Audit and assurance

The Natural Resources Commission Act 2003 requires the Commission to undertake audits of plans and other natural resource management issues, as required by the Minister.

The Commission's audits deliver accountability of service delivery, drive improved performance, and engender community and investor confidence in the audited organisation's activities.

The Government has asked the Commission to be the auditor of Local Land Services.

Audit of emergency management capability

Minister endorses Commission's recommendations

The then Minister for Primary Industries has endorsed all of the Commission’s 18 recommendations on the audit of Department of Primary Industries (DPI) and Local Land Services’ emergency response capability. The DPI and Local Land Services have prepared an action plan to implement these recommendations, building on a reform program already initiated.

Overall, the Commission found that DPI and Local Land Services have achieved effective outcomes and demonstrated several strengths. The audit highlighted that both DPI and Local Land Services have a core group of dedicated, capable staff they can deploy to deliver emergency response services, as well as structures to efficiently engage extra-jurisdictional resources and expertise when needed. Furthermore, DPI and Local Land Services have commenced, and are implementing, a reform program that should address some key risks and capability gaps in emergency response management.

The Commission identified that DPI and Local Land Services’ emergency response capability could be further strengthened by:

  • clarifying organisational roles and responsibilities
  • clarifying operational decision-making procedures
  • developing and implementing a risk-based workforce plan
  • improving business continuity planning and funding strategies
  • addressing key operational risks in the implementation of emergency response.

Audit of sustainable land management reforms

Minister endorses Commission's recommendations

The then Minister for Primary Industries has endorsed all of the Commission’s 10 recommendations on the audit of Local Land Services’ implementation of the sustainable land management reforms. Local Land Services has prepared an action plan to implement these recommendations.

The NSW Government’s sustainable land management reforms comprise a broad range of actions across government that will contribute to achieving a balanced approach to rural land management and biodiversity conservation.

The Commission audited the Local Land Services’ implementation of aspects of these reforms relating to the Biodiversity Conservation Act 2016 (NSW) (BC Act) and the associated amendments to the Local Land Services Act 2013.

Local Land Services’ Sustainable Land Management (SLM) group is the body responsible for administering the new rural Land Management Framework, including providing extension and support to landholders, as part of the reforms.

The audit was conducted over four stages. In stage one, the Commission assessed the extent to which Local Land Services has systems and procedures to ensure it can provide accurate, consistent and timely advice. Stage two tested the implementation of those procedures in delivering this advice. Stage three focused on the likelihood that landholders will engage with the SLM group and examined customer satisfaction. Stage four examined whether advice is recorded and stored in a consistent manner.

Overall, the Commission found that the SLM group has comprehensive systems and processes for providing accurate, consistent and timely advice. These systems and processes require applications to go through multiple levels of review to assist quality control. The SLM group’s operations manual provides guidance on the oversight and quality assurance process, including team leader review and validation by the assessments team. The assessments team review, while sometimes time-consuming, is critical to ensuring applications are fully compliant and accurate.

The Commission identified that the SLM group’s processes and systems could be further strengthened by:

  • reviewing the process for prioritising applications and ensuring it is consistently implemented and transparent to stakeholders
  • evaluating the feasibility of reducing review requirements for low-risk applications without compromising quality assurance
  • clarifying the policy on approval of activities that SLM staff have indicated may require approval under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (Cth) (EPBC Act) when landholders have signed statutory declarations indicating the EPBC Act does not apply.

Audit of implementation of Local Land Services' strategic plans

In accordance with requirements under the Local Land Services Act 2013, the Commission will undertake an independent audit to assess the implementation of local strategic plans in each of the 11 Local Land Service regions.

The audit will comprise document review, interviews and site visits. It is anticipated that the audit work will commence by April 2019 and be completed by the third quarter of 2019.

The Commission’s audit will inform the Government on the extent to which stated outcomes have been achieved within set time frames.

Audits of Local Land Services' governance and communications

In December 2016, the NSW Government supported all of the Commission’s recommendations from the 2015 and 2016 audits of Local Land Services’ governance and communications.

In 2015 and 2016, the Commission completed two priority audits of Local Land Services’ governance and communications. These themes were selected from the two-year audit plan for Local Land Services, which was endorsed by the Minister for Primary Industries. The audit plan was based on the risk assessment conducted by the Commission in collaboration with Local Land Services.

Governance audit

The governance audit focused on assessing key aspects of Local Land Services’ governance to provide a basis for accelerating organisational maturity and improving performance.

The Commission found areas of sound governance practice in Local Land Services, as well as significant areas for improvement. The Commission made recommendations in a number of core areas including governance structure, strategy, roles and accountabilities, systems, risk management, and culture and leadership.

Communications audit

The communications audit focused on assessing the overall maturity of Local Land Services’ communications and identifying opportunities for improving performance.

The audit identified good operational communications practices, and professional and diligent frontline service delivery staff across Local Land Services.

While many examples of sound on-ground communications practices were identified, the audit also highlighted insufficient valuing and prioritising of communications as a core business function. This has prevented Local Land Services from maximising customer service and stakeholder engagement efforts. Key recommendations relate to improving communications strategies, structure, leadership, skills, role clarity, stakeholder engagement and brand profile.

Final report - Local Land Services governance audit (October 2015)
Final report - Local Land Services communications audit (April 2016)
Government response - Governance audit
Government response - Communications audit

Audit strategy

In July 2014, the Commission developed an audit strategy and approach to auditing outcomes in line with its legislative requirement to provide Government with independent advice on natural resource management, including through the specific function of undertaking audits, as required by the Minister.

Before that, the Commission released a quick reference guide to help determine the appropriate type of audit service based on level of assurance required, and a brochure introducing its independent audits.

Audit strategy (July 2014)
Introducing the Commission's audits of Local Land Services
Quick reference guide to Commission's audit services

Prior to Local Land Services

Prior to the establishment of Local Land Services in January 2014, Catchment Management Authorities (CMAs) developed catchment action plans for their regions. The Commission audited the effectiveness of implementation of these plans in delivering social, economic and environmental outcomes in line with the state-wide standard and targets. These audit reports are available on the publications page.

The Commission's audits of catchment action plans provided the Government with an understanding of progress a CMA was making in effectively implementing its catchment action plan. The Commission's audits also guided the CMA Board in continual improvement.

The focus of the Commission's audits was to test whether regional planning, project implementation and business systems met the Standard for Quality Natural Resource Management and helped achieve state-wide targets for natural resource management.

In 2006, the Commission reviewed eight catchment action plans and recommended to Government for approval.

In 2008 and 2009, the Commission completed the first round of 13 audits of catchment action plan implementation. Nine CMAs demonstrated a very high or high level of effectiveness in implementing their catchment action plans, and four demonstrated a fair level of effectiveness. The Commission conducted second audits of the latter four CMAs to understand how plan implementation had progressed.

In 2010, the Commission used the information from comprehensive audits in reporting NSW's progress towards healthy, resilient landscapes.

In 2011, CMAs started upgrading their region's catchment action plans. The Commission collaborated with government agencies to develop an assessment framework setting out the review process for upgraded plans.

In 2013, the Commission assessed nine upgraded catchment action plans and recommended that Government approve these plans. The Commission also reported on lessons learned from upgrading plans and developed a Better Practice Guide to help Local Land Services adapt these plans to fit their regions. The 11 adapted LLS plans were reviewed by the Commission to ensure the integrity and intent of the original plans was maintained in the transition to Local Land Services. This rapid review was completed over a period of three weeks at the end of 2013 in time for the commencement of Local Land Services.

Progress report - Progress towards healthy, resilient landscapes (December 2010)
Upgrading catchment Action plans - Lessons for LLS (June 2013)
Better practice guide - Adapting catchment action plans to fit LLS (August 2013)