Report of the Public Accounts Commitee

18th May 2022

Mr GREG PIPER (Lake Macquarie) (12:48): As Chair: This take-note debate will deal with both the financial audit reports 2020 and the performance audit reports August 2019 to June 2020. In May 2021, the Public Accounts Committee resolved to follow up high-priority repeat recommendations contained in the Auditor-General's 2020 financial audits and, to this end, sought submissions from relevant agencies to ensure that ongoing issues had been addressed. The committee sought and received written responses to requests for further information from eight agencies and, having considered the further submissions and having consulted the Auditor-General, determined that the Department of Planning, Industry and Environment and the Transport Asset Holding Entity should be invited to provide further evidence at a public hearing conducted in September 2021.

The report makes 10 recommendations to improve accountability and governance in the identified areas of responsibility for the following agencies: NSW Health cross-border agreements and reconciliations; Lord Howe Island Board business continuity plan; unresolved loan repayment with Greyhound Racing NSW and the Wentworth Park Sporting Complex Crown Land Manager; Transport for NSW contract management framework, governance arrangements for land negotiations and statutory reporting framework for Crown land managers; data integrity of the Victims Services system administered by the Department of Communities and Justice; Transport Asset Holding Entity operating model; and Department of Planning, Industry and Environment cybersecurity strategy. For the purpose of this debate, I will not list all the recommendations; rather, I refer interested persons to the published report.

One recommendation, however, that warrants specific comment is in relation to the TAHE, the Transport Asset Holding Entity. The relatively benign-sounding recommendation should not in any way be seen to underestimate the task that TAHE has before it, nor the significant implications for the State budget if indeed the TAHE model does not deliver on the stated intention for it of the Government. That recommendation is No. 6, which states:

The Committee recommends that the Transport Asset Holding Entity of New South Wales aims to achieve long-term sustainable returns for the shareholders by monitoring the annual access and licence charges to various public rail operators, and seeks additional commercial opportunities to enhance the return on investments.

It is my view that the Transport Asset Holding Entity will have difficulty in moving to a position of being able to return a dividend to the New South Wales budget. There has understandably been a lot of focus on TAHE through the media and within the political system, of late. It is in the interests of all residents of New South Wales that TAHE either succeeds as is or can be adapted in such a way that State transport assets are managed to ensure optimal benefit to public transport users. I believe it will be important for the Public Accounts Committee to maintain an interest in the operation of TAHE.

Moving on to the performance audit reports August 2019 to June 2020, this report reviewed 10 performance audits covering the period from August 2019 to June 2020 conducted into mental health services planning for Aboriginal people in New South Wales; ensuring teaching quality in New South Wales public schools; ensuring contract management capability in government; supporting the District Criminal Court; integrity of data on the births, deaths and marriages registry; Department of Education Local Schools, Local Decisions and needs-based equity funding; Destination NSW support for major events around train station crowding; and funding enhancements for police technology. Recommendation 1 states:

The Committee recommends that the NSW Police Force provides a further update concerning the status and expected benefits of the body-worn video camera project.

Recommendation 2 states:

The Committee recommends that Transport for New South Wales provides an updated report to the Committee in July 2022, detailing improvements to journey times, final costs and benefits realised for the CBD and South East Light Rail project.

The Public Accounts Committee was generally satisfied with the actions and responses from the various agencies, and indeed found that they should be commended for their performance through a time of significant disruption, including the wide bushfire emergency and COVID pandemic.

The Public Accounts Committee has seen a number of changes to membership. However, I wish to thank all those who served through this period on either or both of the inquiries, being the deputy chairs, the member for Bankstown and the member for Upper Hunter; and members of the committee, being the member for Albury, the member for Heathcote, the member for Holsworthy, the member for Keira, the member for Coffs Harbour, the member for Castle Hill and the member for North Shore.

I thank the Auditor-General and Audit Office staff for their assistance, with particular mention and thanks to Ms Candy Lee of the Audit Office who, while seconded to the New South Wales Legislative Assembly committee staff, provided valuable assistance, particularly with advice around the operation of TAHE. That important work would not be possible without committee secretariat staff, who I also thank, particularly the Public Accounts Committee secretary at that time, Mr Bjarne Nordin, who served not only the Public Accounts Committee but many committees during his 17 years at the New South Wales Parliament. I give my heartfelt thanks to Mr Nordin for his more than 40 years' service in the public sector, including within the Commonwealth and State parliaments. I know all committee members and, indeed, members of this House wish him well in his retirement.

Report noted.

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