Authorised Officer Audit and Performance Standards

​Publication details

Department of Agriculture and Water Resources, December 2016

This document outlines the policy for auditing external Plant Exports Authorised Officers and presents the performance standards against which they will be assessed. The overarching audit framework and principles of the Plant Export Operations branch are outlined in the Plant Export Operations Audit Policy.

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2. Definitions

Below is a table of terms and definitions used within this document.

Term

Definition

Active

An Authorised Officer is considered ‘active’ when they have completed at least one export activity since their most recent audit or competency assessment.

Audit schedule

The frequency with which an Authorised Officer is audited by a departmental auditor.

Audit Services Group

The service delivery stream of the department responsible for conducting audit activities.

Audit Services Group Manager

The Assistant Director within the Audit Services Group who has the service delivery responsibilities for the audit of Authorised Officers.

Audit Services Group Program Integration, Assurance and Capability

This refers to the team responsible for managing the auditor and audit framework, including the provision of technical advice, auditor competency and mentoring. This team is also responsible for escalating negative audit outcomes where sanctions are applied.

Authorised Officer

A person appointed under section 20 of the Export Control Act 1982 to conduct export activities on behalf of the department.

Authorised Officer Program

The program responsible for the administration and oversight of Plant Export Authorised Officers such as training and appointment, maintaining contact details and managing inactive Authorised Officers.

Compliance audit

An audit of an Authorised Officer which relies primarily on documentation completed by the Authorised Officer as the basis for determining compliance with legislative and departmental requirements. The Authorised Officer is interviewed by the departmental auditor in respect to this documentation, during which time the Authorised Officer’s export activities are discussed.

Deed of Obligations

A document signed by an Authorised Officer, prior to their appointment, outlining their obligations to the department and verifying that the Authorised Officer acknowledges and commits to these obligations.

Delegate

The individual within the department delegated power by the Secretary under Section 20 of the Export Control Act 1982 to appoint and revoke Authorised Officers.

Demonstration audit

An audit of an Authorised Officer which relies primarily on physical observation of activities, in addition to documentation completed by the Authorised Officer, as the basis for determining the Authorised Officer’s compliance with legislative and departmental requirements. The Authorised Officer is interviewed by the departmental auditor in respect to the physical observation and this documentation, during which time the Authorised Officer’s export activities are discussed.

Departmental auditor

A departmental officer recognised under section 45.5 of the Export Control (Plants and Plant Products) Order 2011 to conduct an audit of the work of an Authorised Officer.

External Authorised Officer

An Authorised Officer not employed by the department.

Inactive

An Authorised Officer is considered ‘inactive’ when they have not completed at least one export activity since their most recent audit or competency assessment.

Instrument of Appointment

This document appoints a person appointed as an Authorised Officer under the Export Control Act 1982 and provides them with the necessary powers under the Export Control (Plants and Plant Products) Order 2011 to undertake the tasks required of them as an Authorised Officer.

Periodic audit

Audits which are scheduled and coordinated in conjunction with the Authorised Officer being audited. Follows the audit schedule. The Authorised Officer is advised in advance that the audit will take place.

Plant Export Assessor

A departmental officer responsible for organising and delivering training and conducting competency assessments of Authorised Officers.

Protocol job function

Authorised Officer job functions required to conduct export activities for commodities to protocol markets.

Protocol market

A combination of commodities and destination countries which have complex importing country requirements. The protocols are government to government agreements that identify specific quarantine pests of concern to the importing country and the phytosanitary measures or treatments that will be accepted to address these pests to allow trade to occur. A complete list of protocol markets can be found in Reference: Table of horticulture protocol markets.

Unannounced audit

An audit conducted with little to no prior notice to the Authorised Officer. Unannounced audits can be triggered by a catalyst and may deviate from the Authorised Officer’s existing audit schedule. Section 45.3 of the Export Control (Plants and Plant Products) Order 2011 provides the authority to conduct unannounced audits.

3. Background

In order to manage phytosanitary risks, and as party to international obligations which aim to protect plant health, the Department of Agriculture and Water Resources regulates the export of plants and plant products. The regulatory requirements for external Authorised Officers (AOs) involved in the export of prescribed plants and plant products are contained within legislation, the AO Instrument of Appointment, the AO Deed of Obligations, the Plant Export Operations Manual (the Manual), and work instructions.

For the purpose of business assurance, AOs involved in the inspection of prescribed plants and plant products are subject to audits conducted by the department’s Audit Services Group (AuSG). The department’s power to undertake AO audits proceeds from section 45 of the Export Control (Plants and Plant Products) Order 2011 and section 4.5 of the AO Deed of Obligations.

The objective of an AO audit is to assess an AO’s compliance with legislative and regulatory requirements. AOs are audited against a set of performance standards which Plant Export Operations have derived from the regulatory requirements described above.

AOs that do not meet the performance standards will be subject to sanctions, including reduced timeframes between audits, additional training, and possible revocation of appointment by the Delegate. In addition to providing business assurance to the department, AO audits provide feedback to improve both service delivery and training and instructional material.

4. Audit program

4.1 Audits

AOs are subject to both periodic and unannounced audits by departmental auditors (auditors). Unannounced audits can be initiated by, but not limited to:

  • serious or repeated non-compliance
  • documentation anomalies
  • anomalies in activity patterns or throughput
  • overseas consignment rejections
  • credible information received by the department.

4.2 Audit type

An AO may receive either a compliance audit or a demonstration audit. Both the compliance and demonstration audit types can be performed either periodically or unannounced and follow the same process (see item 4.4). Additionally, demonstration audits will involve observation of an AO performing their export activities.

4.2.1 Compliance Audit

A compliance audit can take place at a registered establishment, a business office, a departmental office, or other location approved by the AuSG Manager.

The AO’s documents are directly checked against the performance standards to determine whether the AO has been operating in accordance with departmental requirements and procedures. These documents and their findings will guide the interview between the auditor and the AO. An auditor may require an AO to demonstrate their skills and knowledge for one or more checklist items (eg by demonstrating that the most current work instructions are in their possession, demonstrating knowledge of flow path inspection procedures etc). This may be where the auditor is not satisfied with the initial response provided by the AO and further clarification is required to assess compliance. Where the auditor identifies multiple checklist items for the AO to demonstrate, the auditor has the discretion to make a compliance audit become a demonstration audit.

4.2.2 Demonstration Audit

A demonstration audit must take place at a registered establishment or an area that an auditor deems suitable, where the physical demonstration component will be conducted.

A demonstration audit will require the AO to perform export activities for the job functions against which they are being audited, while the auditor assesses the AO’s compliance with the performance standards through documentation checks and physical observation. The auditor may ask the AO follow-up questions during this component of the audit if more thorough checking of the AO’s skills and knowledge is required to assess compliance with performance standards.

4.3 Audit Prerequisite (Activity)

Only active AOs can receive an audit. Where an audit falls due for an AO who is not active (inactive), their audit will be scheduled for the following quarter. This policy continues to apply unless an AO has been inactive for twelve months or more. AOs who are inactive for twelve months will be referred to the Authorised Officer Program (AOP).

4.4 The Audit Procedure

Initial contact

AOs will be contacted by a departmental auditor to schedule periodic audits via the contact details they have provided to AOP. It is an AO’s responsibility to provide up to date contact details with the department. It is a condition of their appointment that AOs make themselves available for audit by the department. Unannounced audits occur with little or no prior notice and therefore may not involve AOs receiving prior contact from a departmental auditor.

Upon being contacted by an auditor, an AO must make reasonable efforts to commit to an audit. AOs who avoid committing to an audit are failing to meet their obligations under the Deed of Obligations, and may be referred to the Delegate and/or risk revocation (see item 5.6).

Entry meeting

An audit commences with an entry meeting on site, which is used to outline the objectives, scope and process of the audit. During the entry meeting, the auditor will outline the scope of the audit (for example, whether the audit is a compliance or demonstration audit and which job functions are included) and the process that will be followed.

Document check

During the documentation check, AOs are required to provide auditors with copies of their export documentation, which the auditor will then review. For each of the job functions an AO has been active in, auditors will typically review three sets of export documentation, paying special attention to errors and anomalies. A number of these documents, and any errors and anomalies identified within, will be used in the interview component of the audit.

The audit of an AO will focus on one or more of the AO’s job functions. In instances where an AO has multiple job functions and not all can be audited by the auditor, the department will utilise a job function hierarchy to prioritise resources towards auditing more high risk job functions, such as those with more complex inspection and sampling techniques. This is in line with the department’s compliance model which targets higher assurance services to operations with higher risk of non-compliance.

Interview and discussion

After reviewing an AO’s documentation, the auditor will have a discussion with the AO and, if a demonstration audit (see item 4.2), observe the AO conducting export activities. During the discussion, an AO’s skills and knowledge are checked against departmental performance standards (see item 4.7). Auditors may also take note of the AO’s attitude towards the department and that their actions are in accordance with the requirements of their Deed of Obligations (including the APS Values and the APS Code of Conduct), which may be considered when issuing Corrective Action Requests (CARs) and determining audit outcomes. An AO’s documents (those which were reviewed in the documentation check) are used as a reference when checking an AO’s skills and knowledge.

Demonstration

For demonstration audits, the auditor will ask the AO to perform export activities for the job functions against which they are being audited, while the auditor assesses the AO’s compliance with the performance standards through documentation checks and physical observation.

Exit meeting

The discussion concludes with an exit meeting. This time is used to present the audit findings, address non-compliance, issue CARs and explain any future actions to the AO.

4.5 Audit Schedule

AOs are scheduled for audit based on whether they hold protocol job functions.

4.5.1 AOs without protocol job functions 

Newly appointed AOs who do not hold protocol job functions will be audited to the following schedule:

  1. First audit: demonstration audit within 6 months of appointment.
  2. Subsequent audits: either a compliance or demonstration audit, scheduled according to audit outcomes, at a minimum of one every 12 months.

Existing AOs who do not hold protocol job functions will have either a compliance or demonstration audit in line with their existing audit schedule, as per step 2 above. For AOs operating in seasonal industries, the timeframe for the audit may be adjusted to take into account the length of the operating season by moving the audit earlier or later.

4.5.2 AOs with Protocol job functions

Newly appointed AOs with protocol job function, or existing AOs who become appointed for new protocol job functions will be audited to the following schedule:

  1. First audit: demonstration audit covering the protocol job function, within the first season of that commodity.
  2. Second audit: demonstration audit covering appointed job functions not addressed in the first audit. Scheduled according to outcome of the first audit (see item 5.4).
  3. Subsequent audit: demonstration audits prioritising job functions according to the department’s job function hierarchy, scheduled according to audit outcomes at a minimum of one every 12 months. This scheduling may be adjusted to take into account operating season and multiple audits may occur within one operating season where required.
  4. New protocol job functions: AOs will return to the initial audit schedule (point 1) where they are appointed for a new protocol job function.

Existing AOs with protocol job functions will be subject to ongoing audits as per point 3 above, unless they are appointed for new job functions.

These timeframes may be adjusted to accommodate the operating season, by moving the audit earlier or later.

AOs with protocol job functions will be subject to a demonstration audit in all of their periodic audits. These AOs may be subject to a compliance or a demonstration audit in the case of unannounced audits.

4.6 Fees and Charges

Compliance activities of AOs, including audits, follow up to CARs and mandatory training are currently subject to fee for service. Cancellation fees may apply where an AO cancels a scheduled audit. Details of these charges can be found in the Charging guidelines on the department’s website.

4.7 Performance Standards

AOs are assessed for compliance against a set of performance standards. These performance standards are derived from relevant legislation, the Instrument of Appointment, the Deed of Obligations, the Manual and departmental work instructions, and are a tool to determine an AO’s compliance with these documents. The AO audit performance standards are contained in item 6 of this document.

The performance standards are organised into four groupings known as activities. The four activities are:

  • Legislation
  • Pre-inspection
  • Inspection
  • Post-inspection

Within each of these activities, related performance standards are further organised into checklist items. To ensure that AOs are assessed comprehensively and consistently, an AO audit covers all activities. The order in which the checklist items (and the performance standards contained within) are presented during an audit, follows the work flow of typical AO activities. Item 6 of this document presents the checklist items and performance standards covered during an AO audit.

5. Audit outcomes

5.1 Determining an AO’s Compliance

During an audit, if an AO is found to be compliant against all of the applicable performance standards contained within a checklist item, then the checklist item is rated as ‘compliant’ (C).

If the AO is found to be non-compliant against any of the applicable performance standards contained within a checklist item, then the checklist item is rated as ‘non-compliant’ (NC). Auditors will record details of all non-compliance found during an AO audit.

5.2 Corrective Action Requests (CARs)

Where an AO is rated as ‘non-compliant’ against a performance standard, the auditor will issue a CAR. CARs will be issued for each non-compliant checklist item.

Each CAR will describe the identified non-compliance, and detail the pathways through which the non-compliance can be satisfactorily addressed (closed out). CARs require an AO to address non-compliance issues so as to prevent their recurrence. Additionally, the AO must acknowledge the CAR, including signing and either declaring that they accept or don’t accept the CAR.

CARs are categorised as either major or minor, to reflect the seriousness of the underlying non-compliance and the threat it poses to departmental objectives. A major CAR will be given greater weight by auditors in determining the outcome of an audit (next audit timeframe, mandatory training or referral to the AuSG’s Program Integration, Assurance and Capability team (PIAC)) than a minor CAR.

  • A minor non-compliance is considered to be ‘an inadvertent action or contravention of departmental requirements that has not affected the export of compliant prescribed goods’.
  • A major non-compliance is considered to be ‘a deliberate/inadvertent action or contravention of departmental requirements that results in a situation that has/may lead to the export of prescribed goods that are not export compliant’.
  • A critical non-compliance is a contravention of departmental requirements so serious that an auditor judges the issuing of a CAR is insufficient, or which may impact on market access. A critical non-compliance is to be referred to PIAC, and potentially the Delegate, to decide on future action (see item 5.6).

CARs are issued in writing by auditors immediately upon completing the audit. CARs can be closed out through one of three pathways:

  • Minor CARs may be closed out immediately. An auditor does not need to observe the AO addressing the non-compliance in practice to close out a minor CAR immediately. However, the auditor must be confident that the AO understands the non-compliance, and possesses the appropriate skills, knowledge and tools to prevent a recurrence. To assist the AO to improve, the auditor may provide advice, clarify instructional materials, or direct the AO to instructional materials.
  • The CAR may be closed out at a later date, after the non-compliance is observed to be addressed in practice. Where appropriate, this observation may occur remotely (for example, the AO may email evidence of their corrective action). The auditor must be confident the AO understands the non-compliance, and possesses the appropriate skills, knowledge and tools to prevent a recurrence. To assist the AO to improve, the auditor may provide advice, clarify instructional materials, or direct the AO to instructional materials. The timeframe for closing out a CAR at a later date should be no longer than 28 calendar days. Extensions for additional periods may be granted at the discretion of the AuSG Manager.
  • Mandatory training by a Plant Export Assessor (PEA) may be required if an auditor determines that an AO lacks the required skills or knowledge to prevent a recurrence of the non-compliance, and is not confident that any assistance given (advice, clarification of instructional materials, or direction to instructional materials) is sufficient to prevent a recurrence (see item 5.3). The CAR will be closed out once training has been completed.

CARs that cannot be closed out will be referred to PIAC to determine future action (see item 5.6).

5.3 Mandatory Training

Post-audit training may be conducted by a PEA following the issuance of a CAR, or where the Delegate considers it appropriate (see item 5.6). This training will focus directly on non-compliance found at audit and are subject to fee for service (see item 4.6). The department will organise and prioritise these training sessions to minimise the risk of non-compliance whilst the AO continues to conduct inspections. An AO must make reasonable efforts to commit to mandatory training. AOs who avoid committing to mandatory training are failing to meet their obligations under the Deed of Obligations, and may be subject to revocation of appointment by the Delegate (see item 5.7).

5.4 Audit Timeframes

AOs who are issued CARs may have the timeframe for their next periodic audit reduced from 12 months to 6 or 3 months. A reduced timeframe allows the department to more closely monitor the AO’s performance, and to provide additional support to the AO. Next audit timeframes of 3 or 6 months may require rescheduling to within the same season to accommodate protocol job functions, which are heavily seasonal dependent. Table 1 details the relationship between the numbers of major and minor CARs issued and the timeframe for the AO’s next periodic audit.

Table 1: Timeframes for an AO’s next audit

Number of minor CARs issued

0

1

2

3

4

Number of major CARs issued

0

Next audit in 12 months/ next season

Next audit in 12 months/ next season

Next audit in 12 months/ next season

Next audit in 6 months

Next audit in 3 months

1

Next audit in 6 months

Next audit in 6 months

Next audit in 3 months

Next audit in 3 months

Refer to PIAC

2

Next audit in 3 months

Refer to PIAC

Refer to PIAC

Refer to PIAC

Refer to PIAC

Any combination of CARs that exceed those in the table will default in a referral to PIAC.

5.5 Audit Report

An auditor will produce a report upon completion of the audit. The report will be submitted to the AO at the audit exit meeting, or within 10 working days of completion. This audit report will summarise audit findings, including non-compliance, CARs, observations, and future action. An AO may be required to present previous audit report(s) when applying for reappointment.

5.6 Refer to PIAC/Delegate

Where an auditor identifies a critical non-compliance, the audit result will be referred to PIAC, who will determine how to escalate the issue. PIAC may refer the matter to the AOP, the Business Systems Program and/or the Delegate to decide on future action. Instances where PIAC may refer the matter include where the:

  • AO fails to meet their obligations under the Deed of Obligations (including avoiding audits)
  • AO has been intentionally non-compliant, fraudulent or corrupt
  • AO has been repeatedly non-compliant in related incidents
  • CARs are not closed out to the satisfaction of the auditor/Delegate.

Future action to address the non-compliance and audit result is at the discretion of PIAC/Delegate, which may include, but is not limited to:

  • the issuance of major CARs
  • a timeframe for the AO’s next periodic audit of 3 months
  • mandatory training (see item 5.3)
  • revocation of appointment by the Delegate (see item 5.7)
  • referral to the department’s Investigations and Enforcement program.

5.7 Revocation of Appointment by the Delegate

AO non-compliance may constitute grounds for the revocation of an AO’s appointment without liability to the department.

The first step in revocation is the provision of a written ‘notice of intention to consider revocation’ from the Delegate to the AO. This notice of intention provides the AO the opportunity to submit reasons as to why their appointment should not be revoked. Following submissions from the AO, the Delegate may or may not decide to revoke the appointment. If the AO’s appointment is not revoked, then the AO’s continuing appointment may be subject to conditions, with failure to comply with these conditions resulting in the revocation of the appointment.

5.8 Reappointment of AOs

To be eligible for reappointment, AOs must be audited as per the schedule appropriate for their job functions, and have no outstanding CARs or mandatory training requirements.

6. Performance standards

Activity 1: Legislation

Table 2: The checklist items and performance standards in the legislation activity.

1. Checklist items

Performance Standards

1.1 Legislation, obligations and administrative instruments

  • Has demonstrated knowledge of the powers and functions of the appointed job functions, and has applied these powers and functions appropriately.
  • Has complied with requirements of the Deed of Obligations, including acting in good faith and in accordance with APS Values and the APS Code of Conduct.

1.2 Awareness of Work Health & Safety requirements

  • Has knowledge of Work Health & Safety practices at establishments where they perform AO functions

Activity 2: Pre-inspection

Table 3: The checklist items and performance standards in the pre-inspection activity.

2. Checklist items

Performance Standards

2.1 Request for Permit

  • Has demonstrated an understanding of the initiation of an inspection.
  • Has demonstrated an understanding of information contained within an RFP.
  • Has demonstrated knowledge of pre-inspection documentation requirements, and has demonstrated compliance with these requirements.

2.2 Importing country requirements

  • Interprets importing country requirements from departmental resources or import permits.
  • Has demonstrated the knowledge to ensure that importing country requirements are met prior to inspection, and has correctly applied this knowledge.

2.3 Supporting documentation

  • Demonstrates awareness of supporting documentation which may be required pre-inspection.
  • Has demonstrated compliance with importing country requirements, as evidenced by supporting documentation.

2.4 Registered establishment

  • Has demonstrated ability to determine the registration status of a registered establishment.

2.5 Equipment

  • Has knowledge of the inspection equipment required for different job functions and inspection types, and is in possession of the inspection equipment.

2.6 Instructional material

  • Has demonstrated that most current work instructions are in their possession.
  • Has demonstrated ability to locate work instructions and relevant volumes of the Plant Export Operations Manual.

Activity 3: Inspection

Table 4: The checklist items and performance standards in the inspection activity.

3. Checklist items

Performance Standards

3.1 Flow path/inspection area

  • Has demonstrated knowledge of flow path inspection procedures, or is able to identify them from reference materials where inactive or unable to demonstrate.
  • Has demonstrated understanding of fit-for-purpose inspection areas.

3.2 Sampling/presentation of goods

  • Has demonstrated the correct usage of sampling techniques and rates, or has knowledge of these techniques and rates.
  • Understands and applies principles of random and representative sampling.

3.3 Commodity inspection

  • Demonstrate or describe inspection technique and correct use of equipment for this commodity inspection.
  • Has knowledge of procedures to inspect for pests, diseases and other contaminants, or is able to identify them from reference materials.
  • Has knowledge of commodity/country tolerance levels, or is able to identify them from reference materials.

Activity 4: Post-inspection

Table 5: The checklist items and performance standards in the post-inspection activity.

4. Checklist items

Performance Standards

4.1 Documentation completion

  • Has demonstrated the ability to correctly complete export compliance records (this includes records for pass/failed consignments, reinspections and recording flow path inspection results).
  • Has knowledge of the submission procedures for documentation.

4.2 Documentation storage

  • Is able to provide at least two years of export documentation where applicable (this includes ECRs, RFPs and all supporting documents used to make declarations).

4.3 Rejection procedures

  • Has knowledge of procedures to inspect for pests, diseases and other contaminants, or is able to identify them from reference materials.
  • Has knowledge of rejection procedures, such as goods segregation, and reinspection.

7. Related materials

The following related material is available on the department’s website:

  • Plant and Plant Products Authorised Officers webpage
  • Department of Agriculture and Water Resources Charging Guidelines
  • Plant Export Operations Manual:
    • Volume 17: Audit Policy
    • Reference: User guide - Plant exports compliance, approval and running records user guide
    • Reference: Table of authorised officer job functions
    • Reference: Table of horticulture protocol markets
    • Reference: Hierarchy of authorised officer job functions for plant exports
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