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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 realtime 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

 

Read the PDF report.

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

Published

Actions for Flood housing response

Flood housing response

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

What this report is about

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

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

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

Findings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Audit recommendations

The NSW Reconstruction Authority should:

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

All audited agencies should:

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

Read the PDF report

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

Published

Actions for Driver vehicle system

Driver vehicle system

Transport
Finance
Cyber security
Information technology
Internal controls and governance
Project management
Service delivery

What this report is about

Transport for NSW (TfNSW) uses the Driver vehicle System (DRIVES) to support its regulatory functions. The system covers over 6.2 million driver licences and over seven million vehicle registrations.

DRIVES first went live in 1991 and has been significantly extended and updated since, though is still based around the same core system. The system is at end of life but has become an important service for Service NSW and the NSW Police Force.

DRIVES now includes some services to other parts of government and non-government entities which have little or no connection to transport. There are 141 users of DRIVES in total, including commercial insurers, national regulators, and individual citizens.

This audit assessed whether TfNSW is effectively managing DRIVES and planning to transition it to a modernised system.

Audit findings

TfNSW has not effectively planned the replacement of DRIVES.

It is now working on its third business case for a replacement system but has failed to learn lessons from its past attempts.

In the meantime, TfNSW has not taken a strategic approach to managing DRIVES’ growth.

TfNSW has been slow to reduce the risk of misuse of personal information held in DRIVES. With its delivery partner Service NSW, TfNSW has also been slow to develop and implement automatic monitoring of access.

TfNSW uses recognised processes for managing most aspects of DRIVES, but has not kept the system consistently available for users. TfNSW has lacked accurate service availability information since June 2022, when it changed its technology support provider.

TfNSW needs to significantly prioritise cyber security improvements to DRIVES. TfNSW is seeking to lift DRIVES’ cyber defences, but it will not achieve its stated target safeguard level until December 2025.

Even then, one of the target safeguards will not be achieved in full until DRIVES is modernised.

Audit recommendations

TfNSW should:

  • implement a service management framework including insight into the views of DRIVES users, and ensuring users can influence the service
  • ensure it can accurately and cost effectively calculate when DRIVES is unavailable due to unplanned downtime
  • ensure implementation of a capability to automatically detect anomalous patterns of access to DRIVES
  • ensure that DRIVES has appropriate cyber security and resilience safeguards in place as a matter of priority
  • develop a clear statement of the future role in whole of government service delivery for the system
  • resolve key issues currently faced by the DRIVES replacement program including by:
    • clearly setting out a strategy and design for the replacement
    • preparing a specific business case for replacement.

Read the PDF report

Parliamentary reference - Report number #388 - released 20 February 2024

Published

Actions for Health 2023

Health 2023

Health
Whole of Government
Asset valuation
Compliance
Financial reporting
Information technology
Internal controls and governance
Project management
Regulation
Risk
Shared services and collaboration
Workforce and capability

What this report is about

Results of the Health portfolio of agencies' financial statement audits for the year ended 30 June 2023.

The audit found

Unmodified audit opinions were issued for all Health portfolio agencies' financial statements. 

The number of monetary misstatements increased in 2022–23, driven by key accounting issues, including the first-time recognition of paid parental leave and plant and equipment fair value adjustments. 

The key audit issues were 

NSW Health identified errors regarding the recognition and calculation of long service leave entitlements for employees with ten or more years of service that had periods of part time service in the first ten years, resulting in prior period restatements. 

Comprehensive revaluation of buildings at the Graythwaite Charitable Trust found errors in the previous year's valuation, resulting in prior period restatements. 

New parental leave legislation increased employee liabilities for portfolio agencies. The Ministry of Health corrected the consolidated financial statements to record parental leave liabilities for all agencies within the Health portfolio.   

A repeat high-risk issue relates to processing time records by administrators that have not been reviewed prior to running the pay cycle.   

Thirty per cent of reported issues were repeat issues. 

The audit recommended 

Portfolio agencies should ensure any changes to employee entitlements are assessed for their potential financial statements impact under the relevant Australian Accounting Standards. 

Portfolio agencies should address deficiencies that resulted in qualified reports on:   

  • the design and operation of shared service controls
  • prudential non-compliance at residential aged care facilities.

 

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

Section highlights

  • Unqualified audit opinions were issued for all portfolio agencies required to prepare general purpose financial statements.
  • The total number of errors (including corrected and uncorrected) in the financial statements increased compared to the prior year.
  • The Ministry of Health retrospectively corrected an $18.9 million adjustment in its financial statements relating to long service leave entitlements for certain employees.
  • Graythwaite Charitable Trust retrospectively corrected a $4.2 million adjustment in its financial statements related to prior period valuations. 

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 observations and insights from our financial statement audits of agencies in the Health portfolio.  

 Section highlights 

  • The 2022–23 audits identified one high-risk and 57 moderate risk issues across the portfolio.
  • The high-risk matter related to the forced-finalisation of time records.
  • The total number of findings increased from 67 to 111 in 2022–23.
  • Thirty per cent of the issues were repeat issues. Most repeat issues related to internal control deficiencies or non-compliance with key legislation and/or central agency policies.
  • Forced-finalisation of time records, accounting for the new paid parental leave provision and user access review deficiencies were the most commonly reported issues.
  • Qualified Assurance Practitioner's reports were issued on:
    • the design and operation of controls as documented by HealthShare NSW
    • the Ministry's Annual Prudential Compliance Statements in relation to residential aged care facilities.

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 Procurement of services for the Park'nPay app

Procurement of services for the Park'nPay app

Finance
Local Government
Information technology
Internal controls and governance
Procurement
Project management

What this report is about

The report assesses whether the Department of Customer Service (the department) complied with legislation and NSW government policy when it directly negotiated with Duncan Solutions to procure backend services relating to the Park'nPay app.

The Park'nPay app, developed by the department, enables users to locate and pay for parking remotely using their smart mobile device.

The audit found

The department failed to establish the grounds for entering a direct negotiation procurement strategy, without any competitive tendering, for services for the Park'nPay app. It rushed a decision to trial the app in The Rocks, without considering how this might affect its procurement obligations.

There is no evidence that the procurement achieved value for money. Despite being required by legislation, as well as mandatory NSW government policy, the department did not consider how it would ensure value for money, nor did it demonstrate an adequate understanding of what is meant by value for money on this occasion.

The department failed to implement key probity requirements. There was no effective management of conflicts of interest. Key decisions were not documented. There was a lack of clarity, transparency, and oversight of the relationship between the Minister's office and staff in the department.

The audit made recommendations about

  1. making and retaining complete and accurate records, particularly on decisions to commit or expend public money
  2. ensuring department staff understand how to exercise their financial delegations and procurement processes
  3. ensuring that only staff with appropriate delegations are committing or approving the spending of public money
  4. consistency with the contract extension provisions of the NSW Government Procurement Policy Framework, particularly regarding ensuring value for money
  5. protocols to guide the interactions between department staff and Minister and Minister's staff
  6. the need for proper management and oversight of contingent workers, such as contractors.

 

On 27 February 2019 the then Minister for Finance, Services and Property announced the commencement of a Park’nPay app trial in The Rocks precinct of Sydney.

The app was intended to enable users to locate and pay for parking remotely, using their smart mobile device such as a phone or tablet, rather than needing to physically be at a parking meter.

In July 2019, following a direct negotiation procurement conducted by the then Department of Finance, Services and Innovation, a contract was executed with Duncan Solutions for an estimated value of $1,260,600 over three-years, with three single-year options to extend. The contract required Duncan Solutions to provide development services to link the Park'nPay app to its Parking Enterprise Management System platform and to provide ongoing software support services.

This audit assessed whether the department complied with the procurement obligations that applied at the time it procured these services from Duncan Solutions.

This audit focussed on the department's processes and decision-making relating to:

  • the direct negotiation with Duncan Solutions at the exclusion of any other potential supplier
  • the negotiation, execution and management of the contract with Duncan Solutions.

As this audit focusses on the department's procurement and contract management processes, it does not comment on the activities of Duncan Solutions. The detailed audit objective, criteria and audit approach are in Appendix three.

The auditee is the Department of Customer Service. As a result of machinery of government changes, the Department of Finance, Services, and Innovation became the Department of Customer Service from 1 July 2019. To avoid confusion, this report simply uses ‘the department’ to refer to either. Where the report refers to the Minister, it relates to the former Minister in office at the time.

Conclusion

The department failed to establish the grounds for entering a direct negotiation procurement strategy for services for the Park'nPay app. It rushed a decision to trial the app in The Rocks, without considering how this might affect its procurement requirements.

As part of a direct negotiation process, the department was required to, but did not:

  • undertake a comprehensive analysis of the market and all relevant factors to demonstrate that a competitive process does not need to be conducted
  • conduct a risk assessment for the procurement approach
  • follow the internal delegation process, including obtaining approval of the department's delegate and endorsement of the Chief Procurement Officer.

There is no evidence that the procurement to support Park'nPay represented value for money. Despite it being required by legislation, as well as mandatory NSW Government policy, the department did not consider how to ensure value for money, nor demonstrate an adequate understanding of what is meant by value for money in this case.

The department issued no tender or expression of interest documents against which any proposal could be assessed, and it had no tender evaluation plan, committee, or criteria. Without any objective standards against which the supplier's proposal could be assessed, it was not possible for the department to determine if value for money was achieved, and no value for money has been demonstrated.

The department failed to implement key probity requirements. There was no effective management of conflicts of interest. Key decisions were not documented. There was a lack of clarity, transparency, and oversight of the relationship between the Minister's office and staff in the department.

No conflict of interest declarations were made by staff until almost one year after the direct negotiations commenced and even then they were not made by all members of the negotiation team and key decision-makers.

The department did not document the reasons for its decisions or minute key meetings, such as when, why and by whom the decision was made to transform the procurement from a 'trial' to a contract of up to six years duration. The department had no policies guiding the interactions between the Minister, the Minister's office and staff in the department (including contractors) in relation to this initiative, resulting in blurred and uncertain roles, responsibilities, and accountabilities.

The department initially sought to withhold information from the Audit Office pertaining to Park'nPay. When questions were raised through external scrutiny, there was little evidence of genuine inquiry or review into its practices to ensure improvement and compliance.

The department deliberately sought to withhold information from the Audit Office of NSW when initial inquiries were lawfully made about the Park'nPay project in the context of the audit of the department's financial statements in May 2021.

There is also limited evidence to demonstrate the department has reviewed the decisions and practices around the Park'nPay project, despite receiving internal legal advice at the time that questioned the characterisation of the procurement as a 'pilot', and external scrutiny via the NSW Parliament's Budget Estimates Committee hearings. This indicates a risk that opportunities to review and improve the department's procurement practices based on learnings from this process have been missed.

 

Appendix one – Response from auditee

Appendix two – Key requirements of the department's procurement manual 

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 #387 - released 14 December 2023

 

Published

Actions for Regional road safety

Regional road safety

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

What this report is about

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

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

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

What we found

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

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

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

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

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

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

What we recommended

We recommended TfNSW:

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

Disclosure of confidential information

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

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

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

The confidential information has been redacted from this report.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In making this assessment, the audit examined whether TfNSW:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Appendix one – Response from Transport for NSW

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

Appendix three – About the audit

Appendix four – Performance auditing

 

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

 

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

Published

Actions for Enterprise, Investment and Trade 2023

Enterprise, Investment and Trade 2023

Finance
Asset valuation
Compliance
Cyber security
Financial reporting
Information technology
Infrastructure
Internal controls and governance
Management and administration
Procurement
Project management
Regulation
Risk

What this report is about

Results of the Enterprise, Investment and Trade portfolio of financial statement audits for the year ended 30 June 2023.

What we found

Unqualified audit opinions were issued for all completed Enterprise, Investment and Trade portfolio agencies.

An 'other matter' paragraph was included in the Jobs for NSW Fund's 30 June 2022 independent auditor's report to reflect the non-compliance with the Jobs for NSW Act 2015 (the Act). The Act requires the board to consist of seven members that include the Secretary of the Treasury, the Secretary of the Premier's Department, and five ministerial appointments. The board has consisted of two secretaries since 24 May 2019 when the independent members resigned. The remaining five members have not been appointed by the ministers as required by section 5(2) of the Act.

Financial statements were not prepared for the Responsible Gambling Fund, a special deposit account. Financial statements should be prepared unless NSW Treasury releases a Treasurer's Direction under section 7.8 of the GSF Act that will exempt the SDA from financial reporting requirements.

What the key issues were

The number of issues reported to management decreased from 65 in 2021–22 to 44 in 2022–23. Forty-six per cent of issues were repeated from the prior year.

Two high-risk issues were identified across the portfolio. One was a repeat issue where the Jobs for NSW Fund did not comply with legislation. The other high-risk issue was first identified in 2022–23 when the Department for Enterprise, Investment and Trade incorrectly recorded grants that did not meet the requirements of Australian Accounting Standards.

What we recommended

The Department should develop a robust model to ensure it only provides for grants that meet the eligibility criteria.

This report provides Parliament and other users of the Enterprise, Investment and Trade 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 Enterprise, Investment and Trade portfolio of agencies (the portfolio) for 2023.

Section highlights

  • Unqualified audit opinions were issued on all completed portfolio agencies’ 2022–23 financial statements.
  • An ‘other matter’ paragraph was included for the Jobs for NSW Fund’s 30 June 2022 financial report to reflect non-compliance with the Jobs for NSW Act 2015.
  • The Act requires the board to consist of seven members that include the Secretary of the Treasury, the Secretary of the Department of Premier and Cabinet (or their nominees) and five ministerial appointments, one of whom is to be appointed as Chair of the board. The board has consisted of the two secretaries since 24 May 2019 when the independent members resigned. The remaining five members have not been appointed by the ministers as required by section 5(2) of the Act.
  • An ‘emphasis of matter’ paragraph was included in the Jobs for NSW Fund’s 30 June 2022 financial report to draw attention to the financial report being prepared for the purpose of fulfilling the Jobs for NSW Fund’s financial reporting responsibilities as requested by the Treasurer’s delegate.
  • The total number of errors (including corrected and uncorrected) in the financial statements increased by 12% compared to the prior year.
  • The Responsible Gambling Fund (Special Deposit Account) did not prepare financial statements for the year ended 30 June 2023. Financial statements should be prepared unless NSW Treasury releases a Treasurer’s Direction under section 7.8 of the GSF Act that will exempt the Fund from financial reporting requirements. 

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 Enterprise, Investment and Trade portfolio.

Section highlights

  • The audits identified two high-risk and 20 moderate risk issues across the portfolio. Of these, one was a high-risk repeat issue and ten were moderate-risk repeat issues.
  • One of the high-risk matters related to the Jobs for NSW Fund audit for the year ended 30 June 2022.
  • The other high-risk matter related to overstating grants relating to the Jobs Plus Program as the criteria to pay the grant was not met at 30 June 2023.
  • The total number of findings decreased from 65 to 44 with 2022–23 findings mainly related to deficiencies in accounting for property, plant and equipment and agencies having outdated policies. 

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 Stronger Communities 2023

Stronger Communities 2023

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

What this report is about

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

What we found

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

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

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

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

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

What the key issues were

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

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

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

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

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

What we recommended

Portfolio agencies should:

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

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

  • financial reporting
  • audit observations.

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

This chapter outlines our audit observations related to the financial reporting of agencies in the Stronger Communities portfolio of agencies (the portfolio) for 2023.

Section highlights

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

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

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

Section highlights

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

Appendix one – Misstatements in financial statements submitted for audit

Appendix two – Early close procedures

Appendix three – Timeliness of financial reporting

Appendix four – Financial data

 

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

Published

Actions for Education 2023

Education 2023

Education
Whole of Government
Asset valuation
Compliance
Cyber security
Financial reporting
Information technology
Internal controls and governance
Procurement
Project management
Risk

What this report is about

Results of the Education portfolio of agencies’ financial statements audits for the year ended 30 June 2023.

What we found

Unqualified audit opinions were issued for all Education portfolio agencies.

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

What the key issues were

Comprehensive valuations of buildings at the Department of Education (the department) and at the TAFE Commission found that certain assumptions applied in previous years needed to be updated, resulting in prior period restatements.

The department prepaid a building contractor for early works on a project and some of the prepayment is in legal dispute.

The department duplicated a claim for project funding from Restart NSW in 2021.

New parental leave legislation increased employee liabilities for portfolio agencies. The department and the NSW Education Standards Authority (the Authority) updated their financial statements to record parental leave liabilities.

A high risk matter was raised for the Authority to improve the quality and timeliness of information to support their financial statement close process.

What we recommended

Portfolio agencies should ensure any changes to employee entitlements are assessed for their potential financial statements impact under the relevant Australian Accounting Standards.

The department should:

  • improve processes to ensure project claims are not duplicated
  • assess the risks associated with providing prepayments to contractors.

This report provides Parliament and other users of the Education 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 Education portfolio (the portfolio) for 2023.

Section highlights

  • Unqualified audit opinions were issued on all the portfolio agencies 2022–23 financial statements.
  • An ‘other matter’ paragraph was included in the independent auditor’s report for the Technical and Further Education Commission (the TAFE Commission) as it did not have a delegation or sub-delegation from the Minister for Education and Early Learning to incur expenditure on grants from other portfolio agencies.
  • Comprehensive valuations of buildings in the current year identified that certain assumptions applied in previous years were incorrect. The effects of these corrections are disclosed as prior period errors in the financial statements of the Department of Education (the department) and the TAFE Commission.
  • The department made corrections to its financial statements to reflect increases to NSW teachers’ wages announced post balance date. This impacted amounts recorded as liabilities for a range of employee benefits and entitlements totalling $225.4 million, of which $147.9 million is accepted by the Crown and $77.5 million is borne by the department.
  • A change to the NSW paid parental leave scheme, effective October 2022, created a new legal obligation that needed to be recognised by impacted government agencies. Of the three affected portfolio agencies, only the department and the NSW Education Standards Authority recognised a liability to account for this change. The aggregated unrecorded liabilities of other agencies in the portfolio totalled $2.4 million. The errors within the individual agencies’ financial statements were not material.
  • The total number of errors (including corrected and uncorrected) in the financial statements increased compared to the prior year.
  • The NSW Childcare and Economic Opportunity Fund should prepare financial statements unless NSW Treasury releases a Treasurer’s Direction under section 7.8 of the GSF Act that will exempt the SDA from financial reporting requirements. 

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

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

Section highlights

  • The 2022–23 audits identified one high risk and 20 moderate risk issues across the portfolio. Of these, one was a high risk repeat issue and four were moderate risk repeat issues.
  • The total number of findings increased from 29 to 36, which mainly related to deficiencies in financial reporting, information technology, payroll and purchasing controls.
  • The high risk matter relates to the lack of quality and timely information to support the financial statement close process at the NSW Education Standards Authority. 

Appendix one – Early close procedures

Appendix two – 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, rural and remote education

Regional, rural and remote education

Education
Management and administration
Project management
Service delivery

What this report is about

Students in rural and remote areas of NSW face greater challenges compared to their metropolitan peers.

This report examined how the NSW Department of Education (the department) is ensuring that rural and remote students have access to the same quality of early childhood, school education, and skills pathways as metropolitan students.

What we found

A decade since the previous (2013) strategy to address educational disadvantage, there remain considerable gaps in access and outcomes between rural and remote students and metropolitan students.

The Rural and Remote Education Strategy (2021–24) is unlikely to address these longstanding and known issues of educational disadvantage in rural and remote areas.

Key enabling factors such as resourcing a dedicated team, setting performance measures, and establishing suitable governance arrangements were not put in place to support effective implementation of the 2021 strategy.

The department has programs aimed at addressing remoteness challenges, but does not know if these initiatives improve access or outcomes.

The department does not monitor or report on student access or outcomes according to geographic location.

What we recommended

The Department of Education should:

  • develop a new strategy that addresses disadvantage in regional, rural and remote education
  • establish and report publicly on regional, rural and remote key performance indicators
  • improve data collection by using a standard remoteness classification
  • improve governance arrangements for regional, rural and remote education
  • review the resources provided for regional, rural and remote areas that recognises the additional costs
  • develop an approach that ensures all students can access best practice modes of delivery.

In February 2021, the department of Education (the department) released the ‘Rural and Remote Education Strategy (2021–2024)’. The strategy sets a vision that ‘every child in regional New South Wales has access to the same quality of education as their metropolitan peers’. It recognises that students in rural and remote areas of New South Wales face greater challenges compared to students in metropolitan locations. These challenges contribute to regional, rural and remote students underperforming on major educational indicators compared to their metropolitan peers.

In recent years, regional, rural and remote communities experienced a series of natural disasters as well as the COVID-19 pandemic. In response to the pandemic and subsequent school closures, the department introduced new initiatives aimed at minimising the disruption to children including online learning and small group tuition.

The department established a regional, rural and remote education policy unit in 2021 to support delivery of the strategy and its vision.

The objective of this audit was to assess the effectiveness of the department’s activities to ensure that regional, rural and remote students have access to the same quality of early childhood, school education, and skills pathways as their metropolitan peers.

In making this assessment, the audit examined whether:

  • The department developed and implemented a strategy that enables regional, rural and remote students to access the same quality of early childhood education, school education, and skills pathways as students in metropolitan New South Wales.
  • The department has been addressing the complexities and needs of regional, rural and remote early childhood education, school education, and skills pathways.
Conclusion

The department's rural and remote education strategy is unlikely to achieve its vision that every child in regional New South Wales has access to the same quality of education as their metropolitan peers. Shortcomings in the design and implementation of the strategy have meant there is little to report on its impact after more than two years since its release.

The department did not take on board lessons learned from the previous strategy. The department did not provide additional resources to meet the strategy aims, establish strong central coordination, set timeframes, set measures of success, or identify new programs to address gaps in regional and remote access and outcomes. Instead, the department relied on matching existing programs and activities across its business areas to meet the stated actions and goals of the strategy.

There was not enough work put in to plan for successful implementation. A changeover in staff responsible for coordinating implementation of the strategy and lack of fit-for-purpose governance arrangements slowed its momentum. The department took one year to recruit a central team and almost two years to set up governance that gives relevant department executives oversight of the strategy. This was not fast enough to support a four-year strategy with an ambitious vision.

The department did not establish a program logic model, set baseline measures or develop an evaluation plan to assess the impact of the strategy. Consequently, it has not adequately monitored changes in access or outcomes for regional, rural and remote students. Two years after its release, there has not been any public reporting against the actions or outcomes of the strategy.

The department is not addressing the complexities of delivering regional, rural and remote early childhood, school education and skills pathways. There are a range of programs targeted to overcoming challenges of remoteness, but the department does not monitor data to determine whether these programs are sufficient to close the persistent gaps in access and outcomes for regional, rural and remote students.

A decade after the Rural and Remote Education Blueprint was launched in 2013, there remain considerable gaps in access and outcomes between metropolitan and regional, rural and remote areas. The department identifies 'equity' as a key value in its strategic plan but does not monitor or report on performance against key indicators according to geographic location. Data produced in response to our requests for this report demonstrate that previously identified gaps in access and outcomes remain.

Different areas of the department recognise the challenges of delivering services in regional, rural and remote locations and have developed specific programs or approaches aimed at addressing these challenges. The department does not know whether these interventions are sufficient to close the gaps in access or outcomes. Schools we spoke with as part of the audit reported significant ongoing challenges with attracting and retaining staff, providing a full curriculum and accessing support services when needed. 

This chapter examines the process to develop the Rural and Remote Education Strategy (2021–2024). It considers whether there was a comprehensive program of stakeholder consultation, whether relevant research and evidence was incorporated and whether an effective performance monitoring system was established.

The department made genuine efforts to consult with stakeholders on the new strategy

The department had a clear process to engage and obtain feedback from key stakeholders during the development of the new strategy. It developed a range of documents to support the consultation process including a stakeholder engagement plan, communications plan, and presentation. The department used the International Association for Public Participation (IAP2) Spectrum of Public Participation principles to help ensure that relevant stakeholders were included in the planning and decision-making process.

In late 2019, the department began its first phase of consultations with internal and external stakeholders to get their views on rural and remote education. It consulted internally with department directors, advisory groups, and learning communities, and externally with government agencies, service providers, non-government schools, and universities.

In March 2020, the department developed a stakeholder engagement paper to test the key issues from stakeholder consultations. Four focus areas were identified and included in a consultation paper that went out to key stakeholders for the second round of consultations in May 2020.

In the third consultation phase, the department conducted a workshop with stakeholders to review the earlier feedback, prioritise issues, identify gaps, and provide further input.

This consultation process enabled the department to identify issues and challenges to inform the new strategy. However, it was already aware that the blueprint was having limited success, and had already identified potential focus areas, following the evaluation of the blueprint in 2019.

The department did not consider recent research when developing the new strategy

The department's guidance materials promote the importance of considering research during policymaking. The guidelines describe the need to understand a topic, consult with stakeholders, identify gaps in existing knowledge, and ensure future work is informed by current literature.

In 2013, the department published a literature review on rural and remote education to inform the blueprint. The literature review found that students in rural and remote schools were not performing as well as their metropolitan peers, and that this performance gap was widening. The review attributed this to the higher number of children from low socio-economic backgrounds attending rural and remote schools. The review also identified several other factors that could negatively impact performance outcomes for rural and remote students. The department used the findings of the literature review to develop the key focus areas in the 2013 blueprint.

When the department began developing the new rural and remote education strategy in 2019, it recognised the need to review the literature on recent international initiatives. However, it has not yet released this review. This means that the department could have missed important new developments since it last examined the literature in 2013. Incorporating up-to-date research is important where past strategies have not met all their intended outcomes.

A national review into rural and remote education in 2018 examined Australian and international literature to inform its findings. The review made 11 recommendations to the Australian and state governments. While the NSW Government was not required to formally respond to the review, it could have considered the work done by that review when developing the new strategy. Several review recommendations are addressed in the strategy, while several others are only partly addressed. Gaps between review recommendations and specific strategy actions include improving the availability of quality accommodation, substantially reducing the waiting times for specialist assessments of students with learning difficulties and disabilities and increasing access to high quality distance education.

In 2019, the department commissioned a rural and remote project to contribute a research and evidence base to the new strategy. The main aim of the project was to help the department understand how it could better support rural and remote schools to increase educational outcomes. There was not enough time for this review to be completed prior to the release of the strategy. As of June 2023, the research project had not yet been released.

The strategy did not address all findings and recommendations from a recent evaluation

In 2020, the department's Centre for Education Statistics and Evaluation (CESE) published an evaluation of the blueprint. The evaluation examined how the actions in the blueprint were implemented. It recommended that a new strategy be developed, and made recommendations for things that should be incorporated into the strategy.

The blueprint aimed to ensure students in rural and remote areas could access the same quality of education as their metropolitan peers. The blueprint identified four focus areas to meet that aim:

  • quality early childhood education
  • great teachers and school leaders
  • curriculum access for all
  • effective partnerships and connections.

The department developed several initiatives to help meet the objectives of each of the four focus areas. These initiatives are described in Exhibit 5 below.

Exhibit 5: Key initiatives in the Rural and Remote Education Blueprint (2013)
Key focus area Initiative
Quality early childhood education
  • Funding model to help vulnerable and disadvantaged children access preschool.
Great teachers and school leaders
  • Rental subsidy to help attract and retain teachers.
Curriculum access for all
  • Virtual school to provide a varied curriculum for high potential and gifted students.
Effective partnerships and connections
  • Education networks for teachers and school leaders to access expert advice to support student learning.
  • Networked specialist centres to bring together services to support student health and wellbeing.

Source: Department of Education, Rural and remote education: A blueprint for action 2013.

The evaluation found that initiatives in two of the four focus areas – Quality early childhood education and Curriculum access for all – had performed well. However, the evaluation found that initiatives in the other two focus areas – Great teachers and school leaders and Effective partnerships and connections – did not achieve intended outcomes.

On the whole, the evaluation found that the 'remoteness gap' between rural and remote students and metropolitan students had not reduced since the blueprint was introduced. It recommended that the department continue its focus on rural and remote education by developing a new evidence-based strategy that focused on student outcomes and clear measures of success.

Objectives and actions in the new strategy were similar to those in the blueprint

The 2021 strategy sets an overall vision that 'every child in regional New South Wales has access to the same quality of education as their metropolitan peers'. It also states that the department 'is committed to ensuring all rural and remote students have equitable access to educational opportunities'.

Exhibit 6: Comparison of objectives in the blueprint and the new strategy
Rural and Remote Education Blueprint (2013) Rural and Remote Education Strategy (2021–24)
Provide more children with access to quality early child education in the year before school. Ensure all students have access to quality preschool in the year before school.
Ensure rural and remote schools have greater capacity to attract and retain quality teachers and leaders. Increase supply of high-quality educators in rural and remote communities.
Build the capacity of teachers and leaders in rural and remote schools. Better develop rural and remote teachers to deliver quality learning opportunities.
Address wellbeing needs through effective partnerships and connections. Address wellbeing needs through connections with local communities.
Develop partnerships so that rural and remote students have access to quality pathways into further education, training, or employment. Build partnerships to increase student access to post-school opportunities.

Source: Audit Office summary of Department of Education information.

Four areas in the blueprint remained a focus in the new strategy – early childhood education, teacher recruitment and retention, curriculum, and student wellbeing support services. Each focus area identifies a goal, as well as the aims and actions that contribute to those goals.

While this shows the department identified that these areas required continued attention, most actions were to 'increase', 'expand' or 'improve' existing programs and resources. The new strategy did not propose any new ideas or solutions, despite the blueprint achieving limited success in improving outcomes for rural and remote students.

There were no baseline or target measures set to monitor progress of the new strategy

The blueprint evaluation recommended that the department develop a new evidence-based strategy which focused on improving student outcomes. It also recommended the department use a program logic methodology to ensure there was a clear definition of success, adequate measures of success, and continual monitoring to ensure success.

Program logic models are a visual representation of the various components of a program. They can be used to illustrate program priorities, inputs, activities, outputs, outcomes, and assumptions. Logic models are used to explain how a proposed solution will address a specific problem. They are important because they can help test assumptions, build business cases, and identify potential enablers or barriers that could impact the project.

The department did not complete a program logic model during development of the new strategy, nor did it define measures to monitor whether the strategy's overall vision for quality education or the commitment to equitable access was on track to be achieved.

The department has not comprehensively monitored changes in educational outcomes in regional, rural and remote areas since the evaluation of the blueprint in 2020. This evaluation had seven indicators of educational outcomes by remoteness. The measures used in the evaluation could have provided a starting point given the similarity in focus areas between the blueprint and the new strategy. Not addressing past review recommendations increases risks that issues will be repeated.

The policy unit advised it has plans to set up a dashboard to monitor performance across the department's business plan measures by remoteness. This is intended to identify areas where system-wide improvements are required. This is not a comprehensive account of the strategy outcomes because the business plan measures don't capture all the goals of the strategy.

There were no timeframes or resources identified for implementing new strategy actions

The strategy has an overall timeframe of 2021–2024 but does not clarify when it expects the vision, goals, or aims to be achieved, or actions to be implemented.

The department's guidance on policymaking sets out how projects should be transitioned between the policy and implementation teams. This guidance is intended to help ensure the policy intent and scope of the project are not lost during the delivery of the project. The guidance highlights that the policy team should establish clear project implementation timeframes. It is important to have clear timeframes because it enables teams to measure progress, manage resources, and prioritise actions to ensure project outcomes are achieved.

The strategy states that there is a further $1 billion of investment planned over the next three years for rural and remote education but does not identify how this is allocated across its focus areas. It is important to identify the resources required to support the implementation of a program so that program objectives are met in a timely and cost-effective manner. The previous blueprint identified much lower funding of $80 million but more clearly showed how it would be allocated for identified actions across the four focus areas.

In response to our requests, the department separately identified $1.286 billion in expenditure for regional, rural and remote schools referenced in the strategy. Most of this expenditure related to existing department programs and activities rather than new initiatives. The total amount included:

  • $576.9 million for new and upgraded schools
  • $365.8 million for upgraded information technology equipment and resources
  • $120 million for school facility upgrades to be co-funded by schools
  • $60 million to replace school roofs
  • $60 million for the COVID Intensive Learning Support Program
  • $32 million for the Early Action for Success program
  • $29.7 million for staffing incentives
  • $21.7 million for literacy and numeracy interventions
  • $18.8 million in school location allowances
  • $1.45 million for the Rural Learning Exchange Pilot
  • $0.4 million for Rural and Remote Network initiatives.

This chapter examines the arrangements in place to implement the strategy. It considers whether effective governance arrangements are in place and how progress is monitored and reported.

This chapter considers the effectiveness of arrangements to ensure regional, rural and remote students have access to quality early childhood education, school education, and post‑school transitions.

This chapter considers the department's arrangements to monitor educational and wellbeing outcomes of students by remoteness. It reports on differences in outcomes between students in metropolitan areas and those in regional, rural and remote areas.

Those living in regional, rural and remote areas can have greater difficulty in accessing government services, often needing to travel long distances, or facing lower service levels than provided in major cities. This context is important when considering educational and wellbeing outcomes, given the disruptive effects of waiting or missing out on important services.

The rest of this chapter details key measures in the department's outcome and business plan.

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 #385 - released 10 August 2023