Four new reports have been published by our Upper House committees in recent weeks, detailing inquiry findings and recommendations relating to cyber security, the remediation of coal ash dam sites, government grants and new dams and water infrastructure in NSW. Read on for more…
This inquiry of the Premier and Finance committee examined the state of cyber security in NSW and in particular, the circumstances and handling of the high-profile Service NSW data breach in 2020. During this cyber-attack, the data of more than 100,000 people was stolen.
You can read the final report, tabled on 26 March 2021, here. In it, the committee documents four key findings around the Service NSW breach, including that it may have been prevented if the agency had addressed previously-identified information-handling risks.
Most importantly, the report makes 12 recommendations to the NSW Government for strengthening cyber security, based on lessons learnt. These include…
- Establishing clearer requirements for cyber security standards in all government agencies
- Enhancing the role and bolstering the mandate of Cyber Security NSW
- Strengthening the NSW Government’s Cyber Security Policy
- Improving relevant education, awareness and support for public officials and professionals involved in cyber security in the state
- Developing measures to better support people affected by data breaches.
Established in mid-2020, this ongoing inquiry is examining the integrity, efficacy and value of NSW Government grant programs. Being conducted by the Public Accountability Committee, the inquiry began with a focus on the second round of grants awarded through the Stronger Communities Fund and local government grants more generally. It’s now moving on to explore other grant programs and mechanisms, including bushfire relief funding.
The committee tabled its first report on 30 March 2021, available here. It highlights 13 key findings of the committee relating to the Stronger Communities Fund’s second grants round, including that…
- There was “a clear abuse of the grants process” and an “improper allocation of public money”
- Some 95 per cent of funds were allocated to councils in Coalition-held or marginal electorates
- It appeared that the Premier and Deputy Premier were responsible for approving the majority of the projects.
The report also makes 15 recommendations to help increase transparency, accountability and oversight of grant processes. They range from ways to better communicate and provide access to grant application information, to measures that would allow closer scrutiny of grant program administration. The recommendations also call for more rigour around the inclusion of mandatory, legally binding elements such as eligibility criteria.
Additionally, the committee’s report makes recommendations for further actions and referral of matters relating to the administration of the Stronger Communities Fund to ICAC and the Auditor-General.
Importantly, the report contains a dissenting statement from the committee’s three government members, noting that “regional communities are not homogenous” and that the Stronger Communities Fund has provided more than $468 million to local councils.
COAL ASH REMEDIATION
This inquiry of the Public Works Committee begun in late 2019 to look at the costs for the remediation of sites containing coal ash repositories in NSW. Coal ash is the material left over from the burning of black coal, with the inquiry considering contaminated sites around a number of the state’s power stations.
The inquiry’s final report was tabled on 22 March 2021, and is available in full here. In it, the committee notes it ultimately wasn’t possible to determine the costs the government may be liable for in the remediation of contaminated sites. The report therefore calls for greater rigour and transparency in assessments and reporting around the issue, so that the situation can be more fully understood – and to inform best-practice remediation.
With the costs of site remediation not calculable, instead the report’s main finding is that coal ash can be considered a valuable resource.
Among the committee’s 16 recommendations is that the government establish a coal ash reuse taskforce to drive the development of a strategy for reusing at least 80 per cent of coal ash produced in NSW – including through infrastructure projects and, potentially, value-added products. This, the committee says, “will lead to industry development and job creation, a reduction in environmental harm and contribute to developing a circular economy”.
DAMS AND WATER INFRASTRUCTURE
Self-referred by the Planning and Environment Committee in mid-2020, this ongoing inquiry is exploring the rationale for – and the impacts of – new dams and other water infrastructure in NSW.
A number of dam and mass-water-storage projects are being put in the spotlight, including those relating to Wyangala Dam, Mole River Dam and Dungowan Dam, plus the Macquarie River re-regulating storage project, the Menindee Lakes water saving project and the Western Weirs project.
Available here, part one of the inquiry’s final report was tabled on 18 March 2021. It focuses on the proposed wall-raising project for Wyangala Dam, which is intended to add storage capacity for the Lachlan Valley.
The inquiry’s eight key findings question the cost-effectiveness and benefits of the wall raising, and point to concerns around environmental and community impacts – including impacts on floodplain sustainability and on Aboriginal cultural heritage sites and artefacts.
In its report, the committee makes four recommendations, including that the Government address the concerns raised by the inquiry in the final business case for the project, and in any environmental studies, and that additional water efficiency measures for the area are explored.
Of note, two dissenting statements are included in the back of the report, indicating where members were unable to reach consensus on key points of the inquiry.