About the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

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Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade - Annual Report 2000-2001
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Corporate management and accountability

Corporate governance

To fulfil his legislative responsibilities as Chief Executive, the Secretary required assurances that effective controls were in place to deliver outputs and outcomes in a way that met the expectations of ministers and ensured the efficient allocation and use of resources on behalf of the Government. Such assurances were delivered through departmental management and corporate governance and the accountability framework within which we operate.

Senior Executive

The Secretary and four deputy secretaries jointly comprise the Senior Executive Click to view related information - opens in new window (see also ‘Departmental overview: Organisational structure’).

The department‘s deputy secretaries supported the Secretary by overseeing three or four divisions as follows:

The deputy secretaries were frequently called on to represent the Government at high-level meetings overseas and were also delegated certain ad hoc responsibilities by the Secretary. They chaired key corporate governance bodies, including the Audit Committee, Ethics Committee and the Workplace Relations Committee. Details of senior management committees are provided at Appendix 5.

The Senior Executive held regular meetings on current policy issues with the Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Minister for Trade.

The Secretary chaired a weekly meeting of the Senior Executive to discuss issues requiring liaison with portfolio ministers and to make decisions on corporate policy issues. Heads of the Corporate Management and Diplomatic Security, Property and Information Management Divisions and, as appropriate, the Director General of AusAID, also attended these meetings. The Senior Executive considered regular reports on the department’s budgetary and staffing situation, passports developments, IT budget and performance, property matters, divisional performance on ministerial correspondence and security breaches.

The Executive, Planning and Evaluation Branch, which has specific responsibilities for corporate planning, ministerial liaison, and evaluation and audit, supported the Senior Executive in the leadership and management of the department and contributed to the implementation of strategic and corporate policies.

The Secretary chaired a weekly meeting with division heads. This was a central means for communicating corporate and policy priorities more broadly throughout the organisation. The Secretary also chaired regular periodic strategic planning meetings at which major corporate issues and important policy questions were discussed. The forum provided an opportunity for senior executive staff to participate more directly and to develop collectively a stronger sense of coherence and corporate unity in the department’s policy work and in determining corporate management strategies.

The Secretary initiated a new series of six-monthly seminars to engage with branch heads in forward-looking discussion on foreign and trade policy developments and major corporate management and leadership issues.

The Secretary also held separate meetings with all staff from each division in Canberra. These were an opportunity for the Secretary to gain valuable insights into staff attitudes and interests and for staff to hear directly from him about divisional priorities and broader corporate issues.

Posts received guidance in a number of ways, including through:

Planning and review

The Corporate Plan 2000–2002 Click to view related information - opens in new window provides broad direction to staff on implementing the Government’s foreign and trade policies. As outlined in the Corporate Plan, in response to an increasingly tight budgetary climate, our planning and review processes have been developed with a view to maintaining a sharp focus on Government priorities and ensuring we are equipped to support the full range of Australian interests in the international arena.

The Portfolio Budget Statements (PBS) Click to view related information - opens in new window are the annual accounting to Parliament for outcomes, and cover the purpose of portfolio budget measures. Within that framework and through four key processes, the Senior Executive sets and reviews work priorities and evaluates the performance of divisions, posts and State and Territory offices to ensure they concentrate their energies on core government business.

The main planning and evaluation processes are as follows:

Divisional evaluation reviews
Divisional evaluation reviews take place in August each year, with a mid-term review in February. They perform two main functions:

In August 2000 and February 2001, the Senior Executive approved the reallocation of resources in response to requests from divisions, overseas posts and State and Territory offices. The February mid-term review took place against the background of the finely balanced budget developed at the earlier August 2000 review. The Senior Executive examined all division, post and State and Territory office budgets and redirected resources to higher government priorities.

Post evaluation reports
An annual review of the performance of our overseas posts takes place at the beginning of the financial year. Post evaluation reporting pays close attention to post management and to priority-setting for the coming year. Feedback from other departments and agencies on the extent to which posts are meeting whole-of-government objectives is an important part of this evaluation. In 2000–01, a total of 28 departments and agencies gave feedback that was highly positive overall, indicating that the department was servicing other portfolios’ needs well in most posts in terms of policy and administration. In addition, post evaluations inform the Senior Executive’s assessment of the performance of heads of mission and posts.

Office evaluation reviews
State and Territory offices operate on a basis similar to that of posts, defining objectives and performance indicators annually through the office evaluation review process. Business liaison is a major part of office activity, as is reflected in the fact that their reporting responsibilities are to the Market Development Division.

Post liaison visits
Deputy secretaries lead small teams to conduct post liaison visits to about 12 posts each year, assessing at first hand post performance against agreed objectives. The visits also provide an opportunity to assess whether posts are appropriately staffed and resourced.

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Internal audit and risk management

The Audit Committee is the department’s governance body responsible for an effective evaluation and audit process, ensuring an effective assurance and control framework and reviewing our risk management strategies (see also Appendix 5).

A major review of risk management in the department began in May 2001. The aim is to:

Preliminary work involved surveying the latest developments and best practice initiatives in the Australian Public Service (APS), including efforts by the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO), Joint Committee on Public Accounts and Audit (JCPAA) and Comcover to promote a more effective public sector risk management culture.

During 2000–01, the Audit Committee re-shaped the department’s internal audit work program to achieve a better balance between performance and compliance audits. It increased the number of performance audits and reviews carried out in Canberra while maintaining adequate compliance coverage of areas of high risk. Significant performance audits conducted during the year included: effectiveness of travel management; implementation of the Public Service Act 1999; and outsourcing of administrative services related to recruitment. Each audit concluded that the department’s performance in these areas was effective while recommending improvements, which have been implemented. A consultant was contracted to audit Goods and Services Tax (GST) processing in the department. This audit concluded that the level of compliance with legislation was satisfactory.

Our program of compliance audits included reviews of 16 overseas posts. The introduction of the SAP Financial Management Information System at all overseas posts from July 2000 increased accessibility for remote interrogation and therefore transparency in posts’ financial operations. As a result, the delivery of audit services has been substantially enhanced.

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Conduct and ethics

Strategies to promote the highest standards of conduct among our employees included the maintenance of a conduct and ethics homepage on our departmental intranet, introductory and advanced ethics training for staff, and promotion of training tools to help train locally engaged staff overseas. We provided post-specific advice to heads of mission and employees assigned as senior administrative officers overseas and managed a referral service to respond to specific enquiries from employees and locally engaged staff.

The department issued updated procedures for handling breaches of the APS Code of Conduct. These replaced interim procedures and reflect the experience of the department in handling breaches since the introduction of the Public Service Act 1999. We maintained vigilance in seeking to ensure our employees were behaving appropriately. Low levels of reported misconduct, early commencement of investigations and consistent disciplinary outcomes have been maintained.

All departmental staff preparing for long-term overseas postings are required to complete an ethics workshop. In addition, specially targeted workshops were conducted for staff in Brisbane, Melbourne, Hobart, Adelaide, Perth and Darwin and for new graduate trainees.

Employees travelling overseas on official business, including those on long-term postings, were required to sign an undertaking to comply with the department’s own code of conduct for overseas service Click to view related information - opens in new window, which is underpinned by the APS Code of Conduct. Information on the department’s code of conduct for overseas service was included on the APS ‘better practice’ website (www.psmpc.gov.au/bpo) and provided to a number of foreign missions in Canberra in response to their interest in our management of conduct and ethics issues.

The objective of the pre-posting training and State office workshops is to inform staff on the relevant values and codes and help staff at all levels to resolve ethical dilemmas that might arise in the workplace. Having achieved a high level of awareness of values and ethical issues among staff, we will focus further work in this area on consolidating a sense of ‘ownership’ of the department-specific values outlined in the Corporate Plan 2000–2002.

A new Fraud Control Plan was introduced in December 2000. The plan included updated fraud risk profiles and introduced a fraud control action plan for the department. All high-priority items in the action plan have been implemented and work on other items is under way. In addition to fraud awareness workshops, fraud awareness is a component of general financial management training programs.

Information on the department’s Ethics Committee is provided at Appendix 5.

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Remuneration of senior executives

New Australian Workplace Agreements (AWAs) were negotiated with all Senior Executive Service (SES) employees in the department. The AWAs incorporated key provisions of the Certified Agreement, including the department’s performance management system. They also set out other entitlements specific to SES employees and, in the interests of streamlining administration, enabled certain conditions of service to be ‘cashed-out’. As in previous years the department generally offered AWAs that were specific to position or role. This reflects the frequent need to re-deploy SES staff into positions at level either in Australia or overseas. See Note 15 to the financial statements for details of executive remuneration.

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