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External scrutiny

The department was subject to external checks and balances through the year from various sources. In all instances any recommendations or lessons to be learnt were evaluated and used as a basis for improving how we conduct our work. These are discussed in this section.

Significant legal action

Marra v the Department of Transport and Regional Services

In June 2002 Deputy President Hotop of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal held that the Administrator of Vehicle Safety Standards had power under the Motor Vehicle Standards Act 1989 to retrospectively approve the importation of a vehicle which had already arrived in Australia. The Commonwealth is seeking a Federal Court declaration that the Act does not provide such a power.

The Marra decision was not followed in another case on point, Bene v Department of Transport and Regional Services [2002] AATA 1288.

Friends of Merri Creek Incorporated v Meakins and Minister for Transport and Regional Services

The Friends of Merri Creek Incorporated (FMCI) applied to the Federal Court for declaratory relief under the Administrative Decisions (Judicial Review) Act 1977 against the decision to approve funding of $38 million to VicRoads for pre-construction activities as part of the Craigieburn Bypass Project on the Hume Highway.

The Craigieburn Bypass Project is an approved project under the Australian Land Transport Development Act 1988 and the decision on funding was made after a five-year consultation process. The FMCI allege that as the project adversely impacts on part of the national estate (Craigieburn Grasslands) the decision-maker was required, but failed, to take into account whether there were any feasible and prudent alternatives to the project as required under section 30 of the Australian Heritage Commission Act 1975.

The case was heard on 5-6 December 2002 and a decision had not been handed down by the end of the financial year.

Auditor-General reports

During 2002-03 the following Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) audit reports were tabled in parliament. These reports included recommendations relevant specifically to the operations of the department or general advice for departmental agencies more broadly:

  • Audit Report No. 8-Senate Order for Department and Agency Contracts (September 2002)
  • Audit Report No. 25-Audits of the Financial Statements of Commonwealth Entities for the Period Ended 30 June 2002
  • Audit Report No. 26-Aviation Security in Australia, Department of Transport and Regional Services
  • Audit Report No. 27-Management of Commonwealth Guarantees, Warranties, Indemnities and Letters of Comfort
  • Audit Report No. 32-Senate Order for Department and Agency Contracts (Spring 2002)
  • Audit Report No. 38-Referrals, Assessments and Approvals under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999
  • Audit Report No. 43-The Sale of Sydney (Kingsford Smith) Airport
  • Audit Report No. 49-Management of Navigation Aids Network-Australian Maritime Safety Authority.

Summaries of these reports are provided below.

Audit Report No. 8-Senate Order for Department and Agency Contracts (September 2002)

This was a cross-agency audit. The Senate Order of 20 June 2001 requested the Auditor-General to undertake twice-yearly reviews of agency contracts over $100 000 required to be listed on the Internet and report whether there had been any inappropriate use of confidentiality provisions.

The audit relates to the second audit under the Senate Order, namely the audit of contract information associated with the tabling of letters by ministers by the tenth day of the Autumn 2002 sitting (21 March 2002). The audit involved a desktop review of all agencies covered by the Financial Management and Accountability Act 1997. In addition, six agencies including the department were selected for a more detailed review.

Most agencies had reported their contracts of $100 000 or more on the Internet and complied with most of the requirements of the Senate Order. In relation to the six agencies reviewed in detail, the Internet listings were generally complete in terms of the total number of contracts listed and accurate in terms of content. The department continues to improve on its procedures to reflect the requirements of the new accountability framework.

Audit Report No. 25-Audits of the Financial Statements of Commonwealth Entities for the Period Ended 30 June 2002

This was a cross-agency audit and summarised the final results of the audits of the financial statements of Commonwealth entities for the period ended 30 June 2002. During the interim audit the ANAO noted that the department's business continuity plan needed updating to take into account broader business resumption planning issues. This has now been addressed. There were no significant audit issues arising from the final audit phase.

Audit Report No. 26-Aviation Security in Australia, Department of Transport and Regional Services

This audit was tabled out of session on 16 January 2003. It endorsed the department's response to the events of 11 September 2001 and noted that the regulatory framework for aviation security was comprehensive. It found that the department's monitoring regime was essentially sound, but could be improved. It also found that improvements could be made with regard to action taken by the department to correct non-compliance with aviation security standards.

The report made six recommendations covering air cargo, industry monitoring and compliance with aviation security standards, enhancement of the security management information system and development of performance indicators. The department accepted all six recommendations, implementation of which is being monitored by the department's Audit Committee.

Audit Report No. 27-Management of Commonwealth Guarantees, Warranties, Indemnities and Letters of Comfort

This was a cross-agency audit by way of a questionnaire to all explicit Commonwealth guarantees, warranties, indemnities and letters of comfort on issue by departments and agencies. Based on this, detailed information was gathered from selected departments including this department. The audit assessed the extent of improvement in agencies' management and monitoring of the Commonwealth's exposure, changes in the size and nature of the Commonwealth's reported exposure since 30 June 1997, and the approach of agencies to effective risk management and control of Commonwealth exposures to these instruments.

There has been a continuing improvement since the 1998 audit in most agencies' management and administrative practices and improved public accountability through better reporting. There is scope for improvement in recording relevant information, application of effective risk management and control of exposures.

The report highlights the fact that the value of these contingent exposures has declined by almost 50 per cent since the last report to $114.9 billion. Contrary to this trend, the department showed the largest increase in these liabilities ($27.2 billion), although this is acknowledged as part of the government's response to the events of 11 September 2001.

Despite this increase, the report does not contain any adverse comment on the department. The department is favourably mentioned as an example of better practice for the retention and safe custody of documents.

Audit Report No. 32-Senate Order for Department and Agency Contracts (Spring 2002)

This audit follows from Audit Report No. 8. Again, this was a cross-agency audit. This audit relates to the third audit under the Senate Order, namely the audit of contract information associated with the tabling of letters by ministers by the tenth day of the Spring 2002 sitting (17 September 2002). As for Audit No. 8, the audit involved a desktop review of all agencies covered by the Financial Management and Accountability Act 1997. In addition six agencies, including the department, were selected for a more detailed review.

Most agencies had reported their contracts of $100 000 or more on the Internet and complied with most of the requirements of the Order. This indicates an increased agency compliance with the listing requirements of the Senate Order.

In relation to the six agencies reviewed in detail, the ANAO concluded that the processes used to compile the Internet listing were likely to lead to the lists being complete in relation to the number of contracts. However, agencies should strengthen the quality assurance processes so that the confidentiality claims for contracts on the Internet reflect the existence of confidential contractual information.

The department continues to improve on its procedures to reflect the requirements of the accountability framework.

Audit Report No. 38-Referrals, Assessments and Approvals under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999

ANAO examined how selected departments, including this department, referred matters to Environment Australia in accordance with the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act 1999 (EPBC Act).

The report includes a case study on survey work on Christmas Island. The department had responsibility for infrastructure development for the permanent Immigration Reception and Processing Centre (IPRC). In this instance, the department's contractor conducting survey work on the IPRC bulldozed a track through a rehabilitated area without obtaining environmental clearance. This occurred prior to receipt of the EPBC Act exemption. When Environment Australia advised the department of the use of the bulldozer, work immediately ceased.

The area bulldozed was approximately 0.1 hectares of rehabilitated rainforest (approximately 2-3 metres high). This has since all been cleared in accordance with the EPBC exemption and the government's intentions to construct the IRPC.

The report notes that this case study highlights the importance of providing essential information on the EPBC Act throughout the supply chain so that contractors are well aware on their obligations and responsibilities in regard to best practice environment management.

The report recommends that Environment Australia includes in guidance to Commonwealth agencies appropriate advice in regard to contractors and their obligation to comply with provisions of the EPBC Act. As well as ensuring that information is available to contractors, the department will include a provision in new contracts requiring contractors to comply with relevant provisions in the EPBC Act.

ANAO noted that following this incident, the department raised awareness in both the Christmas Island Administration and the Perth Office in charge of capital works of the importance of meeting EPBC Act requirements before work commences.

Audit Report No. 43-The Sale of Sydney (Kingsford Smith) Airport

The audit involved the planning for and conduct and completion of:

  • the sale of Sydney (Kingsford Smith) airport
  • the preparation and conduct of the sales process prior to the September 2001 deferral and the recommenced tender process that culminated in the June 2002 sale
  • the receipt of sale proceeds and the application of the proceeds to reducing Commonwealth debt.

The Department of Finance and Administration and its advisers, in consultation with the department, managed the sale process effectively. The overall audit conclusions were positive. The ANAO concluded that the sale was a very good financial outcome for the Commonwealth and that the sale maximised financial returns on a risk-adjusted basis while achieving optimal returns in relation to the other sale objective. The report was complimentary of the management of the sale process in which the department played an integral role.

The audit report contains no recommendations. This would seem to confirm the soundness of the sale process.

Audit Report No. 49-Management of Navigation Aids Network-Australian Maritime Safety Authority

The audit examined whether the Australian Maritime Safety Authority's (AMSA) management of the Navaids (navigation aids) network provides for the strategic needs of marine navigation in Australian waters, and whether AMSA efficiently and effectively manages the Navaids network. This included the capital works programme for new aids and the ongoing maintenance of the network.

The ANAO found that AMSA demonstrated elements of better practice in the areas examined. AMSA demonstrated a sound and comprehensive approach to strategic planning that yielded clear objectives and a range of suitable strategies for their achievement. The strategic planning effort provided AMSA with an effective platform from which to deliver quality outcomes.

The audit compliments AMSA's management of the Navaids function internally, as well as the outsourced components of ship operations and Navaid maintenance. Overall the report approves of the processes adopted to maintain and enhance the Navaid network. The ANAO made some suggestions for improvements to AMSA's administration, but did not make any recommendations.

The department was also involved in several cross-agency audits. These are listed below.

  • Audit Report No. 41-Annual Reporting on Ecologically Sustainable Development
  • Audit Report No. 45-Reporting of Financial Statements and Audit Reports in Annual Reports
  • Audit Report No. 50-Managing People for Business Outcomes, Year Two
  • Audit Report No. 52-Absence Management in the Australian Public Service
  • Audit Report No. 61-Control Structure as part of the Audit of Financial Statements of Major Commonwealth Entities for the Year Ending 30 June 2003.

Joint Committee of Public Accounts and Audit (JCPAA) Reviews

The following ANAO reports were reviewed by the JCPAA.

No. 26-Aviation Security in Australia, Department of Transport and Regional Services.

Two departmental officers provided evidence to this committee on 21 May 2003. Following this, the committee announced that it would be conducting an inquiry regarding aviation security arrangements in Australia. This inquiry is still underway.

No. 27-Management of Commonwealth Guarantees, Warranties, Indemnities and Letters of Comfort.

Three departmental officers provided evidence to this committee as part of the review on 30 April 2003.

Reports tabled by parliamentary committees on matters relating to the department

The Joint Standing Committee on the National Capital and External Territories tabled the following reports:

  • Norfolk Island Electoral Matters, tabled on 26 August 2002
  • Striking the Right Balance: Draft Amendment 39 National Capital Plan, tabled on 21 October 2002.

The Transport and Regional Services (House, Standing) Committee tabled the report, Moving on Intelligent Transport Systems, on 9 December 2002.

The Joint Standing Committee on Public Works tabled the report, Common use infrastructure on Christmas Island, on 27 August 2002.

The Finance and Public Administration Committee (Senate) tabled the report, A funding matter under the Dairy Regional Assistance Programme, on 26 June 2003.

A copy of these reports and their current status is available at www.aph.gov.au/committee/index.htm

Complaints

Commonwealth Ombudsman

During 2002-03 the Ombudsman received 50 complaints concerning the department's actions. Forty-four complaints were addressed during the year with 52 separate issues identified. The Ombudsman's Office exercised its discretion not to investigate in 57.6 per cent of issues.

Of the issues investigated, the Ombudsman's Office found an arguable agency defect in 13.6 per cent of cases. There were no formal reports to the minister under the provisions of the Ombudsman Act 1976.

Privacy

During 2002-03 the Office of the Federal Privacy Commissioner received two complaints concerning the department's actions. The Office of the Federal Privacy Commissioner did not investigate either complaint, as it considered there was not enough evidence to support the claims.

Complaints to the department

Complaints are received through our client service feedback line and email address, directly through client contact with departmental staff, or through the Ombudsman.

The Client Service Officer records all client service feedback calls and emails and any feedback forms or other client service correspondence. In 2002-03 the client service officer received 304 calls and four emails. Of these, 211 calls (68.5 per cent) did not relate to this department and were referred to state transport agencies.

Inquiries, feedback or complaints relating to departmental business, received on the client service feedback line and email, are referred to the relevant division for response and a record maintained on the referral and when the response to the caller was completed. In 2002-03 two complaints were received relating to the department and were promptly resolved within the relevant division.

Clients and stakeholders often directly contact the area in question to resolve any issues or complaints and many are not recorded as they are minor or not formal complaints and resolved immediately.

Table 1 shows the number of formal complaints recorded by the department in 2002-03 and the method used to resolve the issue, these include:

  1. personal contact
  2. referral to the Ombudsman
  3. written response from the minister or the department.
Table 1: Complaints resolution
Nature of complaints Number and resolution method
Transport related complaints 66a
1b
1c
Regional related complaints 2a
1c

Freedom of Information

Section 8 of the Freedom of Information Act 1982 (the FOI Act) requires Australian Government agencies to make available information about their organisation, functions and operations, and about rules and practices used in making decisions that affect members of the public.

Information about the department

The department's organisation and functions are described in Part 2 and Part 4 of this report. Information about rules and practices in making decisions that affect members of the public is included in Part 4 of the report and in more detail on www.dotars.gov.au in documents such as the Client Service Charter.

How to lodge a Freedom of Information request

In accordance with section 15 of the FOI Act, any person is entitled to apply for access to documents that fall within its scope. If you need further information or to lodge a formal request under the FOI Act, please contact:

Freedom of Information Coordinator
Department of Transport and Regional Services
GPO Box 594
CANBERRA ACT 2601

Telephone: (02) 6274 7844
Fax: (02) 6274 6775
Email: foi@dotars.gov.au

A request under the FOI Act must be in writing (email is acceptable), accompanied by a $30 application fee, and stating an address in Australia to which notices under the FOI Act can be sent. In certain instances the fee is not required or can be remitted. For a quick response, please provide as much information as possible about the document(s) you are seeking. It is advisable to include a telephone number in case clarification of your request is necessary.

For the purposes of the FOI Act, the records of the Australian Transport Safety Bureau, the Bureau of Transport and Regional Economics and the administrations of Jervis Bay Territory, Christmas Island, the Cocos (Keeling) Islands and Norfolk Island are records of the department.

Table 2: Freedom of Information statistics 2002-03
Requests received Number
On hand at 1 July 2002 20
Received 1 July 2002 - 30 June 2003 53
Response time (days)
0-30 12
31-60 14
61-90 11
91+ 6
Withdrawn 21
On hand at 30 June 2003 9

Further information on FOI reporting requirements is contained in Appendix 4.

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