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Corporate governance

The department has a strong framework in place to ensure it is fulfilling its corporate governance responsibilities. The structures, decision-making processes and internal controls and behaviours outlined in this section support the effective achievement of our performance outcomes.

Senior Executive

The Secretary and the four deputy secretaries comprise the department's Senior Executive (see also Departmental Overview: organisational structure on page 15). The Senior Executive is responsible for providing leadership and strategic direction for the department and for ensuring we are meeting our corporate governance requirements.

Dr Ashton Calvert, as Secretary and Chief Executive, provided close direction on all major foreign and trade policy issues, as well as in the corporate management of the department. He provided direct leadership in shaping and communicating the professional values and culture of the department in Australia and abroad. He decided personally all Senior Executive Service (SES) staff placements.

The four deputy secretaries supported the Secretary in overseeing the department's divisions as follows:

In addition to these responsibilities, the Senior Executive frequently represented the Government at high-level meetings, both in Australia and overseas. The deputy secretaries also chaired key corporate governance bodies (see below).

Management mechanisms

Our management mechanisms—listed below—ensure effective decision-making on, and communication of, corporate governance issues and policy and corporate priorities.

Senior Executive meetings

The Senior Executive held regular meetings on current policy issues with Mr Downer and Mr Vaile.

Weekly meetings of the Senior Executive, chaired by the Secretary, considered a range of issues requiring liaison with portfolio ministers, and monitored and guided corporate policy issues. The heads of the Corporate Management Division and the Diplomatic Security, Information Management and Services Division, and, as appropriate, the Director General of AusAID, also attended these meetings. These meetings considered regular reports on the department's budgetary and staffing situation, IT systems, property issues, passport developments, and divisional performance on ministerial correspondence and security breaches.

Senior management committees

Audit Committee

The Audit Committee, which meets at least three times a year, helps the Secretary ensure that the assurance and control framework operating in the department is effective and supports departmental objectives. Chaired by a Deputy Secretary not directly responsible for overseeing the Corporate Management Division, the Audit Committee is charged with:

In addition to senior departmental officers, the committee includes an independent member with audit, accounting and public service experience. Our Chief Finance Officer and staff from our Evaluation and Audit Section and the ANAO attend each meeting as observers.

Ethics Committee

The Ethics Committee meets regularly to oversee the development and implementation of policy on ethics and conduct issues and the work of the Conduct and Ethics Unit.

The Ethics Committee's objectives are to:

The committee comprises ten members from various levels within the department and is chaired by a Deputy Secretary. Ex-officio members include the First Assistant Secretary, Corporate Management Division; the Director, Administrative and Domestic Law Group; and the Director of the Management Strategy, Conduct and Coordination Section.

Information Technology Strategy Committee

The Information Technology Strategy Committee is charged with ensuring a clear strategic vision for the development of IT systems and software in the department and to provide senior-level management of its implementation. The Committee's role is to:

The Committee is chaired by the First Assistant Secretary of the Diplomatic Security, Information Management and Services Division, who is also designated Chief Information Officer. The Committee comprises the division heads responsible for significant IT operations in the department. The associate members are the Chief Finance Officer; the assistant secretaries of the Executive, Planning and Evaluation Branch, the Information Management Branch, and the Financial Services and Systems Branch; and the chairs of the department's other IT governance bodies (the Technical Advisers Group and the Consultative Committee on Information Management).

Workplace Relations Committee

The Workplace Relations Committee is the chief consultative body for human resource management and conditions of service issues affecting Australia-based employees. It provides a forum for considering and developing ways to improve the work environment and for dealing with matters of concern to staff. The Committee is also the main negotiating body for certified agreements and deals with issues arising from their implementation. The Committee is chaired by the Secretary or his nominee, normally a Deputy Secretary. Members include representatives from management areas, relevant unions and staff bodies, as well as nine elected staff representatives (two from each of the four broadbands and one SES employee). The Committee meets at least three times a year.

Other senior management meetings and mechanisms

Weekly meetings chaired by the Secretary with division heads are the central means of communicating corporate and policy priorities more broadly throughout the department. In addition, the Secretary's regular strategic planning meetings with division heads provide senior executive staff with an opportunity to develop collectively a stronger sense of coherence and corporate unity in our policy work and in determining corporate management strategies. In a similar vein, the Secretary's seminars for branch heads offer a forum for forward-looking discussion on foreign and trade policy developments and major corporate management and leadership issues.

In 2002–03, the Secretary concluded a series of separate meetings with staff from divisions in Canberra. These sessions allowed him to engage staff directly on divisional priorities and broader corporate issues. Other key methods of communicating with all staff include our intranet and a staff newsletter, DFATNEWS.

Overseas posts participate in, and are kept informed of, policy and corporate developments through a variety of mechanisms:

Planning and review

At a broad level, the department's corporate plan provides guidance on our future directions in implementing foreign and trade policy, and informs the planning for our activities. Each year, our performance expectations and planned use of resources are set out in our portfolio budget statements.

A series of departmental planning and review processes take place throughout the year, enabling a sharp focus on government priorities and the delivery of our outcomes. They ensure that our resources are best directed to support the Government's foreign and trade policy objectives.

Divisional evaluation reviews

Divisional evaluation reviews take place in August each year, with a mid-term review in February. They serve two main purposes:

At the review in August 2002 and the mid-term review in February 2003, the Senior Executive reviewed the performance of all divisions and fine-tuned their work programs to take account of key government priorities. They also reviewed the resource allocations for all divisions, posts and state and territory offices, reallocating resources to meet new requirements and to facilitate projects that had acquired a higher priority.

Post evaluation reports

The department conducts an annual review of the performance of its overseas posts at the end of each financial year. Post evaluation reporting assesses contributions by posts to policy outcomes, examines the quality of post management and sets priorities for the coming year. As part of this evaluation, we seek feedback from other departments and agencies on the extent to which posts are meeting whole-of-government objectives.

In 2002–03, a total of 32 departments and agencies gave feedback that was very positive overall, indicating that posts were generally performing well in advancing the Government's broad interests overseas. In addition, post evaluation informs the Senior Executive's appraisal of the performance of individual heads of mission and post.

Office evaluation reports

As with posts, state and territory offices are subject to a performance review at the end of each financial year. Office evaluation reporting focuses on key areas including support to ministers, liaison with the local consular corps, business liaison programs and trade advocacy and outreach activities, as well as areas such as assistance with major meetings, notarial services and office administration. A review in 2001 resulted in a series of measures to improve the integration of the offices into the department's management systems and operations, including filling key positions with Canberra-based staff on a rotational basis, regular meetings and teleconferences with state and territory office directors and the development of outreach strategies. The findings of the review have been implemented.

Post liaison visits

In 2002–03, deputy secretaries led small teams to conduct post liaison visits at nine posts. The annual program of post liaison visits allows us to assess at first hand post performance against agreed objectives. The visits also provide an opportunity to assess whether posts are appropriately staffed and resourced.

Internal audit, risk management and business continuity planning

The Audit Committee has governance responsibility in the department for internal and external audit. It guides and reviews our audit program to ensure that an effective assurance and control framework is maintained, and that the department complies with legislative and other obligations.

During 2002–03, we undertook a busy program of internal audit activity. Business assurance-focused audits were completed, covering:

An extensive compliance-focused audit in Canberra covered financial transactions, travel processing and leave management and records. The reviews found that practices and compliance in the audited areas had improved on the previous year. A range of recommendations were made for improving management performance and systems. The recommendations have been implemented.

We completed audits at 15 overseas posts covering a range of compliance and performance elements. Eight desk audits of overseas posts were also carried out from Canberra. These audits revealed a generally improving trend in the standard of financial management and administration. Audited posts dealt promptly with all findings and recommendations.

The Audit Committee also has governance responsibility for risk management and business continuity planning. In 2002–03, we commenced a comprehensive review of our risk management plan, developing improved outreach, training and review mechanisms with assistance from Comcover. We began to develop an organisational business continuity plan to ensure we can continue critical functions in the event of a major emergency affecting our core operations.

Working Smarter: an ongoing commitment

Under the auspices of the Secretary’s Working Smarter campaign, the department continued to develop efficient work practices, lift productivity and encourage staff to maintain a healthy balance between their professional and private lives. The third certified agreement contained a commitment to sustain efforts to embed the Working Smarter culture across the department in all its locations.

Ten Working Smarter principles—promulgated in June 2000 by the Secretary after consultation with staff—anchor the campaign. These principles contain practical guidelines for improving work productivity and empower staff to operate effectively and sustainably, through time and workload management, while allowing for ‘surge capacity’ when necessary. The certified agreement identifies the qualities of high productivity, good judgment and time-organisation skills, strategic delegation, discerning prioritisation and balanced work and private life as core attributes for all of the department’s staff. Adherence to the principles is now a component in upwards and downwards performance appraisal for all staff.

A number of developments in the campaign occurred this year. Our use of IT, and particularly the capabilities of the SATIN system, continued to underpin efficient work practices. We developed or improved several databases to facilitate operations, including improvements to the corporate information database and the development of systems to manage information on issues ranging from the Bali bombings to Australian candidatures for multilateral organisations. We upgraded the cable system and continued to improve departmental templates. We upgraded our human resource and financial management information systems to enhance management efficiency.

The development of remote access IT solutions, permitting both secure and nonnational- secure communications in remote locations and during crises, has also enabled us to respond swiftly and flexibly to a number of international situations, including the war against terrorism and the re-establishment of the Australian diplomatic presence in Iraq.

New leave arrangements—reducing the amount of leave able to be carried over and aligning the timing of staff arrivals at post to the conclusion of the leave period of the departing staff—will encourage staff to use leave credits more evenly throughout the year.

Conduct and ethics

The department continued its successful ethics outreach program to promote and maintain high standards of conduct and professionalism among staff. The program includes:

We delivered training to nearly 500 staff in Canberra and state offices (Perth, Adelaide, Melbourne and Sydney) in fraud and ethics workshops, finance management workshops and other staff development courses. Heads of mission and senior administrative officers proceeding on postings received briefings on the Australian Public Service (APS) Code of Conduct and the department's Code of Conduct for Overseas Service, and post-specific issues. Advice was also provided on reporting and handling fraud and misconduct matters. Trained investigators were sent to two overseas posts to conduct investigations into alleged misconduct and fraud.

Fraud measures

The department complies with the Government's Fraud Control Guidelines and continues to refine and strengthen our fraud control activities. The department has undertaken a review of fraud risks and controls, conducted a risk assessment and developed the Fraud Control Plan 2003. Departmental investigators with primary responsibility for fraud control have the mandatory qualifications.

 

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Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Annual Report 2002–2003
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