Annual Report 2005-2006
 

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1. Overviews2. Performance3. Corporate4. Appendixes5. Financials6. Glossaries and Compliance Index

Your location: Corporate Management and Accountability > Management of human resources

Management of human resources

The department deployed its staff efficiently and flexibly to meet the government's foreign and trade policy priorities and deliver consular and other services.

The department received additional resources to advance Australia's trade interests. We formed an APEC Task Force with additional staff to begin preparations for Australia's hosting of APEC in 2007. We also redeployed staff to free trade agreement (FTA) negotiations (with ASEAN and New Zealand, China and Malaysia) and an FTA feasibility study with Japan.

In March 2006 we opened a consulate in Çanakkale, Turkey to assist with the organisation of Anzac Day commemorations and provide consular assistance to Australians visiting the Gallipoli peninsula throughout the year.

Reflecting the high priority of and growing workload associated with the handling of consular issues we established a second Consular Branch. We also established a new Global Issues Branch to strengthen the whole of department approach to global themes.

We moved quickly to deploy staff in response to emergency situations, including to Bali (in October 2005 in response to the bombing), Cairo (following the bus crash in January 2006), Honiara (April 2006) and Dili (June 2006). We also provided staff to high-profile events such as Anzac Day and Bali bombing commemorations.

The Iraq Task Force and the Legal Branch were provided staff supplementation during the Inquiry into certain Australian companies in relation to the UN Oil-for-Food Programme (the Cole Inquiry).

Working closely with key domestic agencies, we developed and put in place well defined contingency plans for the continued delivery of consular and other emergency services overseas in the event of an avian influenza pandemic (see box below).

Based on a headcount as at 30 June 2006 (see tables 15 and 17), the department had 3489 staff, comprising 2040 Australia-based staff and 1449 locally engaged staff. Of the department's Australia-based staff, 1263 were in Canberra, 507 were at overseas posts and 270 were in state and territory offices. There was a net increase of 54 in Australia-based staff numbers compared to 2004–05. The changes in the Australia-based staff profile reflected growing demand for passport production and additional staff deployed to FTA negotiations, preparation for hosting APEC in 2007 and post security issues.

Contingency planning for pandemic influenza

To prepare for a possible pandemic influenza outbreak, in coordination with other agencies the department has developed detailed contingency plans for Australia's network of overseas of posts, in particular targeting posts in higher risk regions. A key element of the plans is to provide early warning to Australians overseas and advice on risk mitigation. They define clear steps corresponding to each of the six phases of pandemic influenza outlined by the World Health Organization.

Our planning aims to ensure posts are equipped to continue delivering essential services should a pandemic break out—in particular by providing consular services to support Australian citizens travelling or living overseas in what may be highly infectious environments. To this end we have:

Through our overseas posts the Government has encouraged other countries to take steps to reduce the possibility of pandemic influenza and to prepare response strategies. Travellers should be aware of the potential for an outbreak to overload global health services—not least because the health systems of some at-risk countries already struggle to meet the everyday medical needs of their citizens.

The department has also been active in regional and international forums engaged in pandemic planning. Under the auspices of the Asia–Pacific Economic Cooperation forum we hosted an Avian Influenza Preparedness and Response meeting in Brisbane in October 2005 (see sub-output 1.1.6 for more information).

Australia is a member of the International Partnership on Avian and Pandemic Influenza (IPAPI), which aims to limit the spread of avian and pandemic influenza by taking steps to prevent, prepare for and respond to the growing threat. IPAPI encourages transparency in reporting of human and animal influenza cases and information sharing and intends to complement the ongoing work of multilateral and regional organisations in this field.

Workforce planning, staff retention and staff turnover

In response to the dynamic policy environment in which we work and the need to regularly post a significant number of our staff overseas, the department continued to carry out regular placements and posting rounds to ensure we filled essential positions with appropriately skilled staff. The department also continued to develop our employees' skills and experience to allow them to move readily between positions in Canberra, overseas and state and territory offices. Our retention rates remained strong with only 87 ongoing staff separating from the department in 2005–06.

We worked to enhance our medium-term human resource planning capacity, including by beginning work on a workforce planning strategy and improving our data on workforce demographics and skills. Workplace planning remains a constant process, closely integrated with staffing operation, recruitment, training and business planning.

In a tighter labour market—including for graduates—the department expanded its outreach activities to potential applicants through enhanced advertising and a comprehensive program of campus visits.

Organisational restructure

We prepared for a restructure of divisions, implemented from July 2006, to align them more closely with government priorities. The new structure sharpens the department's focus on key policy, advocacy and service delivery functions. Among the changes is the creation of the Australian Passport Office, which enhances the capacity to manage the growing scale and complexity of the passport operation. There are new divisions focused exclusively on the Pacific, the Americas and Europe. The department's Middle East and Africa interests form part of a new division incorporating South and West Asia.

Currawong Childcare Centre

The department continued to help staff with young children balance their professional and personal responsibilities through the provision of on-site childcare in the R G Casey Building. The Currawong Childcare Centre is a non-profit, long day care centre which caters for up to 90 children between the ages of six weeks and six years. It is currently run by Southside Community Services Inc.

Recruitment

The department's recruitment and selection processes are based on the merit principle and the APS values set out in the Public Service Act 1999. We continued to recruit and promote staff through annual bulk selection processes for each broadband level and for SES Band 1 and SES Band 2. In addition we undertook specialist recruitment processes where we required specific skills such as accounting, law and trade policy.

Our graduate recruitment program continued to be a significant element in our recruitment strategy. Thirty-nine graduate trainees and seven corporate and financial management trainees started work in the department in 2006. The majority of graduate trainees had at least two degrees, including in law, arts, commerce, international relations, business, economics and science. Many were born overseas or originated from rural or regional locations in Australia, thereby contributing to the diversity of the department's human resource base. In 2006, there were 1694 applicants for the department's 2007 graduate trainee intake and 88 applicants for the 2007 corporate and financial management trainee intake.

Workplace diversity

The department's Workplace Diversity Program 2003–06 promoted professional behaviours and relationships that exhibit respect, personal courtesy and inclusiveness to sustain high performance teamwork and the elimination of bullying, harassment and discrimination.

The Indigenous Task Force assisted the recruitment, career development and retention of Indigenous employees and promoted awareness of Indigenous Australia within the department. During 2005–06 ten cadets participated in DFAT's Indigenous Cadetship Program, including three cadets who began in March 2006.

Two signature events in the department's workplace diversity calendar were NAIDOC Week in July 2005 and International Women's Week in March 2006. The theme for NAIDOC Week was 'Our future begins with solidarity'. A flag raising ceremony of the Australian national, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flags accompanied an exhibition of Indigenous art and fashion in the R G Casey Building. The department also acknowledged National Reconciliation Week 2006 throughout its network of offices in Australia and overseas.

International Women's Day on 8 March 2006 was celebrated with a forum in Canberra on the theme 'Women in the Foreign Service: Personal Perspectives'. The Secretary, Mr Michael L'Estrange, addressed the forum along with the Ambassadors of China, Mexico and Sweden, all of whom were women, and the department's deputy secretary Gillian Bird.

The department continued its participation in APS-wide initiatives to promote workplace diversity, Indigenous employment and enhanced employment opportunities for people with disability.

Commonwealth disability strategy

Throughout 2005–06, the department continued to meet the responsibilities of its roles as employer, policy adviser and provider under the Commonwealth Disability Strategy (CDS) through its Workplace Diversity Program.

At June 2006, 1.5 per cent of the department's employees identified themselves as having a disability.

The department is committed to equity in employment and the elimination of harassment. Policies to achieve CDS objectives were set out in our certified agreement (created in consultation with staff) and in associated human resource management policies, consistent with the Disability Discrimination Act 1992. We provided assistance to allow people with disabilities to submit job applications and attend interviews and made reasonable adjustments in the workplace. The department's website is regularly updated to provide accurate and current information on foreign and trade policy, as well as on job vacancies and the status of current selection rounds. Material is available in a range of formats, including audio and large font, on request.

We promoted the department's Workplace Diversity Program through a network of Workplace Diversity Contact Officers in all divisions, state and territory offices, and overseas posts. Contact Officers distributed information to employees and ensured continuing awareness of the needs and contributions of employees with disabilities. Within their first three months in the department, new recruits undertook an orientation workshop which incorporated information on the CDS and on the department's policies and programs, including in relation to employees with disability.

In 2005–06, there were no formal complaints relating to disability under the Workplace Diversity Program. We have mechanisms to receive feedback and grievances from internal and external sources. Internal mechanisms are set out in the department's certified agreement and Human Resources Manual. These include the Workplace Relations Committee and the network of Workplace Diversity Contact Officers. As the provider of passport and consular services, the department's Passports Client Service Charter, Consular Services Charter and the Charter for Safe Travel set out and govern relevant activities to all Australians, including people with disabilities. These charters provide advice on available external grievance processes such as access to the Commonwealth Ombudsman, Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission and the Administrative Appeals Tribunal.

The department participated in the ongoing review of the Commonwealth Disability Strategy.

This section replaces our reporting on CDS implementation that, in recent annual reports, was provided as an appendix.

Training and development

The department seeks to equip all staff with relevant skills and give them access to professional development opportunities. In particular, we strive to adapt our training program to respond to changing staff needs and departmental priorities. Our commitment reflects the recommendations in the Australian Public Service Commission's Management Advisory Committee 2005 Report, Managing and Sustaining the APS Workforce.

Staff have access to over 70 training workshops covering professional development skills in key areas that include leadership and management, finance and administration, consular operations, IT and security, and a range of other specialised training. The department's core corporate training workshops are traditionally delivered by a panel of training contractors. Following the expiry of earlier contracts, a new panel of training providers was selected through a public tender process that began in September 2005.

Additional training and development opportunities were made available to staff beyond the department's existing suite of training programs through the new Staff Training and Development Initiative introduced in 2006. They included opportunities for increased numbers of staff to participate in a range of Australian Public Service Commission workshops and for junior staff to participate in international discussions and negotiations, providing valuable on-the-job experience. We introduced an enhanced induction and skills training program for new recruits.

PERSONAL PROFILE: LISA SOKOLSKI, GRADUATE TRAINEE

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Lisa Sokolski meeting Victorian Premier, the Hon Steve Bracks MP, during the diplomatic corps’ visit to Victoria in May 2006.
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Lisa Sokolski joined the department in February 2005 as one of 31 foreign affairs and trade graduate trainees. She successfully completed a recruitment process attracting more than 2300 applicants. She is working in Protocol Branch on her fourth work placement as part of the department's two-year in-house training program for graduates.

Lisa says her job has given her the opportunity to 'experience the interface between the department and the diplomatic corps' based in Canberra. A highlight was her involvement in organising the annual diplomatic corps familiarisation visit, which this year went to Melbourne and the Mornington Peninsula. The visit, hosted by Mr Downer, showcased Australia's diverse culture and economy to senior overseas diplomats. Lisa also worked as part of a team escorting dignitaries to the 2006 Melbourne Commonwealth Games.

n Lisa's other placements she has managed Australia's bilateral relationship with Ireland and the Holy See at a tumultuous time marked by the death of Pope John Paul II and the inauguration of Pope Benedict XVI; helped to strengthen Australia's defences against the threat of terrorism as a member of the Counter-Terrorism Branch; and helped shape Australia's policy approach to participating in the inaugural East Asia Summit in Kuala Lumpur in December 2005 during her time in the ASEAN, Burma and Cambodia Section.

The graduate trainee program has provided Lisa with a wide range of experiences, including regional visits throughout Australia and hands-on experience through work placements and shifts in the department's Crisis Centre which coordinates responses to overseas consular emergencies.

Her grounding in Australian foreign and trade policy will be tested further when Lisa undertakes her first overseas posting at the conclusion of her training.

In June 2006, the Secretary commissioned a strategic review of the department's training and development strategy to ensure the program remains aligned to the department's current and future training needs.

We estimate the average number of training days per employee in 2005–06 was 8.7, well above the minimum amount of five days a year required under the department's training and development strategy.

Trainee programs

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The department’s graduate trainees undertake a diverse training program that includes a number of work rotations, training blocks and visits to regional centres in Australia. During a regional visit 2005 graduate trainee Rachel Young, who has since been posted to the high commission in Port Vila, Vanuatu, was shown how to weave traditional baskets from pandanus fibres by a Bathurst Island Elder.
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In February 2006, 39 graduate trainees joined the department, an increase of eight over the previous year's intake. The larger number will help the department fill new junior policy positions overseas. Before proceeding on their first postings, graduates undertake a two-year in-house training program consisting of four workplace rotations, two training blocks focused on professional skills development and, as required, short academic courses in international politics, international law and economics.

Seven corporate and financial management trainees joined the department in February 2006. They undertake four workplace rotations in the department's corporate areas over two years and complete their Certified Practising Accountant, or equivalent, qualification. After approximately two years they can expect to be posted overseas in an administrative capacity.

The two-year Administrative Officer Development Program aims to provide a pool of skilled staff to fill administrative positions at overseas posts and in Canberra. Over the longer term, these staff provide a feeder group for senior administrative officer positions overseas. In recognition of the program's success, in 2006 we expanded it to include broadband 3 employees. Seven staff participated in the program in 2005–06.

In 2005–06, the department's Indigenous Cadetship Program (ICP) assisted ten cadets with their tertiary studies. One of the two cadets who graduated from the program in late 2005 joined the department's 2006 graduate trainee program. A further four cadets undertook work assignments in Canberra between November 2005 and February 2006. Three cadets joined the department in March 2006.

On completion of their tertiary studies, Indigenous cadets graduate from the cadetship program and begin permanent employment with the department. In the first year of full-time employment, ICP graduates undertake professional training and two six-month work placements before being assigned to a long-term placement. The department encourages cadets to apply for the graduate trainee program and, if they have accounting qualifications, the corporate and financial management trainee program. The department provided Indigenous employees with advice and access to appropriate training and career development opportunities as part of our Indigenous Recruitment and Career Development Strategy 2004–07. The Indigenous Task Force, managed at deputy secretary level, provided a forum for Indigenous employees to discuss training and career development and other issues of concern with senior management.

Language training

The department remained committed to training staff in priority languages reflecting Australia's key foreign and trade policy interests (see box below). Over the past year 78 officers undertook long-term language training in Australia or overseas before taking up a position at an overseas post. A further 18 undertook survival language training in preparation for their postings. In addition, the department holds biannual aptitude tests that measure officers' capacity to learn languages and ensures that training, particularly in more difficult languages, is appropriately directed. In 2005–06 we conducted such tests in August and March.

To encourage staff to maintain existing high-level language proficiency, the department conducted three intensive, one-week, in-house immersion courses, in Indonesian, Japanese and Mandarin. We also conducted well attended weekly lunchtime language discussion classes. Because we place great importance on linguistic skill, an allowance is given to officers who maintain proficiency.

Language training: advancing Australian interests

The department provides training in priority languages that reflect Australia's foreign and trade policy interests. We encourage staff to maintain language proficiency through financial rewards (in the form of a language proficiency allowance) and by providing immersion courses and discussion classes. Approximately 29 per cent of our staff have a tested foreign language proficiency, including 13 per cent who are proficient in more than one language.

The department rates the value of different languages to our business interests according to a three-tier classification system covering 24 languages. Classifications reflect the priority of the language for Australia's national interests, the broad international application of the language and the extent to which local language ability is required to work effectively in a particular country.

The overall ability of our staff in many key languages has steadily increased. For example, in the three Tier One languages, 77 staff have a high level of proficiency in Mandarin (compared to 31 in 1994), 74 staff in Indonesian (compared to 36 in 1994) and 48 in Japanese (compared to 24 in 1994). In the three Melanesian languages in which the department trains its staff (Melanesian Pidgin (Solomon Islands Pijin), Tok Pisin and Bislama), 42 staff have a high level of proficiency (compared to 15 in 1994). The 2006 intake of graduate and corporate trainees possessed at least social-level skills in 15 languages.

In nominating candidates for head of mission positions, the department looks at a wide range of capabilities, including policy and management skills. A significant number of Australia's heads of mission and posts maintain an assessed level of proficiency in a foreign language.

Studies assistance

The department continued to offer a Studybank scheme providing leave and financial assistance to staff to complete academic courses in areas relevant to the department's work. At June 2006, 50 staff were studying under the scheme. This included staff undertaking postgraduate studies in international law, public policy, accounting and financial management, and business administration.

Regional management conferences

The department organised regional management conferences for managers and key locally engaged staff at our overseas posts to ensure they kept in touch with corporate and administrative developments. Conference participants, including senior staff from Canberra, discussed consular, passport, finance, security, property and other administrative issues. We held meetings in Athens in November 2005 for staff from posts in Africa, the Middle East and southern Europe and in Bangkok in June 2006 for staff from posts in Asia. In addition, we held informal meetings between senior administrative officers from relevant regional posts and Canberra-based staff in Shanghai in September 2005 and Berlin in April 2006.

Performance management

The performance management system continued to be a vital component of the department's people management strategy. In accordance with the terms of the certified agreement 2003–06, we conducted a review of the system in late 2005. Staff views from the review were fed into the consultation process for the collective agreement 2006–09. In response, the collective agreement includes a number of changes to the department's performance management system to enhance the process's consistency and transparency. Changes include compulsory appraisal/feedback training for supervisors and enhanced transparency of the divisional comparative process that determines 'superior' and 'outstanding' performance ratings. These changes maintain the department's strong performance culture and high standards and respond to staff feedback.

To improve the system's implementation, we held performance management training in May and June 2006 in Canberra, Sydney and Melbourne. The sessions were designed to help staff to better understand their role and responsibilities in the performance management system and to improve the ongoing process of giving and receiving feedback on performance. We will schedule further workshops in 2006–07.

Details of performance pay are in Table 24 in Appendix 2.

Locally engaged staff management

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Locally engaged staff convened from a range of overseas posts to participate in the department’s 2005 Leadership and Development Program in Australia. Front row, left to right: Renata Buljubasic (Zagreb), Elina Raass (Nuku’alofa), Geert De Schaepmeester (Brussels), Reskiana Ramli (Bali), Ziya Ohri (Ankara), Joseph Rojano (Madrid), Cristina Garcia (Brasilia), Pensri Kousurat (Bangkok), Tomoko Nakamura (Tokyo), Chanrith Yem (Phnom Penh), Anoushka Fernando (Colombo) and Ray Roberts (Program Coordinator). Back row, left to right: Yiping Zhao (Beijing), Rekenibai Tawita (Tarawa), Michael Schapek (Stockholm), Rob Brennan (Workshop Facilitator), Lisa Rodriguez (Port of Spain), Sailele Pomare (Apia), Alison Smith (Program Coordinator), Shanti Rayan (Kuala Lumpur), Mary Joseph (Port Moresby), Sally Clarke (Dublin) and Mudassir Ali (Islamabad).
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Heads of mission at our overseas posts continued to play a vital role in the effective management of locally engaged staff (LES) and their employment arrangements.

Our LES were employed in compliance with the requirements of relevant local laws. Salaries and conditions were competitive in local markets. Compliance with local laws allowed for fairer and more efficient management of LES separations, including a reduction of litigation risks to the Government.

We ensured our overseas missions had appropriate consultative mechanisms to promote effective dialogue between Australia-based staff and LES. The department remained committed to providing LES with a safe and productive work environment, including a performance management system tied to a performance-based bonus or an equivalent. This system has been a major tool for posts to improve work practices within the LES workforce and to promote productivity gains.

Australian Workplace Agreements

All SES staff and some non-SES staff, including in specialist/technical positions or positions that involve additional responsibility or significant additional working hours compared to other staff at the same level, are employed under Australian Workplace Agreements (AWAs).

Certified and collective agreement

The department's certified agreement 2003–2006 expired on 30 June 2006. During 2005–06 consultations took place on a new employee collective agreement. This came into effect on 6 July 2006. The new agreement includes a salary increase of 12 per cent over three years.

Non-salary benefits under the collective agreement and Australian Workplace Agreements

Both the collective agreement and AWAs in the department provide non-salary benefits, including access to performance-based bonuses and a range of flexible and family-friendly work practices, such as flex-time, time off in lieu, half-pay maternity leave and emergency child care costs. The allowances for overseas service are a significant non-salary benefit available to departmental staff posted overseas.

SES staff employed under AWAs have access to vehicles and mobile phones.

Overseas conditions of service

The department's review of overseas conditions of service was completed in May 2006. Recognising the stresses that can be placed on staff and families posted overseas in sometimes difficult security environments, the review identified a number of improvements in terms of both delivery and conditions. Most of the review outcomes represented minor refinements. Overall, implementing the review's recommendations was cost neutral.

Staff welfare

The department continued to enhance its staff welfare services. Specialist services were provided to staff and families by the Staff Counsellor's Office, Principal Medical Adviser and Family Liaison Officer.

Reinforcement of the Staff Counsellor's Office (SCO) allowed us to expand the range of psychological support services provided to staff and families. This enabled simultaneous provision of services to staff in Australia and overseas, after-hours access to counselling and more personalised support. Specialist psychological selection and training services have improved deployment decisions to high threat level postings. The SCO provided on-site psychological support services to staff and families in 27 posts. Visits specifically targeted staff serving in high threat environments. The SCO provided emergency debriefing services on nine occasions.

The Principal Medical Adviser medically cleared 493 staff and dependants before they undertook overseas postings and provided advice to more than 420 staff undertaking short-term missions overseas. The department managed 64 medical evacuations. The Principal Medical Adviser provided travel-related medical advice to parliamentarians and other government staff. The department operated six doctor-based clinics attached to posts in the Asia–Pacific region providing services to government staff and expatriates.

The department continued to monitor avian influenza and provide protective strategies for staff and dependants at high risk posts.

The department appointed a second Family Liaison Officer (FLO) to consolidate support for staff and families, particularly those seeking overseas postings. The FLO, with the assistance of our Community Liaison Officer network at posts, provided pre-posting briefings and assistance to over 150 employees and spouses on a range of issues, including spouse recognition, accommodation, education and general conditions at post. The office managed 25 compassionate travel requests, provided logistical assistance to over 20 medical evacuations to Australia, and liaised with posts and attached agencies on the evacuation of non-essential staff and dependants from East Timor.

The department continued to consult staff on occupational health and safety (OHS) issues through regular OHS forums (see Appendix 3 for more information on our policy and measures). We delivered training modules on OHS and workers' compensation and rehabilitation, including mandatory courses for newly appointed SES staff. We continued our program of OHS briefings to employees proceeding on overseas postings. We continued to enhance our OHS policy framework to include guidelines on risk management and first aid.

Remuneration of senior executives

SES employees are employed under AWAs. SES employees received a total pay rise of 12 per cent over the notional three-year duration of the AWAs to June 2006.

Personal profile: Robyn Cook, Personal Assistant to the Ambassador Indonesia

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Deputy Secretary Doug Chester and First Assistant Secretary of Corporate Management Division Penny Williams congratulate Robyn Cook (centre) on winning the Expand 2005 Personal Assistant of the Year Award.
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Having joined Australia's embassy in Jakarta in August 2003, Robyn Cook has lived and worked through some difficult times. In particular, the tragic bombing of the embassy in September 2004, which claimed 10 innocent lives, presented a major personal and professional challenge.

In the aftermath of the bombing Robyn says she resolved to continue providing the 'best administrative assistance' she could in her role as personal assistant to the Ambassador. She 'tried to remain calm and focused on getting on with business.' For Robyn, 'daily tasks still had to be done—in temporary offices, amid the damage and in the knowledge that people had been killed and injured outside our windows.' Robyn describes her role as doing what she can to help the Ambassador do his job as the senior representative of Australia in Indonesia and as the head of Australia's largest overseas mission.

In August 2005 Robyn was awarded the Expand 2005 Personal Assistant (PA) of the Year Award. The award, covering the entire public sector, recognised her outstanding performance in Jakarta after the bombing and her tireless support for the Ambassador's management of Australia's relationship with Indonesia. On winning the award, Robyn said she was pleased not only for herself but also for her PA colleagues as there are 'many talented PAs out there getting the daily tasks done, and much more', and playing their part in the 'broad international work of the department.'

Robyn joined the department in 1986. She has worked for a number of heads of mission since then and has served in Belgrade, Port Moresby, Athens, Tel Aviv and Bangkok, as well as Jakarta.

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