The objective of the audit was to assess how effectively Geoscience Australia provides geoscientific and geospatial information and services to assist the Australian Government and key stakeholders. Particular emphasis was given to:

  • the collection and management of geoscientific and geospatial data and information, including accessibility;
  • the provision of products and services; and
  • governance arrangements.

The ANAO examined a number of datasets and product and service projects to assess Geoscience Australia's performance in providing geoscientific and geospatial information and services.



1. Geoscience Australia was established in 2001 following the merger of the Australian Geological Survey Organisation (AGSO)1 and the Australian Surveying and Land Information Group (AUSLIG).2 Geoscience Australia has responsibility for geoscientific and geospatial data and information and provides products, services and advice to Australian Government agencies, industry sectors and the general public.3

2. The annual budget for Geoscience Australia in 2008–09 was some $174 million, of which $31 million was for services provided. Geoscience Australia has a range of data and information holdings and physical collections accumulated over many years and, in 2008–09, expended $53 million on the acquisition of new geoscientific and geospatial data. It also has in excess of 32 000 products available on its website or on request.

3. Geoscience Australia is a prescribed agency under the Financial Management and Accountability Act 1997 (FMA Act) within the Resources, Energy and Tourism portfolio. The Chief Executive Officer (CEO) is responsible for the financial management of Geoscience Australia under the FMA Act, and reports to the Minister for Resources and Energy. The CEO is also responsible under the Public Service Act 1999 (PS Act) to the Secretary of the Department of Resources, Energy and Tourism (RET).

The role of Geoscience Australia

4. Geoscience Australia uses geoscientific research and information for the economic, social and environmental benefit of Australia. In November 2009, Geoscience Australia identified its core capabilities as providing advice to government agencies and information:

  • to the energy and minerals sectors to enhance wealth and energy security;
  • on the state of the land and marine jurisdictions for environmental, economic and social purposes;
  • on natural hazards and risks for community safety and resilience; and
  • on groundwater for environmental, economic and social purposes.

Providing advice to government agencies

5. Geoscience Australia provides technical advice to government agencies across the spectrum of geoscience disciplines to better inform policy decisions. A main focus for this advice is on the minerals and energy resources sectors. It also provides advice on areas ranging from the location of Australian maritime boundaries to the geology of Australia and the best locations for carbon capture and storage.

Providing information

6. Each year, on behalf of RET, Geoscience Australia provides pre competitive information to industry on the petroleum potential of offshore Australian basins, as part of the release of exploration areas.4 Geoscience Australia also has a delegated responsibility under the Offshore Petroleum and Greenhouse Gas Storage Act 20065 to store data, information and the physical samples generated by prospecting companies through drilling and exploring Australia's offshore basins.

7. Geoscience Australia conducts a range of scientific research and surveying activities to enhance its knowledge of Australia's land and marine jurisdictions, including mapping Australia's topography, measuring the sea depth and capturing satellite imagery. Its work also contributes to increased community safety by providing advice to emergency services agencies and through its studies of earthquakes, tsunamis, floods, cyclones and landslides. In early 2009, it supported the Victorian bushfire relief by providing specialised staff and maps and operates the 24 hour, seven day per week Tsunami Warning System as part of the Joint Australian Tsunami Warning Centre.

Audit objectives and scope

8. The objective of the audit was to assess how effectively Geoscience Australia provides geoscientific and geospatial information and services to assist the Australian Government and key stakeholders. Particular emphasis was given to:

  • the collection and management of geoscientific and geospatial data and information, including accessibility;
  • the provision of products and services; and
  • governance arrangements.

9. The ANAO examined a number of datasets and product and service projects to assess Geoscience Australia's performance in providing geoscientific and geospatial information and services.

Overall conclusion

10. As Australia's specialist geoscientific and geospatial agency, Geoscience Australia provides research and technical advice relating to minerals and energy exploration, environmental issues and community safety. The data and information it produces, acquires and maintains, underpins its products and services.

11. Geoscience Australia is effectively providing geoscientific and geospatial services and products to government agencies, industry sectors and the public. Examples of this work include implementing the Australian Tsunami Warning System, updating Australian surface geology maps and datasets, releasing pre-competitive data for petroleum exploration and developing a model to predict the effects of inundation in Australia's coastal areas. Feedback from government agencies and key industry stakeholders confirmed that Geoscience Australia's work is valued and often essential to their outcomes.

12. Notwithstanding this positive feedback, Geoscience Australia's website, its key interface with customers, is complex to use and more data and information could be made publicly available. In addition, the management of many product and service projects lacked project plans, risk assessments and key performance indicators. Geoscience Australia could more effectively report its achievements by aggregating project-level key performance information such as time, cost, client satisfaction and outcomes.

13. Geoscience Australia's geoscientific and geospatial products and services rely on effective information management. There has been no assessment of Geoscience Australia's information management environment (as part of developing the Strategic ICT Framework) and little focus on the strategies and activities needed to address current and emerging information management issues. In addition, there is no inventory that documents the purpose, extent and nature of Geoscience Australia's data and information holdings and physical collections. It is therefore not well positioned to appropriately maintain and store its data holdings or make informed decisions about the accessibility of this data. Developing an inventory would provide the opportunity for Geoscience Australia to assess the importance and relative priority of its legacy data and information holdings.

14. Overall, Geoscience Australia has a sound governance framework but there is scope to enhance its strategic planning process. The agency's current strategic plan identifies the agency-wide goals and strategies required to strengthen its internal capabilities. However, it does not include current (or future) Australian Government priorities and medium and longer term goals for its research activities, products and services. Revising its strategic plan will enable Geoscience Australia to communicate its strategic directions and goals and to identify the relative priorities and risks associated with its research activities, products and services. It will also provide a stronger framework to measure and report Geoscience Australia's performance and achievements.

15. The ANAO has made four recommendations aimed at improving strategic planning, information management, government client-relationships and performance reporting.

Key findings by chapter

Strategic Direction (Chapter Two)

16. An effective strategic planning process should enable Geoscience Australia to think through and document its strategic directions, supported by specific measurable goals and targets that are consistent with its mandate and government priorities. Strategic directions and goals should reflect Geoscience Australia's environment, identified risks and the financial and operational implications of achieving these goals.

17. Geoscience Australia's strategic plan (Strategic Directions 2006–2011), approved by the Executive Board in February 2006, identifies four agency wide enabling goals and the strategies required to strengthen its internal capabilities. Government priorities and the medium and longer term goals for Geoscience Australia's research activities, products and services are not identified in this plan or in its operational plan, the Annual Work Program.

18. There would be considerable benefits in Geoscience Australia revising its strategic plan. Developing a strategic plan that builds on its core capabilities and communicates to key stakeholders its medium to longer term strategic directions, goals and priorities would enable Geoscience Australia to:

  • identify the government mandates that are expected to drive the organisation for the next three to five years, and the respective sources of funding;
  • identify the relative priorities and risks associated with its scientific research, data acquisition, mineral and petroleum resource identification and mapping activities;
  • align its Annual Work Program with the agency's strategic directions and priorities; and
  • measure performance over time, through setting medium and long term goals and targets and regularly monitor progress.

Information communications technology strategic framework

19. In 2008, Geoscience Australia developed its Information Communications Technology (ICT) Strategic Framework for 2008–11. Within this framework, information management was incorporated into the concept of ICT, in recognition of the integrated nature of information technology, information services and information management and the merging of different technologies.

20. The ICT strategic framework was not informed by an assessment of Geoscience Australia's current information management environment. Consequently, there was little focus on strategies and activities to address current and emerging information management issues and no strategic information management plan was developed. While the need for a strategic ICT plan was identified as part of the ICT framework, it is yet to be developed.

21. Information management was recognised as a core competency to be developed in the current strategic plan. However, like other elements of the plan, progress against this goal was not monitored or reported against after July 2007. At that time, the Executive Board was advised that the information management goal had been achieved. Given the complexity of the information management issues that Geoscience Australia was facing (and continues to deal with) such as the lack of an inventory, devolved information management practices and insufficient storage for data and information, this assessment appears to be premature. Rather, as identified in the previous Strategic Information Management Plan 2003–2008, information management requires a greater corporate focus.

Managing Data and Information (Chapter Three)

22. Fundamental to Geoscience Australia's stewardship role is the effective management of its data and information. Key elements of information management are: the acquisition of new data; documenting data and information; appropriately maintaining and storing data and information; maintaining data security; and making data and information accessible. Information management for Geoscience Australia means knowing: what its data and information holdings are, including physical collections; appropriately maintaining and storing data and information; and making the data and information accessible.

Acquisition of new data

23. Geoscience Australia acquires new data through its scientific and surveying activities and via third parties including contracts to purchase data and joint projects. Quality assurance processes were in place for each type of dataset reviewed by the ANAO.6 These processes were governed by standards or generally accepted methodologies, which assist in ensuring that the quality of the data is maintained. Where appropriate, work instructions dictate the quality assurance approaches to be used.

24. The development of metadata7 is also part of the quality assurance process for data that is to be made available through the Geoscience Australia website. The ANAO noted that quality assurance and the development of metadata is only applicable to current acquisitions. Existing and legacy data holdings may not meet current quality and metadata standards.

Documenting data and information

25. Geoscience Australia has not documented the extent of its existing and legacy data holdings. Without an inventory of its data and information holdings and physical collections, it is difficult for Geoscience Australia to demonstrate a clear understanding of its holdings or that they are being properly managed.

26. Geoscience Australia provides instructions to staff on the importance of managing data and information through its Chief Executive Instruction (CEI) No. 38 Information Management. CEI No. 38 sets out the requirements for an information plan for every project or operational activity that produces an information output. There were no information management plans for the sample datasets examined by the ANAO.

Maintenance of data and information

27. Data that are being actively used by Geoscience Australia staff are maintained, either through checking the consistency of existing data or through quality assurance processes as new data are added. However, datasets that are no longer used, and whose custodians have moved on to other projects, may remain on corporate systems with little information available to ascertain their importance or to assist in deciding whether they should be archived.

28. There are data and information holdings on paper, CDs and DVDs or in analogue format that are yet to be fully assessed to determine whether they should be maintained and copied to new storage media, made accessible by incorporating them into existing holdings, or archived. Geoscience Australia also has physical collections that require assessment, documentation and appropriate maintenance and storage to allow them to be accessed more readily. A cost benefit approach, that is based on the importance and relative priorities of the data and information for Geoscience Australia, could be applied to the assessment of legacy data. Preparing an inventory will assist in identifying data maintenance requirements because it will identify the purpose, extent and nature of the legacy data holdings.

Storage of data and information

29. Currently, Geoscience Australia does not have sufficient storage space in its corporate systems to store and back up its data and information holdings. An interim arrangement was implemented in June 2008, which increased data storage capacity from 20 terabytes to 120 terabytes. There is also a Mass Storage Project underway, which is designed to put in place a scalable and sustainable storage solution.

Security of data and information

30. To be secure, data and information need to be appropriately stored within Geoscience Australia's corporate systems and physical security arrangements. At the time of the audit, the IT Disaster Recovery and IT Business Continuity Plans were out of date. The Information Service Branch had recently completed a Business Impact Analysis, which is a precursor to disaster recovery planning. The IT Security Plan was also in the process of being updated (and was last reviewed 2005). Geoscience Australia advised that these documents are expected to be finalised shortly.

Delivery of Services and Development of Data Products (Chapter Four)

31. Geoscience Australia's Annual Work Program sets out the projects it will undertake to deliver services to government agencies, the products it will produce and the scientific research it will conduct. To assess how effectively Geoscience Australia is delivering its services and products, the ANAO examined a sample of seven services and four products in the 2008–09 Annual Work Program.

Establishing agreements

32. Three of the seven services (projects) examined by the ANAO8 had a formal arrangement in place through a Memorandum of Understanding or contract with its client.9 For two of these projects, the National Collaboration Framework10 was used as the basis for developing the agreements between the two agencies and schedules for the projects were included. For the third project, Geoscience Australia used a collaborative research agreement. For the remaining four services, the relationships with client agencies were not as clear. Project planning material consisted of internal work flow documents and the Annual Work Program. There were no project plans, information plans, strategies for future delivery or clearly articulated quality measures. The risks associated with providing the service had also not been assessed. Establishing formal agreements with key clients would provide a clearer understanding of roles and responsibilities, project costs, outcomes and quality of service.

Costing of services

33. For services with no formal agreement in place, the costs associated with the project were not calculated or communicated to client agencies. Where major services are to be provided to client agencies, it would be beneficial to calculate the costs associated with the provision of the service and take them into consideration when making management decisions about setting organisational priorities and the allocation of resources.

Project planning and management

34. Geoscience Australia has developed guidelines and methodologies to assist in its project management. However, the level of project planning and compliance with these guidelines was variable for the services reviewed by the ANAO. This was particularly evident for those projects involving data products and where services were being provided without an agreement being in place.

35. In eight of the 11 projects reviewed by the ANAO, the information in the Annual Work Program was the only formal project management documentation available. While the details in the Annual Work Program capture the requirements of the guidelines at a broad level, they are more of a project description than a detailed project management plan. Broader implementation of the project management guidelines, supported by ongoing training, across the organisation would enhance Geoscience Australia's project management performance.

Client and stakeholder feedback

36. Currently, Geoscience Australia receives ad hoc feedback from its stakeholders and clients but does not regularly seek formal feedback. The ANAO consulted key industry stakeholders and government clients to gain an appreciation of whether Geoscience Australia's products and services were meeting their needs. Generally, government agencies commented that the services provided were both valuable and necessary for them to undertake their activities. Feedback from major industry and professional association stakeholders rated Geoscience Australia's performance highly, but did identify some areas where improvement could be made. For example, comments suggested that there was a need for more detailed up-to-date maps and for further development of geothermal databases.

Client Access to Data and Information Products (Chapter Five)

37. To assess whether Geoscience Australia is providing effective access to its data and information, the ANAO examined a sample of eight datasets, available to government agencies, industry sectors and the public. For these datasets, each had its own approach to displaying and distributing its products.

38. Barriers to data accessibility included poor information management and the size of datasets. Poor information management has restricted Geoscience Australia's ability to provide maximum access to its data. While all new data are required to have metadata, for older data, metadata is often inaccurate and needs to be reviewed and corrected. Without accurate metadata it is difficult for users to search and access products.

39. The size of some datasets precludes them from being accessible online as current Internet speeds are insufficient to carry the load. Although it is not practical for Geoscience Australia to make all of its data available online, there is still considerable scope for it to increase its provision of data through the Internet. An internal review identified that only a small proportion (some 14.5 per cent) of Geoscience Australia's data and products were available to the public via the Internet; and there was a lack of coordination and governance around product delivery and many products were misclassified in product delivery systems. Geoscience Australia could undertake an assessment of what data and information it could reasonably make available through its website. Developing a target for how much data and information it makes accessible online and monitoring the extent to which this data and information is accessed by users would provide a basis for measuring improvement.

Geoscience Australia's website

40. Geoscience Australia's website, its key interface with customers, is complex to use and each of the sampled areas displayed their products in a different way. Geoscience Australia has developed online tools that enhance the public access of data. However, these tools were developed independently of one another and the product delivery review identified that there was substantial duplication in web applications, with some 105 applications providing access to data.

41. To address the issues relating to accessibility, Geoscience Australia is undertaking a number of initiatives including a Product Delivery Enhancement project and redeveloping its website. However, previous projects to enhance accessibility did not achieve their objectives and the new projects would benefit from incorporating the lessons learned from these earlier projects. In addition, a strong governance framework and regular monitoring of the resources, milestones and deliverables is necessary if these projects are to succeed.

Reporting and Measuring Performance (Chapter Six)

External reporting and performance measures

42. Geoscience Australia could better demonstrate that it is achieving its PBS outcome. The KPIs for the 2009–10, and previous PBSs, are not specific and the performance targets are restatements of the KPIs. Reporting would be improved if specific quantitative and qualitative performance targets were identified in the PBS and reported against. As the majority of Geoscience Australia's work program is project based, it would be appropriate and feasible for the agency to aggregate the time, cost, client satisfaction and other quality measures at the project level into corresponding agency-wide performance information and targets.

Summary of agency response

43. Geoscience Australia (GA) welcomes the ANAO's audit and welcomes the ANAO's overall conclusion that GA is effectively providing geoscientific and geospatial services and products to our stakeholders, that our stakeholders value our work and that our governance framework is sound.

44. Since the formation of GA from the amalgamation of the Australian Geological Survey Organisation and AUSLIG in 2001, and becoming a Prescribed Agency, GA has undergone much change. The volumes of data that GA manages are increasing exponentially. Our role in providing technical advice to government agencies across the spectrum of geoscience disciplines has also grown substantially. GA has and continues to respond to these changes by providing quality geoscience to support informed policy decisions. All of the issues identified in the ANAO's report are a reflection of the changing and increasingly complex environment in which we operate.

45. GA welcomes the opportunity provided by the ANAO's report and its recommendations to focus even more attention on addressing the issues identified and we are pleased to advise that we have a range of processes and programs in place to ensure a positive outcome.

46. GA would also like to thank the ANAO for the professional manner in which it carried out the audit and for its open, communicative approach to our staff and management.


1 AGSO was formerly the Bureau of Mineral Resources, which was established in 1946.

2 AUSLIG was established in 1987 following a merger of the Australian Survey Organisation (ASO) and the Division of National Mapping, which had previously incorporated the Australian Centre of Remote Sensing.

3 Geospatial refers to any features and phenomena related to the Earth and geoscience refers to any of the various sciences that deal with the Earth, its composition, or any of its changing aspects, including geography, geology, geophysics, hydrogeology and meteorology.

4 Pre-competitive information is scientific data and analyses provided to all interested parties to assist in the tender process as part of the offshore acreage release.

5 The Act gives the Minister certain powers to collect information. Each state and territory has similar legislation respective to their jurisdiction. These powers are delegated by the respective State and Territory Minister to Geoscience Australia.

6 The ANAO examined the following datasets: bathymetry; topography; satellite archive; onshore seismic; Australian surface geology; Petroleum Data Repository; and the seismology network.

7 Metadata is data about data which facilitates its discovery through search engines as well as assisting in identifying it and describing the limitations of the data.

8 The Australian Tsunami Warning System (ATWS), the International Forest Carbon Initiative (IFCI) project and the Western Australian Inundation Modelling project.

9 Because Australian Government agencies are part of the same legal entity, they cannot enter legal agreements with each other and therefore use other agreements such as MoUs to manage their relationships.

10 The National Collaboration Framework is the Australian Government's guideline on how government agencies should interact with other agencies.