1.1 Committees of management
CoMs make a substantial contribution to Victoria. Through their volunteer labour, they maintain and oversee almost 1 500 Crown land reserves.
Crown land reserves are areas of public land set aside for the benefit and enjoyment of Victorians. Nearly 1 200 CoMs, comprising more than 8 000 volunteers, manage these 1 500 reserves—see Figure 1A. Reserves managed by CoMs vary from sporting grounds, parks and gardens that play important roles in their local communities to historic buildings and international tourist precincts such as Phillip Island Nature Reserve and the Great Ocean Road.
Source: VAGO based on DELWP's Portal database of CoMs and Crown land reserves as at March 2018. Map data © Qlik, OpenStreetMap contributors.
1.2 Roles and responsibilities
DELWP manages the majority of Victoria's public land, including Crown land reserves, on behalf of the Minister for Energy, Environment and Climate Change.
While DELWP manages some public land directly, for specific reserves it delegates its management to groups of volunteers or other bodies such as Parks Victoria and local government. This delegation of land management occurs when the responsible minister appoints the volunteers or other body as the CoM for a reserve.
In this audit, we focused on CoMs that are made up of groups of volunteers, which DELWP refers to as 'voluntary CoMs' or 'community-based CoMs'. They may be:
- a group of three or more people, generally volunteers from the local community, who are appointed through either an expression of interest process or public election, or as nominated representatives of user groups
- a community group that has been incorporated for a public purpose under the Crown Land (Reserves) Act 1978, the Incorporated Associations Act 2012 or other relevant legislation.
The Crown Land (Reserves) Act 1978 requires CoMs to manage, improve, maintain and control their reserves for the purposes for which the land was reserved.
DELWP retains responsibility for assets on Crown land reserves. Under the Victorian Government's 2016 Asset Management Accountability Framework, portfolio departments must know what assets they have and their condition and have processes for maintaining the assets and managing emergencies.
1.3 Previous audits
Almost 30 years ago, a VAGO performance audit of Crown land reserves found that the responsible department did not have a systematic approach for administering and monitoring the delegated management of the reserves. Our follow up audit in 1997 found that the responsible department's overall framework was still deficient and did not facilitate proper accountability and monitoring of CoMs.
In 2014, our audit Oversight and Accountability of Committees of Management found that:
- DEPI needed to significantly improve its governance of CoMs
- DEPI did not take a strategic approach to supporting and overseeing CoMs, as it was not sufficiently targeting CoMs that managed reserves with higher risk profiles
- CoMs' sustainability was uncertain because DEPI had not taken sufficient steps to ensure that appropriate land managers were overseeing Crown land reserves.
During the 2014 audit, DEPI developed proposed actions to address most of the weaknesses we identified. We published these proposed actions in the final audit report as 'DEPI committed actions' against each recommendation.
Earlier this year, our audit Protecting Victoria's Coastal Assets considered how effectively DELWP supported coastal CoMs to manage coastal assets and found that DELWP's current guidance does not adequately support them. We found that not all coastal CoMs are adequately skilled to undertake the risk-based management of coastal assets on Crown land that DELWP prescribes. We also found that DELWP's limited oversight of CoMs means it does not know whether they are effectively assessing risks to coastal assets .
1.4 What this follow up audit examined and how
The objective of follow up audits is to determine whether agencies have effectively addressed the audit recommendations that they accepted in the original audit. We consider whether agencies have:
- addressed performance issues relating to the recommendations
- taken timely action to address recommendations
- put plans in place to address incomplete recommendations
- monitored their actions for review and impact.
As part of this follow up audit, we also sought to verify DELWP's attestations about its progress in addressing the recommendations and the actions it committed to undertake during the 2014 audit, which included an action plan submitted in response to the audit together with a series of committed actions negotiated with us during the audit, all of which were published in the original audit report. We reviewed documents, interviewed staff and surveyed 462 members of CoMs. See Appendix B for further information about the survey methodology and respondents.
We conducted our audit in accordance with section 15 of the Audit Act 1994 and ASAE 3500 Performance Engagements. We complied with the independence and other relevant ethical requirements related to assurance engagements. The cost of this audit was $260 000.
1.5 Report structure
The remainder of this report presents the findings of the audit including assessment of progress against our 2014 audit recommendations, and is structured as follows:
- Part 2 examines the land management model
- Part 3 looks at DELWP’s understanding of CoMs’ risks and needs
- Part 4 considers governance and appointments
- Part 5 examines guidance and support for CoMs.