26 September 2023

Auditor finds bushfire grants ineffective

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A performance audit of the Department of Regional NSW and Resilience NSW has found they did not effectively administer two rounds of bushfire recovery grants.

In her report Bushfire recovery grants, Auditor-General Margaret Crawford said she assessed rounds one and two of the Bushfire Local Economic Recovery (BLER) program, created after the 2019-20 bushfires.

Ms Crawford said the first round of BLER included two streams, Fast-Tracked projects and ­Sector Development Grants (SDG), while the second round was open.

“The Department of Regional NSW did not effectively administer the Fast-Tracked stream of the BLER,” Ms Crawford said.

“The administration process lacked integrity, given it did not have sufficiently detailed guidelines and the assessment process for projects lacked transparency and consistency,” she said.

“At the request of the Deputy Premier’s office, a $1 million threshold was applied, below which projects were not approved for funding.”

Ms Crawford said the Department of Regional NSW had advised that some of the projects excluded were subsequently funded from other programs.

She said the $1 million threshold resulted in a number of shortlisted projects in areas highly impacted by the bushfires being excluded, “including all shortlisted projects located in Labor Party-held electorates”.

“The Department’s administration of the SDG stream had a detailed and transparent assessment process,” the Auditor-General said.

“However, conflicts of interest were not effectively managed.”

She said the Department’s administration of the open round of funding included a clearly documented, detailed and transparent assessment framework, though some weaknesses in the approach to conflicts of interest remained.

Ms Crawford made five recommendations to Department of Regional NSW, including that all future grant programs align with relevant good practice guidance; have communications a plan in place; all conflicts of interest be declared prior to the commencement of a grants stream; have regularly monitoring in place; and document key decisions and approvals.

The Auditor-General’s 44-page Report can be accessed at this PS News link.

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