Annual Report 2008-2009

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Management of human resources

We deployed staff to meet shifting policy priorities—for instance, in response to the Government’s announcement of new positions overseas to focus on people smuggling and Afghanistan. Resources devoted to trade issues were managed flexibly to ensure effective coverage of our interests in the World Trade Organization, free trade agreement negotiations and APEC activities.

We established a secretariat to support the work of the International Commission on Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament, a taskforce to coordinate the campaign to secure a non-permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council and a new unit to support the work of the Prime Minister’s envoy, Mr Richard Woolcott, on the Asia Pacific community initiative.

Several small teams were created to implement the Government’s Pacific Engagement Strategy, including support for the Pacific Seasonal Worker Pilot Program and PACER Plus free trade negotiations in the Pacific.

We also responded quickly to consular crises. Additional staff have been deployed since September 2008 to assist with kidnapping cases in Africa. Various consular emergencies, such as the Mumbai bombings, the airport disruptions in Thailand and a nightclub fire in Bangkok, required the activation of call centres in Canberra and overseas, as well as the deployment of staff on short-term missions to these locations. The Embassy in Beijing was supplemented to support a heightened visits, logistics and consular workload at the time of the Beijing Olympics. Staff were also sent to Mexico City and Singapore to assist Australians affected by the outbreak of H1N1 influenza. We again sent a significant support team to help manage the Anzac Day commemoration in Gallipoli.

Workforce planning, staff mobility and retention

The department responded to the Government’s savings measures by slowing the pace of recruitment in the first half of 2008. This helped achieve staffing reductions involving the withdrawal of 25 positions overseas and 18 positions in Canberra. The reductions in staffing levels were accommodated through natural attrition.

Having met the Government’s savings requirements we resumed our normal pace of recruitment. We will continue to meet our staffing needs through regular bulk recruitment processes at all levels as well as recruiting trade policy, legal, accounting, IT, personal assistants and other specialists.

In 2008–09, 122 ongoing staff separated from the department, down from 149 in 2007–08.

Human resource management information system

In July 2008 the department upgraded its human resource management information system, PeopleSoft. The new system improved payroll processing and enhanced electronic aspects of human resource management.

Currawong Childcare Centre

As part of our commitment to EEO principles and to helping staff achieve a reasonable work–life balance, we provide on-site childcare in the R G Casey Building. The Currawong Childcare Centre, established in 1997, is managed by a not-for-profit organisation that provides 90 long-day care places for babies to preschoolers.


Our recruitment and selection processes are based on merit and the APS Values as set out in the Public Service Act 1999. In 2008–09, we completed 55 recruitment processes resulting in 259 offers of employment at all levels and covering generalist and specialist positions such as accountants, lawyers, economists, information technology officers, personal assistants and physical security managers.

Forty graduate trainees and eight corporate and financial management trainees (CFMT) started work in 2009. These graduates had qualifications in a variety of disciplines including arts, economics, law, accounting, public policy and social science, reflecting our need for a broad range of skills and experience. They also brought skills in a variety of languages such as Arabic, French, Indonesian, Japanese, Mandarin and Spanish.

Our 2010 graduate recruitment program attracted a higher number than usual of well-qualified applicants: 2399 applications were received for the graduate trainee intake and 220 for the CFMT intake.

Workplace diversity

Our Workplace Diversity Program promotes a culture of professional behaviour and encourages relationships based on respect, equity, personal courtesy and inclusion. It also works to eliminate bullying, harassment and discrimination. The program emphasises the importance of all employees (including locally engaged staff) achieving an appropriate balance of work, family and cultural responsibilities that are inclusive, secure and rewarding.

Two signature events in our workplace diversity calendar were NAIDOC Week in July and International Women’s Day in March.

We commemorated NAIDOC Week with a traditional flag-raising ceremony and an inaugural whole-of-government reception, co-sponsored with the Australian Public Service Commission. Award-winning singer-songwriter Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu performed at the reception. Forty-three posts also held events to celebrate NAIDOC Week. The Embassy in Dublin, for example, supported Liyarn Ngarn, a concert featuring performances by Archie Roach, Ruby Hunter, Amy Saunders, Bart Willoughby, Dave Arden and Dan Sultan.

We celebrated International Women’s Day on 8 March 2009 with a range of activities throughout our overseas network and state and territory offices. These events aimed to recognise and promote the contributions women make to society in Australia and globally.

We continued our participation in APS-wide initiatives to promote workplace diversity, Indigenous employment and enhanced employment opportunities for people with disabilities.

Personal Profile:

Annie Hildebrand

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Annie Hildebrand
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Annie Hildebrand (left) joined the Fiji section in the Pacific Division in February 2009 as part of the department’s graduate trainee program. Annie worked with the Australian High Commissioner to Fiji, Mr James Batley (right), as the liaison officer for his mid-term consultations. She worked with New Zealand counterparts to assist with the coordination of policy positions on Fiji, and with the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, AusAID, the Treasury and the Australian Federal Police to assist with the coordination of a whole-of-government response to developments in Fiji.

Graduate trainees undertake a two-year in-house training program consisting of four work placements to build their bilateral, trade, multilateral and corporate policy skills. This is supplemented with professional skills training and academic gap-filling courses as required. The program is designed to enhance diplomatic skills and equip the graduate trainees to undertake the full range of duties overseas, including economic and political reporting, advocacy and representation.

‘The department’s graduate training program has given me practical experience of the challenges inherent in advancing our national interests in a region of political and strategic significance to Australia.’

Reconciliation Action Plan

Our Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP) 2007–2010 aims to contribute to Australia’s National Strategy of Action, the overarching objective of which is closing the 17-year life expectancy gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. The RAP reflects our Indigenous Recruitment and Career Development Strategy 2007–2010, which seeks to improve recruitment and retention rates of Indigenous staff and ensure these staff maximise their potential for a successful career in the department. The RAP also promotes awareness of Indigenous Australia within the department. The plan is guided by the APS Employment and Capability Strategy for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Employees.

We maintain informal and formal consultative mechanisms through the Indigenous Employees Network and the Indigenous Task Force. These play an important role in establishing relationships and dialogue within the department on a range of Indigenous issues. The Indigenous Task Force assists with the recruitment, career development and retention of Indigenous employees and promotes awareness of Indigenous Australia within the department.

Commonwealth disability strategy

We met our responsibilities under the Disability Discrimination Act 1992, the Workplace Relations Act 2006 and the objectives in the Management Advisory Committee report on Employment of People with Disability in the APS, in accordance with the Commonwealth Disability Strategy Performance Reporting Framework.

We are committed to equity in employment and the elimination of harassment and discrimination of employees with a disability. Our 2006–09 Collective Agreement and human resource policies set out mechanisms to achieve Commonwealth Disability Strategy objectives.

We continued to develop appropriately tailored individual employee programs designed to: foster reasonable adjustments, behaviours, attitudes, systems and knowledge; successfully engage with people with a disability as employees; and implement proactive strategies to attract and retain talented people with a disability.

As at June 2009, 32 staff identified as having a disability.

Our Workplace Diversity Unit and Workplace Diversity Contact Officers in Canberra and in our overseas network worked cooperatively to promote continuing awareness of the needs and contributions of employees with disabilities. Such needs were also reflected in our training and development programs, which provided information on policies and programs addressing disability issues.

There were no formal grievances during the year relating to disability under the Workplace Diversity Program. Mechanisms we provided to receive feedback and grievances from internal and external sources included the Collective Agreement, the Workplace Relations Committee and the network of Workplace Diversity Contact Officers.

Training and development

We provided a range of induction, management, leadership, policy skills and overseas training programs. We also delivered extensive and specialised training to enhance the technical skills of staff who work in the Australian Passport Office and the Diplomatic Security, Information Management and Services Division.

Staff had access to over 120 courses and workshops, including 14 offered for the first time in 2008–09. The average number of training days per employee over the year was 9.6 days, well above the target of five days per year required under the department’s training and development strategy. All training delivered by the department was evaluated to ensure effectiveness and relevance.

Work started on the evaluation of a range of online learning products, including e-learning and virtual classroom technologies to provide development and distance education options for staff located overseas or in state and territory offices.

Trainee programs

In February 2009, 40 graduate trainees commenced a two-year training program, up from 29 in 2007–08. The program consisted of four work placements to build the trainees’ skills in bilateral, trade, multilateral and corporate policy. The placements are supplemented with professional skills training, policy courses and academic gap-filling courses as required. The training program is designed to develop diplomatic skills and to equip the graduate trainees to undertake the full range of duties overseas, including economic and political reporting, advocacy and representation.

Eight corporate and financial management trainees joined the department in February 2009 (the same number as last year). Recruited with a minimum of a bachelor’s degree minor in accountancy, they are trained to be corporate policy specialists. In their two-year training program they complete eight workplace rotations in financial management, audit, consular and post management issues. The trainees undertake professional skills training and study towards a Certified Practicing Accountant or equivalent qualification. After approximately two years they can expect to be posted overseas in an administrative capacity.

The two-year Administrative Development Program provides a pool of skilled staff to fill administrative positions. This program is offered to employees at the APS2 to EL1 levels of the department. In 2008–09, 17 staff participated in the program.

We assisted five cadets with their tertiary studies through the Indigenous Cadetship Program. Three of the cadets completed the program and started work in the department and one cadet undertook a twelve-month overseas university exchange placement from July 2008 to July 2009 as part of the studies component of the program. A further four cadets joined the department in March 2009. Indigenous Cadetship Program graduates undertake professional training and four work placements over a two-year period before being assigned to positions in Canberra or overseas.

Personal Profile:

Kimberly Radford

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Kimberly Radford
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Kimberly joined the department as an Indigenous Cadet in 2005 while she undertook a combined degree in Law and Communications. On completion of her studies, Kimberly joined the department full-time as an Indigenous Cadetship Program Graduate and is undertaking a two-year program of work placements across four distinct areas of the department—bilateral, multilateral, trade and corporate.

Initially placed in the United States Branch, Kimberly was involved in a wide range of US political, strategic and trade related issues. The corporate management rotation allowed Kimberly to gain invaluable experience in the department’s Domestic Legal Branch working on complex and sensitive subpoenas, commercial litigation and settlements, privileges and immunities issues as well as passport matters. Kimberly’s trade rotation with the Agriculture and Food Branch in the Office of Trade Negotiations exposed her to a wide range of complex and technical trade issues concerning food and quarantine.

‘I have enjoyed the opportunities afforded by the Indigenous Cadetship Program to contribute to the policy-making process, to experience a broad cross-section of the department’s work, and to undertake training to further develop my professional skills. In the future I hope to utilise these skills and experience to represent Australia at an overseas mission.’

Studies assistance

Our Studybank scheme provided leave and financial assistance to 58 staff to complete academic courses in areas relevant to the department’s work (up from 57 in 2007–08). This included studies in diplomacy, international relations, foreign languages, international law, public policy, accounting and financial management, and business administration.

Language training

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Departmental officer Ms Patricia Martino learning Arabic for a posting to Abu Dhabi with her Language Tutor, Ms Loubna Khay, in Canberra, June 2009.
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We continued to place a high priority on training staff in languages that reflect Australia’s foreign and trade policy interests and consular priorities. Over the year, 88 officers undertook long-term language training in Australia and overseas (up from 75 in 2007–08). A further 55 undertook short-term ‘survival’ language training of four weeks in preparation for their postings (compared to 72 in 2007–08). We also provided ‘survival’ language training to 27 spouses accompanying departmental officers. Total expenditure on language training was over $2.7 million.

We used a range of measures to encourage employees to maintain existing language proficiencies, including through financial rewards (language proficiency allowance) and the provision of immersion courses and regular lunchtime discussion classes. We held five one-week, intensive immersion courses in Arabic, Indonesian, Japanese, Mandarin and Thai which attracted participants from the department and other agencies.

Performance management

Performance appraisal of our employees is an important component of the department’s human resource strategy. The performance management system sets performance objectives for each employee, provides the key means for evaluation and feedback against these objectives, and is used to identify personal development needs.

Generic performance agreements and work-level standards were updated, in consultation with the Workplace Relations Committee, for the 2008–09 performance cycle. These provided more objective measurement standards in the performance management system. The system was also comprehensively reviewed during negotiations on the 2009–10 Collective Agreement and in consultation with staff. A new performance management system will apply from 2009–10.

Locally engaged staff

Locally engaged staff (LES) make a significant contribution to the effective performance of our overseas posts. The department manages the employment of over 3080 LES, over 1500 of whom were employed on behalf of other government agencies.

The ANAO tabled a performance audit on the Employment and Management of Locally Engaged Staff on 5 August 2008 which acknowledged the department’s effective management of locally engaged staff. The ANAO report concluded that the department provided sound policy and guidelines which allowed the flexibility to operate in a complex and diverse overseas operating environment and accommodated differences in labour law, local economic factors, currencies, work/performance norms and cultural/religious environments. The department agreed, or agreed with qualification, with the four recommendations made in the report, and is currently addressing them.

We reviewed the LES Better Practice Guide which provides overseas posts with comprehensive advice on all aspects of LES employment. The guide is an important tool for ensuring that the policy and employment conditions for LES remain current.

We managed the migration of LES records into the new departmental human resource management information system, which will provide enhanced workforce planning capabilities. We also provided training on LES and post management issues.

Workplace arrangements

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Locally engaged staff from a range of overseas posts participating in a Leadership and Development Program in Canberra on 22 October 2008.
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Consistent with the Government’s workplace relations framework, we use determinations made under section 24(1) of the Public Service Act 1999 to supplement the collective agreement terms and conditions for non-SES staff. We also use these workplace arrangements for new SES staff.

The department is progressively moving staff still covered by Australian Workplace Agreements (AWAs) to section 24(1) determinations as their AWAs expire or the conditions those AWAs provide are overtaken.

Remuneration of senior executives

SES employees on existing AWAs continued to receive a pay rise of 12 per cent over the nominal three-year duration of these AWAs (up to June 2009). New SES staff who have been placed on determinations made pursuant to section 24(1) of the Public Service Act 1999 received the same pay rise over the course of this financial year as those SES staff on existing AWAs.

Collective Agreement

Negotiations took place on a new Collective Agreement as the department’s existing 2006–09 certified agreement expires on 6 July 2009. A one-year agreement will come into effect on 7 July 2009. The new agreement includes a salary package that rolls performance bonuses into base salary, re-bases salaries against key marker agencies and provides a salary increase of 2.8 per cent. It also provides for substantial revisions to our performance management system and new arrangements to manage flex-time and time-off-in-lieu provisions.

Non-salary benefits

Our staff are entitled to a range of non-salary benefits as offered by both the collective agreement and individual workplace arrangements. These include performance-based bonuses (see Appendix 2) and a range of flexible and family-friendly working practices. Allowances for overseas service are a non-salary benefit available to compensate staff posted overseas for the costs and, in some cases, the hardship conditions, associated with a posting.

Staff welfare

We support our staff through specialist services provided by the Medical Unit, the Staff Counselling Office and the Family Liaison Officer.

The Medical Unit provided a range of medical services to support the department and in particular those employees and their families posted overseas. The unit managed over 75 medical evacuations (up from 70 in 2007–08), including two requiring a medical escort on a commercial flight. We continued contingency planning and monitoring for the risk of pandemic influenza. This planning came into effect in 2009 with H1N1 influenza. We also managed multiple outbreaks of dengue that posed a risk to our posted staff and their families around the world.

The Staff Counselling Office provided a comprehensive counselling, training, selection and advisory service to the department. Over 420 Australia-based staff, their families and locally engaged staff received counselling. Counsellors visited 25 posts and provided support following incidents in Pakistan, India and Sri Lanka.

The staff counsellors fulfilled an important training function, conducting 27 training sessions for staff at posts and 45 training sessions for staff in Australia on stress management, leadership training, security and consular skills, and cultural awareness. They assisted in selection, assessment, monitoring and support of staff at high-risk posts.

The Family Liaison Office worked with the Community Liaison Officer network at overseas posts to provide assistance to posted employees and their families on spouse recognition and employment, educational needs of children, cultural adjustment, general living conditions at post and other issues. The Family Liaison Office managed 25 compassionate travel requests and provided logistical assistance to 22 medical evacuations to Australia.

Regular consultations with staff on occupational health and safety (OHS) issues were held throughout the year (see Appendix 4). We delivered training modules on OHS, workers’ compensation and rehabilitation, and continued our program of OHS briefings to employees undertaking overseas postings and to new staff as part of orientation training.

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