Annual Report 2006-2007
 

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

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Corporate governance

The department’s strong institutional governance framework ensured we achieved the corporate tasks that support our performance outcomes.

Senior Executive

The Secretary and five deputy secretaries comprise the department’s Senior Executive. The Senior Executive provided leadership and strategic direction to the department and oversaw our corporate governance framework.

The Secretary, Michael L’Estrange AO, provided close direction on all major foreign and trade policy and corporate management issues. The Secretary provided direct leadership in shaping and communicating the professional values and culture of the department in Australia and abroad. He decided all Senior Executive Service staff placements. The five deputy secretaries supported the Secretary in overseeing the department’s divisions (see Figure 1 on page 16 for a breakdown of deputy secretary responsibilities).

Members of the Senior Executive frequently represented the Government at high-level meetings in Australia and overseas. The deputy secretaries also chaired key corporate governance bodies.

Management mechanisms

The department’s management mechanisms contributed to effective decision-making on foreign and trade policy and corporate issues.

Senior Executive meetings

Weekly meetings of the Senior Executive, chaired by the Secretary, considered a range of foreign and trade policy and corporate issues. The heads of Corporate Management Division, Diplomatic Security, Information Management and Services Division and, as appropriate, the Director General of AusAID also attended these meetings. The Senior Executive meetings considered regular reports on the department’s staffing, budget, IT, and property management performance, and a range of other issues related to specific overseas posts, and divisional performance on ministerial correspondence and security breaches.

The Senior Executive held regular meetings on current policy issues with Mr Downer and Mr Truss.

Working in the National Interest

In May 2007 the department issued a publication Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade: Working in the National Interest to serve as a practical guide to staff and the wider community about what we do and why we do it. The guide describes key aspects of the department’s work, role, culture and values and is available on the department’s website.

It outlines how we deploy our people in Australia and in our network of overseas posts to achieve our key goals—to enhance the security of Australia, to contribute to Australia’s prosperity and to help Australians overseas. It sets out what our key strategies and activities are at a bilateral, regional and multilateral level to achieve these goals in the national interest—often in difficult and unpredictable circumstances.

The guide also provides details of our consular and passport services, our public diplomacy programs which aim to promote a realistic and positive image of Australia internationally, and our contribution to whole of government foreign and trade policy outcomes.

Senior management committees

Audit and Risk Committee

The objective of the Audit and Risk Committee is to provide independent assurance and assistance to the Secretary (and the Senior Executive) on the department’s risk, control and compliance framework, and its external accountability responsibilities. It is chaired by a Deputy Secretary not directly responsible for overseeing the Corporate Management Division. The Committee is charged with:

In 2006–07, the Audit and Risk Committee met three times. The committee considered issues related to the department’s risk management and business continuity planning, outcomes from the internal audit program including post audit activity, progress on the implementation of the self assessment manual policy at overseas posts and detailed consideration of the committee’s role in providing assurance to the Secretary in relation to the new Certificate of Compliance process.

Ethics Committee

The Ethics Committee works to promote high standards of ethical behaviour across the department and seeks to provide clear guidance on standards of conduct. It oversees the development and implementation of conduct and ethics policy and works closely with the department’s Conduct and Ethics Unit. Chaired by the Deputy Secretary responsible for the Corporate Management Division the committee comprises ten members from various staffing levels and areas within the department. It meets up to three times a year. In 2006–07, the committee was involved in revising the department’s conflict of interest policy, in line with recent changes to the Australian Public Service Commission’s guidelines on conflicts of interest.

Workplace Relations Committee

The Workplace Relations Committee is the principal consultative forum for management and staff representatives to discuss issues related to the working environment, conditions of service and matters of concern to staff.

The Committee is chaired by the Secretary or his nominee, normally a deputy secretary responsible for corporate management issues. Under the terms of the department’s Collective Agreement 2006–2009, membership includes representatives from management areas and nine elected staff representatives (two from each of the three employee broadbands, two EL2 staff and one SES employee). The Association of Foreign Affairs and Trade Employees, the Community and Public Sector Union, the Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union and the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance are also represented on the committee. The committee meets four times a year.

During 2006–07, the committee examined and discussed options for: improving staff training and career development opportunities; further integrating working smarter principles, such as work–life balance, into the workplace; improving mechanisms for transferring workplace knowledge; streamlining departmental work systems and practices; and introducing a Green Transport Plan for the department.

Other senior management meetings and mechanisms

The Secretary’s weekly meeting with division heads is the central means of communicating foreign and trade policy and corporate priorities throughout the department. Division heads are responsible for disseminating key messages from these meetings to their staff. As required, the Secretary holds policy planning meetings with senior executive staff to discuss priority or emerging issues.

The Secretary communicated with staff through his weekly meetings with division heads, weekly policy reports to senior staff, administrative circulars, and by posting messages on the department’s intranet and in the staff newsletter, DFATNEWS.

Posts were kept informed of and contributed to policy and corporate initiatives through:

Planning and review

A series of departmental planning and review processes—covering all divisions, overseas posts and state and territory offices—takes place throughout the year to evaluate performance and ensure resources are directed effectively to support the Government’s foreign and trade policy goals. Whole of department performance expectations and our planned use of resources are outlined in the department’s Portfolio Budget Statements, which are tabled in Parliament as budget related papers.

Divisional evaluation review

Divisional evaluation reviews take place in August each year, with a mid-term review in February. The purpose is to enable the Senior Executive to evaluate the performance of each division and to determine or refine divisional priorities for the period ahead.

Budget allocation review

The budget allocation review process is the department’s primary vehicle for resource decisions. It aims to enhance budget planning and expenditure forecasting, consolidate budget management on a single corporate system, and better integrate the department’s internal processes with the Government’s Budget timetable. Budget allocation review meetings took place in December 2006 and June 2007.

Post evaluation reports

The department undertakes an annual evaluation of the performance of our overseas posts over the previous 12 months. The process is a central mechanism for ensuring posts’ work is focused on Government priorities. We assess posts’ contributions to policy outcomes, examine the quality of post management and set priorities for the forthcoming year. Post evaluation also helps inform the Senior Executive’s appraisal of the performance of individual heads of mission and post.

Incorporating the views of other departments and agencies is a key element of our post evaluation. For 2006–07, consistent with a suggestion from the ANAO in its 2004–05 audit on the Management of Bilateral Relations with Selected Countries, we invited comment from 45 departments and agencies, and requested that they consult relevant bodies within their portfolios. We are concerned principally with strategic-level assessments of posts’ performance in meeting the Government’s policy objectives, although feedback on operational issues is also welcome. Agency comments were very positive overall, demonstrating that posts were meeting whole of government objectives.

Evaluation of performance of state and territory offices

As with posts, state and territory offices are also subject to a performance review at the end of each financial year. Office evaluation reporting focuses on key areas including support to ministers, liaison with the local consular corps, business liaison programs and trade advocacy and outreach activities, as well as assistance provided for major meetings, notarial services and office administration. The 2006–07 evaluation found that state and territory offices were meeting the department’s expectations in these areas.

Post liaison visits

In 2006–07, Deputy Secretaries led small teams that conducted post liaison visits (PLVs) to 11 posts. The annual program of post liaison visits allows us to assess firsthand post performance against agreed objectives and provides an opportunity for post staff and their families to raise any concerns directly with senior staff from Canberra. Following the PLVs, the department assesses whether posts are appropriately staffed and resourced and considers adjustments, as appropriate. Each PLV produces a list of recommendations on post operations that are subsequently considered by the department’s Senior Executive.

Internal audit

The Audit and Risk Committee has governance responsibility for internal and external audits of the department. It guides and reviews the audit program to ensure the department maintains an effective internal control framework and complies with legislative and other obligations. The objective of internal audit is to undertake assessments of departmental structures and processes, to make recommendations aimed at improving the department’s operations, and, to provide assurances to Ministers on the overall governance of the department.

Compliance and performance audits presented to the Audit and Risk Committee included:

The Audit and Risk Committee noted that all recommendations arising from these audits were satisfactorily addressed during the year or were in the process of being addressed.

Risk management and business continuity planning

The Audit and Risk Committee has governance responsibility for risk management and business continuity planning. In 2006–07 the department: updated the risk register, incorporated risk management into performance agreements; and communicated messages to staff about the importance of effective risk management as a key element in departmental decision-making processes. We provided a submission to the annual Comcover risk management benchmarking survey and entered Comcover’s awards for excellence in risk management, for which we were short-listed for an award.

In May 2007, the department conducted a desktop test of its business continuity plan (BCP). We monitored and updated posts’ and divisions’ BCPs and provided generic guidance to posts about how to update and test their plans. We provided briefings to posts on BCP requirements at regional management meetings. The department advanced the utility of our offsite IT disaster recovery facility.

Conduct and ethics

The department has a workplace culture that promotes high ethical standards. Our active conduct and ethics outreach and awareness program resulted in high levels of staff familiarity and application of Australian Public Service Values and Code of Conduct and the department’s own Code of Conduct for Overseas Service for Australia-based staff (2005–06 Australian Public Service State of the Service Employee Survey). The DFAT code takes account of the significance of the department’s representational role outside Australia.

As required, we conducted investigations into both Australia-based and locally engaged staff, again recording low levels of reported fraud and misconduct. We continued extensive outreach activities, including mandatory conduct and ethics training for all staff on pre-posting training and for new staff. Conduct and ethics awareness was an important component in other staff development and management courses, such as management workshops, the Leadership and Development Program for locally engaged staff and regional management conferences involving administrative officers from posts. We provided briefings on post-specific conduct and ethics issues to heads of mission, deputy heads of mission and senior administrative officers before their departure on posting.

The department’s human resources manual includes a chapter with department-specific guidance on conduct and ethics issues, including: procedures for dealing with gifts, benefits and hospitality; SES returns on their private interests; offers of sponsored travel; and diplomatic and consular privileges.

The department has an internal Ethics Committee that meets three times a year. Its object is to:

Fraud measures

In accordance with the Australian Public Service Act 1999, the department has in place effective procedures to ensure that Australia-based or locally engaged staff who report breaches of the APS Code of Conduct or the Code of Conduct for Overseas Service are protected from the threat of reprisal and that allegations are investigated fairly and expeditiously.

In accordance with the Commonwealth Fraud Control Guidelines, the department has a fraud risk assessment and a fraud control plan. We reviewed and reissued our fraud control plan in 2006. We have in place appropriate fraud prevention, detection, investigation, reporting, and data collection procedures and processes that meet the specific needs of the department and comply with Commonwealth investigation guidelines.

The department’s investigators responsible for fraud and misconduct investigations hold Advanced Diplomas of Government (Fraud Control Management), which is the Attorney-General’s Department’s recommended qualification for Commonwealth employees engaged in managing fraud prevention, detection and investigation activity.

Whole of government

The department worked with other agencies on issues requiring a whole of government approach. Effective whole of government coordination is an essential part of the department’s work on policy and organisational matters, on tasks ranging from the hosting of major international meetings, responses to consular crises, regional counter-terrorism cooperation and coordinating policy approaches to bilateral and multilateral trade negotiations. Whole of government coordination at our overseas posts is increasingly crucial to their operations, particularly with the increasing numbers of attached agency staff at some posts. The department led a process with other agencies to revise the 1985 Prime Minister’s Directive on Guidelines for the Management of the Australian Government Presence Overseas, to provide a more contemporary guide to coordination and cooperation between agencies at posts. The revised guidelines were issued in February 2007. We integrated whole of government issues into departmental training programs and performance management templates.

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