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

Overview

The department’s program of internal review and reform maintained momentum during 2000–01. Responding to the Government’s public sector reform agenda, we continued to take advantage of the increased flexibility and devolved responsibility provided under the Public Service Act 1999 to take a fresh look at a number of key corporate policies and functions.

In addition to the implementation of the Certified Agreement 2000–03, major reform initiatives included the Locally Engaged Staff management review; the re-negotiation of the department’s Common Administrative Services (CAS) Agreement (see output 1.4); further development of our major human resource and financial management information systems; and further streamlining of the department’s administrative processes, including the development of a more comprehensive, user-friendly Corporate Information Database. These reforms will have a far-reaching impact on our future operations, and on our relations with other Australian government agencies.

We also began a review of our overseas conditions of service to identify ways in which the complex and administratively burdensome set of conditions can be streamlined and simplified.

The department’s Certified Agreement 2000–03, which came into effect on 1 July 2000, further promotes the department’s efficiency and effectiveness by taking forward the achievements of our first Certified Agreement 1998–2000. Further information on the Certified Agreement can be found under ‘Management of human resources’ on page 205.

A process of strategic downsizing through natural attrition and some voluntary redundancies—foreshadowed to enable implementation of the Certified Agreement—will ensure that the department is staffed to meet emerging priorities such as international trade issues. Taking into account the efficiencies of new technologies, the main reductions are in corporate management and support areas.

The department’s financial management continued to come under close scrutiny in 2000–01, and achieved good results in internal and external audits. Moreover, the pricing reviews of outputs 1 and 3 were completed and revealed that the department continues to operate as a highly efficient and professional organisation. (See ‘Management of financial resources’).

Best Practice Review

The Best Practice Review was a benchmarking exercise conducted between April and August 2000 that compared the department’s cost-effectiveness and efficiency in service delivery, and the degree and effectiveness of its use of information technology, with counterpart organisations from six countries. The review confirmed that the department is a lean, efficient foreign and trade service:

  • Australia has the second lowest number of missions overseas (among the sample) and the second smallest proportion of its home-based staff overseas;
  • Departmental running costs compare well, and the costs of operating overseas as a proportion of total running costs are among the lowest;
  • The proportion of our staff deployed to corporate support is among the lowest, and corporate support costs are lower than average;
  • We have more autonomy and flexibility in our management and staffing practices than the other ministries studied;
  • Outsourcing has been taken further in the department; and
  • We make more extensive and innovative use of locally engaged staff.

The review identified some areas where the department could benefit from the experience of other foreign and trade ministries. Since the review, we have:

  • strengthened our IT governance structures (see output 1.3);
  • strengthened our policy planning capacity; and
  • circulated a discussion paper on strengthening staff language skills.

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