Working with integrity

Public access to government information

The Government Information (Public Access) Act 2009 (GIPA Act) gives members of the public, the media, business and other organisations the right to access government information – including information not usually available to the public – unless releasing this information is against the public interest.

Under the Act, every year the EPA must:

  • review its proactive release of information to the public
  • report on how it has responded to formal applications for access to information.

Proactive release program

The EPA program for the proactive release of information requires the agency to examine information, additional to that routinely made available to the public, which has been informally released or formally requested under the GIPA Act.

In 2020–21, information proactively released on the EPA website included:

  • information in relation to energy recovery facilities, including a copy of the NSW Chief Scientist and Engineer’s report Energy from Waste (2020) and the response to the report
  • fact sheets on the monitoring of remediated land at Rhodes Peninsula, in English and community languages
  • information on bushfire-affected forestry operations, including:
    • site-specific operating conditions, Protocol 5 reports and fire severity maps for each state forest
    • the report 2019–20 Wildfires: Environmental impacts and implications for timber harvesting in NSW State Forests by Forestry Corporation of NSW (FCNSW)
    • the report Review of CIFOA Mitigation Conditions for Timber Harvesting in Burnt Landscapes by independent ecologist Dr Andrew Smith
    • a letter from FCNSW to the EPA and the EPA’s letter in response
  • information in relation to water quality in Darcy Road Drain at Port Kembla, including sampling results
  • information in relation to Minchinbury odours resulting from the Bingo ‘Dial A Dump’ facility.

Access applications received, decided and finalised in 2020–21

In 2020–21, the EPA:

  • received 80 applications for access to information (most of them from the public) and found 69 of them to be valid
  • decided 80 applications, including some received in the previous year
  • finalised 71 applications, including nine carried forward from the previous year.

More than one decision can be made in relation to an access application. The table below lists the application outcomes for the 2020–21 financial year.

Decision outcomes Number of decisions

access granted in full

37

access granted in part

23

access refused in full

10

information not held

8

information already available

1

refuse to deal with application

1

refuse to confirm or deny whether information was held

0

application withdrawn

6

Appendix 2 gives full details of the applications and outcomes.

EPA Officer responding to public enquiries. Photo: EPA

Shared governance and essential services

Corporate and essential services for 2020–21 were provided by the DPIE Cluster Corporate Services under various service partnership agreements.

The following EPA statutory reporting requirements are covered by a shared service arrangement and compliance is reported in the DPIE Annual Report 2020–21:

  • work health and safety
  • personnel policies and practices
  • industrial relations policies and practices
  • Disability Inclusion Action Plans initiatives
  • Multicultural Plan initiatives
  • Workforce Diversity strategies and achievements
  • agreements with Multicultural NSW
  • digital information security.

Public enquiries, reports and complaints

EPA staff receive general enquiries about environmental issues, reports on pollution incidents, and feedback and complaints about our work. We value these interactions with stakeholders. Our Code of Ethics and Conduct specifies that EPA staff, when interacting with the public, will:

  • act professionally, with honesty, consistency and impartiality
  • build relationships based on mutual respect
  • provide services fairly with a focus on customer needs.

Members of the public may complain because they are unhappy with how the EPA has responded to an issue or the time it has taken to act on a pollution report. These complaints are appropriately addressed to the EPA. But we also receive complaints about matters for which we are not the regulatory authority. In such cases we refer the complaint to the appropriate body.

Allegations of corrupt conduct are reported to the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption. In 2020–21 the EPA made three such reports.

Public interest disclosures 

A public interest disclosure is a disclosure of alleged corrupt conduct, maladministration, serious and substantial waste of public money or a breach of the Government Information (Public Access) Act 2009 (GIPA Act). In 2020–21, no public interest disclosures were made to the EPA – see Appendix 3. 

Our staff are made aware of their responsibilities by relevant information provided on the EPA intranet. An updated Public Interest Disclosure: Internal Reporting Policy and Procedures document was published in 2019. 

We treat all people with whom we have contact equally, without prejudice or favour and with honesty, consistency and impartiality.

Privacy management 

The EPA’s Privacy Management Plan outlines how the EPA complies with the principles of the Privacy and Personal Information Protection Act 1998 and the Health Records and Information Privacy Act 2002

Cyber security

We have assessed our cyber security risks, which are discussed at Executive and Board level during quarterly risk-review and assessment processes. DPIE Cluster Corporate Services provides cyber security for the EPA, and tests incident-response protocols each year – see Appendix 4. 

Controlled entities

In 2020–21, the Environment Protection Authority Staff Agency (EPA Staff Agency) was the only controlled entity of the EPA as defined under the Government Sector Finance Act 2018. The EPA Staff Agency is a Division of the Government Service responsible to the Minister for Energy and Environment, established under the Administrative Arrangements Order 2014, dated 29 January 2014. Under the Order, the former Office of the Environment Protection Authority became the EPA Staff Agency.

A not-for-profit entity, the EPA Staff Agency employs staff to enable the EPA to exercise its functions. This entity is consolidated with the EPA as part of the NSW Total State Sector Accounts. The EPA Staff Agency’s objectives, operations, activities, performance targets and performance measures are included throughout this annual report.

Direction from the Minister

The EPA has been directed by the Minister for Energy and Environment to include an assessment of the NSW Net Zero Plan Stage 1: 2020–2030 (the Plan) in State of the Environment reports between 2020 and 2030, including the next issue due in late 2021.

This was directed under section 13.(3)(a) of the Protection of the Environment Administration Act 1991.

EPA internal audit and assurance

Our internal audit and assurance program provides an independent assurance and advisory service. It adds value by applying a systematic, disciplined approach to evaluating and improving the effectiveness of risk management, internal controls and governance processes. The program monitors, analyses and communicates lessons learned, contributing to us becoming a world class regulator.

The EPA Internal Audit Charter provides the audit framework and the forward plan for audit and assurance activities for 2021–22. The forward plan is reviewed from time to time to make sure work remains focused on addressing risks.

The Chief Audit Executive leads the internal audit and assurance section and reports quarterly to the EPA Audit and Risk Committee. Reporting covers the results of completed audits and the progress of management actions to address the findings of internal and external audits. The table shows the number of assurance activities undertaken for the financial year.

Type of assurance activities 2020–21

Internal audit

4

Assurance review

2

External audit:
NSW Audit Office

2

Total audits and assurance activities

8

EPA insurance

The EPA’s insurance arrangements are made through the Treasury Managed Fund, which is managed by the NSW Self-Insurance Corporation.

The table below shows the cost of the EPA’s insurance premiums over the past five years.

EPA insurance premiums 

Area of risk 2016–17
$’000
2017–18
$’000
2018–19
$’000
2019–20
$’000
2020–21  
$’000

Workers compensation

258

287

217

268

182

Public liability

41

41

55

74

104

Property

7

9

12

17  

Motor vehicles

52

44

48

40

31

Miscellaneous losses*

0

0

0

0

2

Total

358 381 332 399 324

* Miscellaneous losses include employee dishonesty, personal accident insurance and protection during overseas travel. 

The cost of workers compensation insurance has varied with changes in the number of employees over the five years reported.

Government resource efficiency

The NSW Government Resource Efficiency Policy (GREP) sets out actions, targets and minimum standards for resource efficiency in NSW Government operations. In 2020–21 the EPA complied with GREP through the DPIE Cluster Corporate Services (CCS) Sustainability Program.

The sixth GREP report for the DPIE cluster, which includes the EPA, was delivered in 2020. This report:

  • tracks resource consumption for 2019–20
  • tracks progress towards the energy-efficiency target
  • includes a statement of compliance.

Green leases

A ‘green lease’ is a lease between the landlord and tenant that incorporates energy efficiency and other sustainability goals throughout the lease term. DPIE has established green-lease committees for 4 Parramatta Square, 105 Prince Street Orange, The Store, Newcastle and 231 Elizabeth Street. The green leases included modifying operations to save energy and generate less office waste.

Energy

In the previous financial year, much of the Department moved to newer, more energy-efficient buildings. Staff spent much of 2020–21 working from home due to the COVID-19 pandemic: as a result, there was little opportunity (and reduced need) to run campaigns around energy efficiency, but such campaigns will resume when staff return to the office.

When staff were largely working from home in 2020–21, several floors in 4 Parramatta Square were closed down. This reduced operational costs. But even in 2019–20, energy efficiency projects had cut costs by 46% on the 2014–15 baseline.

NABERS ratings

There were no further NABERS ratings commissioned at the EPA’s major tenancies because many have been vacated or will be in the next year. The newly built office spaces at 4 Parramatta Square (4PSQ) and 105 Prince St, Orange, will be rated after staff return to the workplace.

Waste

Due to the Whole of Government (WoG) waste contract being reviewed and awarded to selected contractors, a number of the current waste service providers have neglected to supply the required data for our sites.

A solution to this challenge has been provided by NSW Procurement by modelling the waste data for the 2019–20 financial year for top streams at cluster level, based on previous years.

There will be further waste disposal categories introduced due to extra reporting facilities across our new sites, with teams capturing many types of waste disposal to report on including garden/compost waste, single use coffee cups and batteries. The added waste streams provide a more accurate account of what we are disposing of as a Department across the state.

During the consolidation into 4PSQ a large amount of furniture was repurposed to complete various upgrades and fitout projects (including 92 Rusden St, Armidale, and 84 Crown St, Wollongong), thereby avoiding landfill.

There was a financial saving of $777,242 in repurposing furniture versus disposing of used and purchasing new furniture.

Grants and sponsorships

The EPA provides grants to government, business and the community to help them target specific environmental issues. In 2020–21 most grants related to waste management: some were directed to bushfire recovery and dealing with lead contamination. See Appendix 5 for the full details of waste and non-waste grants in 2020–21.

The EPA sponsors activities and events such as awards, scholarships, meetings and conferences. These sponsorships help us raise awareness, share knowledge, recognise achievements, support best practice and demonstrate our commitment to working constructively with business and the community.

In 2020–21 the EPA paid a total of $24,370 to sponsor relevant conferences, including the Litter Congress, Waste 2021 Conference and Australian Organics Recycling Association conferences.

  • The Litter program paid $10,689 to Keep Australia Beautiful NSW (organiser of the Litter Congress).
  • The Local Government program paid $3,682 to Impact Environmental Consulting Pty Ltd (organiser of the Waste 2021 Conference).
  • The Organics program paid $10,000 to the Australian Organics Recycling Association.
a man testing mushrooms in a laboratory

EPA Organics Market Development Grant recipient, Applied Horticultural Research, tests mushrooms in local compost: Photo: Adam Goldwater

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