Follow up of Oversight and Accountability of Committees of Management

Tabled: 5 September 2018

Audit Overview

This report follows up our performance audit Oversight and Accountability of Committees of Management, tabled February 2014.

Performance audits focus on the efficiency, economy, effectiveness and legislative compliance of public sector agencies, and include recommendations to improve the management and delivery of public services.

Each year we ask agencies to attest to their progress in implementing actions that address previous performance audit recommendations that they accepted. Using these attestations―as well as our assessment of the public interest and materiality of audit topics―we select topics to follow up.

Our 2014 audit found that the governance of committees of management (CoM) required significant improvement and that the former Department of Environment and Primary Industries (DEPI) was not targeting its support to reserves with higher risk profiles. Consequently, it had not taken sufficient steps to ensure that CoMs are managing Crown land reserves appropriately.

This follow up audit assesses progress by the Department of Environment, Land, Water and Planning (DELWP) in responding to the 11 recommendations in our 2014 audit.

Conclusion

The actions that we recommended in our 2014 audit are increasingly relevant, as some Crown land reserves continue to deteriorate and CoMs experience increasing challenges in recruiting appropriately skilled volunteers.

DELWP's lack of progress in addressing our recommendations means that the risks that we identified in 2014 remain. The root issue we identified is unresolved—CoMs continue to report that they are not able to safely and effectively manage their Crown land reserves. As DELWP advised government in May 2018, and CoM members reiterated in our survey, real risks to public safety and assets are present on some of the land managed by CoMs. Without a robust risk assessment approach, it is not possible for DELWP to understand, or assure Victorians about, the extent or breadth of risks that exist on its 1 500 Crown land reserves managed by voluntary CoMs.

As we identified in our 2014 audit, DELWP needs to take a more strategic and risk-based approach to managing CoMs. Without undertaking the risk analysis that we recommended in 2014, DELWP cannot be assured that it is directing its limited resources to the areas of greatest risk or need, nor can it develop the business cases for increased resourcing in high-risk areas. This issue is compounded because DELWP has poor information about Crown land reserves.

Successive audits and reviews over almost 30 years have made consistent findings about poor governance and fragmented oversight by the responsible department. These reviews have also questioned the effectiveness of the CoM model for land management. The lack of progress will continue while accountability within DELWP for CoMs and Crown land reserves is dispersed and ineffective.

Findings

DELWP has not fully addressed any of the 11 recommendations from our 2014 audit—see Figure A. Several actions taken by DELWP have reduced its oversight of CoMs and consequently heightened the risks we identified in the original audit.

While DELWP's internal audit processes confirmed that it had completed necessary actions to address all of the recommendations, this is incorrect. DELWP is reviewing its internal audit processes to improve its monitoring of progress to address our recommendations.

Figure A
Status of recommendations

Audit

Tabling date

Recommendations from the 2014 audit

Made

Accepted

Complete

Incomplete

Oversight and Accountability of Committees of Management

February 2014

11

11

0

11

The action plan that DEPI provided to us in response to the original audit included four projects comprising 14 initiatives which would have partly addressed seven of our 11 recommendations. However, five of the 14 initiatives were not completed.

In addition to the action plan, DEPI committed during the audit to a range of actions against every recommendation. These actions went further than the action plan to address our recommendations. There is no evidence that DELWP has monitored or implemented these actions except for the limited number that were also in its action plan.

In December 2015, we tabled the results of our 2014 –15 follow up survey in Parliament, and we reported DELWP's assertion that it had completed its actions in response to 10 of our 11 recommendations. Instead, we assess none of the recommendations as having been fully addressed. When we sought to verify this attestation in this follow up audit, we could not verify four of the actions that DELWP had reported to us as having completed.

Response to report

We have consulted with DELWP and we considered its views when reaching our audit conclusions. As required by section 16(3) of the Audit Act 1994, we gave a draft copy of this report to DELWP and asked for its submission or comments. We also provided a copy of the report to the Department of Premier and Cabinet.

The following is a summary of DELWP's response. The full response is included in Appendix A.

DELWP acknowledged the need for further work on its oversight of CoMs and reported a number of new actions it is commencing.

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