Discussion paper: Modernising survey auditing

The Department of Resources and Titles Queensland (TQ) are proposing to change the way cadastral surveys and survey plans are audited. Rather than doing an audit on all plans targeting specific items which affect the suitability for registration, it is proposed to do a full audit on a sample of plans including a field check. Except for a few items necessary for TQ to fulfil their business requirements and for surveys involving state land, all audits will be undertaken after lodgement with and registration by TQ. Another feature of the proposed new processes is that accreditation will be discontinued and all surveys processed in the same manner.

The discussion paper which outlines in detail the proposed process as well as reasons for the changes is below.

Discussion Paper

The purpose of this discussion paper is to introduce a proposed new auditing process for auditing surveys and survey plans and seek feedback as part of overall industry consultation. The Department of Resources (the department) and Titles Queensland (TQ) are looking to modernise how cadastral surveys and their associated plans and information submitted and lodged are audited.

Background and Features of the Current System
The current auditing system has remained largely the same since it was introduced in the early 1990’s. The main feature is that it allows copies of plans to be deposited (Deposited Plans or DPs) with the department and audited prior to lodgement with TQ. This enables approvals such as sealing by the local government to be sought in parallel while survey related information is being audited. If corrections are required when errors are detected or changes made after further field work, these can be done by submitting a new version of the DP after correcting the ‘original’. The new version of the DP is then re-processed and re-audited. Often the plan is not lodged in TQ for registration and remains as a record of survey after being assessed as suitable for registration by the department. Also plans may not be lodged for many years after being deemed registerable. Other types of plans of surveys submitted to the department such as Identification Surveys (ISs) and Redundant Catalogue (Red Cats or RCs) are not routinely audited unless used to reinstate boundaries on a later DP or lodged Survey Plan (SP). Few field inspections have been routinely conducted for several years on DPs and SPs to determine whether the plan accurately reflects what is in the field mainly due to resource issues.

Another feature of the current process is accreditation which was introduced not long after the current audit system was implemented. This is a form of performance review maintained by the department which was introduced to recognise the better performing cadastral surveyors who could submit DPs for audit prior to lodgement of the final plan in TQ. Once the DP was passed and endorsed by the department as registerable, no further scrutiny of the survey related information was required when lodged thereby saving time in the overall registration process. Non-accredited surveyors could submit copies of plans as RCs but these were not audited prior to lodgement. Once lodged, the plan was referred to the department for auditing. Any corrections could only be made through the formal process involving a requisition to the lodger. This would delay registration of the plan and there was a cost to return the SP after corrections were made. DPs from accredited surveyors could be corrected and registered much more quickly which provided an incentive for surveyors to obtain and then maintain accreditation. Another benefit was that a checklist (Form 10) was not required to accompany the plan when lodged. The accreditation process requires considerable maintenance and is now used by surveyors for purposes never intended such as a marketing tool to support capability claims and as a requisite for submitting tenders for contracts issued by some government agencies. It is questionable whether the department should be reviewing the overall performance of cadastral surveyors through the accreditation process. Over time, most surveyors have implemented high quality audit processes leading to accreditation. The monitoring of performance of surveyors is one of the main roles of the Surveyors Board of Queensland (SBQ). The department provides information to SBQ from the survey auditing process to assist with this however.

Why Change?

The main reasons for proposed changes to the existing system are:

  • It is questionable whether current auditing processes which focus mainly on a desktop audit of the plan rather than the survey including the fieldwork and plan is the best way to ensure the integrity of the cadastre is being maintained and there is compliance with legislation and requirements;
  • Given current and likely future resources and priorities in the department, it is unlikely deposited plans will be able to passed and endorsed consistently within timeframes regularly met in the past and now expected by many in the surveying industry;
  • DPs can be deposited multiple times prior to lodgement as different versions and each version has to be re-audited. Many DPs are never lodged for registration in TQ after being audited by the department or lodged several years later with outdated information. This created considerable extra work for the department;
  • Some surveyors appear to regard the department as the final part of their checking processes by submitting seemingly unchecked survey plans and rely on the department to advise of any shortcomings which could be quickly and easily corrected prior to releasing the plan to their client for lodging. This was all done at no cost to the surveyor and creates significant additional work for the department;
  • Experience has shown that field audits are an essential part of the auditing process of surveys to confirm that the plan accurately represents what is found, measured, marked and recorded on the ground. Only a limited number of field checks can be carried out given current and likely future resources so processes need to be modified to allow these important checks to be undertaken more routinely;
  • Some surveyors seem to submit DPs of surveys which have not been sufficiently researched leaving issues unresolved and rely on the department to investigate these matters. These can take considerable time to audit with the only cost to a surveyor being a no fee requisition;
  • There are significant resources needed to maintain the accreditation system; and
  • Many surveyors will retain plans until they have been passed and endorsed by the department when there is no reason not to release them to their clients once the plan is certified as accurate on the Form 13/18 prior to submitting the DP.

Proposed Changes

The proposal is to undertake a full audit of the survey including a field check on a sample of all plans submitted rather than a somewhat cursory check on all plans with very few field checks as currently occurs. This is similar to practices in other states including Victoria and South Australia. Except for a few essential items essential for TQ to conduct their business, audits will be undertaken after the plan has been lodged and registered in TQ. Audits are essential to protect the State’s property interests, reduce the risk of legal action since the State guarantees indefeasibility of title and to ensure compliance with legislation especially the Land Title Act 1994 (LTA), the Land Act 1994 and the Survey and Mapping Infrastructure Act 2003 (SMIA). Surveys and plans will also need to comply with processes and practices outlined in the Cadastral Survey Requirements (CSR) and the Registrar of Titles Directions for the Preparation of Plans (RTDPP).

The main features of the proposed new survey auditing system are:

  • Only a sample of plans will be audited which will focus on the entire survey including the field survey and resulting plan rather than mainly the plan as currently occurs;
  • Plans of surveys and updated versions can continue to be submitted with the department to satisfy Section 16 of the SMIA where a plan has to be submitted within 40 days of placing a mark. Only the final version of these plans will be audited but not until they are lodged in TQ as SPs. (Note: survey plans and plans of surveys include compiled plans but field inspections will obviously not be part of the audit.);
  • Items to be audited prior to registration include the Form 13/18 certificate, plan title, cancelling clause and allocations and largely align with LTA requirements. The remaining information on the plan which largely relates to SMIA requirements will be audited after registration. This will mean there are two audit processes, one before and the other after registration which could result in multiple requisitions on a single plan;
  • Any errors detected during the audit before registration will require correction by the current process for requisitions on lodged plans. These will incur a fee. Corrections to plans after registration will only be done by the Post Registration Correction (PRC) process through TQ and lodgement fees for the required documentation will also apply;
  • The department will continue to provide information to SBQ on performance on cadastral surveying entities for its review and further action if required. This could be in the form of a report on survey audits conducted over a certain timeframe or on major deficiencies with a survey or surveys by a surveyor;
  • All surveys submitted including ISs will be eligible for audit including field inspection. Currently there are about 6,000 SPs lodged and about 8,500 ISs submitted each year, so there is a need to ensure identification surveys are included, to help maintain the quality and accuracy of the cadastre;
  • Depending on resources available and priorities at the time, some surveys may undergo a desktop audit only of the plan submitted or lodged over and above the critical items audited after lodgement but prior to registration. Any cadastral survey plan including ISs may be subject to these audits;
  • A report will be forwarded to the cadastral surveyor who took responsibility for the survey and plan (the surveyor who signed the Form 13/18) after a full audit has been undertaken. The report will outline the findings including any shortcomings which will need to be addressed. If corrections to the plan and/or survey are required, these will need to be arranged in a reasonable timeframe. If not addressed adequately, the matter may be referred to the department’s Director of Surveys and then to SBQ;
  • The department will develop a process to equitably select surveys to be audited which will include a random and a targeted component. However, there will be discretion to audit any survey based on previous performance if non-conformance is detected when processing the plan or from a credible referral;
  • The department may focus on a specific type of survey, plan type or action for auditing over a particular duration, for example plans from surveyors previously non-accredited, plans from surveyors who have traditionally submitted few DPs/SPs but many ISs, Volumetric Plans, Building Format Plans, surveys with physical feature boundaries and/or surveys involving State land. If this is to occur, surveyors will be notified however this will not restrict the auditing of any survey deemed necessary at any time. The approach will be similar to how the Australian Taxation Office targets specific items for additional scrutiny in a specific annual income taxation audit programme; and
  • Accreditation will be discontinued. There will be no need for the Form 10 checklist to be submitted when the plan is lodged in TQ as is currently the case for non-accredited surveyors. The department will continue to maintain a Form 10 to support surveyors in their quality assurance processes.

Benefits of the Proposed Processes

Perceived benefits of the proposed processes include:

  • The overall registration process will be faster. Other than a small number of specific items essential for TQ business, the audit of lodged survey plans will be undertaken outside the critical path for registration thereby reducing any apparent or perceived delays;
  • Plans of surveys can be released to the client without the apparent need to wait until audited and then passed and endorsed by the department;
  • Plans of surveys will no longer need to be passed and endorsed by an accredited surveyor. Completion of the Form 13/18 is all that will be needed to certify that the plan is accurate;
  • The department will no longer be assessing the performance of cadastral surveying entities through the accreditation process. All plans received will be processed the same and there will no longer be the need to include a Form 10 when lodging plans as is currently the requirement for non-accredited surveyors;
  • Department resources can be better allocated to areas where there is likely to be greater benefits in the auditing process, especially field audits;
  • All surveys submitted will be eligible for audit including SP, DPs and ISs;
  • Many more field inspections will be conducted across the state than currently occurs; and
  • Only the final version of surveys and plans will be audited saving much duplication and re-processing of plans.

Disadvantages of the Proposed Processes

Some perceived disadvantages of the proposed processes are:

  • Most surveys and plans will not be checked by the department except for some specific items audited after lodgement but prior to registration;
  • Surveys may be subject to requisitions issued through TQ prior to registration or correction notices by the department after registration. Any corrections to the plan after registration will be done by PRC. Fees will apply for corrections by either method;
  • While the number of requisitions issued are likely to drop prior to registration, the number of PRCs could increase. PRCs create considerable additional work for surveyors, the department and TQ compared with requisitions issued prior to registration. The fees to lodge documentation for a PRC are higher than for requisitions and may be incurred several months after the plan was registered.

Where to from here?

All interested persons, organisations or professional bodies are invited to provide comments on the proposal, preferably in writing by 26 August 2022. All comments will be considered and the proposal modified where required. Feedback will be provided on the outcomes. Please send comments to surveying@resources.qld.gov.au

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