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Quality assurance reviews

Quality assurance (QA) reviews focus on the clarity and content of the report. QA is conducted within an organisation, in line with procedures typically documented in a system (possibly an accredited quality management system) to ensure that the report is of a suitable quality.

The quality assurance review should check an EES for:

  • consistency, for example, consistent units of measurement or terminology throughout
  • correctness, including correct data, formulae, conversions, or test methods
  • coherence, for example, assumptions clearly stated and conclusions follow from the data presented
  • clarity: written for a broad audience, and
  • conformance: method follows scope or problems/limitations discussed.

Peer reviews

Peer reviews are performed by reviewers external to your organisation.

A peer review will check that you have used suitable investigative and assessment methods to support your studies and analysis, and that the conclusions are supported by the work.

A peer review helps to verify that:

  • the work is technically sound
  • conclusions are supported and clearly covers the relevant matters in scoping requirements and ministerial guidelines
  • appropriate data has been used to support analysis and conclusions.

Peer review of technical reports

The proponent may choose some technical studies to be peer reviewed or be directed to do so by the department. Peer review is likely to be required for studies of complex or uncertain processes or where conclusions may be contentious.

This might include:

  • studies that rely on mathematical modelling to assess impacts
  • studies that relate to non-quantifiable impacts, such as visual impact
  • studies that relate to new or emerging topics as key environmental issues, such as arboriculture for infrastructure projects
  • studies that relate to an environmental asset or value central to the assessment of environmental effects of the project, for example, the issue that might constitute a 'fatal flaw'
  • studies relating to an environmental asset or factor that has proved problematic in comparable EESs.

Proponents will prepare a list of technical studies to be peer reviewed for consideration by the technical reference group (TRG). The TRG may also assist in identifying studies that would benefit from peer review.

You may want to initiate peer reviews of EES studies on technically or scientifically complex matters where there may be range of expert views.

Commissioning peer reviewers

In most cases the proponent is responsible for quality assurance and engaging experts to undertake the peer review.

In special circumstances, we may appoint peer reviewers to provide advice during the development of critical studies. Final written advice from peer reviewers appointed by us will be made available during the exhibition of the EES. Where there is a difference of opinion, the technical report must acknowledge and respond to the peer review and provide a basis for the difference/s. The advice will also be made available to an inquiry panel if one is appointed.

Appointment of these peer reviewers usually occurs early in the EES process. This enables the peer reviewer to advise on methodologies and data collection, and possibly the scope of the EES.

Managing information from a peer review

A peer reviewer is not expected to be more of an expert than the study's author. It is not expected that the author will ‘take direction’ from a peer reviewer. Aspects of the study where there is disagreement may remain, particularly in areas that are non-quantifiable or emerging.

This should not be viewed as a negative outcome but as a reflection of the robust and scientific debate that is common within assessment of some environmental effects that are more uncertain or complex.

In these circumstances the peer reviewer would indicate any outstanding issues and whether, in their opinion, they are material to the technical integrity of the report and its conclusions.

The advice from peer reviews should be provided to the TRG and to us for consideration, together with a revised technical report responding to the review.

It is expected that the report by the peer reviewer be published as an appendix to the study. The peer reviewer's report must therefore be also publicly available when the EES is exhibited to provide evidence of transparency and identify any issues that were not resolved. The peer reviewer may be required to attend the EES inquiry hearing to respond to specific questions and articulate his/her findings.

Example peer reviews in an EES

Reviews of the noise, vibration and groundwater studies were published to provide a level of certainty to the public and key stakeholders about risks and proposed mitigation measures.

A review of the palaeontological and geological studies, consistent with the scope set by us with advice from the TRG.

A review of the studies prepared on the Southern Bent Wing Bat, in accordance with advice from the Commonwealth and TRG.

A group of independent experts was established to review and advise on key studies, as well as respond to specific questions from the public inquiry panel.

A review of an air quality study given the risk to air quality and consequently public health.

Reviews of studies relating to air quality, site rehabilitation, hydrology and water quality.

More information about quality assurance and peer review for EES is available in the Ministerial guidelines for assessment of environmental effects.

Page last updated: 13/06/23