department is preparing multiple evaluations, but it has delayed its process evaluation

When developing round one of the BLER program, the department developed an evaluation plan. A total of $1.1 million has been reserved for conducting process, outcome, and economic evaluations of the BLER program and two other bushfire recovery grant programs.

To assist with evaluating program outcomes and economic impact, the department is planning a post-completion survey in 2023–24. This timeline will allow most projects to be completed and enough time for project outcomes to be realised. The department advised that the data collected through this survey would allow the department to determine whether the BLER program has achieved its objectives, as it includes information such as the number of jobs created through each project.

The process evaluation was initially planned for March to June 2021. This would have aligned with the announcement of the open round funding and would have allowed for the learnings from rounds one and two of the BLER program to be applied to the development of round three. However, the department did not conduct this evaluation in a timely way. The department advised that this was because funding deed negotiations were still ongoing, and the department was waiting for 50% of funding deeds to be signed. Given this, the department was not in a position to commence its process evaluation. In December 2021, the department revised its evaluation plan and advised that it commenced its process evaluation in April 2022. It is unlikely that this will allow time for the department to apply learnings to round three, which is currently underway.

Appendix one – Responses from agencies

Appendix two – BLER program distribution

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 #373 - released 2 February 2023

Published

Actions for Planning and Environment 2022

Planning and Environment 2022

Environment
Industry
Local Government
Planning
Asset valuation
Compliance
Financial reporting
Information technology
Infrastructure
Internal controls and governance
Management and administration
Risk

What the report is about

Result of the Planning and Environment cluster agencies' financial statements audits for the year ended 30 June 2022.

What we found

Unmodified audit opinions were issued for all completed 30 June 2022 financial statements audits of cluster agencies. Seven audits are ongoing.

Disclaimed audit opinions were issued for the 2010–11 to 2015–16 financial statements of the Water Administration Ministerial Corporation (WAMC), as management was unable to certify that the financial statements exhibit a true and fair view of WAMC's financial position and financial performance.

Qualified audit opinions were issued for WAMC's 2016–17 and 2017–18 financial statements due to insufficient evidence to support the completeness and valuation of water meters infrastructure assets, the impairment of water meters, and the completeness of buildings at Nimmie Caira.

Unqualified audit opinions were issued for WAMC's 2018–19 and 2019–20 financial statements.

The Department of Planning and Environment (the department) assessed 45 Category 2 Statutory Land Managers (SLM) did not meet the reporting exemption criteria and therefore were required to prepare 2021–22 financial statements. None of these 45 Category 2 SLMs prepared and submitted their 30 June 2022 financial statements by the statutory reporting deadline.

All 119 Commons Trusts have never submitted their financial statements for audit as required by the Government Sector Finance Act 2018 (GSF Act).

NSW Treasury has confirmed that the Catholic Metropolitan Cemeteries Trust (CMCT) is a controlled entity of the State. To date, CMCT has not met its obligations to prepare financial statements under the GSF Act and it has not submitted financial statements to the Auditor-General for audit.

What the key issues were

Since 2017, the Audit Office has recommended the department address the different practices across the local government sector in accounting for rural firefighting equipment. Despite repeated recommendations, the department did little to resolve this issue. At the time of writing, 32 of 118 completed council audits received qualified audit opinions on their 30 June 2022 financial statements.

There continues to be significant deficiencies in Crown land records. The department uses the Crown Land Information Database (CLID) to record key information relating to Crown land in New South Wales that is managed and controlled by the department and land managers. The CLID system was not designed to facilitate financial reporting, and the department is required to conduct extensive adjustments and reconciliations to produce accurate information for the financial statements.

The department implemented the CrownTracker system as a replacement for CLID. The project was finalised in June 2022, but it has not achieved the intended outcomes.

Nine high-risk issues were identified across the cluster related to the findings outlined above and weaknesses in IT general controls, financial reporting, governance processes and internal controls.

Recommendations were made to address these deficiencies.

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

  • financial reporting
  • audit observations.

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

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

Section highlights

  • Unqualified audit opinions were issued for all completed 30 June 2022 financial statements audits of cluster agencies. Seven audits are ongoing. The audit of the Catholic Metropolitan Cemeteries Trust(CMCT) has not been able to commence, despite repeated requests to do so.
     
  • The audits of the Water Administration Ministerial Corporation's (WAMC) financial statements for the years ended 30 June 2011 to 30 June 2020 were completed in November 2022. These audits had been long outstanding due to insufficient records and evidence to support the transactions and balances of WAMC, particularly for the earlier years. In recent years, management commenced actions to improve WAMC's governance and financial management, and finalise the outstanding audits.

    Disclaimed audit opinions were issued on the 2010–11 to 2015–16 financial statements as management was unable to certify that the financial statements exhibit a true and fair view of WAMC's financial position and financial performance.

    Qualified audit opinions were issued for the 2016–17 and 2017–18 financial statements due to insufficient evidence to support the completeness and valuation of water meters infrastructure assets, the impairment of water meters, and the completeness of buildings at Nimmie Caira.

    Unqualified audit opinions were issued for the 2018–19 and 2019–20 financial statements.

    The 2020–21 and 2021–22 WAMC audits are in progress.
     
  • The Department of Planning and Environment (the department) assessed 45 Category 2 Statutory Land Managers (SLM) did not meet the reporting exemption criteria and therefore were required to prepare 2021–22 financial statements. None of these 45 Category 2 SLMs prepared and submitted their 30 June 2022 financial statements by the statutory reporting deadline.

    All 119 Commons Trusts have never submitted their financial statements for audit as required by the Government Sector Finance Act 2018 (GSF Act).

    The department needs to do more to ensure Category 2 SLMs and Commons Trusts meet their statutory reporting obligations.

    The department and Category 2 SLMs should finalise their reporting exemption assessments earlier to allow sufficient time for the non-exempted SLMs to prepare and submit annual financial statements by the statutory reporting deadline.
     
  • NSW Treasury has met with the Catholic Metropolitan Cemeteries Trust (CMCT) to consider their perspective as part of confirming CMCT is a controlled entity of the State for the purposes of financial reporting. NSW Treasury has confirmed that the CMCT is a controlled entity of the State. This means that the CMCT is statutorily obliged under section 7.6 of the GSF Act to prepare financial statements in accordance with the GSF Act and Treasurer's Directions, and give them to the Auditor-General for audit pursuant to the Government Sector Audit Act 1983 (GSA Act). Section 34 of the GSA Act requires the Auditor-General to furnish an audit report on these financial statements.

    The department wrote to CMCT to request it work with, and offer full assistance to, the Auditor-General in the exercise of her duties. To date, the CMCT has not met its obligations to prepare financial statements under the GSF Act as it has not submitted its financial statements to the Auditor-General for audit despite repeated requests, and has not provided access to its books and records for the purposes of a financial audit. The CMCT contends that they are not a GSF agency as defined by the GSF Act and therefore not a controlled entity of the State.
     
  • Six agencies required to perform early close procedures did not complete a total of 11 mandatory procedures. Incomplete procedures included the delayed resolution of matters raised in prior years and two agencies did not record movements in the fair value of physical assets in the financial statements.

 

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 Planning and Environment cluster.

Section highlights

  • Since 2017, the Audit Office of New South Wales has recommended that the Department of Planning and Environment (the department) address the different practices across the local government sector in accounting for rural firefighting equipment. Despite repeated recommendations, the department did little to resolve this issue, and in 2022, 32 of 118 completed audits of councils received qualified audit opinions on their 2022 financial statements.
    Consistent with the department’s role to assess councils' compliance with legislative responsibilities, standards or guidelines, the department should intervene where councils do not recognise rural firefighting equipment.
  • There continues to be significant deficiencies in Crown land records. The department should implement an action plan to ensure the Crown land database is complete and accurate.
  • The number of findings reported to management decreased from 161 in 2020–21 to 132 in 2021–22. Eight high-risk findings were identified during 2021–22, of which six were repeat issues. One new high-risk finding related to deficiencies in governance processes and internal controls identified as a part of the Water Administration Ministerial Corporation's 2011–2020 financial statements audits.
  • The department and NSW Treasury did not comply with section 35 of the Energy and Utilities Administration Act 1987 (EUA Act). However, complying with the EUA Act could create non-compliance with other pieces of legislation. Amendments to the EUA Act have been made to resolve this inconsistency. The amendment took effect from April 1999.

 

Appendix one – Misstatements in financial statements submitted for audit

Appendix two – Early close procedures

Appendix three – Timeliness of financial reporting

Appendix four – Financial data

Appendix five – Councils received qualified audit opinions 

Copyright notice

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

Published

Actions for Regional NSW 2022

Regional NSW 2022

Environment
Industry
Planning
Asset valuation
Compliance
Financial reporting
Fraud
Information technology
Infrastructure
Internal controls and governance
Management and administration
Regulation
Risk
Shared services and collaboration

What the report is about

Result of the Regional NSW cluster agencies' financial statement audits for the year ended 30 June 2022.

What we found

Unmodified audit opinions were issued for Regional NSW cluster agencies. Two audits are ongoing.

What the key issues were

The Department of Regional NSW (the department) and Local Land Services (LLS) accepted changes to their office leasing arrangements managed by Property NSW.

These changes resulted in the collective derecognition of $100.6 million of rights-of-use-assets and $110.4 million of lease liabilities.

In 2021–22, the cluster agencies continued to assist communities in their recovery from recent weather emergencies, including significant flooding in New South Wales.

The Northern Rivers Reconstruction Corporation was established in May 2022 to rebuild communities in the Lismore and Northern Rivers region impacted by floods.

The number of matters reported to management decreased from 36 in 2020–21 to 14 in 2021–22.

Five moderate risk issues were identified and 14% of reported issues were repeat issues.

One moderate risk issue was a repeat issue related to Local Land Services' annual fair value assessment of the asset improvements on land reserves used for moving stock.

This report provides Parliament and other users of the Regional NSW cluster 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 Regional NSW cluster (the cluster) for 2022.

Section highlights

  • Unqualified audit opinions were issued on the financial statements of cluster agencies. Two audits are ongoing.
  • Cluster agencies completed all required early close procedures.
  • Changes to accommodation arrangements managed by Property NSW on behalf of the department and cluster agencies resulted in the collective derecognition of approximately $100.6 million in right-of-use assets and corresponding lease liabilities totalling $110.4 million from the balance sheets of these agencies.
  • Cluster agencies continue to provide financial assistance to communities affected by natural disasters.

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 Regional NSW cluster.

Section highlights

  • The 2021–22 audits identified five moderate issues across the cluster. One moderate risk issue was a repeat issue related to Local Land Services' annual fair value assessment of the asset improvements on land reserves used for moving stock.
  • Of the four newly identified moderate rated issues, one related to internal control deficiencies and improvements and three related to financial reporting.
  • The number of findings reported to management has decreased from 36 in 2020–21 to 14 in 2021–22.

Published

Actions for Audit Insights 2018-2022

Audit Insights 2018-2022

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

What the report is about

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

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

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

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

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

What we found

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

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

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

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

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

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

Fast facts

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

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

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

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

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

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

Margaret Crawford
Auditor-General for New South Wales

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Appendix one – Included reports, 2018–2022

Appendix two – About this report

 

Copyright notice

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