The department’s aim is to advance the interests of Australia and Australians internationally. This aim, outlined in the Corporate Plan 1997–1999, is the driving force behind our work and underpins all the department’s goals, priorities, values and culture. Also at the heart of our work is our most valuable resource: our people.
In response to the increasing demands being made on our staff, the Secretary proposed a ‘work smarter’ approach. By encouraging and rewarding strategic thinking and action, this approach has not only stimulated us to develop more effective work practices but also offers opportunities to achieve a better balance between work and home by using work hours more efficiently. This has been welcomed and will be implemented progressively.
Senior Management and Structure
The department is managed by the Senior Executive, comprising the Secretary and four deputy secretaries. The Senior Executive, supported by the Senior Executive Service, makes decisions on corporate management and policy issues across the department.
The Senior Executive, supported by the Senior Executive Service, focuses on ensuring that the department maintains the highest professional standards in providing service to the Government and to Australia. They also seek to provide an open, fair and professionally rewarding working environment for all staff. The photo shows (seated) the Secretary, Dr Ashton Calvert, and Deputy Secretaries Ms Joanna Hewitt, (standing from left to right) Mr Miles Kupa, Mr David Spencer and Mr John Dauth. photo: Michael Jensen
In Canberra, the department comprised 11 divisions during the period under review, as well as the Executive, Planning and Evaluation Branch, and the Australian Safeguards and Non-Proliferation Office. We also maintain offices in each State and in the Northern Territory, to provide passport and consular services and to perform an important liaison service for business throughout Australia. In addition, we have a Torres Strait Treaty Liaison Office on Thursday Island. Contact details for all these offices are at Appendix 14.
Overseas we manage an extensive network of posts, including Australian embassies, high commissions, consulates-general and consulates, to which Australia-based officers from this and other departments are assigned—generally for three to four years. They are supported by locally engaged staff. The department manages 81 of the total number of 141 Australian overseas posts.
*Includes the Torres Strait Treaty Liaison Office.
Our Response to Australian Public Service Reform
Throughout the year, the department continued to implement the Government’s public sector and workplace relations reform agenda. During the review period, we finalised the implementation of recommendations made under the 1997 Action Plan on Departmental Resource Management. The main objective of this plan was to position the department more strategically to meet changing Government priorities, budgetary pressures and the broader reform agenda.
In March 1999, we completed a comprehensive review of divisions’ and posts’ budgets to align resource allocation more closely to the Government’s key foreign and trade policy priorities. This resulted in an increase in staff numbers in the multilateral trade negotiation and East Asia analytical areas. A new branch—the Images of Australia Branch—was also formed, to spearhead a more focused and coordinated effort to project a positive image of Australia overseas. As well, we created nine new junior policy positions overseas, and initiated a phased reduction of staff over the next three years in the corporate management areas. We expect these reductions (from a staff level of 2 023 at 30 June 1999 to approximately 1 870 staff at 30 June 2002) to be achieved mostly through natural attrition. One exception to this was in our passport offices, where we initiated a limited voluntary redundancy program in March 1999 to coincide with the phased release of new passport processing technology.
During the year, we finalised our preparations for the installation of new financial and human resource management systems, SAP/R3 and PeopleSoft. Both systems were ready to be launched on time (1 July 1999) and delivered within budget.
The newly installed financial management information system, SAP/R3, provides reporting and systems controls to meet the department’s changed requirements following its transfer to an accrual-based outcomes and outputs framework. This new reporting framework was a major corporate priority in the period under review, culminating in the production of the Portfolio Budget Statements 1999–2000 which were tabled in Parliament on 11 May 1999 (see summary in The Move to Accrual Budgeting chapter). Preparation for these statements involved the smooth translation of the department’s cash budget into the accrual framework, and the development of the outcomes/outputs and accrual-based performance information structures. In tailoring these processes to the requirements of the Department of Finance and Administration, we overcame significant challenges arising from the long-term nature of our work and the fluid international context in which we operate. Our success in meeting these challenges was highlighted by the invitation we received to address the Senate Committee on Finance and Administration about our experience. Only one other agency received a similar invitation.
PeopleSoft, the department’s new human resource management system, includes a ‘self-service’ facility through which staff are able to lodge and process leave, overtime and higher duties requests electronically. The interface ‘bridge’ between PeopleSoft and SAP/R3 is also scheduled to become operational from 1 July 1999. The integration of these two systems will provide the department with more flexible and comprehensive financial and human resource data and reporting capabilities, and streamlined administrative processes.
In consultation with staff in Australia and overseas, we conducted reviews of the processes for placements, promotions and postings. Designed to strengthen the integrity of these personnel processes, the reviews showed that while existing processes were basically sound, specific additional steps could be taken to improve them. The placements review, completed in August 1998, re-introduced a centralised placement system. This system is now operating smoothly and has improved the fairness and efficiency of staff deployment in Canberra. We also introduced measures to ensure a more consistent approach to postings, in keeping with operational requirements, and to entrench merit-based, consistent and transparent promotion processes.
Between November 1998 and March 1999, the department participated in a Human Resources Benchmarking Study coordinated by the Public Service & Merit Protection Commission and conducted by Hays Consulting. The study concluded that, although our human resource costs were somewhat higher than other public and private sector organisations, this reflected the greater complexity of issues we face, and the processes associated with maintaining a large overseas network. Participation in this study provided us with an opportunity to survey departmental managers from outside the corporate areas on their attitudes to the department’s corporate policies and processes, and to feed these responses into our reviews of the postings and promotions processes.
As part of our commitment to staff development, we initiated a comprehensive training and development strategy. Developed in consultation with staff, this strategy is scheduled for release in the next review period. During the year, the department spent a total of $5 618 787 on staff training (details are in Appendix 2).
In line with the Government’s reform agenda, we continued to outsource suitable services. These include the management of our temporary employment register, and the administrative (non-decision-making) aspects of recruitment.
In July 1998, the Department of Employment, Workplace Relations and Small Business devolved to departments the power to set overseas conditions of service. The system we developed for managing these conditions was implemented smoothly in January 1999, with wide staff acceptance. This new system has allowed us to tailor these conditions to the needs of staff, streamline the decision-making process, and reduce the resources devoted to managing conditions of service. These improvements have resulted in a marked decline in staff complaints and casework. In the last reporting period, we had also developed a new system to calculate overseas living allowances. Its subsequent adoption by 28 other agencies with staff on long-term overseas postings has highlighted the value of this system.
Following consideration by the Ethics Committee, the department issued new policies on public-interest disclosures and the ethical use of sponsorship. The committee also considered a code of conduct for honorary consuls of Australia, aimed at assisting them to exemplify the values of the Australian Government. This code will be promulgated shortly.
In response to the Workplace Relations Act 1996, the department’s 1998–2000 Certified Agreement delivered a series of beneficial outcomes in return for productivity increases. These outcomes included more flexible working arrangements, greater autonomy in setting conditions of employment, staff–management consultative mechanisms, and salary increases.
The department’s Workplace Relations Committee was established under the 1998–2000 Certified Agreement as the consultative mechanism for implementing this agreement, and it has become the principal consultative body for all matters relating to staff and their employment conditions. The department has demonstrated a strong commitment to staff consultation through its regular productive consultations with this committee. At its meetings during the year, the committee discussed a wide range of personnel, financial and information management issues (details in Sub-program 5.2).
In its inaugural State of the Service Report covering the 1997–98 year, the Public Service & Merit Protection Commission cited several of the department’s reforms as examples of good and innovative practice. These included the ‘broadbanded’ staffing structure linked to performance management, and our work on strengthening ethical standards, particularly in the overseas context.
The broadbanded staffing structure is a key feature of the department’s new terms and conditions. Under this structure, the eight APS levels are grouped into three broadbands: APS 1–4 as Broadband 1, APS 5 – Exec. Level 1 as Broadband 2, and Exec. Level 2 (merging the former SOG B and A groups) as Broadband 3. All deployment decisions are now made on the basis of broadbands rather than APS classifications. This scheme was designed and introduced in conjunction with the performance appraisal system, to streamline promotion procedures and to broaden the choice available to staff for placement in Australia and for postings overseas. Advancement within a broadband takes place through the performance management system, creating savings through reductions in the number of bulk promotion processes and in the need for higher duties allowance payments. Most importantly, the broadbanded structure provides the framework that helps the department’s performance management system work effectively at the non-SES levels.
In January 1998, the department introduced a new performance appraisal scheme as part of the 1998–2000 Certified Agreement. The department has now conducted two cycles of this new performance appraisal scheme, which covers all permanent Senior Executive Service and non-SES officers who have worked for more than three months in a 12-month cycle. Through this scheme, staff are eligible to receive performance pay (either in the form of a paypoint move or a percentage-of-salary bonus) reflecting the appraised level of their performance. Marking a major cultural change for the department, the scheme was designed to strengthen the performance culture in the department and to reward high-quality work. The scheme also provides valuable input to promotion, posting and placement processes, and is linked to the new training and development strategy.
To ensure that the scheme operates both effectively and to the satisfaction of staff, we conducted an extensive training and information program before and after the first cycle, and sought to address issues raised in these sessions.
*The first round covered the period from January to June 1998 for non-SES officers.
**The significant increase in the second round is due to changes to the departmental profile and complexities in the system which benefit some officers only after two years of high performance.
Note: More details on the performance management appraisal scheme can be found in Appendix 2.
This was also the first year in which the department awarded ‘team’ bonuses. This scheme, introduced as part of the Certified Agreement, sets aside $200 000, which is intended to balance the individual focus of the performance appraisal system by rewarding and recognising staff who have worked well during the year as part of a team. In 1998–99, a total of 360 non-SES staff both in Australia and overseas—22 per cent of eligible officers—received bonuses ranging from $161 to $1 000 (the maximum allowable). Feedback indicates that staff consider team bonuses to be a valuable addition to the department’s reward and incentive schemes.
Unlike recent years which were characterised by significant restructuring and rationalisation, 1998–99 was a period of consolidation with few organisational changes. The focus this year was on implementing the new Certified Agreement and reviewing key human resource management policies, rather than on corporate structures. The few changes that did occur clearly reflected key Government priorities.
In March 1999, the department created the East Timor Task Force within the Maritime South-East Asia Branch of the South and South-East Asia Division to reflect the increased priority on this issue.
The new Images of Australia Branch was created in April 1999 in the Public Affairs and Consular Division, to spearhead a more focused and coordinated effort to project a positive image of Australia abroad.
In October 1998, the department re-established a dedicated Staff Development Branch in the Corporate Management Division to give renewed focus to the department’s training and development needs. This branch incorporated the Staff Development and Language Section, the Graduate Recruitment Unit, the Workplace Diversity Unit, and the Performance Management and Workplace Forecasting Unit. This change has enabled a more coherent and strategic approach to fostering the necessary skills in the organisation.
In August 1998, following the ratification of the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty, the Australian Safeguards and Non-Proliferation Office was established, combining the functions of the former Australian Safeguards Office, the Chemical Weapons Convention Office and the Australian Comprehensive Test-Ban Office.
Overseas, key Government priorities were reflected in the opening of a new consulate in Dili, East Timor, on 3 June 1999 and the posting of an Australian Policy Liaison Officer to Lisbon in April 1999 to facilitate closer contact with the Portuguese Government on East Timor issues. We also opened three new consulates in Indonesia headed by honorary consuls (in Balikpapan, Medan and Kupang) and announced in August 1998 the opening of a new embassy in Abu Dhabi. This embassy became operational in May 1999. Full details of our overseas representation are in Appendices 15 and 16.
Social Justice and Equity
In line with the Government’s Charter of Service in a Culturally Diverse Society and in accordance with the associated Commonwealth Implementation Timetable, the department introduced two charters in January 1999—the Australian Passports Client Service Charter, and the Consular Services Charter—which outline service standards and client feedback mechanisms. These are available in brochure form from the department in Canberra, and from our State and Territory offices and all overseas posts. They can also be accessed through our website. Performance against charter standards will be evaluated annually by the department, and reported in the whole-of-government report scheduled for publication by the Department of Finance and Administration early in 1999–2000. The charters will also be reviewed by the Government every three years.
Access and Equity
We endeavour to ensure all Australians have equal access to our services. The access mechanisms we use include telephone information services, the Internet, targeted mailouts, and media and public briefings, as well as regular workshops, lectures, seminars and forums organised for public consultation in the development of foreign and trade policy. Many of these activities form an integral part of our sub-program strategies, and more detail can be found under each sub-program in Section 2, Program Reports.
Notably, since 1985 our Australian Passport Information Service has provided all Australians, including those in regional areas, with inexpensive access to comprehensive information on Australian passport services, with these services being provided for the cost of a local call, seven days a week. Similarly, since 1983 official Australia Post offices have been authorised to provide passport application services. We also offer passport and consular services through our Newcastle Passports Office, and the full range of departmental services through our seven State and Territory offices and our 81 overseas posts.
In 1995, the department established an Internet site to provide comprehensive and regularly updated information about Government policy, departmental services, trade statistics and general information on Australia. This service provides all Australians who have access to the Internet with a fast and efficient means of accessing departmental information, including full contact information for the department in Canberra, as well as State and Territory offices and overseas posts. In addition, 36 of our 81 overseas posts maintain tailored websites, 14 of which are accessible in the local language.
The departmental Internet website is located at http://www.dfat.gov.au. In addition to this site, four of our State and Territory offices and 36 of our overseas posts maintain linked sites tailored to local needs. The department seeks continually to ensure that the site is both relevant to clients and easy to access, by providing a range of new features for international and domestic users. One of the most significant new features in 1998–99 was the Opening Doors website launched by Mr Fischer in May 1999 (pictured). This site—located at www.dfat.gov.au/trade/opening_doors/index.html—explains the benefits of open markets and seeks to keep all Australians informed of the Government's trade efforts. photo: Alan Walsh
Feedback indicates that our range of services is providing equality of access for all Australians, including migrants. (These services include facilitating interpreter services where necessary.) Most Canberra Passports Office staff have attended client interaction courses, which include cross-cultural awareness components. Instructions on the process for authenticating documents are available in Vietnamese, Arabic and Mandarin, as well as in English. Many departmental officers are also proficient in languages other than English, enabling us to communicate easily with a range of domestic and international clients.
The RG Casey Building, which houses the department in Canberra, has been designed to cater for special needs and also allows for maximum public access. Similarly, the department’s State and Territory offices are accessible to people with disabilities, as are (to the greatest extent possible) our overseas posts.
During the year we sought to further strengthen our commitment to workplace diversity by maintaining a working environment that both embraces and makes best use of our staff diversity. In November 1998, the Secretary launched the Workplace Diversity Program 1998–2001, together with a series of tailored sub-programs for our divisions in Canberra, our State and Territory offices and all overseas posts. This program promotes awareness of diversity principles, appropriate leadership and management training, and policies designed to help staff balance work and personal commitments. The ‘work smarter’ approach seeks to further this commitment by encouraging staff to find practical solutions to address competing workplace demands.
Establishing best practice in the public sector, the department offered salary packaging of childcare fees for staff with children at its on-site Currawong Childcare Centre. This centre is now operating at full capacity. Staff continued to access other family-friendly initiatives such as permanent part-time work, job-sharing, full-time flexible hours and variable leave without pay.
Our commitment to workplace diversity was also demonstrated through the activities we organised throughout our Australian offices and overseas posts to celebrate International Women’s Week in March 1999. We used this opportunity to highlight Australia’s contribution to enhancing the status of women. In Canberra, for example, a panel discussion on ‘Women with a Mission’ featuring past and present female heads of mission drew attention to the increasing number of women in these positions and elsewhere in the department’s Senior Executive Service.
Note: More statistics on workplace diversity (EEO data) can be found in Appendix 3.
Although the proportion of women on portfolio advisory boards and committees has decreased slightly, the department continued actively to seek suitably qualified women for such positions. We were also one of four Government agencies to participate in the Early Warning System and Executive Search Pilot Program aimed at identifying suitable women candidates for appointment to boards within the portfolio in order to increase the participation of women in decision-making.
In 1998–99, over 20 per cent of departmental officers describe themselves as coming from culturally or linguistically diverse backgrounds. Over the course of the year, we maintained Indigenous staffing levels at 1.25 per cent and ensured the continuation of four identified Indigenous positions. Since 1993 the department has maintained an Indigenous Recruitment and Career Development Strategy to encourage more Indigenous people to make a career in the department. This strategy is part of our broader commitment to workplace diversity, which seeks to strengthen the organisation and bring out the best in our staff in terms of tolerance and mutual cooperation.
The department also remained committed to its Workplace Harassment Contact Officer Network. This network is coordinated by the Workplace Harassment (Behaviour) Officer, who provides guidance and assistance as required.
Occupational Health and Safety
The department is committed to ensuring the health, welfare and safety of all its staff in Australia and overseas. During the year, we carried out a range of OH&S activities that included mechanising heavy compactus units in the RG Casey Building, conducting staff health assessments, and holding a Health and Safety Week in May. We also ensured that health and safety issues were considered in the contingency planning by the Y2K project team.
Our Employee Assistance Program continued to help promote good morale among staff, offering counselling services to officers and families in over 40 posts. Specialist psychological services were also incorporated into the selection processes for Bougainville peace monitors, Cambodian and Indonesian election observers, and our Graduate Trainees. Through the Foreign Service Medical Unit, we provided an active and responsive program of medical support services to staff and their dependants. The Principal Medical Adviser medically cleared over 200 officers and their dependants prior to overseas posting, in addition to medically preparing over 250 officers for short-term missions. The Medical Unit also continued to be involved in the running of seven clinics attached to posts overseas, and initiated work to establish a clinic attached to our new consulate in Dili. More details on OH&S issues can be found in Appendix 4.
Internal and External Scrutiny
Following reviews undertaken in early 1998, the Audit Committee and the internal audit function were progressively reshaped to assist the Secretary to meet the enhanced accountability requirements of the Financial Management and Accountability Act 1997. These reforms include the completion of the first large-scale performance audit undertaken at overseas posts, which was aimed at drawing out and promoting better practice. To apply the lessons learnt from this audit we produced a better practice guide, the Locally Engaged Staff Management Toolbox. The re-focused Audit Committee, now including an independent member, undertook a more active role in directing the work of the internal audit processes, which incorporated both IT control testing and a performance audit on the implementation of the department’s new financial and human resources management systems. We also moved to a more flexible use of resources, including using accounting firms to complement the in-house function, particularly in the IT area.
Throughout the period we maintained a program of internal audits, with audit reviews being completed of 15 posts, all State and Territory offices and a number of departmental functions. These reviews provided performance information to the Secretary through the Audit Committee, and practical advice and solutions for the areas reviewed.
As part of our commitment to effective corporate governance, our Ethics Outreach Program seeks to ensure all staff have access to training and information on ethics and values, particularly as these relate to the public service. In addition to holding six workshops on ethics and values this year, we created a conduct and ethics site on the departmental Intranet. The site, which offers policy guidance, answers to frequently asked questions, and an interactive, video-based training package, was accessed 2 558 times in its first year of operation. The photograph shows Deputy Secretary Ms Joanna Hewitt and Dr Alan Thomas, First Assistant Secretary, Corporate Management Division, launching the new video-based interactive ethics training package in December 1998. photo: Michael Jensen
Conduct and Ethics
In its inaugural State of the Service Report covering the 1997–98 year, the Public Service & Merit Protection Commission highlighted our Ethics Outreach Program as one of the benchmarks against which other departments and agencies might measure their progress towards incorporating the values of the Australian Public Service, and the adequacy of their systems for ensuring compliance with the APS Code of Conduct. In line with this code, the department referred to the Australian Federal Police a case relating to the abuse of officially accrued frequent flyer points and, in the first case of its kind, the Director of Public Prosecutions obtained a conviction for fraud.
Reports by the Australian National Audit Office
The Auditor-General tabled relatively few reports directly relevant to the department during the year, as the focus of scrutiny shifted during this period to other agencies within the portfolio. However, audit testing for a number of cross-portfolio audits commenced during the year, and representatives of the Auditor-General remained active and valued observers at meetings of the department’s Audit Committee.
The most important report tabled was Audit Report No. 20, 1998–99: Audits of the Financial Statements of Commonwealth Entities for the Period Ended 30 June 1998, in which the Australian National Audit Office provided the department with an unqualified report. All findings were considered to be minor in nature and were not included in the Australian National Audit Office’s report to Parliament. Appropriate remedial action has been taken.
Audit Report No 5, 1998–99: Commonwealth Agencies’ Security Preparations for the Sydney 2000 Olympic Games was also tabled in the review period. This multi-agency audit examined the Commonwealth’s security and planning coordination process in order to provide assurance to Parliament concerning the adequacy of security for the Sydney 2000 Olympic and Paralympic Games. The audit concluded that considerable effort across the Public Service had been devoted to developing security arrangements for the 2000 Games. Although the department was not one of the agencies included in this audit, it had some minor involvement in its preparation and found it useful in the context of its role in the Sydney 2000 Olympics.
Inquiries by Parliamentary Committees
During the review period, the department appeared before, or made submissions to, 20 major parliamentary committee inquiries or reports. These included inquiries into the Bougainville peace process, East Timor, developments in contemporary Japan, and Australia in relation to Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation; details are set out in Appendix 7.
In response to feedback regarding the Annual Report 1997–1998 from the Senate Legislation Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade, we reviewed our approach to the preparation of our annual report with the aim of ensuring that this year’s report matches more closely the committee’s requirements for performance reporting.
No formal reports were issued by the Ombudsman in respect of the department’s activities.
Decisions of Courts and Administrative Tribunals
The department is currently defending an application to review an administrative decision regarding a passport application, and another application under the Freedom of Information provisions. During the year, the department successfully defended a review claim before the Administrative Appeals Tribunal and is proceeding to recover costs. Details of court and tribunal actions involving the department are provided at Appendix 8.
Freedom of Information
Under the freedom of information legislation, the department processed 50 requests from the public during the review period. We received no complaints from the Ombudsman relating to these processing procedures and fully met our obligations under the Freedom of Information Act 1982. Additional information is reported in Sub-program 3.1, and the department’s section 8 statement is at Appendix 5.
Legislation and Regulations Impacting on Business
On 2 July 1998, the Governor-General assented to the Comprehensive Nuclear-Test-Ban Treaty Act 1998. There may be business opportunities arising from Australia’s fulfilment of its obligations under this Act: for example, for Australian firms with appropriate technical capabilities to tender for work associated with the establishment or development of nuclear test-ban monitoring stations on Australian territory.
In October 1998, the department established the Competitive Tendering and Contracting Unit within the Finance Management Branch. This unit manages market-testing activities and provides advice on contractual agreements.
During the year in review, the unit prepared guidelines for tendering and entering into contracts; these guidelines support the Commonwealth Procurement Guidelines, including those aimed at underpinning the Government’s national competitiveness and industry development policies. The department addresses these guidelines when selecting suppliers and entering into contracts. Our procedures for the engagement of consultancy services—being only one particular type of service delivered under a contract for services—are addressed in detail in the departmental guidelines (outlined in Appendix 9). Table 6 shows, by program, the number of consultants under engagement and the total payment to consultants during the year. A full list of consultancies entered into by the department is included at Appendix 9.
Advertising and Market Research
In accordance with departmental policy and the requirements for annual reports based on the Commonwealth Electoral Act 1918, s.311A, only payments exceeding $1 500 are recorded by the department. Of these amounts, a total of $230 847 was spent by the department on advertising and market research activity during the review period. Detailed reporting requirements for these payments are contained at Appendix 11.
Grants and Contributions
During the year, the department administered 14 grants and made contributions to a total of 34 international organisations and peacekeeping operations. Details are provided in Appendix 10.