Auditor-General's overview

Effectiveness of arrangements for co-ordinating civilian maritime patrols.

New Zealand has significant economic, environmental, and other interests in the extensive oceans over which we have rights and responsibilities (the maritime domain). Maritime patrols are used to protect these interests, by detecting and deterring illegal activities, and by gathering information about activities that are occurring in the maritime domain. Patrol costs are substantial; in 2009/10, the Government budgeted about $277 million for a range of civilian and military maritime patrol activities.

Many government agencies use maritime patrols for civilian purposes. Mostly, they rely on the New Zealand Defence Force (NZDF) to provide the aircraft and ships for the patrols because its aircraft and ships are capable of operating over the long distances and in the difficult conditions that characterise our maritime domain. NZDF decides how much aircraft or ship patrol time is allocated for civilian patrol purposes.

The National Maritime Co-ordination Centre (the NMCC) co-ordinates access to aircraft and ships on behalf of government agencies. The NMCC also has a role in co-ordinating maritime information. The NMCC is hosted by the New Zealand Customs Service but operates as a whole-of-government arrangement because many government agencies are involved or have an interest in maritime patrols.

My staff carried out a performance audit to examine how effectively maritime patrols were co-ordinated to support New Zealand's maritime interests. The audit focused on the NMCC, but also included the government agencies that use maritime patrols and the providers of patrol aircraft and ships. A core group of six government agencies are the main users of maritime patrols (the core agencies), and the major provider agency is NZDF. There are many other organisations with an interest in maritime patrols, including the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet.

The NMCC's effectiveness in co-ordinating maritime patrols is still evolving and should improve as new systems and patrol resources are introduced. At the time of our audit, the NMCC was in a consolidation and improvement phase, with its operations being defined further and changes being made.

In general, my staff found that the NMCC had an appropriate framework in place to support the effective co-ordination of maritime patrols. The audit identified some matters that need attention if the NMCC is to have a clear strategic direction, enhance its whole-of-government co-ordination role, and make the most effective use of the improved patrol resources. The NMCC was aware of the need for many of these improvements and had started, or was planning, work to introduce them.

Operating a whole-of-government arrangement is not easy. I acknowledge that it is rare to find a simple solution when managing whole-of-government issues. The NMCC was established in 2002. Since then, different governance arrangements have been trialled, and more structure is now in place to support the co-ordination of patrol aircraft and ships. The NMCC's ability to support effective and efficient maritime patrols has been limited by the availability and suitability of aircraft and ships. It has also been limited by its own resourcing. This situation is expected to change as NZDF's projects for improving patrol aircraft and ships are completed and the NMCC builds on additional resourcing received in 2008/09.

Improving strategic guidance for the National Maritime Co-ordination Centre

The NMCC has to look at maritime patrols from a whole-of-government perspective. At the time of our audit, it was seeking to improve how it gets the core agencies and the other interested organisations more strategically involved. The NMCC has a reference group for discussing strategic issues. This is a useful and important consultation mechanism in the NMCC's governance framework. However, my staff noted uncertainties about how effectively this group is meeting the NMCC's strategic leadership needs. The group's effectiveness can be improved by further defining its roles and responsibilities to ensure that strategic input is maximised.

There was minimal strategic guidance to provide a whole-of-government perspective on the goals, objectives, and risks for maritime patrols and the maritime domain. The NMCC and the core agencies were working to put this strategic guidance in place (in the form of a maritime patrol strategy). Reconciling the range of views on what this guidance should be was not easy and progress was slow. We consider this guidance is essential for ensuring that the limited patrol resources are targeted in the most effective way and according to the Government's priorities for the maritime domain.

Clear leadership is needed in arrangements where there are different priorities for different agencies. Although the NMCC's current governance framework is appropriate, there may be a place for more discussion and direction from the Officials Committee for Domestic and External Security Co-ordination. This would be helpful in providing greater clarity and direction to the NMCC in managing the whole-of-government perspective.

Clarifying the mandate for separate patrol co-ordination arrangements

There were some separate patrol co-ordination arrangements that did not align with the whole-of-government approach the NMCC was set up to achieve. These separate co-ordination arrangements did not appear to have a significant effect on the NMCC's ability to co-ordinate access to patrol aircraft and ships. However, co-ordinating patrols will become more complex as NZDF's patrol resources improve and options for patrol broaden. It will be more important to ensure that new and upgraded patrol resources are fully used and that systems in place for co-ordination ensure that agencies' access to ships and aircraft is prioritised from a whole-of-government perspective.

Separate patrol co-ordination arrangements could undermine the NMCC's efforts to effectively prioritise and co-ordinate patrols. Because of this risk, the mandate for any separate patrol co-ordination arrangements needs to be clear, robust, and documented. Separate co-ordination arrangements should be visible to the NMCC and to all the interested organisations.

Improving patrol planning and measuring effectiveness

The NMCC was introducing changes to its patrol planning system to provide more rigour in planning patrols and measuring patrols' effectiveness. Although it was too early to assess the effectiveness of this new planning system, we expect it to be useful in better targeting patrols. Collecting consistent information about patrols will help identify gaps and issues, and support more complete evaluations of the patrols' effectiveness.

Because patrol resources are improving, it is important that the NMCC can robustly show how the patrol aircraft and ships are used. A critical part of this will be establishing better guidance on an appropriate level of patrolling. There are some longstanding estimates of government agencies' patrol needs, but these estimates far exceed what NZDF has planned for civilian and military patrols combined. Given this large gap, there needs to be a better base for monitoring and evaluating the use of patrol aircraft and ships, and whether patrol resources are adequately meeting needs. This will be valuable information for using in government decision-making about how aircraft and ships are used in supporting agencies' maritime patrol needs and where changes need to be made.

Effective use of new and upgraded patrol capability

The investment in NZDF's new and existing maritime patrol resources is substantial. It is important that both the Project Protector fleet (seven new ships) and the upgraded P-3K Orion aircraft are fully used to meet the range of maritime patrol needs. Having more patrol options will place more demands on the NMCC to ensure that the fleet and aircraft are fully used. Making the most of improved patrol capability also requires effort from everyone involved. The effectiveness of patrols will depend on having enough NZDF staff to crew the patrols, and enough staff from the government agencies for patrolling and for analysing patrol information.

Given these increasing demands, there needs to be:

  • more strategic guidance for maritime patrols;
  • wider discussion about patrol needs, commitments, and the effectiveness of patrols;
  • a clear mandate for any separate patrol co-ordination arrangements; and
  • robust information to show where gaps exist and where effort is effective.

This will help in generating wider involvement in the NMCC. Because the NMCC operates as whole-of-government arrangement, the matters my staff identified require consideration from not just the NMCC but from all the organisations involved or interested in maritime patrols.

I would like to thank staff from many government agencies for the information and valuable assistance they provided throughout our audit. These agencies include: the NMCC; New Zealand Customs Service; Ministry of Fisheries; Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade; NZDF; Department of Conservation; New Zealand Police; the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet; and Maritime New Zealand.

Signature - LP

Lyn Provost
Controller and Auditor-General

12 April 2010

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