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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

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Overview

International developments and other externally imposed pressures led to a significant tightening in the department's budgetary situation. Despite this, we completed a number of major reviews of corporate policy, which resulted in higher productivity, improved conditions of service for staff and better outcomes for the Government and the Australian public.

The department conducted a 'Working Smarter' survey that demonstrated considerable gains in changing work practices and attitudes. We proposed new ways to achieve further efficiencies in work practices which we are now taking forward as an integral part of handling budgetary pressures. A new overseas conditions of service package was approved, providing a cost-neutral but more transparent and easier-to-administer system. The first phase of the locally engaged staff (LES) management review was completed, ensuring the development of a smaller, more professional LES workforce.

We introduced comprehensive new language training policies and programs following an extensive review. A three-year Service Level Agreement for the delivery of common administrative services to other government agencies overseas came into effect on 1 July 2001. Further development and enhancement of our online financial and human resources management systems increased efficiency by automating more functions.

The department significantly improved the quality of its budget forecasting. Financial statements for 2001-02 were unqualified with no audit observations on the statements themselves. Category B observations on our systems and procedures made last year by the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) were addressed in 2001-02. Our achievements in financial management were recognised by two CPA Australia ACT Public Sector Awards. A comprehensive program of compliance and performance-focused audits confirmed an improving trend in financial management.

We enhanced the transparency and integrity of staff placements and postings processes. Despite reduced numbers of ongoing staff, we demonstrated our capacity to deploy staff quickly and efficiently to meet new priorities and crises. Additional staff resources were allocated to trade policy areas, and staff were quickly mobilised to support the 24-hour operation of two crisis centres following the MV Tampa incident and the 11 September 2001 terrorist attacks.

After a ballot to vary the Certified Agreement 2000-03, staff received a final year 4.5 per cent pay increase from July 2002, in recognition of productivity gains. Our rigorous performance management system was streamlined and enhanced to ensure merit and high performance were better rewarded.

Our annual report for 2000-01 was judged by the Institute of Public Administration Australia to be the equal best annual report for departments and agencies reporting under the Financial Management and Accountability Act 1997, and the best online annual report.

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Working Smarter: the story to date and next steps

The Secretary's Working Smarter campaign aims to forge efficient work practices, lift productivity and nurture a culture where staff can maintain a better balance between their professional and private lives.

The Secretary seeks to achieve two major paradigm shifts in the department's work culture. First, outcomes in advocacy should be the key benchmark for measuring the effectiveness of our work-that is, the extent to which outcomes in the international environment protect and advance Australia's interests in ways that would not have occurred without the department's efforts. Secondly, the whole internal operating style of the department should become a model of working smarter.

Working Smarter started in 1998-99 when the department introduced efficient, streamlined procedures that changed fundamentally the way staff provided policy advice to ministers. The second phase began in June 2000 when the Secretary promulgated a set of ten working smarter principles developed in consultation with staff. The principles-which are anchored in the department's Certified Agreement-contain practical guidelines for improving productivity, and recognise and reward staff who show judgment in setting work priorities, organise their own time and that of subordinates strategically, and maintain a good balance between their work and private lives.

A survey issued to all Australian departmental staff in August 2001 affirmed strong staff support for the Working Smarter campaign, demonstrated that the Working Smarter principles are helping to change work practices and attitudes but also showed that more needs to be done.

The survey responses-and a related strategic planning meeting discussion in April 2002-generated practical ideas on how to take the campaign forward and embed the principles more evenly across the department in all its locations. Under the direction of the Senior Executive, action areas have now implemented key recommendations arising from the survey and strategic planning meeting. These include: significant improvements to IT systems and templates; developing training courses on chairing meetings; and further streamlining parts of the evaluation processes.

A number of related projects are now underway, including: a review of record-keeping policies and practices designed, inter alia, to recommend feasible and practical systems for electronic records management; a review of the use of e-mail between relevant departments and agencies and overseas posts, aimed at establishing more transparent and practical guidelines on the use of e-mail; and preparation of a discussion paper exploring ways the department could better manage accumulated leave liabilities.

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