The Department uses temporary staffing and overtime to screen a high number of applications during peak periods
Since 2009-10, the Department has received around 100 000 applications a year but these do not come in as an even flow throughout the year. A significant number of applications are received during peak periods, particularly during February and March reflecting preparations for the start of the academic year (Figure 2). During these periods, the Department has used temporary staff and overtime to screen applications.
Between March 2013 and March 2014, on average the Unit received 9 224 new applications per month. The highest number of applications received were in March 2014 (12 198), March 2013 (10 744) and August 2013 (10 358). For the same period, the Unit completed on average 8 900 assessments per month. This includes assessments undertaken as a result of criminal record notifications of card holders as well as new applications received from previous months.
The Unit uses temporary staff and overtime to help screen applications during peak periods. At April 2014, the Unit had 47 full time equivalent (FTE) staff. Although there was a 100 per cent increase in FTEs in the eight years from June 2006 to June 2013 (mainly allocated to the Unit’s application screening team), the Unit estimates the number of applications received for the same period increased 500 per cent. As a result of the increasing volume of applications to process during certain periods, staff overtime was used regularly in 2013, particularly in September and October to screen applications. Additional staff and overtime costs associated with the higher throughput of applications in 2012-13 contributed to the total costs for the Unit being 14 per cent higher than its budget.
An independent review of the structure of the Unit in 2014 recommended up to six new positions be created in addition to moving a number of roles from temporary to permanent. While there has been an increase in staff since the 2014 review, the Unit plans to apply for additional resources when the amendments to the Act are completed by the end of 2014.
The Department does not use information about how long applications are waiting to be screened to prioritise assessments
Most applications in process are waiting to be sent to CrimTrac for a criminal record check, but the Department’s application management system does not currently track the length of time they have been waiting to give them priority for screening. This puts children at risk because the Department cannot monitor the criminal record of pending applicants or card holders while they are being processed through screening. It also means that the Department cannot give priority to screening those applications that have waited the longest time or those in higher risk occupations.
At 31 March 2014, there were 9 102 applications in process. Most (7 450) were waiting to be screened prior to sending to CrimTrac. The balance (1 652) primarily included new applications waiting for a CrimTrac response and assessments for new applications and existing card holders yet to be finalised.
From March 2013 to March 2014, an average of 79 per cent of applications at the end of each month were waiting to be screened. These are pending applications that cannot be monitored for new criminal activity by the Unit prior to being sent to CrimTrac. For the 214 applications and card holders we reviewed it took an average of 13 and a half days from the receipt of the application from Australia Post to screen the applications.
The Unit has information about how long individual applications have been waiting but it is not being used to prioritise applications for assessment. The Unit implemented a new computer system called ‘Screening Application and Assessment Management’ (SAAM) in mid-November 2013 to better process applications and improve management reporting. SAAM addressed many of the processing and reporting issues with the Unit’s old system. While it has the capability to further improve management reporting, it could not at the time of the audit identify how long applications had been waiting to be screened.
SAAM also could not at the time of the audit categorise the number of applications by criminal record classification, assessment outcome or applicant or employer type. Such reporting would help the Unit to set timeframe targets for processing or help prioritise applications for screening for a criminal record check. While it does not systematically prioritise higher risk applications, SAAM has enabled the Unit to improve how it processes some applications. For example, where the correct information is received, applications in some child-related work categories such as education, foster care and child care are automatically sent to CrimTrac because there is a very low chance of them not being in child-related work.