Annual Report 2003-2004
 

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1. Overviews2. Performance3. Corporate4. Financials5. Appendixes6. Glossaries and Compliance Index

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Management of human resources

The department deployed its human resources flexibly to focus on government priorities and respond to crises. Australia's involvement in Iraq's reconstruction and negotiation of the Australia–United States Free Trade Agreement were major priorities for the department. The Solomon Islands Task Force and Asia Trade Task Force were wound down respectively once the Regional Assistance Mission to Solomon Islands (RAMSI) had consolidated its work and the Thailand–Australia Free Trade Agreement was concluded. To meet an emerging priority we established a China FTA Study Task Force in early 2004.

We moved quickly to deploy staff as required in response to emergency situations, including 24-hour staffing of crisis management centres following the Jakarta JW Marriott Hotel bombing and during the Manila hostage crisis.

Posts and divisions were supported with timely and appropriate staffing resources for the Bali Ministerial Conference on Counter Terrorism and the Terrorism White Paper.

The pool of staff available to work in the crisis centre and emergency call centre increased as a result of additional training programs held throughout the year. We developed and further refined our contingency plans to deal with adverse regional and global developments.

We undertook a highly coordinated approach to achieve the orderly and expeditious closure of our missions in Caracas and Bridgetown and the opening of new missions in Accra and Port of Spain.

Remuneration of senior executives

All SES employees are employed under Australian Workplace Agreements (AWAs). The provisions of the AWAs are consistent with the Certified Agreement 2003–06 and provide for an 11.5 per cent pay rise over the three-year period covered by the agreements. See note 15 to the financial statements on page 296 and Table 24 in Appendix 2 for details of executive remuneration.

Workforce planning, staff retention and staff turnover

The department established a Recruitment and Workforce Planning Unit in Staff Development Branch in order to improve forecasting capability and analyse the long-term implications of our workforce profile. The implications of an ageing workforce and succession planning will be key areas of focus. See the box on page 230 for information on staff retention and turnover.

Recruitment

The department's recruitment and selection processes are based on the merit principle and the APS values set out in the Public Service Act 1999. We continue to meet our staffing needs through annual 'promotion-to-level' bulk selection processes at each broadband and SES level. We undertake specialist selection processes as required to fill gaps in specific skills areas such as accounting, law and information technology.

A healthy organisation—A productive organisation

The department has a very high staff retention rate of 96 per cent across all levels of staff. This compares favourably with the APS-wide retention rate of around 93 per cent.

According to an ANAO audit of unplanned absences across the Australian Public Service in 2003, the department is also a healthy workplace. The APS average absence on unplanned leave (including sick leave) is 12 days each year per full-time equivalent (FTE) staff member. The departmental average is 6.95 days absence per FTE. Sick leave is the major component of unscheduled absences in the APS with an average of 8.7 days per FTE employee. Our sick leave absences averaged 3.7 days per employee. The overall direct cost of unscheduled absences in the APS was $293 million or $2600 per FTE employee. Costs in the department were $3.2 million or $1740 per employee.

We also have a lower number of compensation claims than the APS average and the number of claims is falling each year.

We attracted more than 2500 applicants for our graduate intake for 2004. Through our program of visits to Australian universities and our updated graduate recruitment website, we continued to emphasise the department's need for staff with a broad range of skills and experiences. These needs were amply met in the 2004 Graduate Trainee intake, which included graduates of international relations, law and economics, as well as engineering, geography, science and health. There was also increased interest in our Corporate and Financial Management Trainee program, established in 2002 to attract new staff with high-level skills and qualifications in accounting and management.

The department has a Contractor Management Unit to manage staff employed under contract. A particular focus this year was encouraging greater awareness of appropriate procurement practices in those areas of the department using contract staff arrangements.

Workplace diversity

Our workplace diversity activities promote a high level of awareness among employees of the principles of sustainable teamwork—respect, personal courtesy, inclusion and elimination of harassment and discrimination. There are designated workplace diversity contact officers in all work units in the department in Canberra, in State offices and at overseas posts.

Photo - See caption below for description
The department presented the Roni Ellis Indigenous Study Awards to two students in October 2003. The awards were named in memory of an indigenous departmental staff member. From left to right: award recipient, Ms Daphne Bennell, Deputy Secretary Doug Chester, and Associate Professor Tracey Bunda, Ngunnawal Centre, who accepted on behalf of Mr Mark Halloran.
Enlarge image :: Photo gallery

The department's Indigenous cadetship program had nine cadets in 2003–04. The ongoing recruitment and training of cadets and graduates enables Indigenous Australians to develop careers in the foreign service (see also 'Trainee programs' below).

Highlights of the department's workplace diversity annual cycle were NAIDOC Week in July 2003 and International Women's Week in March 2004. As part of the department's commemoration of NAIDOC Week, the Secretary launched the Kickin' up dust photographic exhibition in the department's headquarters in Canberra. Kickin' up dust depicted scenes from four Indigenous cultural festivals held between August 2002 and February 2003. They were: Garma, held in Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory; The Torres Strait Cultural Festival, held on Thursday Island off the far north coast of Queensland; Stompem Ground, held in Broome in Western Australia; and larapuna, held in Eddystone Point, in north-west Tasmania. The photographs captured the essence of each festival, and gave departmental staff and other visitors to the building a window into the peoples and cultures of four unique and diverse Indigenous communities.

To celebrate International Women's Day, the portfolio Parliamentary Secretaries, Ms Christine Gallus (Foreign Affairs) and Ms De-Anne Kelly (Trade), addressed staff in Canberra about their roles as Members of Parliament and as advocates of Australia's foreign and trade policy interests. The department also acknowledged Harmony Day (21 March) and National Reconciliation Week 2004 through our network of offices in Australia and overseas.

We participated in APS-wide activities to promote workplace diversity, Indigenous employment and enhanced employment opportunities for people with disabilities.

The department's performance in implementing the Commonwealth Disability Strategy is reported in Appendix 4.

Training and development

The department provides staff with training and development opportunities to meet their professional needs, including in such areas as management, leadership, finance and administration, conduct and ethics, information technology, foreign languages, consular issues and security. The training program reflects organisational goals and reinforces key corporate messages such as the importance of strong advocacy skills, exemplary standards of conduct and ethics, and a high level of security awareness.

The department currently offers over 70 different training programs. During 2003–04, we introduced several new programs, including a public advocacy, strategies and skills workshop, an expanded overseas passports course and professional skills training for externally recruited policy and specialist staff. The average number of training days per employee in 2003–04 was 8.9, well above the minimum amount of five days a year required under the department's training and development strategy (see Tables 26–27 in Appendix 2 for details of training days and costs).

The department provided a written submission and appeared before the Senate Finances and Public Administration References Committee inquiry into Recruitment and Training in the APS. The committee's report, which was tabled in Parliament in September 2003, reflects many of the best practice principles and strategies that we already have in place.

The department plans to undertake a review of its staff training and development strategy in 2005 to ensure it remains effective in meeting key organisational goals. The review will build on a training and development stocktake completed by Corporate Management Division in December 2003.

Trainee programs

In February 2004, thirty-one graduate trainees joined the department, an increase of six over the previous year's intake. We recruited a larger number to help fill several new junior positions overseas. Before they go on their first postings, the department provides the graduates with a two-year in-house training program. It consists of four workplace rotations, three training blocks focused on professional skills development and, as required, short academic courses in international politics, international law and economics.

Four corporate and financial management trainees also began in February 2004. This trainee program aims to improve the department's corporate, financial and administrative skills base. The trainees undertake five workplace rotations in our corporate areas over two years and complete a Certified Practising Accountant, or equivalent, qualification. They can then expect to be posted overseas in an administrative capacity.

The two-year administrative officer development program aims to provide a pool of skilled staff to fill junior administrative positions at overseas posts and in Canberra. Over the longer term, these staff provide a feeder group for senior administrative officer positions overseas. Eight staff participated in the program in 2003–04.

In 2003–04, our Indigenous cadetship program helped nine cadets with their tertiary studies. During the year, three cadets graduated from the program and two have continued with the department. A further three cadets undertook assignments in Canberra between November and February. Three cadets joined the department in March 2004. On graduation, cadets are offered positions with the department and are eligible to apply for our other traineeship programs, including the Graduate Trainee Program and the Corporate and Financial Management Trainee Program.

Language training

In response to key foreign and trade priorities, particularly a renewed focus on the Middle East, new language-designated positions were created in Baghdad and Kuwait City, and language-designated status was given to existing positions in Ramallah and Manila.

We conducted three one-week in-house immersion courses in Indonesian, Japanese and Mandarin to help staff retain high-level language skills. Lunch-time language discussion classes continued to be well-attended by staff. Our most popular discussion classes were Mandarin, Japanese and French. In keeping with the increasing importance of Arabic, an Arabic discussion class was introduced for staff with some proficiency in Arabic to complement an existing higher-level class. Almost one-third of staff have tested as professionally proficient in a foreign language within the past six years.

Studies assistance

The department maintains its commitment to a Studybank scheme, which offers study leave and financial assistance to staff to complete academic courses in a range of areas that are of benefit to the department. As at June 2004, 59 staff, including locally engaged employees overseas, were receiving assistance. Postgraduate studies accounted for 70 per cent of total enrolments, including in the disciplines of international law, economics and business administration.

The department has a contractual arrangement with Deakin University to provide certificate and diploma courses in foreign and trade policy. The department's commitment to these courses will be phased out at the end of the 2005 academic year, at which time it is estimated 62 employees will have completed successfully courses through Deakin University.

Regional management conferences

The department organises regional management conferences for managers at our overseas posts and key locally engaged staff. Conference participants, including senior staff from Canberra, discuss issues on the department's corporate agenda, including consular and passport matters, finance, security and property. We held meetings in Hong Kong, New Delhi and Kuala Lumpur in September and November 2003 for Asian and Middle East posts and in Brisbane 2004 for South Pacific posts.

Performance management

Annual performance appraisal is a vital component of the department's people management strategy. The performance management system is designed to encourage and reward high achievement, manage individual performance and provide a clear link for staff between their work and broader corporate goals. Appraisal reports feed into promotion, placement and posting decisions. We have worked to ensure that the appraisal system contributes to organisational outcomes by improving our management of performance data and strengthening the link between staff performance and training.

For information on the payment of performance rewards see Table 25 in Appendix 2.

Locally engaged staff management

Our overseas missions maintained the momentum generated over the last three years in implementing the outcomes of the Locally Engaged Staff (LES) Management Review. We made significant advances, especially in the areas of compliance with local labour law and ensuring that conditions of service and salary packages are appropriate for local markets. Heads of mission and post managers were closely engaged on these issues as part of their effort to improve LES management at posts.

The department seeks to provide locally engaged staff with a safe and productive work environment, appropriate training, fair and effective performance management systems which deliver appropriate rewards, and to ensuring that each post has consultative mechanisms in place to facilitate effective dialogue.

Australian Workplace Agreements

All SES staff and a small number of non-SES staff in specialist positions are employed under Australian Workplace Agreements (AWAs). The AWAs reflect the conditions of service, including salary increases, applying to departmental staff covered by the Certified Agreement 2003–06. The AWAs are valid for three years from July 2003 to June 2006.

Certified agreement

A new Certified Agreement was implemented in the department with effect from 1 July 2003. The agreement has a notional expiry date of 30 June 2006. The agreement includes a salary increase of 11.5 per cent over three years. The first increase of four per cent was paid with effect from 1 July 2003.

Non-salary benefits under the certified agreement and Australian Workplace Agreements

Both the certified agreement and AWAs in the department provide non-salary benefits, including access to performance-based bonuses or advancement and a range of flexible and family-friendly work practices, such as flex-time, time off in lieu, half-pay maternity leave and emergency child care costs. The allowances for overseas service are a significant non-salary benefit available to departmental staff posted overseas.

SES staff employed under AWAs also have access to vehicles and mobile phones.

Overseas conditions of service

The department continued to monitor its overseas conditions of service to ensure they remain appropriate, including through close liaison with other government agencies operating overseas.

We began a review of the operation of the overseas conditions of service package introduced in 2002. The review was due to be completed in early 2004–05.

In response to the unique situation faced by staff at the Australian Representative Office in Baghdad and RAMSI, the department devised special service conditions for those locations.

Staff welfare

The Principal Medical Adviser provided a program of medical support services to staff and their dependants. A total of 416 staff and their dependants were medically prepared and cleared before overseas posting, as were more than 320 staff going on short-term missions. We also managed 47 medical evacuations and over 3200 enquiries.

The Principal Medical Adviser provided medical advice to Parliamentarians and other government agencies on issues relating to travel medicine and international health. The consular area was also provided with medical advice in relation to health issues relating to sick or injured Australians overseas.

The department continued to operate six doctor-based clinics attached to posts in the Asia–Pacific region. Major issues dealt with during the year included the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) virus, avian flu and a number of outbreaks of dengue fever and typhoid.

The Staff Counsellor provided clinical services in support of a range of departmental functions. On-site psychological support services were offered to staff selected for duty in the Australian Representative Office in Baghdad and to staff in Manila following terrorist targeting. The Staff Counsellor also helped develop improved personal security awareness training for posts to respond more effectively to adversity while serving in high-risk environments.

We provided specific training to staff in the Emergency Call Centre to manage crisis calls and to help them maintain wellbeing over extended periods of duty.

We provided specialist input to a small number of consular cases that involved high levels of trauma or distress. These cases included consular staff dealing with incarcerated Australian citizens facing death penalties, sexual assault victims and a small number of Australian families who experienced difficulties in the wake of the Bali memorial service.

The department supported staff and their families on postings and in Canberra. The Family Liaison Officer, with the assistance of the Community Liaison Officer network, briefed more than 100 employees and spouses prior to posting, managed some 40 requests for compassionate travel from posts, and provided general support to staff and their dependants both in Australia and overseas. The Senior Executive decided to expand our on-site childcare facilities by an additional 20 places in response to growing demand for places.

We strengthened our commitment to consultation on occupational health and safety (OHS) through successful negotiation of a new two-year Employer/Employee OHS Agreement with staff and union representatives. The Agreement defines the structural framework within which OHS is managed in the department. It came into effect on 9 September 2003.

We developed and implemented training modules on OHS and workers' compensation and rehabilitation for incorporation into in-house management courses—including mandatory courses for newly appointed senior executive staff. The existing briefings to groups of employees proceeding on overseas postings have been augmented through the provision of individual sessions with senior administrative staff and Heads of Mission/Post. Our incident notification procedures were revised and reissued, while our incident report form was modified to allow online submission using the department's intranet.

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Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade Annual Report 2003–2004
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