The Department

Australian Agency for International Development (AusAID) The Agency

AusAID is an administratively autonomous agency within the Foreign Affairs and Trade portfolio. It works in close consultation with DFAT and other government departments. While all staff have a role in AusAID’s operation and performance, final responsibility for the Agency rests with the Director General, who reports directly to the Minister for Foreign Affairs on all aspects of aid policy and operations. The Director General is responsible to the Secretary of DFAT for the administration of AusAID and is a member of the DFAT Executive.

AusAID is structured around two divisions and a separate Program Quality Group (Figure 3: Organisational Structure Divisional Structure as at 30 June 1998). In addition, 60 AusAID officers were assigned to 24 Australian posts overseas (Appendix 2). AusAID also maintains state offices in New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia, Victoria and Western Australia (Appendix 16).

Organisational Change

In February, the Director General released Changing AusAID, outlining the results of the 1997 Corporate Review of the Agency. Changing AusAID, charted a new course for the Agency.

It produced a clear statement of AusAID’s core business and the values and practices central to conducting this core business; specified the changes required to bring about a more effective and professional organisation; and specified a new structure and new governance arrangements for AusAID.

AusAID adopted the new organisational structure in January (Figure 3: Organisational Structure Divisional Structure as at 30 June 1998). The new structure directly aligned the organisation with the Government’s aid priorities articulated in Better Aid for a Better Future, bringing together AusAID’s policy development and program delivery functions. It also enhanced the focus on program quality and performance information, including separating the quality assurance and advising functions from program delivery; this change increased transparency and quality.

Three executive committees were formed to assist the Director General and Executive to sharpen the focus on change and improvement across the Agency and throughout the program:

  • the Country Strategies Committee is responsible for the strategic direction of AusAID’s country operations and the ongoing evolution of the country strategies approach as the basis of the development and delivery of the aid program
  • the Program Quality Committee is responsible for assessing, monitoring and improving activity, project and program quality across the aid program. This committee sits separately as the Agency’s Audit Committee
  • the Corporate Change and Development Committee provides a strategic focus for management and organisational issues within the Agency.

The Minister for Foreign Affairs established an Aid Advisory Council to provide independent advice and new ideas on aid issues to the Minister and Parliamentary Secretary (Appendix 13). AusAID provides the secretariat for this council.

APS Reform: AusAID Responses

Workplace Relations

Introduction of the Workplace Relations Act 1996 devolved responsibility for determining conditions of employment to individual agencies. In response, AusAID management and staff negotiated a Certified Agreement covering all aspects of pay and conditions for non-SES AusAID employees. The Certified Agreement will improve productivity by providing more flexible working arrangements, emphasising performance and significantly streamlining personnel administration practices. The agreement will be implemented early in the next review period. In addition, negotiations began on Australian Workplace Agreements for SES employees.

The Agency developed and issued a new employee participation policy in May. The policy provides a formal framework for participative decision making, consultation and information sharing. The policy recognises that employee participation is essential in developing effective changes in organising work as well as being integral to dealing with industrial relations issues, such as staff development and training, occupational health and safety, and technological change. Under the policy, consultation takes place at a number of levels ranging from section and branch meetings, individual performance planning and review mechanisms to the more formal settings the National Liaison Group and the Consultative Council provide.

Financial Management and Accountability Act 1997

AusAID developed a new Financial Management Manual following the introduction of the Financial Management and Accountability Act 1997. The manual contains a complete set of Chief Executive Instructions, including delegations to AusAID officials, to provide a central point of reference for guidance on all financial management matters. A program of training within the Agency to improve overall understanding of financial procedures and requirements supplemented the manual’s introduction. In addition, progress was made in implementing a full accrual accounting system, including an integrated assets and purchasing management system.

The New Public Service Regulations

The Government drafted a number of new Public Service Regulations under the Public Service Act 1922. These took effect on 15 March and introduced a statement of APS Values, an APS Code of Conduct, higher levels of flexibility and public accountability, and required agencies to develop Workplace Diversity programs. In anticipation of these regulations, AusAID launched its new Workplace Diversity program in late 1997; incorporated the new Code of Conduct into the proposed AusAID Certified Agreement; and issued a Code of Conduct for Overseas Service in December. Furthermore, AusAID now advertises all its employment opportunities on its Internet website (http://www.ausaid.gov.au).

Service Charters

In response to the Government’s service charter initiative, the Agency took into account the fact that its clients are primarily foreign governments and people in developing countries. To reflect the intent of the service charter initiative, AusAID articulated its commitment to quality services in its Corporate Plan to be released early in the next review period. The Agency also began using the complaints mechanism, the Purchasing Advisory and Complaints Service, recently established by the Department of Finance and Administration, to assist the timely resolution of complaints.

Staff Development

AusAID implemented a new staff performance planning and review process to improve dialogue with staff on work expectations and key goals, and encourage better exchange of feedback and performance assessment. This process explicitly links the work of individual officers with the achievement of AusAID goals and encourages continuous performance feedback. Training for all staff preceded the implementation of the new performance management process, and further training will be provided at key points in the cycle.

A comprehensive range of training and development programs relevant to the Agency’s core business enhanced staff knowledge and skills. Staff development focused on core skills in contract and financial management, project management and monitoring, and performance management for middle managers. In addition, AusAID progressed its development of strategies for retaining quality staff. This included offering more innovative approaches to the style, format and focus of training and development activities, and instituting a system of staff separation questionnaires and exit interviews.

AusAID also began a staffing review to examine the resourcing of its new organisational structure to ensure staffing meets policy and operational needs. This review will also focus on the management of non-Australian staff at posts and be completed early in the next review period.

Social Justice and Equity

Charter of Public Service in a Culturally Diverse Society

While the primary clients for AusAID’s services are the governments and people of developing countries, the Agency provides information services to the Australian public in its tendering of contracts to deliver the aid program, in response to requests for information on the aid program and in its recruitment of employees.

AusAID produced a wide range of publications designed to keep the Australian public informed about the aid program. The flagship publication remained Focus, a quarterly magazine (now incorporating Business News) with a diverse audience of around 10 000 people. AusAID began developing a plain language brochure to explain the basic facts about the aid program; this will be widely distributed in Australia. Other publications explained what activities the Agency undertook in a particular country or sector. AusAID also published evaluations, reviews and analyses; many of these are available on the Internet (http:// www. ausaid. gov. au). The AusAID website also facilitated access to information on AusAID programs and operational matters. The global education page, part of the AusAID website, was launched in October, and the number of hits increased steadily from 6 760 in January to 25 700 in May.

The Agency ensured disabled access to all offices in Australia except Queensland. Refurbishment of the Canberra building began, including upgrading all lifts to assist disabled people in using them (with brail numbering, lowered numbers and aural information). Cross-cultural awareness training was provided in the Middle Management Development Program and to all officers prior to posting overseas. While this training was primarily targeted at the Agency’s dealings with partner countries, it also improved access to AusAID by people from diverse cultural and linguistic backgrounds. Opportunities for participating in the delivery of the aid program also were advertised through non-English language ethnic newspapers.

Further progress during 1997-98 in implementing the Charter of Public Service in a Culturally Diverse Society for services provided to the Australian public included: undertaking to respond to correspondence directed to the Minister and/ or Parliamentary Secretary within two weeks or by the indicated deadline; and starting a major exercise in community attitudes research to inform the Agency’s overall communications and publications strategies.

Workplace Diversity

A new Workplace Diversity Program for AusAID (1997-2000) was launched in December. It will be integrated with the Agency’s new People Management Strategy to be developed in the next review period. The program is outcomes-based and integrates equity and diversity principles into AusAID’s corporate planning and people management processes. All available workplace diversity contact officers were trained in the implications of new government reforms in this area. The Public Service and Merit Protection Commission recognised the program as APS good practice.

During the review period, AusAID offered three scholarships to Aboriginal people and Torres Strait Islanders to fund their final year of tertiary study and invited them to participate in the Agency’s Graduate Administrative Assistant program. The participation rate of women in senior officer ranks increased from 34 per cent to 37 per cent, while the participation rate of women in the Agency increased from 47.9 per cent to 49.4 per cent.

Internal and External Scrutiny

Internal Audit

The internal audit program focused on risk-based auditing of commercial contractors, NGOs and AusAID’s internal control environment in Australia as well as overseas. Fifteen major audits were completed and three are in progress. Work began on AusAID’s Strategic Audit Plan for 1998-2001. To meet the requirements of the Financial Management and Accountability Act 1997, the Audit Committee Charter was revised, and work began on preparing the Agency’s new Fraud Prevention Plan.

Lessons learned from the program of audits contributed to strengthened financial management and reporting, project monitoring and contract management, all of which underpin the effective, efficient and ethical application of commonwealth resources.

The Agency also began reviewing its approach to risk management; it will lead to the development of a new risk management policy and strategies reflecting the increased focus on accountability.

External Scrutiny

Three parliamentary inquiries of significance to AusAID were tabled, all undertaken by the Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade. These were Australia and ASEAN: Managing Change; the Bougainville Peace Process (reference 28 May); and Regional Human Rights Dialogue. Details of these inquiries are in Appendix 9. Several parliamentary inquiries were active at 30 June: Australia in Relation to Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (Senate Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade References Committee), and Convention on Rights of the Child, OECD Convention on Combating Bribery and Multilateral Agreement on Investment (Joint Standing Committee on Treaties). The Auditor-General did not table any reports related to AusAID during the review period.

No decisions on court actions involving AusAID were made. There were no applications to review administrative decisions made by the Agency.

Freedom of Information

The Agency continued to administer its responsibilities under the Freedom of Information legislation, meeting the requirements for 12 requests for information under the legislation. The Agency met its obligations under Sections 8 and 9 of the Freedom of Information Act 1982. The Agency’s Section 8 Statement is in Appendix 6.

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