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Australian Government - Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

Advancing the interests of Australia and Australians internationally

Australian Government - Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

Advancing the interests of Australia and Australians internationally

Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade :: 2001-2002 Annual Report
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Section 3: Corporate Management and Accountability

Page Contents

Corporate governance

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' on page 14).

  • Dr Ashton Calvert, as Chief Executive and Secretary, provided close direction on all major corporate, foreign and trade policy issues and decided personally all Senior Executive Service (SES) staff placements. He provided direct leadership in shaping the professional values and culture of the department at home and abroad, in a time of change marked by rapid developments in technology and reductions in staff numbers.

The department's deputy secretaries support the Secretary by overseeing several divisions as follows:

  • Mr Peter Grey-Americas and Europe Division; International Organisations and Legal Division; and the Office of Trade Negotiations

  • Ms Pamela Fayle-Public Diplomacy, Consular and Passports Division and Trade Development Division. Ms Fayle is also Australia's Ambassador to APEC and has responsibility for the Economic Analytical Unit

  • Dr Alan Thomas-Corporate Management Division; International Security Division; and North Asia Division. Dr Thomas also has responsibility for the Australian Safeguards and Non-Proliferation Office

  • Mr David Ritchie-Diplomatic Security, Information Management and Services Division; South and South-East Asia Division; and South Pacific, Africa and Middle East Division. Mr Ritchie also has responsibility for the Overseas Property Office.

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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 these committees are provided at Appendix 2.

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 Division and the Diplomatic Security, Information Management and Services Division 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.

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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 strategic planning meetings where 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 continued a series of seminars to engage with branch heads in forward-looking discussion on foreign and trade policy developments and major corporate management and leadership issues.

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The Secretary also held separate meetings with staff from divisions 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:

  • weekly policy information reports from the Secretary

  • regular formal and informal communication with 'parent' divisions in Canberra

  • periodic regional heads of mission/post meetings and consultations

  • periodic visits by Canberra-based officials, often in conjunction with ministerial and senior officials-level consultations

  • post liaison visits led by deputy secretaries

  • regional seminars with senior post management attended by the head of the Corporate Management Division and the Chief Finance Officer to convey and seek feedback on corporate policy and resource issues

  • quarterly management information reports

  • dissemination of procedural guidance through administrative circulars, discussion and information papers.

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Planning and review
The Corporate Plan 2000-2002 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.

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

  • They enable the Senior Executive to evaluate the performance of each division over the review period and to determine divisional priorities for the period ahead

  • They provide the Senior Executive with an opportunity to review the department's resources and to adjust allocations to match evolving priorities.

At the review in August 2001 and the mid-term review in March 2002, the Senior Executive reviewed the performance of all divisions and fine-tuned their work programs to take account of key government priorities in the period ahead. The Senior Executive also reviewed the resource allocations for all divisions, posts and state and territory offices. They reallocated resources to meet new requirements and to facilitate work on projects that had acquired a higher priority.

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Post evaluation reports
The department conducts an annual review of the performance of its overseas posts around the end of the financial year. Post evaluation reporting assesses contributions by posts to policy outcomes, examines the quality of post management and sets priorities for the coming year. As part of this evaluation, we seek feedback from other departments and agencies on the extent to which posts are meeting whole-of-government objectives. In 2001-02, a total of 31 departments and agencies gave feedback that was very positive overall, indicating that posts were generally performing well in advancing the Government's broad interests overseas. In addition, post evaluation informs the Senior Executive's appraisal of the performance of individual heads of mission and post.

Office evaluation reviews
As with posts, state and territory offices are subject to an annual performance review at the end of the financial year. Office evaluation reporting focuses on the key area of business liaison as well as other areas such as assistance with major meetings, provision of passports and notarial services and office administration. A recent review of state and territory offices resulted in a series of measures designed to improve the integration of the offices into the department's management systems and operations. These are now being implemented.

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Post liaison visits
In 2001-02, deputy secretaries led small teams to conduct post liaison visits at 16 posts. The annual program of post liaison visits allows the department to assess at first hand post performance against agreed objectives. The visits also provide an opportunity to assess whether posts are appropriately staffed and resourced.

Internal audit, risk management and business continuity planning

The Audit Committee, which meets quarterly, has governance responsibility in the department for audit, risk management and business continuity planning. It guides and reviews our audit program to ensure that an effective assurance and control framework is maintained. It also has as a standing item on its agenda the review of key risk management and business continuity planning issues affecting the department.

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During 2001-02, the department undertook a busy program of internal audit activity. Major performance-focused audit reviews were completed covering:

  • risk management

  • management of the foundations, councils and institutes (see output 3.1 at page 166 for further detail on these bodies)

  • provision of legal services

  • market testing arrangements for hardware procurement for the SATIN IT and communications system.

We engaged an external consultant to review the effectiveness of our financial and human resource management information systems. An audit to determine value-for-money was conducted of our office requisites supply agreement. An extensive compliance audit in Canberra covered financial transactions, travel processing and leave management and records. These reviews found that practices and compliance in the audited areas were generally sound, but identified some issues needing attention. They made a range of recommendations, most of which have been implemented, for improving management performance and systems.

Audits of compliance and aspects of performance were completed at 17 overseas posts and in each state and territory office. Ten more limited desk audits of overseas posts were also carried out from Canberra. These audits revealed a generally improving trend in the standard of financial management and administration. All findings and recommendations were dealt with promptly by the audited posts and offices.

We undertook a substantial review of risk management leading to improvements in our practices and systems. We also participated in two rounds of Comcover's Benchmarking Risk Management Program. This revealed a significant improvement in our risk management performance between the first and second rounds of the program, although there is scope for further progress.

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The evolving audit role: adding value and working smarter

The traditional role of internal audit-providing assurance to senior management through the monitoring of work area compliance with the key controls and requirements of financial management and accountability-remains fundamentally important. Consistent with wider trends in public sector auditing, however, the department's internal audit role has evolved and broadened over recent years in ways which add further value for the organisation, strengthen corporate governance and improve productivity. This evolution has been welcomed by clients in both Canberra and at posts.

There has been a significant evolution in the methodology applied to internal audits, with a blurring of the traditional distinction between compliance and performance auditing. Increasingly, the department's audits cover both aspects. A good example of this has been the department's audit test program for overseas posts. Quite deliberately this has maintained a central focus on compliance with essential financial requirements, such as compulsory checks and reconciliations of public money.

Meanwhile, the test program has gradually incorporated a range of new performance-focused elements aimed at encouraging better practice in key areas of post management. These new areas of focus include the management of locally engaged staff, delivery of services to other agencies and the management of budgets, property and records. Increasingly also, a risk management approach is being used to determine the focus of audits, complementing more traditional determinants such as financial controls and the material significance of financial transactions.

A second significant trend has been to involve internal audit in a broader range of corporate activities and governance roles, recognising the value-adding potential of particular audit knowledge and expertise. For example, on the basis of knowledge derived during specific audits, internal audit now provides formal input into corporate processes such as those to determine postings to corporate/administrative positions overseas and the performance evaluations of posts and state and territory offices. Auditors are also involved in the analysis of resource bids submitted to the department's twice-yearly divisional evaluation review process. Internal audit prepares a range of documents to assist managers to 'work smarter', including good practice guides such as the recent Common Problems and Audit Findings at Posts-Good Practice Guide. Increasingly, audit staff are being asked to participate in selection committees, training programs and governance bodies or management committees.

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Conduct and ethics
High standards of conduct and ethical decision-making have been maintained, with continued low levels of reported fraud and misconduct. This is due largely to the success of the department's ethics outreach strategy including fraud and ethics training for staff, prompt investigations and consistent disciplinary outcomes.

Strategies to promote the highest standards of conduct among our employees included:

  • mandatory ethics training for all staff posted overseas

  • a departmental Ethics Committee to review ethics policy and oversee the work of the Conduct and Ethics Unit

  • a conduct and ethics page on the departmental intranet and corporate database

  • promotion of resource materials to help train locally engaged staff overseas.

The department provided post-specific briefings on conduct issues to heads of mission and senior administrative officers. We also responded to regular enquiries on ethics issues from employees and locally engaged staff. We sent trained investigators to three posts to examine allegations of serious fraud or misconduct and provided advice by telephone and email to post managers investigating less serious conduct issues. We conducted workshops for staff in our Queensland and Tasmania state offices and for all staff joining the department, including new graduate trainees.

The department issued updated guidelines to staff on acceptance of gifts, benefits and hospitality; offers of sponsored travel; protection for whistleblowers; and advice on how to report fraud or misconduct. As part of our public outreach strategy, we published a pamphlet on the ethical standards that should govern the relationship between contractors and the department.

Employees travelling overseas on official business, including those on long-term postings, were required to sign an undertaking to comply with our Code of Conduct for Overseas Service, which is underpinned by the APS Code of Conduct.

Fraud control
The department complies with the Commonwealth Fraud Control Guidelines.

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