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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

Corporate governance

Flexibility and innovation underpinned the department’s robust governance framework. In 2009–10 we initiated new management mechanisms to strengthen whole-of-portfolio and whole-of-government coordination, commenced an appraisal of risk management initiatives, and completed a comprehensive review of the department’s business continuity management and planning.

Senior executive

During the reporting period the then Secretary, Mr Michael L’Estrange, the Acting Secretary, Ms Gillian Bird and, from January 2010, the Secretary, Mr Dennis Richardson, oversaw all significant foreign and trade policy and corporate management issues and decided all placements for senior executive staff. The deputy secretaries supported the Secretary through their management of the department’s work units (see Figure 1 on page 13 for our organisational structure and the deputy secretaries’ areas of responsibility). They also represented the Government at high-level meetings in Australia and overseas and chaired key corporate governance bodies.

Senior management committees and their roles

Portfolio coordination

As the lead agency in the foreign affairs and trade portfolio, the department worked closely with portfolio agencies to coordinate objectives and ensure their consistency. In addition to routine consultation at the working level, from January 2010, we held weekly consultations at the senior level through the Secretary’s policy meeting, to discuss foreign and trade policy issues, with a senior officer from each of AusAID and Austrade.

We continued to hold portfolio coordination meetings with the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) to discuss strategic and corporate issues.

We were also represented at deputy secretary level on the Development Effectiveness Steering Committee (DESC), a body charged with strengthening whole-of-government coordination of the aid program. The committee also advised government on the overseas development assistance strategy and budget proposals.

Whole-of-government coordination

Effective whole-of-government coordination is essential to the department’s policy and organisational work. We worked closely with a wide range of other agencies to achieve whole-of-government objectives, including in hosting major international meetings, in responding to consular crises, in regional counter-terrorism cooperation, and in coordinating policy approaches to bilateral and multilateral trade negotiations.

Whole-of-government coordination at our overseas posts is crucial to their operations, given the increasing numbers of attached agency staff.

As a part of this, the department issued a revised Prime Minister’s Directive on the Guidelines for the Management of the Australian Government Presence Overseas. The Directive set out the guiding principles for the operation of the Australian Government’s overseas operations and applies to all government agencies overseas. It helps promote an effective and coordinated approach to our overseas representation and the efficient use of public resources.

Mr Rudd’s December 2008 National Security Statement gave prominence to diplomacy in achieving national security objectives. Consistent with this policy, the department contributed its perspectives and expertise on the international dimensions of national security issues, including through the new structures and processes set up to achieve greater coordination and integration on national security.

Inter-Departmental Committees (IDCs) also play a vital role in ensuring effective inter-agency coordination. We agreed to a set of whole-of-government principles and practices relating to IDCs, to ensure meetings remain focused, effective and relevant. As part of a whole-of-government twice-yearly review, we reviewed the number of IDCs (or similar meetings/committees/activities) that we chair.

Over the last couple of years, Government demands during responses to international and domestic crises and natural disasters have increased. As a result, a whole-of-government review of the existing processes and systems for responding to such events took place. The department identified a series of reforms which will enhance the way we respond to international incidents, including the way the Crisis Centre is staffed during major overseas crises.

Management mechanisms and meetings

On taking up the position in January 2010, the Secretary, Mr Richardson, addressed all departmental staff, and subsequently met staff from each division and state and territory office.

The regular Senior Executive meeting was replaced by a Departmental Executive meeting with a broader membership from across the department. It met weekly from January 2010 and focused on strategic resource management and priorities, including the budget, and other matters requiring high-level attention.

The Secretary’s policy meeting was established in January 2010 and took place weekly to discuss current, emerging and medium- to long-term foreign and trade policy issues. Its membership included senior departmental staff and senior officers from the Office of National Assessments, the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, AusAID and Austrade.

The Secretary met division heads every week to communicate the department’s foreign and trade policy and corporate priorities. Further information was conveyed to staff through administrative circulars, the department’s intranet and the staff newsletter.

We kept our overseas network informed of policy and corporate issues through:

  • regular formal and informal channels of communication with divisions in Canberra
  • regional heads of mission/post meetings
  • regional management conferences
  • post liaison visits led by a deputy secretary.

The department’s Audit and Risk Committee (ARC) provides independent assurance and assistance to the Secretary and the Departmental Executive on our risk, control and compliance framework, and our external accountability responsibilities. In 2009–10 the committee met four times.

Our Ethics Committee met three times during the year to oversee the development and implementation of our conduct and ethics policy. The committee promotes the highest standards of conduct and ethics within the department. Chaired by a deputy secretary, it comprises 12 members from various staffing levels and areas within the department.

In 2009–10, the Ethics Committee oversaw improvements to ethics-related training and the publication of the Conduct and Ethics Manual.

The Workplace Relations Committee is the primary consultative forum for management and staff representatives. A deputy secretary chairs the committee. Membership includes representatives from management areas and elected staff representatives. The Community and Public Sector Union, the Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union, the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance and the Association of Foreign Affairs and Trade Employees are also represented on the committee.

In 2009–10, the committee focused on a range of issues including overseas conditions of service, ICT teleworking options and the management of personnel files.

Conduct and ethics

The department’s Conduct and Ethics Unit (CEU) investigates allegations of fraud and misconduct and promotes the Australian Public Service (APS) Values and Code of Conduct. It also provides conduct and ethics training.

Our Conduct and Ethics Awareness Program regularly reminded staff of their responsibilities. The program included training, policy circulars and briefings on overseas conduct and ethics issues, for heads of mission, deputy heads of mission and senior administrative officers.

In addition to the APS Values and APS Code of Conduct, the department obliges employees posted overseas to abide by our own Code of Conduct for Overseas Service for Australia-based staff. This addresses our significant overseas representational role.

We also reviewed the CEU to ensure that its procedures follow best practice.

Countering fraud

The department’s fraud prevention, investigation, reporting and data collection procedures and processes meet our specific needs and comply with Commonwealth Fraud Control Guidelines.

Our fraud control plan is focused on raising awareness among staff, through fraud prevention training, fostering an ethical and professional working environment aligned with the APS Values and APS Code of Conduct, and maintaining strong internal control and audit processes that reduce fraud risks.


I, Dennis Richardson, certify that I am satisfied that for 2009-10, the Department of Foreigh Affairs and Trade had in place:

  • fraud risk assessments and a fraud control plan; and
  • appropriate fraud prevention, detection, investigation, reporting and data collection procedures and processes

that met the specific needs of the department and complied with the Commonwealth Fraud Control Guidelines 2002.

Signature: Dennis Richardson
Dennis Richardson
9 September 2010

Evaluation and planning

Our performance was evaluated throughout the year to ensure resources were directed most effectively to support the Government’s foreign and trade policy goals. Our performance expectations and planned use of resources were outlined in our Portfolio Budget Statements.

Divisional evaluation reviews are conducted each year in July–August. These enable the Departmental Executive to evaluate the performance of each division and to determine or refine divisional priorities for the period ahead.

The Budget Allocation Review (BAR) and the Capital Management Plan (CMP) are the primary mechanisms through which decisions are made on allocating funding within the department. Work units, both in Australia and overseas, have the opportunity to bid for funds through the BAR/CMP and mid-term BAR/CMP each year. Bids are considered by the Departmental Executive. This consolidated process allows for strong budget planning and expenditure forecasting, and ensures our internal processes are aligned with the Government’s Budget timetable. BAR/CMP meetings were held in May 2010, with mid-term BAR/CMP meetings in November 2009.

We are reviewing the process for evaluating the performance of posts and state and territory offices. New arrangements will be in place for 2011. These will continue to involve seeking feedback from other agencies and departments.

In 2009–10 deputy secretaries led small teams to nine posts—Abu Dhabi, Abuja, Accra, Islamabad, Kuwait City, Nairobi, Port Moresby, Pretoria and Suva—to conduct post liaison visits to assess at first hand each post’s performance against agreed objectives.

Risk management and business continuity planning

The Audit and Risk Committee is responsible for risk management and business continuity planning.

In 2009, we refined our ‘critical risk list’, in order to enhance corporate governance and assurance processes and to ensure that current and emerging risks are appropriately identified and addressed. We also provided a submission to the annual Comcover risk management benchmarking survey.

We completed a comprehensive review of our business continuity management and planning in 2009. This involved finalising and testing business continuity plans, which we have standardised across overseas missions, state and territory offices and Canberra work units to achieve organisational consistency.

Internal audit

Internal audit forms an important part of the department’s governance framework, providing an integral contribution to governance, risk management and control. Internal audits presented to the Audit and Risk Committee in 2009–10 included:

  • sixteen post compliance audits
  • superannuation delegations audit (annual requirement)
  • performance audit of service level agreement relationships at posts
  • performance audit of business continuity planning management at posts.

All recommendations arising from these audits were either satisfactorily addressed during the year or were in the process of being addressed.

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Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade