In June 2019, the Auditor-General tabled Performance Audit Report No. 45 2018–19, entitled Coordination and Targeting of Domestic Violence Funding and Actions. After nine years of the National Plan, the Auditor-General argued it was ‘timely to assess whether the Department of Social Services has been effective in administering its responsibilities under the National Plan, including monitoring the plan’s achievements and progress’.
In conducting the audit, the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) was interested in the following ‘high level audit criteria’:
Whether effective governance arrangements are in place.
Targeting of funding and actions is aligned to the outcomes of the National Plan.
Monitoring and reporting of performance for key Department of Social Services initiatives and the National Plan is effective.
The ANAO concluded that the department’s ‘effectiveness’ in implementing the National Plan ‘is reduced by a lack of attention to implementation planning and performance measurement’.
The ANAO praised certain aspects of the department’s management of the Plan, including:
the governance arrangements around the Plan;
accountability and information sharing;
engagement of key stakeholders in the sector; and
Alignment of the funding and initiatives with the priorities spelled out in the Plan.
However, it cautioned that existing mechanisms for evaluation and monitoring were insufficient. The ANAO stated:
Performance monitoring, evaluation and reporting is not sufficient to provide assurance that governments are on track to achieve the National Plan’s overarching target and outcomes. In order to assess and demonstrate the achievements of the National Plan as a whole, the department will need to develop new measures of success and data sources, plan for evaluations beyond the National Partner initiatives and improve public transparency.
While acknowledging the department’s investments in research, the ANAO was concerned that the research program ‘does not provide sufficient focus on program evaluation and research synthesis to inform policy decisions and program improvements’. The ANAO was also concerned that the Third Action Plan was developed without an implementation plan, reducing accountability and transparency around the outcomes each level of government had committed to achieving.
The ANAO found that existing mechanisms for monitoring and evaluating initiatives under the Plan largely failed to measure against outcomes. Further, that a lack of appropriate and robust data made measuring those outcomes basically impossible. The ANAO wrote:
During development of the Fourth Action Plan and any future National Plan there is opportunity for the department to consider developing short- and medium-term outcomes, new measures of success and more frequent data collection mechanisms. Without such changes the ability for jurisdictions to demonstrate the success of the National Plan will be limited.
The ANAO made five recommendations which are reproduced in full below. The government agreed to all of these recommendations:
The Department of Social Services specify research and data projects as actions under each of the priority areas agreed by governments for the Fourth Action Plan.
The Department of Social Services, in consultation across governments, develop a National Implementation Plan for the Fourth Action Plan.
Box 5.1: National Implementation Plan
The National Implementation Plan for the Fourth Action Plan outlines the initiatives that Commonwealth, state and territory governments will deliver, and provides information on funding, milestones, and intended outcomes.
The Department of Social Services identify and develop new measures of success, data sources and specific outcomes for the Fourth Action Plan, and any future National Plan.
Box 5.2: Data and reporting
Under the Fourth Action Plan, governments will:
work together to build on the current measures of success
identify and define clear indicators, and relevant data sources, to measure success
focus on ‘mining’ existing data and information on violence to provide a useful picture of progress
work towards addressing key gaps in the data
use data to continually improve strategies
continue to invest in the Personal Safety Survey (PSS) and the National Community Attitudes Towards Violence against Women Survey (NCAS) as critical measures of progress towards reducing violence against women and their children.
The Australian Bureau of Statistics will conduct a further wave of the PSS in 2020. The PSS collects information on the nature and extent of violence experienced by men and women in Australia. The National Aboriginal and Torres Islander Health Survey (NATSISS) was conducted in 2018–19 and included an additional module on violence.
ANROWS will conduct another wave of the NCAS in 2021. The NCAS is a general population telephone survey of Australians aged 16 years and over, on their attitudes towards, and awareness of, violence against women.
The Department of Social Services work with the states and territories to plan evaluations of individual services and programs funded across jurisdictions under action plans to inform an outcome evaluation of the Fourth Action Plan and overall National Plan.
Box 5.3: Evaluation and performance monitoring
Governments will develop and agree on an enhanced performance monitoring and reporting framework to support the implementation of the Fourth Action Plan, including revised measures of success (with both short and medium-term measures). Also: An evaluation plan will be developed in consultation with states and territories in the first year of the Fourth Action Plan. The overall evaluation will be informed by separate evaluations of key individual initiatives funded across jurisdictions under the Fourth Action Plan.
That public annual progress reports for the Fourth Action Plan document the status of each action item and the outcomes of the National Plan as a whole.
In its response to the ANAO, the Department of Social Services wrote:
The department is committed to building on what the ANAO acknowledges are the effective governance arrangements already in place to support implementation of the National Plan to Reduce Violence Against Women and their Children 2010–2022 (the National Plan). The report’s insights will help strengthen the final development phase and subsequent implementation of the Fourth Action Plan of the National Plan.