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Foreign and Trade Ministry Best Practice Review

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Media Release


The Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Dr Ashton Calvert, announced today results of a Foreign and Trade Ministry Best Practice Review which measured the efficiency with which DFAT delivers services to the government and the public.

The review, which was undertaken from April to August this year, benchmarked DFAT's corporate management performance against that of the foreign and trade ministries in Canada, Germany, Japan, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Sweden and the United Kingdom.

Speaking to DFAT staff, Dr Calvert identified the following key conclusions:

  • DFAT's running costs per head of staff compare very well and its costs of operating overseas as a proportion of ministry running costs was among the lowest.
  • Based on available data from other countries, the proportion of staff in corporate support are among the lowest and DFAT's overall support costs are lower than average.
  • Of those surveyed, Australia has the second lowest number of missions overseas and the second highest average number of accreditations per mission, representing a good balance between economies of scale and representation needs.
  • DFAT has the second smallest proportion of its home-based staff overseas and, reflecting the past practice of localising positions overseas where possible, the proportion of its locally engaged staff (LES) to all overseas staff is among the highest.
  • Reflecting Australian Public Service reforms, DFAT has more autonomy, flexibility and transparency in its staffing practices. For example, seniority or length of service still plays a significant role in promotion processes in some other ministries.
  • DFAT is ahead of most of the other ministries surveyed in its provision of a wide range of IT applications to staff.
  • Outsourcing has been taken further in DFAT than in other foreign ministries. Where others have outsourced, the focus has been on particular corporate services.
  • Language training, LES employment practices, future IT needs and the possibilities for outsourcing in other areas of corporate services were four areas where reviews of DFAT's performance might gain from comparison with others. In fact, separate reviews are either under way or about to be concluded in all of these areas.

Dr Calvert explained that the review used a range of indicators to compare DFAT's performance and that the results needed to be qualified by the methodological challenges encountered.

The most significant challenge was ensuring that the review compared "like with like". Participating ministries were not always able to provide statistical data in the form or detail sought. As a result, in some areas, the lack of precise comparable data meant that analysis had to be limited to fairly broad assessments.

That said, the review is a very useful benchmarking exercise for the department.

The full report of the Best Practice Review has not been released publicly because some of the participating ministries requested that their information not be conveyed beyond the Australian Government. The report has been shared with the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, the Department of the Treasury and the Department of Finance and Administration.

Media inquiries: Paul Robilliard (02) 6261 1555

Last Updated: 19 September 2014
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