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Review by the CEO and Director of Meteorology

An image of Dr Andrew Johnson, Chief Executive Officer and Director of Meteorology
Dr Andrew Johnson FTSE FAICD

I am very pleased to present the Bureau’s achievements in 2020–21. In what has been a very challenging year for our nation, the Bureau has again delivered on our mission of providing trusted, reliable and responsive weather, water, climate and ocean services for Australia – all day, every day. I am especially thankful for, and proud of, the efforts our people this year. Their dedication, determination and resilience in delivering our services in the face of the very many personal and professional challenges presented by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has been magnificent.

We have completed the fourth year of our Strategy 2017–2022. The Strategy is firmly focused on driving a step change in the impact and value we create for the Australian community. We remain on track to contribute – in a material way – to an increase in Australia’s economic prosperity, public safety, national security, environmental health and community well-being.

During 2020–21, we continued with three major transformation initiatives that are translating our strategic intent into action. Implementation of the Public Services Transformation Program continued, supporting the Bureau’s journey of reinvigoration by implementing fundamental changes in how we work, and how we support our partners and communities to make decisions that better protect lives and property. The program continued working to build national forecast production capability as well as developing enhanced specialised environmental prediction and customer decision support capability.

We completed the fourth year of the five-year ROBUST Program to ensure the security, stability and resilience of our information and communication technology (ICT) systems and observing networks. Key deliverables included upgrading observing equipment at nine sites, rolling out the first release of a new enterprise asset management system, delivering multi-factor authentication across the Bureau, and deploying a new data platform, including data services and Application Programming Interfaces (APIs). The implementation of the Business Systems Transformation Program continued, with a focus uplifting our financial systems, aligning with ongoing whole-of-government developments and business process optimisation.

2020–21 was the coolest and wettest financial year for Australia since 2016–17, after three exceptionally warm and dry years. The national average total rainfall was 10 per cent above the 1961–1990 climatological averaging period, at 515.2 mm. The national average mean temperature was 0.83 °C above the 1961–1990 climatological averaging period.

A weak La Niña influenced the Australian climate during the year – La Niña was declared in September and conditions in the tropical Pacific persisted through the summer, with a neutral El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO) state returning in March.

Improved rainfall conditions resulted in average to above average annual streamflows across large parts of the country, particularly in northern Australia and coastal catchments in the southeast. Although water storage levels improved compared to 2019–20, in many parts of the country groundwater levels were mostly below average.

In November, the Bureau and CSIRO released the sixth State of the Climate report – a comprehensive look at long-term trends in Australia’s climate. The continued warming of Australia’s climate, an increase in extreme fire weather and length of the fire season, declining rainfall in the southeast and southwest of the continent, and rising sea levels were some of the key trends detailed in the report.

Severe weather affected many parts of Australia during the year. The thoughts of all Bureau staff are with those communities who have been adversely impacted by the weather over the last 12 months.

Bureau staff provided extensive support to the community and partner and emergency services agencies during March and April in response to one of the most significant flooding event in decades. Flooding stretched from southern Queensland along almost the entire coast of New South Wales and affected many inland catchments, with record flooding observed across several locations along the New South Wales Mid North Coast. Approximately 81 000 people were affected by inundation or isolation and around 1500 residential properties were severely damaged.

Severe storms and flooding occurred in Victoria in June and caused extensive damage, most significantly impacting Gippsland and the Yarra Ranges. Areas of Traralgon were evacuated due to flooding, while over 64 000 households were left without power, roads were closed and there were major telecommunications outages.

Severe thunderstorms impacted much of southeast Queensland in late October and caused considerable damage to homes and vehicles, with insurance losses estimated at over $1 billion. Extreme rainfall in mid-March resulted in significant flooding on some inland rivers in northern New South Wales and southern Queensland.

A bushfire on Queensland’s K’gari (Fraser Island) that started in mid-October was finally extinguished in December after it had burnt around 50 per cent of the island (approximated 85 000 hectares). In early February, a bushfire in the Perth Hills in Western Australia burnt over 10 000 hectares of land and caused extensive property damage. Heatwaves also affected large parts of south-eastern and eastern Australia in November.

This year saw eight named cyclones with two making landfall – Imogen and Seroja – over Queensland and Western Australia respectively. In April, late season tropical cyclone Seroja severely impacted Kalbarri and Northampton in Western Australia, with around 70 per cent of buildings in the towns sustaining significant damage and many structures destroyed.

During the year, the Bureau continued to engage, inform and educate Australians about our weather and climate. In October, the Bureau launched its annual public safety campaign – ‘Know your weather. Know your risk’ – to inform and educate Australians about the impacts of severe weather, with a focus on tropical cyclones, bushfire weather, heatwaves, floods, severe thunderstorms and drought, and to encourage them to prepare accordingly.

The Bureau also played a starring role in the ABC’s Big Weather television series, which explores the devastating effects of extreme weather in Australia. The series highlights the Bureau’s critical role in keeping the Australian community safe every day and outlined activities across our Extreme Weather Desk, the Volcanic Ash Advisory Centre, and Flood Monitoring team, as well as through the daily National Operations Centre chart discussion.

We continued to roll out updates to the BOM Weather app, including a new suite of marine features that were released in January. In June, we began to decommission the previous version of the app which was launched in 2016.

The Bureau made a range of improvements to its products and services and strengthened its underpinning scientific capability. We commenced the transformation of our primary weather forecast production system – the Graphical Forecast Editor (GFE) – to enable nationally consistent forecasting of a range of weather elements at the same spatial and temporal scales. The implementation of the National GFE is a major operational uplift and means that any forecast, for any location, can be issued from any Bureau office.

The Bureau improved its tropical cyclone forecasting module, developed prototypes of warning and decision-support products to uplift its impact-based national heatwave services, and continued development of an improved Fire Danger Rating System for Australia.

The Bureau commissioned its new ACCESS-C3 ‘city-scale’ high-resolution numerical weather prediction model to provide improved forecast guidance for six geographic regions covering the more densely populated areas of Australia. The Bureau upgraded its Ocean Model Analysis and Prediction System (OceanMAPs) and its thunderstorm prediction system (Calibrated Thunder) and developed a new wave model and new Australian Water Outlook, as well as making significant improvements to its wind forecast process.

Launched in December, the Bureau’s Innovation Framework provides an overarching approach to strengthening and enhancing our capacity to innovate. Innovation is central to what we do, and our future success relies on strengthening our innovative capacity and supporting creativity to improve our service delivery.

The Bureau continued to uplift its internal capabilities and enabling functions. A new People Framework was implemented to ensure we have the right culture, leadership qualities and workforce skills to meet the needs of customers within an increasingly complex environment. A new Integrated Leadership Capability Framework and a Talent Development Framework were introduced to guide the growth trajectories of our leaders.

The Bureau commenced implementation of a new customer relationship management system for its public-facing teams to enable better, more consistent engagement with stakeholders. Customer Engagement Foundation Training was rolled out across the Bureau to provide staff with the skills, processes and guidelines to engage professionally and consistently.

The Bureau formalised its approach to product management, implementing an enduring method to collecting and acting on customer insights, understanding customer needs, and involving customers and partners directly in maintaining a sustainable, viable set of products.

2020–21 saw several improvements to the Bureau’s observing network. New radars were installed at Cullulleraine near Mildura in Victoria and at Brewarrina in New South Wales. A temporary radar was completed in Dampier to replace the site destroyed by tropical cyclone Damien in February 2020. The temporary radar will operate across the next two years before a long-term replacement is built. Radars at Bairnsdale, Ceduna and Kalgoorlie also underwent significant upgrades.

Upgrades to the Bureau’s Automatic Meteorological Balloon Launching Systems (AMBLS) were completed, including at Cobar, Weipa, Learmonth and Mount Gambier. Two new observing systems were also installed in Queensland’s Moreton Bay. In January, the Bureau’s new purpose-built Observing Operations Hub was officially opened in Hobart by the Minister for the Environment the Hon Sussan Ley.

In May, the Prime Minister announced $209 million in new funding to formally establish the Australian Climate Service (ACS). The new service – which brings together world-leading expertise from the Bureau of Meteorology (the Bureau), Geoscience Australia, CSIRO and the Australian Bureau of Statistics – will support communities and business to better anticipate, manage and adapt to the risks that a changing climate will bring. The Bureau led a significant collaborative effort to establish the foundations for the new ACS, which will seamlessly connect and utilise the Commonwealth’s extensive data, information and knowledge capabilities. Six Bureau staff will be based in Townsville
as part of the ACS and will directly support the weather and climate knowledge needs of the new National Recovery and Resilience Agency and Emergency Management Australia in North Queensland. The ACS will be operational from 1 July 2021.

The Bureau further strengthened its relationships with a range of customers, partners and stakeholders during 2020–21. We entered a Strategic Relationship Agreement with Powerlink to deliver improved weather-based planning and decision-making for Queensland’s transmission network and we renewed cooperation with the United States’ National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) on the Constellation Observing System for Meteorology, Ionosphere, and Climate Follow-on Mission (COSMIC-2) Program.

In February, the Bureau received $10 million in funding through the Future Drought Fund for the Climate Services for Agriculture Program to provide the sector with information on historical and projected trends of climate, water, agricultural productivity, natural capital, social resilience, finance and markets. In June, the Climate Services for Agriculture prototype was launched to uplift the awareness of farmers to better manage climate risks and opportunities.

Throughout 2020–21, the Bureau delivered vital products and services to its customers and continued to improve its offerings despite the ongoing disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The Bureau continued to support its Australia’s aviation customers after a devastating COVID-disrupted 12 months for the industry. In November, the Bureau delivered a significant upgrade to its aviation weather forecasts implementing the TAF3 service in response to requests from the aviation sector.

The Bureau provided ongoing services and support to Australia’s energy and resources sectors and continued to support Australia’s national security sector, including providing meteorological data to support the first test flight of the Loyal Wingman un-crewed aircraft; the first military aircraft to be designed and manufactured in Australia in more than 50 years.

In June, the first release of the Murray–Darling Basin Water Information Portal was launched to provide data on available water, allocation volumes, water use, water trade and prices, environmental water, weather and climate.

The dangers inherent in our Antarctic operations were brought into sharp focus by three events. In December, the Bureau supported a logistically complex and challenging, and multinational medical evacuation of an expeditioner from an isolated Antarctic station back to Australia. In March, the Bureau supported the high-risk, weather critical re-supply of Mawson Station by helicopter. In April, there was a fire on board the MPV Everest on its return voyage to Australia, which was bringing home 72 Antarctic expeditioners, including six of our Bureau colleagues. Fortunately, the fire was contained, no-one was injured, and the vessel arrived safely at Fremantle.

It is such a privilege to lead an organisation that delivers critical services to our communities, governments and industries when it matters most. I regularly received positive and constructive feedback throughout the year from a wide range of our customers, partners and stakeholders, not only on the quality of our services and advice, and the dedication and professionalism of our staff, but also on our new service delivery methods, technologies and channels. This feedback will continue to drive improvements to what we do and how we do it. The year ahead will undoubtedly
pose challenges and opportunities for us and we will remain totally focused on applying our unique and significant capabilities in the service of Australia.

Financial results

The Bureau reported an operating surplus of $12.3 million, excluding depreciation for 2020–21, against a budgeted operating surplus of $4.2 million. This surplus is largely due to external revenue used for capital assets and externally generated project activity. After including depreciation, the operating result was a deficit of $152.6 million in 2020–21, compared to a deficit of $84.9 million in 2019–20. This deficit was expected, as the Bureau – like all Australian Government agencies – is not funded for depreciation, but instead receives a separate asset capital injection.

Total revenue for 2020–21 was $344.3 million, of which $269.9 million was funded as appropriation from government, and $74.4 million was related to own-source income and gains, primarily from the sales of goods and rendering of services and other income. Operating expenditure for 2020–21 was $496.9 million, primarily made up of employee costs (39 per cent), supplier costs (26 per cent) and asset-related operating costs which included depreciation and amortisation (33 per cent).

The Bureau manages a significant portfolio of non-financial assets with a written-down value of $855.6 million, of which 88.7 per cent is identified as land and buildings, plant and equipment, and computer software. As part of our ongoing asset investment and replacement program, $178.1 million (excluding right-of-use assets) was invested in asset acquisition and construction in 2020–21, to support its service delivery to Australia. Funding for capital investment was mostly provided by government through departmental capital and equity-based funding. Other investments made by the Bureau were primarily funded from own-source revenue.

Outlook 2021–22

In 2021–22, we will deliver the final year of our Strategy 2017–2022 and develop our next Strategy to guide our efforts from 2022 onwards.

We will continue to seek to drive a profound positive shift in the impact and value the Bureau provides for Australia, as we meet our customers’ increasing demands for personalised and customised delivery of weather, water, climate and oceans information to support their decision-making. We look forward to our new responsibility as the coordinating partner for the Australian Climate Service, with the service commencing on 1 July 2021.

We will continue to deliver improved services for Australia in line with Australian Government investment in the security and resilience of Bureau and in expanding our observational capability. We will also continue our efforts to increase the efficient use of our resources, and investment in the skills and capabilities of our staff, to both enable the implementation of our Strategy and provide our people with satisfying and worthwhile careers.

In response to the ongoing disruption of the COVID-19 pandemic, we will continue to ensure workplace health and safety risks are monitored and managed and that critical resources are available to maintain operations and essential service delivery to Australian communities.