An audit has found gaps in the NSW government’s management of conflicts of interest during moves to fast-track development applications as part of its covid-19 response.
It also found that not all applicants have honoured their part of the deal to quickly move to construction after being fast tracked through the assessment process.
The NSW auditor general conducted a performance audit of DPIE’s priority assessment program between April 2020 and October 2020.
The program was designed to support the construction industry by accelerating the final assessment stages for planning proposals and development applications.
Projects selected for fast-tracking were required to move to the next stage within six months, whether it was submitting a DA or starting construction.
Under the program 59 projects and 42 planning proposals were assessed in six tranches.
In tranches 3-6, the focus of the audit, the final stages of 53 assessments were fast-tracked but only 47 moved to the next stage of development within six months, including 31 DAs and 16 planning proposals.
Conflicts of interest
The report found while the assessment of projects and planning proposals was compliant with legislation, four of the 28 staff assessing the planning proposals and DAs hadn’t lodged a current conflict of interest declaration.
DPIE also engaged a probity advisor for the program but failed to check whether the advisor had any conflicts of interest relating to this program.
“It is important that public servants involved in assessing DAs and planning proposals declare and manage any conflicts of interest as planning – in particular assessment of DAs – is a high-risk area for personal conflicts,” Auditor General Margaret Crawford said.
The report also found DPIE hadn’t evaluated or costed the progam and wasn’t able to show it supported the construction program.
“It is important that DPIE evaluates the costs and benefits of the approach, given that it was new and rapidly implemented, so that it can understand which aspects of the program were most effective as a basis for further reform,” Ms Crawford said.
She also noted there was no additional funding provided for the program but DPIE staff reported working additional hours to meet deadlines.
“This approach is unlikely to be sustainable in the longer term and DPIE will need to consider what additional resourcing is required if some aspects of this program continue into the future,” she said.
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