A new report shows the impact of the COVID-19 response on WA’s public sector entities and services for 2020-21.
An audit of state entities for the last financial year has underscored how focus on strong foundations in financial management and governance foundations can inadvertently slip during times of crisis response.
Auditor general Caroline Spender said the lapsed focus was a risk when government agencies took on extra functions or responsibilities over shortened timeframes.
“This is a concern, as an effective control environment is essential for supporting long-term confidence and capability in our public institutions,” a statement from the auditor general read.
“There is also an increased risk that other critical areas of public administration and policy implementation may not receive the level of focus or priority they would usually warrant.”
The report, which included selected findings and observations from the financial audit season, was tabled in parliament on Monday.
Spencer said it was important for public servants to look for gaps where normal financial and operational controls may not be effective. She also underscored the need to understand the costs of decisions on core services, as well as on other parts of the community.
Commenting on the impact of the pandemic on the state in general, she noted the cost to the economic and social spheres tended to be externalised from the government. For example, the tourism sector experienced a hit with decreased visitor spending from $11 billion to $7.6 billion during 2020-21.
“Impacts on the social fabric of our community are evident with rates of family assault or threatening behaviour 24% higher than the 3 year average prior to the pandemic,” Spencer said.
“Conversely, we have witnessed a decline of 25% in offences against property, with less opportunities for burglary and theft due to people spending more time in their homes.”
Children also experienced major disruption to their normal patterns of learning as a result of COVID health directives in WA. Spencer said the true extent of how the pandemic affected education needed further monitoring and assessment over time.
“Total Health spending increased by 3.4% in 2019-20 and by 8.6% in 2020-21, compared with 1.5% in pre-COVID 2018-19, with additional costs coming from demands for personal protective equipment, extra staff, COVID-19 testing and vaccines, and the hotel quarantine and security program,” she added.
The office of the auditor general has recommended the government back a separate large scale examination on the management of the pandemic and impacts across the whole community.
“This would capture learnings in preparation for future pandemics and other emerging crises and assist in setting transparent criteria and thresholds for proportionate, risk-based and consequential responses,” Spender said.