Auditor questions board members’ email use

A $5 billion infrastructure funding body has agreed to only conduct business via official email after a report revealed three board members used personal emails to collectively send more than 10,000 emails potentially containing commercially sensitive information.

The Northern Australia Infrastructure Facility was set up in 2016 as a corporate Commonwealth Entity to provide loans and fast-track infrastructure projects in Northern Australia.

A National Audit Office of Australia (NAOA) report into governance and decision making at NAIF tabled on April 10 found the NAIF had failed to implement the Protective Security Policy Framework, designed to help government entities protect people, information and assets.

The Auditor General said as an assessor of government funding to major infrastructure projects, the NAIF managed highly sensitive commercial and political information and employed executives and other staff with access to market sensitive material.

However, some board members “used non-official email accounts to conduct official business and make decisions on projects with commercial and political sensitivities”.

The report also noted personal safety risks related to the NAIF’s actual or perceived involvement with controversial projects and proponents.

“Despite this, NAIF Board members used non-official email accounts to conduct official business, including sharing commercially sensitive information and making investment decisions, with records stored on private servers or consumer-grade email services,” the report said.

It says the board decided to stop doing this in August 2017 but some Board members continued to use non-official email accounts for official business up until June 2018.

By October 2018, the three most board members who were most active in sending emails from private non-official accounts had respectively sent around 7100, 1600 and 1500 emails.

The NAIF had agreed to “cease the use of all non-official email accounts and servers to conduct official business”, the report noted.

NAIF response

NAIF said it had accepted all the recommendations in the report and  agreed with the need to maintain public confidence in the quality of public administration.

However it said the report concluded it had an appropriate governance framework, including risk management and internal control. Is also found an appropriate integrity framework and satisfactory management of conflicts of interest, NAIF said.

“NAIF treats seriously its duty to act transparently and with the utmost integrity,” it said in a statement.

 Labor said the internal governance issues identified by the Auditor General were especially concerning and the report proved the NAIF isn’t working for Australia.

Opposition spokesman on Northern Australia Jason Clare said since its inception four years ago it had only spent $15.76 million of a total $5 billion on projects, and not a cent in Queensland.

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