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Flood housing response

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What this report is about

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

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

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

Findings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Audit recommendations

The NSW Reconstruction Authority should:

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

All audited agencies should:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The SRC provided oversight of the work of subcommittees

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Appendix one – Responses from entities

Appendix two – About the audit

Appendix three – Performance auditing

 

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

Published

Actions for 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.

The DRIver VEhicle System1 (often known as DRIVES) is the Transport for NSW (TfNSW) system which is used to manage over 6.2 million driver licences and over seven million vehicle registrations in New South Wales.

DRIVES first went live in 1991 and has been significantly extended and enhanced over the past 33 years. DRIVES is a significant NSW Government information system — containing personal information such as home addresses for most of the NSW adult population, sensitive health information such as medical conditions, and biometric data in photographs.

Service NSW, part of the Department of Customer Service, is the NSW Government's 'one stop shop' for services to NSW citizens and businesses. It uses DRIVES when it delivers many transport-related services to NSW citizens such as licence renewals and checks the identity information stored in DRIVES as part of other services delivered to NSW citizens, such as a 'working with children check'.

DRIVES supports TfNSW's regulatory functions and the collection of more than $5 billion in revenue annually for the NSW Government. The system is also used by many organisations outside of the NSW Government including commercial insurers and national regulators, as well as individual citizens who access DRIVES for services such as 'Renew my registration' or 'Book a driver knowledge test'.

TfNSW owns and manages DRIVES. It intends to replace DRIVES with a modernised system to improve its cost, performance, and security.

The objective of this performance audit was to assess whether TfNSW is effectively:

  • managing the current system, and 
  • planning to transition DRIVES to a modernised system.

The auditee is TfNSW. We have consulted with the Department of Customer Service as a key stakeholder during the audit process.

This part of the report considers whether Transport for NSW (TfNSW) is effectively managing the current system. It considers DRIVES’:

  • role in NSW Government service delivery
  • ease of use and appropriateness for a modern system
  • mechanisms to ensure the service is available for users.

This part of the report considers whether Transport for NSW (TfNSW) is effectively planning to transition DRIVES to a modernised system. It makes findings on the:

  •  effort to develop a business case to fund the replacement of DRIVES
  • issues which have contributed to the slow progress of the replacement program.

Published

Actions for Treasury 2023

Treasury 2023

Treasury
Compliance
Cyber security
Financial reporting
Information technology
Internal controls and governance
Management and administration
Procurement
Regulation
Risk
Service delivery
Shared services and collaboration

What this report is about

Result of the Treasury portfolio of agencies’ financial statement audits for the year ended 30 June 2023.

The results of the audit of the NSW Government’s consolidated Total State Sector Accounts (TSSA), which are prepared by NSW Treasury, will be reported separately in our report on ‘State Finances 2023’.

The audit found

Unqualified audit opinions were issued on all general purpose financial statement audits.

Qualified audit opinions were issued on two of the 24 other engagements prepared by portfolio agencies. These related to payments made from Special Deposit Accounts that did not comply with the relevant legislation.

The number of monetary misstatements identified in our audits increased from 29 in 2021–22 to 39 in 2022–23.

The new parental leave policy impacted agencies across all portfolios. NSW Treasury should perform annual assessments to identify changes in legislation and regulation and provide timely guidance to the sector.

Transport for NSW and Sydney Metro have capitalised over $300 million of tender bid costs paid to unsuccessful tender bidders relating to significant infrastructure projects. Whilst NSW Treasury policy provides clarity on the reimbursement of unsuccessful bidders’ costs, clearer guidance on how to account for these costs in agencies’ financial statements is required.

The key audit issues were

Five high-risk issues were reported in 2022–23. Three were new findings on contract management, accounting treatments for workers compensation renewal premium adjustments and the management and oversight of a Special Deposit Account. Two repeat issues referred to the need to improve quality review processes over financial reporting and the timely approval of administration costs.

Portfolio agencies should prioritise and action recommendations to address internal control deficiencies.

 

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

Section highlights

  • Unqualified audit opinions were issued on all Treasury portfolio agencies’ 2022–23 financial statements.
  • Two qualified audit opinions were issued on special purpose financial reports, relating to whether payments from the Electricity Retained Interest Corporation – Ausgrid (ERIC-A) Fund and the Electricity Retained Interest Corporation – Endeavour (ERIC-E) Fund, complied with the relevant legislation.
  • The total number of errors (both corrected and uncorrected) in the financial statements increased from 29 in 2021–22 to 39 in 2022–23.
    Reported corrected misstatements increased from 15 in 2021–22 to 25 with a gross value of $7.1 billion in 2022–23. Reported uncorrected misstatements increased from 13 in 2021–22 to 14 in 2022–23, with a gross value of $277.6 million in 2022–23.

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 Treasury portfolio.

Section highlights

  • Five high-risk issues were reported in 2022–23. Three were new findings on contract management, accounting treatments for workers compensation renewal premium adjustments and the management and oversight of a Special Deposit Account.
  • A further 35 moderate risk findings were reported in 2022–23, of which ten were repeat findings.
  • Some agencies have again spent monies without an authorised delegation.
  • The quality of information provided for audit purposes needs to improve.

 

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 – Acquittals and other opinions

 

© 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.

Published

Actions for Customer Service 2023

Customer Service 2023

Finance
Asset valuation
Compliance
Financial reporting
Information technology
Internal controls and governance
Management and administration
Regulation
Risk
Service delivery
Shared services and collaboration

What this report is about

Result of the Customer Service portfolio agencies' financial statement audits for the year ended 30 June 2023.

What we found

Unmodified audit opinions were issued for all completed 30 June 2023 financial statements audits of Customer Service portfolio agencies. Two audits are ongoing.

What the key issues were

The total number of misstatements in the financial statements and findings reported to management decreased compared to the prior year.

For the first time since its establishment in 2015, GovConnect NSW received unqualified audit opinions for business process internal controls and information technology general controls managed by service providers.

The department controls Finance Co Trust (Fin Co), a special purpose trust created as part of its project to replace flammable cladding for eligible residential apartment buildings. Fin Co did not prepare financial statements which is a breach of the Government Sector Finance Act 2018 (GSF Act).

The department's land titling database was overstated by $42.5 million due to errors in the valuation model.

The New South Wales Government Telecommunications Authority corrected a prior period error of $10.2 million overstatement of property, plant and equipment.

A high-risk finding was reported to Service NSW regarding gaps in policies, systems and processes for administering and financial reporting on grant programs.

Recommendations were made to address these deficiencies.

This report provides Parliament and other users of the Customer Service 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 Customer Service 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 decreased compared to the prior year.
  • Financial statements were not prepared for Finance Co Trust (Fin Co), a special purpose trust created by the department as part of its project to replace flammable cladding for eligible residential apartment buildings. This is a breach of the Government Sector Finance Act 2018 (GSF Act).
  • The department overstated the value of its land titling database, a service concession asset by $42.5 million. This was due to errors in the valuation data and calculation errors in the valuation model.
  • Service NSW’s late resolution of the accounting assessment of grant programs funding resulted in delays to financial reporting and audit.
  • The New South Wales Government Telecommunications Authority (the authority) corrected a prior period error retrospectively to write off assets that could not be physically verified. 

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 Customer Service portfolio.

Section highlights

  • The 2022–23 audits identified one high risk and 26 moderate risk issues across the portfolio.
  • The high-risk matter was related to Service NSW’s revenue assessment of its grant programs.
  • The total number of findings decreased from 64 to 41, which mainly related to deficiencies in financial reporting, information technology, payroll and purchasing controls.
  • Fifty-one per cent of the issues were repeat issues. Many repeat issues related to weakness in information technology (IT) controls around access to systems and data and disaster recovery testing.
  • For the first time since its establishment in 2015, GovConnect NSW received unqualified audit opinions for business processes internal controls and information technology general controls managed by service providers. 

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, 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

Published

Actions for Management of the Critical Communications Enhancement Program

Management of the Critical Communications Enhancement Program

Finance
Health
Justice
Whole of Government
Cyber security
Information technology
Infrastructure
Internal controls and governance
Project management
Risk
Service delivery
Shared services and collaboration

What the report is about

Effective radio communications are crucial to NSW's emergency services organisations.

The Critical Communications Enhancement Program (CCEP) aims to deliver an enhanced public safety radio network to serve the five emergency services organisations (ESOs), as well as a range of other users.

This report assesses whether the NSW Telco Authority is effectively managing the CCEP.

What we found

Where it has already been delivered (about 50% of the state), the enhanced network meets most of the requirements of ESOs.

The CCEP will provide additional infrastructure for public safety radio coverage in existing buildings agreed to with ESOs. However, radio coverage inside buildings constructed after the CCEP concludes will be at risk because building and fire regulations do not address the need for in-building public safety radio coverage.

Around 98% of radios connected to the network can be authenticated to protect against cloning, though only 42% are.

The NSW Telco Authority has not settled with ESOs on how call encryption will be used across the network. This creates the risk that radio interoperability between ESOs will not be maximised.

When completed, the public safety radio network will be the only mission critical radio network for ESOs. It is unclear whether governance for the ongoing running of the network will allow ESOs to participate in future network operational decisions.

The current estimated capital cost for the NSW Telco Authority to complete the CCEP is $1.293 billion. This is up from an estimated cost of $400 million in 2016. The estimated capital cost was not publicly disclosed until $1.325 billion was shown in the 2021–22 NSW Budget Papers.

We estimate that the full cost to government, including costs to the ESOs, of implementing the enhanced network is likely to exceed $2 billion.

We made recommendations about

  • The governance of the enhanced Public Safety Network (PSN) to support agency relationships.
  • The need to finalise a Traffic Mitigation Plan for when the network is congested.
  • The need to provide advice to the NSW Government about the regulatory gap for ensuring adequate network reach in future buildings.
  • The need to clarify how encryption and interoperability will work on the enhanced network.
  • The need for the NSW Telco Authority to comply with its policy on Infrastructure Capacity Reservation.
  • Expediting measures to protect against the risk of cloning by unauthenticated radios.

Public safety radio networks are critical for operational communications among Emergency Services Organisations (ESOs), which in New South Wales include:

  • NSW Ambulance
  • Fire and Rescue NSW
  • NSW Police Force
  • NSW Rural Fire Service
  • NSW State Emergency Service.1

Since 1993, these five ESOs have had access to a NSW Government owned and operated radio communications network, the Public Safety Network (PSN), to support their operational communications. Around 60 to 70 other entities also have access to this network, including other NSW government entities, Commonwealth government entities, local councils, community organisations, and utility companies.

Pursuant to the Government Telecommunications Act 2018 ('the Act'), the New South Wales Government Telecommunications Authority ('NSW Telco Authority') is responsible for the establishment, control, management, maintenance and operation of the PSN.2

Separate to the PSN, all ESOs and other government entities have historically maintained their own radio communication capabilities and networks. Accordingly, the PSN has been a supplementary source of operational radio communications for these entities.

These other radio networks maintained by ESOs and other entities are of varying size and capability, with many ageing and nearing their end-of-life. There was generally little or no interoperability between networks, infrastructure was often co-located and duplicative, and there were large gaps in geographic coverage.

In 2016, the NSW Telco Authority received dedicated NSW Government funding to commence the Critical Communications Enhancement Program (CCEP).

According to NSW Telco Authority's 2021–22 annual report, the CCEP is a transformation program for operational communications for NSW government agencies. The CCEP '…aims to deliver greater access to public safety standard radio communications for the State’s first responders and essential service agencies'. The objective of CCEP is to consolidate the large number of separate radio networks that are owned and operated by various NSW government entities and to enhance the state’s existing shared PSN. The program also aims to deliver increased PSN coverage throughout New South Wales.

The former NSW Government intended that as the enhanced PSN was progressively rolled-out across NSW, ESOs would migrate their radio communications to the enhanced network, before closing and decommissioning their own networks.

About this Audit

This audit assessed whether the CCEP is being effectively managed by the NSW Telco Authority to deliver an enhanced PSN that meets ESOs' requirements for operational communications.

We addressed the audit objective by answering the following two questions:

  1. Have agreed ESO user requirements for the enhanced PSN been met under day-to-day and emergency operational conditions?
  2. Has there been adequate transparency to the NSW Government and other stakeholders regarding whole-of-government costs related to the CCEP?

In answering the first question, we also considered how the agreed user requirements were determined. This included whether they were supported by evidence, whether they were sufficient to meet the intent of the CCEP (including in considering any role for new or alternative technologies), and whether they met any relevant technical standards and compliance obligations (including for cyber security resilience).

While other NSW government agencies and entities use the PSN, we focused on the experience of the five primary ESOs because these will be the largest users of the enhanced PSN.

Both the cost and time required to complete the CCEP roll-out have increased since 2016. While it was originally intended to be completed in 2020, this is now forecast to be 2027. Infrastructure NSW has previously assessed the reasons for the increases in time and cost. A summary of the findings made by Infrastructure NSW is presented in Chapter 1 of this report. Accordingly, as these matters had already been assessed, we did not re-examine them in this performance audit.

The auditee for this performance audit is the NSW Telco Authority, which is a statutory authority within the Department of Customer Service portfolio.

In addition to being responsible for the operation of the PSN, section 5 of the Act also prescribes that the NSW Telco Authority is:

  • to identify, develop and deliver upgrades and enhancements to the government telecommunications network to improve operational communications for government sector agencies
  • to develop policies, standards and guidelines for operational communications using telecommunications networks.

The NSW Telco Authority Advisory Board is established under section 10 of the Act. The role of the board is to advise the NSW Telco Authority and the minister on any matter relating to the telecommunications requirements of government sector agencies and on any other matter relating to the functions of the Authority. As of 2 June 2023, the responsible minister is the Minister for Customer Service and Digital Government.

The five identified ESOs are critical stakeholders of the CCEP and therefore they were consulted during this audit. However, the ESOs were not auditees for this performance audit.

Conclusion

In areas of New South Wales where the enhanced Public Safety Network has been implemented under the Critical Communications Enhancement Program, the NSW Telco Authority has delivered a radio network that meets most of the agreed requirements of Emergency Services Organisations for routine and emergency operations.
In April 2023, the enhanced Public Safety Network (PSN) was approximately 50% completed. In areas where it is used by Emergency Services Organisations (ESOs), the PSN generally meets agreed user requirements. This is demonstrated through extensive performance monitoring and reporting, which shows that agreed performance standards are generally achieved. Reviews by the NSW Government and the NSW Telco Authority found that the PSN performed effectively during major flood events in 2021 and 2022.

Where it is completed, PSN coverage is generally equal to or better than each ESO's individual pre-existing coverage. The NSW Telco Authority has a dedicated work program to address localised coverage gaps (or 'blackspots') in those areas where coverage has otherwise been substantively delivered. Available call capacity on the network far exceeds demand in everyday use. Any operational issues that may occur with the PSN are transparent to ESOs in real time.

The NSW Telco Authority consulted extensively with ESOs on requirements for the enhanced PSN, with relatively few ESO requirements not being included in the specifications for the enhanced PSN. Lessons from previous events, including the 2019–20 summer bushfires, have informed the design and implementation of the enhanced PSN (such as the need to ensure adequate backup power supply to inaccessible sites). The network is based on the Project 25 technical standards for mission-critical radio communications, which is widely-accepted in the public safety radio community throughout Australia and internationally.

There is no mechanism to ensure adequate radio coverage within new building infrastructure after the CCEP concludes, but the NSW Telco Authority and ESOs have agreed an approach to prioritise existing in-building sites for coverage for the duration of the CCEP.
The extent to which the PSN works within buildings and other built structures (such as railway tunnels) is of crucial importance to ESOs, especially the NSW Police Force, NSW Ambulance, and Fire and Rescue NSW. This is because a large proportion of their operational communications occurs within buildings.

There is no mechanism to ensure the adequacy of future in-building coverage for the PSN in new or refurbished buildings after the CCEP concludes. Planning, building, and fire regulations are silent on this issue. We note there are examples in the United States of how in-building coverage for public safety radio networks can be incorporated into building or fire safety codes.

In regard to existing buildings, it is not possible to know whether a building requires its own in-building PSN infrastructure until nearby outside radio sites, including towers and antennae, have been commissioned into the network. Only then can it be determined whether their radio transmissions are capable of penetrating inside nearby buildings. Accordingly, much of this work for in-building coverage cannot be done until outside radio sites are finished and operating.

In March 2023, the NSW Telco Authority and ESOs agreed on a list of 906 mandatory and 7,086

non-mandatory sites for in-building PSN coverage. Most of these sites will likely be able to receive radio coverage via external antennae and towers, however this cannot be confirmed until those nearby external PSN sites are completed. The parties also agreed on an approach to prioritising those sites where coverage is needed but not provided by antennae and towers. Available funding will likely only extend to ensuring coverage in sites deemed mandatory, which is nonetheless expected to meet the overall benchmark of achieving 'same or better' coverage than what ESOs had previously.

There is a risk that radio interoperability between ESOs will not be maximised because the NSW Telco Authority has not settled with ESOs how encryption will be used across the enhanced PSN.
End-to-end encryption of radio transmissions is a security feature that prevents radio transmissions being intercepted or listened to by people who are not meant to. The ability of the PSN to provide end-to-end encryption of operational communications is of critical importance to the two largest prospective users of the PSN: the NSW Police Force and NSW Ambulance. Given that encryption excludes other parties that do not have the requisite encryption keys, its use creates an obstacle to achieving a key intended benefit of the CCEP, that is a more interoperable PSN, where first responders are better able to communicate with other ESOs.

Further planning and collaboration between PSN participants are necessary to consider how these dual benefits can be achieved, including in what operational circumstances encrypted interoperability is necessary or appropriate.

The capital cost to the NSW Telco Authority of the CCEP, originally estimated at $400 million in 2016, was not made public until the 2021–22 NSW Budget disclosed an estimate of $1.325 billon.
The estimated capital cost to complete all stages of the CCEP increased over time. This increasing cost was progressively disclosed to the NSW Government through Cabinet processes between 2015–16 and 2021–22.

In 2016, the full capital cost to the NSW Telco Authority of completing the CCEP was estimated to be $400 million. This estimated cost was not publicly disclosed, nor were subsequent increases, until the cost of $1.325 billion was publicly disclosed in the 2021–22 NSW Budget (revised down in the 2022–23 NSW Budget to $1.293 billion).

There has been no transparency about the whole-of-government cost of implementing the enhanced PSN through the CCEP.
In addition to the capital costs incurred directly by the NSW Telco Authority for the CCEP, ESOs have incurred costs to maintain their own networks due to the delay in implementing the CCEP. The ESOs will continue to incur these costs until they are able to fully migrate to the enhanced PSN, which is expected to be in 2027. These costs have not been tracked or reported as part of transparently accounting for the whole-of-government cost of the enhanced PSN. This is despite Infrastructure NSW in 2019 recommending to the NSW Telco Authority that it conduct a stocktake of such costs so that a whole-of-government cost impact is available to the NSW Government.

1 The definition of 'emergency services organisation' is set out in the State Emergency and Rescue Management Act 1989 (NSW). In addition to the five ESOs discussed in this report, the definition also includes: Surf Life Saving New South Wales; New South Wales Volunteer Rescue Association Inc; Volunteer Marine Rescue NSW; an agency that manages or controls an accredited rescue unit; and a non-government agency that is prescribed by the regulations for the purposes of this definition.
2 Section 15(1) of the Government Telecommunications Act 2018 (NSW).

The NSW Telco Authority established and tracked its own costs for the CCEP

Over the course of the program from 2016, the NSW Telco Authority prepared a series of business cases and program reviews that estimated its cost of implementing the program in full, including those shown in Exhibit 6 below.

Exhibit 6: Estimated costs to fully implement the CCEP
Source Capital cost ($ million) Operating cost
($ million)
Completion date
March 2016 business case 400 37.3 2020
November 2017 internal review 476.7 41.7 2022
March 2020 business case 950–1,050 -- 2025
October 2020 business case 1,263.1 56.1 2026

Source: CCEP business cases as identified.

In response to the 2016 CCEP business case, the then NSW Government approved the NSW Telco Authority implementing the CCEP in full, with funding provided in stages. The NSW Telco Authority tracked its costs against approved funding, with monthly reports provided to the multi-agency Program Steering Committee

Throughout the program, the NSW Government was informed of increasing costs being incurred by the NSW Telco Authority for the CCEP

The various business cases, program updates, and program reviews prepared by the NSW Telco Authority were provided to the NSW Government through the required Cabinet process when seeking approval for the program proceeding and requests for both capital and operational funding. These provided clear indication of the changing overall cost of the CCEP to the NSW Telco Authority, as well as the delays that were being experienced.

There was no transparency to the Parliament and community about changes in the capital cost of the CCEP until the 2021–22 NSW Budget

As the business cases for the CCEP were not publicly available, the only sources of information about capital cost were NSW Budget papers and media releases. The information provided in the annual Budget papers prior to the 2021–22 NSW Budget provided no visibility of the estimated full capital cost to complete all stages of the CCEP. As shown in Exhibit 7 below, this information was fragmented and complex.

Media releases about the progress of the CCEP did not provide the estimated total cost to the NSW Telco Authority of $1.325 billion to complete all stages of the CCEP until June 2021. Prior to this date, media releases only provided funding for the initial stages of the program or for the stages subject to a funding announcement.

Even during the September 2019 and March 2020 Parliamentary Estimate Committee hearings where the costings and delays to the CCEP were raised, the estimated full cost of the CCEP was not revealed.

Exhibit 7: CCEP funding in NSW Budget papers from 2015–16 to 2022–23
Financial year Type of major work Description of expenditure Forecast estimate to complete ($ million) Estimated duration
2015–16 New work Infrastructure Rationalisation Program: Planning and Pilot 18.3 2015–16
2016–17 Work in progress CCEP Planning and Pilot 18.3 2015–17
New work CCEP 45 2016–17
2017–18 New work CCEP 190.75 2017–21
2018–19 Work in progress CCEP North Coast and State-wide Detailed Design 190.75 2017–21
New work CCEP Greater Metropolitan Area 236 2018–22
2019–20 Work in progress CCEP 426.9 2018–22
2020–21 Work in progress CCEP 664.8 2018–22
2021–22 Work in progress CCEP 1,325 2018–26
2022–23 Work in progress CCEP 1,292.8 2018–26

Source: NSW Treasury, Annual State Budget Papers.

The original business case for the CCEP included estimated ESO costs, though these costs were not tracked throughout the program

Estimates for ESO costs for operating and maintaining their own radio networks over the four years from 2016–17 were included in the original March 2016 business case. They included $75.2 million for capital expenditure and $95 million for one-off operating costs. These costs, as well as costs incurred by ESOs due to the delay in the program, were not subsequently tracked by the NSW Telco Authority.

In January 2017, Infrastructure NSW reviewed the CCEP business case of March 2016. In this review, Infrastructure NSW recommended that the NSW Telco Authority identify combined and apportioned costs and cashflow for all ESOs over the CCEP funding period reflecting all associated costs to deliver the CCEP. These to include additional incidental capital costs accruing to ESOs, transition and migration to the new network and the cost (capital and operational) of maintaining existing networks. This recommendation was implemented in the November 2017 program review, with ESO capital costs estimated as $183 million.

In 2019, Infrastructure NSW conducted a Deep Dive Review on the progress of the CCEP. In this review, Infrastructure NSW made what it described as a 'critical recommendation' that the NSW Telco Authority:

…coordinate a stocktake of the costs of operational bridging solutions implemented by PSAs [ESOs] as a result of the 18-month delay, so that a whole-of-government cost impact is available to the NSW Government.  

It should be noted that the delay to CCEP completion now is seven years and that further ‘operational bridging solutions’ have been needed by the ESOs.

'Stay Safe and Keep Operational' costs incurred by ESOs will be significantly higher than originally estimated

Stay Safe and Keep Operational (SSKO) funding was established to provide funding to ESOs to maintain their legacy networks while the CCEP was refreshing and enhancing the PSN. This recognised that much of the network infrastructure relied on by ESOs had reached – or was reaching – obsolescence and would either require extensive maintenance or replacement before the PSN was available for ESOs to migrate to it. ESOs may apply to NSW Treasury for SSKO funding, with their specific proposals being reviewed (and endorsed, where appropriate) by the NSW Telco Authority. Accordingly, SSKO expenditure does not fall within the CCEP budget allocation.

As shown in the table below, extracted from the March 2016 CCEP business case, the total expected cost for SSKO purposes over the course of the CCEP was originally $40 million, assuming the enhanced PSN would be fully available by 2020.

Exhibit 8: Stay Safe and Keep Operational forecast costs, 2017 to 2020
Year 2017 2018 2019 2020 Total
SSKO forecast ($ million) 12.5 15 10 2.5 40

Source: March 2016 CCEP business case.

In October 2022, the expected completion date for the CCEP was re-baselined to August 2027. Accordingly, ESOs will be required to continue to maintain their radio networks using legacy equipment for seven years longer than the original 2020 forecast. This will likely become progressively more expensive and require additional SSKO funding. For example, NSW Telco Authority endorsed SSKO bids for 2022–23 exceeded $35 million for that year alone.

Compared to the original forecast made in the March 2016 CCEP business case of $40 million, we found ESOs had estimated SSKO spending to 2027 will be $292.5 million.

A refresh of paging network used by ESOs and the decommissioning of redundant sites were both removed from the original 2016 scope of the CCEP

Paging

A paging network is considered an important user requirement by the Fire and Rescue NSW, NSW Rural Fire Service, and NSW State Emergency Service. The 2016 CCEP business case included a paging network refresh within the program scope of works. This was reiterated in the November 2017 internal review of the program. These documents did not estimate a cost for this refresh. The March 2020 and October 2020 business cases excluded paging from the program scope. The audit is unable to identify when, why or by whom the decision was made to remove paging from the program scope, something that was also not well communicated to the affected ESOs.

In 2021, after representations from the affected ESOs, the NSW Telco Authority prepared a separate business case for a refresh of the paging network at an estimated capital cost of $60.31 million. This program was subsequently approved by the NSW Government and included in the 2022–23 NSW Budget.

In determining an estimated full whole-of-government cost of delivering the enhanced PSN, we have included the budgeted cost of the paging network refresh on the basis that:

  • it was expressly included in the original approved March 2016 business case
  • the capability is deemed essential to the needs of three ESOs.

Decommissioning costs

The 2016 CCEP business case included cost estimates for decommissioning surplus sites (whether ‘old’ GRN sites or sites belonging to ESOs’ own networks). These estimates were provided for both the NSW Telco Authority ($38 million) and for the ESOs ($55 million). However, while these estimates were described, they were not included as part of the NSW Telco Authority's estimated capital cost ($400 million) or (more relevantly) operating cost ($37.3 million) for the CCEP. This is despite decommissioning being included as one of eight planned activities for the rollout of the program.

In the October 2020 business case, an estimate of $201 million was included for decommissioning agency networks based on a model whereby:

  • funding would be coordinated by the NSW Telco Authority
  • scheduling and reporting through an inter-agency working group and
  • where appropriate, agencies would be appointed as the most appropriate decommissioning party.

This estimated cost is not included in the CCEP budget.

In determining an estimated full whole-of-government cost of the enhanced PSN, we have included the estimated cost of decommissioning on the basis that:

  • decommissioning was included in the 2016 CCEP business case as one of eight 'planned activities for the rollout of the program'
  • effective decommissioning of surplus sites and equipment (including as described in the business case as incorporating asset decommissioning, asset re-use, and site make-good) is an inherent part of the program management for an enhanced PSN
  • costs incurred in decommissioning are entirely a consequence of the CCEP program.

The estimated minimum cost of building an enhanced PSN consistent with the original proposal is over $2 billion

We have derived two estimated minimum whole-of-government costs for delivering an enhanced PSN. These are:

  • $2.04 billion when calculated from NSW Telco Authority data – shown as estimate A in Exhibit 9 below.
  • $2.26 billion when calculated from ESO supplied data – shown as estimate B in Exhibit 9.

Both totals include:

  • budgeted amounts for both CCEP capital expenditure ($1,292.8 million) and operating expenditure ($139 million)
  • the NSW Telco Authority's 2020 estimated cost for decommissioning ($201 million)
  • the NSW Telco Authority's approved funding for paging refresh ($60.3 million).

The two estimated totals primarily vary around the capital expenditure of ESOs (particularly SSKO funding). To determine these costs, we used ESO provided actual SSKO costs to date, as well as their estimates for maintaining their legacy radio networks through to 2027.

The equivalent cost estimates from the NSW Telco Authority were sourced from the November 2017 internal review and the October 2020 business case for CCEP. It should be noted that the amounts for both estimates are not audited, or verified, but do provide an indication of how whole-of-government costs have grown over the course of the program.

The increase in and reasons for the increase in total CCEP costs (capital and one-off operating) incurred or forecast by the NSW Telco Authority (from $437.3 million in 2016 to $1,431.8 million in 2022) have been provided to the NSW Government through various business cases and reviews prepared by the NSW Telco Authority, as well as by reviews conducted by Infrastructure NSW as part of its project assurance responsibilities.

However, the growth in ESO costs and other consequential costs, such as paging and decommissioning, from around $263 million in the 2016 CCEP business case to between $600 million and $800 million, has to a large degree remained invisible and unexplained to the NSW Government and other stakeholders

Exhibit 9: Estimated whole-of-government costs of the enhanced PSN
  Estimated whole-of-government cost, over time
Cost type 20161 20172 20203 2023–Estimate A4 2023–Estimate B5
$ million $ million $ million $ million $ million
CCEP capital expenditure 400a 476.7b 1,263.1c 1,292.8d 1,292.8d
CCEP operating expenditure 37.3a 41.7b 41.5e 139d 139d
CCEP total 437.3 518.4 1,304.6 1,431.8 1,431.8
ESO capital expenditure 75.2a,f 183b,e 75.4e 258.4g 292.5
ESO one-off operating expenditure 93a n.a.l 86.5e 86.5h 273
ESO total 168.2 183 161.9 344.9 565.5
Paging n.a.i n.a.i n.a.j 60.3k 60.3k
Decommissioning 93 n.a.l 201.0 201h 201
Paging and decommissioning total 93 n.a. 201 261.3 261.3
Whole-of-government total 698.5 701.4 1,667.5 2,038 2,258.6

Notes:
  1. Financial year 2016 to Financial year 2020.
  2. Financial year 2016 to Financial year 2021.
  3. Financial year 2016 to Financial year 2025.
  4. Financial year 2016 to Financial year 2026.
  5. Financial year 2022 to Financial year 2025.
  6. Stay Safe and Keep Operational (SSKO) costs plus terminals costs.
  7. November 2017 internal review and October 2020 Business case.
  8. October 2020 Business case.
  9. Included in CCEP capital expenditure at that time.
  10. By 2020, a refresh of the paging network had been removed from the CCEP scope.
  11. A separate business case for a refresh of the paging network was approved by government in 2022.
  12. Figure not included in the source document.
Sources:
  1. March 2016 CCEP business case.
  2. November 2017 Internal Review conducted by the NSW Telco Authority.
  3. October 2020 CCEP business case.
  4. Derived from business cases, with ESO costs drawn from NSW Telco Authority data.
  5. Derived from business cases, with ESO costs based on data provided to the Audit Office of New South Wales by each of the five ESOs.

Appendix one – Response from agency

Appendix two – Trunked public safety radio networks

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 #383 - released 23 June 2023

 

Published

Actions for Natural disasters

Natural disasters

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

What this report is about

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

What we found

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Section highlights

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

Section highlights

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

 

Published

Actions for Universities 2022

Universities 2022

Universities
Compliance
Cyber security
Financial reporting
Information technology
Internal controls and governance
Service delivery

What this report is about

Results of the financial statement audits of the public universities in NSW for the year ended 31 December 2022.

What we found

Unmodified audit opinions were issued for all ten universities.

Nine universities reported net deficits in 2022, and all showed a decline from their 2021 results.

Results were impacted by a decline in investment income and government grants.

Wage remediation provisions across the universities increased by 116% to $110 million at 31 December 2022.

Expenditure increased as universities transitioned back to face-to-face teaching with the lifting of most COVID-19 restrictions.

Revenue from overseas students decreased by 0.5% overall in 2022, although not all universities were impacted equally.

Nearly 42% of fees and charges revenue came from overseas student revenue from three countries of origin (43% in 2021).

What the key issues were

We reported 88 findings to universities on internal control deficiencies (105 in 2021).

Six high risk findings were identified (four in 2021), relating to:

  • IT control deficiencies in monitoring privileged user access
  • password configuration
  • cyber security process improvements
  • lack of security over access to EFT payment files
  • the status of a university's work in assessing its liability for underpayment of staff
  • inadequate review of contracts leading to incorrect accounting treatments.

Two out of 13 entities reported financial losses from cyber incidents in 2022.

Retention policies on personally identifiable information (PII) vary and universities can further reduce their PII exposure risk from cyber attack.

What we recommended

Universities should:

  • conduct a comprehensive assessment of their employment agreements and historical pay practices to identify potential underpayments
  • prioritise actions to address repeat findings on internal control deficiencies in a timely manner
  • review their PII retention policies to ensure PII stored is limited to the entity's needs, held only for the minimum duration it is legally and operationally required, and access is strictly limited.

This report provides Parliament with the results of our financial audits of universities in New South Wales and their controlled entities in 2022, including our analysis, observations and recommendations in the following areas:

  • financial reporting
  • internal controls and governance
  • teaching and research.

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

This chapter outlines our audit observations related to the financial reporting of universities in NSW for 2022.

Section highlights

  • The 2022 financial statements of all ten universities received unmodified audit opinions.
  • Wage remediation provisions across the NSW universities increased by 116% to $110 million at 31 December 2022.
  • Nine universities reported net deficits in 2022, and all showed a decline from 2021 results.
  • Revenue from overseas students decreased by 0.5% in 2022, as overseas student enrolments decreased by 1.2%. Almost 42% of universities' fees and charges revenue in 2022 came from overseas students from three countries (down from 43% in 2021).
  • Revenue from domestic students decreased by 0.7% in 2022, as domestic student enrolments decreased by 5.3%.
  • Combined expenditure for universities increased by 6.6% to $11.2 billion in 2022. Most of this was attributed to employee related expenses, which increased by 4.9%. 

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

This chapter outlines our observations and insights from our financial statement audits of NSW universities.

Our audits do not review all aspects of internal controls and governance every year. The more significant issues and risks are included in this chapter. These, along with the less significant matters, are reported to universities for management to address.

Section highlights

  • The 2022 audits identified six high risk and 36 moderate risk issues across NSW universities. Sixteen of the moderate risk issues were repeat issues. Many repeat issues related to information technology controls around user access management.
  • The number of repeat deficiencies has decreased with 41 reported in 2022 compared to 45 in 2021.
  • Two out of 13 entities reported financial losses from cyber incidents during 2022.
  • Retention policies on personally identifiable information (PII) vary across entities and opportunities exist for entities to further limit their PII exposure risk from cyber attack.

Universities' primary objectives are teaching and research. They invest most of their resources aiming to achieve quality outcomes in academia and student experience. Universities have committed to achieving certain government targets and compete to advance their reputation and their standing in international and Australian rankings.

This chapter outlines teaching and research outcomes for universities in NSW for 2022.

Section highlights

  • Seven universities were reported as having full-time employment rates of their domestic undergraduates in 2022 that were greater than the national average.
  • Enrolments at NSW universities decreased the most in Science related courses in 2022. The largest increase in enrolments was in Health courses.
  • On average, universities delivered 21% of their courses primarily through online means in 2022, a decrease from 59% in 2021.
  • Five universities in 2021 were reported as meeting the target enrolment rate for students from low socio-economic status (SES) backgrounds.
  • Seven universities reported increased enrolments of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students in 2021.

Appendix one – List of 2022 recommendations

Appendix two – Status of 2021 recommendations

Appendix three – Universities' controlled entities 

 

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

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

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

Click here for the Easy English version of the report highlights

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

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


What this report is about

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

What we found

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What we recommended

We recommended that NSW Trustee and Guardian:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The audit was guided by three questions:

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

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

Throughout this report:

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Appendix one – Response

Appendix two – Client characteristics

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

Appendix four – Financial management fees

Appendix five – NSW Trustee and Guardian Common Funds

Appendix six – About the audit

Appendix seven – Performance auditing

 

 

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Parliamentary reference - Report number #379 - released 18 May 2023