26 September 2023

Audit finds COVID threats well managed

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A performance audit into the management of human biosecurity for international air travellers during the COVID-19 pandemic has found the entities responsible were largely effective.

The Audit examined the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment (DAWE), the Department of Health, the Department of Home Affairs, and the Department of Infrastructure, Transport, Regional Development and Communications.

In his Report, Human Biosecurity for International Air Travellers during COVID-19, Auditor-General, Grant Hehir said the Audit was conducted under phase two of the Australian National Audit Office’s multi-year strategy focused on the effective, efficient, economical and ethical delivery of Government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Human biosecurity operations for international air travel have been largely supported by good governance,” Mr Hehir said.

“The administration of routine human biosecurity measures has been partly effective during the pandemic,” he said.

“Roles and responsibilities for enhanced health screening were initially not clear and roles and responsibilities for exit screening were not aligned with legislation.”

Mr Hehir said while the introduction of ‘electronic traveller with illness checklists’ had improved the effectiveness of traveller screening, regulatory records maintained by DAWE were “unreliable and cannot demonstrate that BOs (Biosecurity Officers) have correctly administered routine human biosecurity measures”.

He said the administration of emergency human biosecurity measures had been largely effective, except for a short period when roles and responsibilities for passenger processing into mandatory quarantine were not clear.

The Auditor-General made six recommendations to improve governance arrangements and ensure that departmental systems for traveller processing adequately supported human health outcomes.

Mr Hehir said the Audit Report held key messages for all Australian Government entities, including instances of good practice.

He said entities should maintain awareness of how State and Territory jurisdiction intersected with their activities and objectives; incorporate early assurance and evaluation activities into rapid implementation plans for emergency responses; give priority to requests for cross-entity assistance or reform that stemmed from review findings about improving preparedness for crises; ensure that both Memorandums of Understanding and emergency plans were regularly reviewed; and regulators should plan for the effective exercise of any power that had been enacted by Parliament, “even where an immediate need to exercise that power is not apparent”.

The Audit team was Michael McGillion, Alicia Vaughan, Samuel Jones, Jennifer Canfield, Deborah Jackson and Daniel Whyte.

The Auditor-General’s Report can be accessed at this PS News link and an 87-page printable version at this link.

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