Annual Report 2006-2007
 

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Management of human resources

The department deployed staff flexibly and quickly to meet changing policy priorities and to respond to consular crises. The department undertook a major recruitment campaign to inject generalist and specialist skills to help deliver outcomes across a challenging agenda.

In successfully evacuating Australian citizens from Lebanon in July–August 2006, the department demonstrated the capacity to coordinate and implement a complex whole of government response to a major consular crisis. We deployed 449 staff in Canberra and overseas in response to the crisis. Of these staff, 356 worked on shifts in Canberra at the 24-hour Crisis Centre, the 24-hour Logistics Coordination Centre and the 24-hour Consular Operations Centre. Another 93 staff were sent to the region as members of emergency response teams and to supplement regional embassies.

We quickly deployed staff following other emergencies, including the air disaster in Yogyakarta in March 2007. We provided additional staff to the embassy in Harare to develop contingency plans in response to worsening conditions in Zimbabwe. We sent supplementary staff to manage high-profile events such as Anzac Day in Gallipoli and the Cricket World Cup in the Caribbean.

In September 2006, we identified and trained staff for a new embassy in Kabul, Afghanistan. The embassy is currently located in a temporary office.

In Canberra, the department restructured its divisions to align them more closely with the Government’s foreign and trade policy priorities. The new structure sharpens the focus on key policy, advocacy and service delivery functions. The creation of the Australian Passport Office enhanced the department’s capacity to manage the growing scale and complexity of the passport operation. Under the new structure the department now has six rather than four geographic divisions. They are: Americas Division; Europe Division; North Asia Division; Pacific Division; South-East Asia Division; and South and West Asia, Middle East and Africa Division.

We deployed additional staff to work on environment issues, in particular climate change. More resources were dedicated to legal issues including the implementation of international sanctions. We created a Japan Free Trade Agreement task force to take forward negotiations for a bilateral free trade agreement. We implemented a flexible staffing structure to facilitate new free trade agreements with Chile and the Gulf Cooperation Council. We ensured the APEC Task Force was fully staffed in the lead-up to and during Australia’s year of hosting APEC in 2007.

Workforce planning, staff mobility and retention

The department responded to the dynamic policy environment by filling positions in Australia and overseas with appropriately skilled staff. We retain our position as an employer of choice. Generally there is no shortage of highly suitable applicants for advertised vacancies. In response to key recommendations of the 2005 Australian Public Service report Managing and sustaining the APS workforce, in 2006 the department put in place a Workforce Planning Strategy that enhances our longer-term planning capacity. The strategy ensures our staffing operations, recruitment and training are well coordinated and processes are streamlined with a focus on analysing staffing supply, demand and risks.

The department, by the nature of its work as well as the systems it has in place, is cushioned from some of the workforce planning challenges that other public service agencies face. Factors that contribute to our ability to attract and retain quality staff are the opportunity for overseas service and the diversity of the department’s work. The high levels of mobility and adaptability among the staff also limit the risks posed by an ageing workforce. A departmental review of staff retention rates, focusing on retention of graduate recruits, concluded that an average of 87.5 per cent of all graduates were retained in the department after five years of joining, and that over a 12-year period (1995–2006) a full 85 per cent of graduate recruits remained in the department. In 2006–07, our overall retention rates remained strong with only 110 ongoing staff separating from the department.

Human resource management information system

In June 2007, the department commenced work on the software upgrade of our PeopleSoft human resource information system (HRMIS). The upgrade will streamline administrative processes and deliver productivity improvements. It will allow us to more readily manage the training and performance systems built into PeopleSoft and provide easier access by staff to routine payroll and human resource transactions.

Currawong Childcare Centre

The department continued to assist staff balance work and family responsibilities through the provision of on-site childcare in the R G Casey Building. The Currawong Childcare Centre, established in 1997, is a non-profit centre which provides 90 long-day care places for babies through to preschoolers.

Recruitment

The department’s recruitment and selection processes are based on merit and the APS values set out in the Public Service Act 1999. We continued to recruit and promote staff through annual bulk selection processes for each broadband level and for SES Band 1. In addition, we undertook specialist recruitment processes where we required specific skills related to law, trade policy, accounting, and information technology.

In 2006–07, the department created approximately 130 new positions to support its expanded policy and service delivery agenda. To fill these positions and vacancies created by staff separations, we completed 48 recruitment processes, resulting in over 250 new staff being recruited or offered employment in 2006–07.

Our graduate recruitment program continued to attract high numbers of well-qualified applicants. Thirty-nine Graduate Trainees and seven Corporate and Financial Management Trainees commenced with the department in 2007. Meeting our need for a broad range of skill-sets, most Graduate Trainees had at least two degrees, in disciplines ranging from arts, economics and law to science, construction and engineering. The new recruits also brought a variety of language skills, including Indonesian, Mandarin, Malay, Hindi, Japanese and Arabic. Following a targeted campaign to promote graduate opportunities with the department, including through an expanded program of university visits, we received 1955 applications in 2007 for the 2008 Graduate Trainee program and 91 applications for the 2008 Corporate and Financial Management Trainee program.

Workplace diversity

The department’s Workplace Diversity Program 2006–09 seeks to promote a culture within the department of professional behaviour. We encourage relationships based on respect, personal courtesy and inclusion in order to foster teamwork and prevent bullying, harassment and discrimination. Our Workplace Diversity Program emphasises the importance of all employees, including locally engaged staff, achieving an appropriate balance of work, family and cultural responsibilities that are inclusive, safe, secure and rewarding.

Two signature events in the department’s workplace diversity calendar were NAIDOC Week in July 2006 and International Women’s Day in March 2007. The theme for NAIDOC Week 2006 was ‘Respect the Past—Believe in the Future’. A flag-raising ceremony of the Australian and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander flags commemorated NAIDOC Week and a representative of the department’s Indigenous Employees Network provided a keynote address. The flag raising was accompanied by the launch of an international touring exhibition of Torres Strait Islander Art, Gelam Nguzu Kazi: Dugong My Son.

The department celebrated International Women’s Day by organising and participating in activities in Canberra and at 46 posts. International Women’s Day 2007 provided an opportunity to reflect on the status of women in different cultures and regions as well as to recognise the achievements of women and their contribution to society. Mr Truss launched the book Women with a mission: Personal perspectives, which celebrated the contribution of women to Australian diplomacy. The book showcases the personal stories of nine former and current female officers who have served or are currently serving as heads of mission advancing Australia’s foreign and trade interests overseas.

The department continued to participate in APS-wide initiatives to promote workplace diversity, Indigenous employment and enhanced employment opportunities for people with disability.

Reconciliation Action Plan

The department acknowledged National Reconciliation Week 2007 throughout its network of offices in Australia and overseas and through the development of the department’s Reconciliation Action Plan.

The Reconciliation Action Plan implements the Australian Public Service Employment and Capability Strategy for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Employees and enhances the department’s Workplace Diversity Plan. The Reconciliation Action Plan reflects our Indigenous Recruitment and Career Development Strategy 2004–2007. We maintain both informal and formal consultative mechanisms within the department through the Indigenous Employees Network and the Indigenous Task Force, which continue to play an important role in promoting dialogue within the department on a range of issues affecting Indigenous staff.

The Indigenous Task Force assisted the recruitment, career development and retention of Indigenous employees and promoted awareness of Indigenous Australia within the department.

Commonwealth disability strategy

At June 2007, approximately 1.3 per cent of the department’s employees identified themselves as having a disability.

Throughout 2006–07, we continued to meet our responsibilities under the Commonwealth Disability Strategy (CDS) through our Workplace Diversity Program.

The department has developed a workplace culture that fosters employment of people with disability. We have an Action Plan for Employing People with Disability 2007–2010. The Action Plan is consistent with the Disability Discrimination Act 1992, the Workplace Relations Act 2006 and the Management Advisory Committee (MAC) report Employment of people with disability in the APS.

The department is committed to equity in employment and the elimination of harassment. Policies to achieve CDS objectives are set out in the Collective Agreement 2006–2009 (created in consultation with staff) and in associated human resource management policies, consistent with the Disability Discrimination Act 1992. We continued to provide assistance to people with disability to submit job applications and attend interviews. We also continued to make reasonable adjustments in the workplace to meet the needs of people with disability. Recruitment material is made available in a range of formats, including audio and large font.

We promoted the department’s Workplace Diversity Program through a network of Workplace Diversity Contact Officers in all divisions, state and territory offices, and overseas posts. Contact Officers distributed information to employees and ensured continuing awareness of the needs and contributions of employees with disability. Our training and development programs took into consideration the needs of people with disability, including by providing information on policies and programs addressing disability issues.

In 2006–07, there were no formal grievances relating to disability under the Workplace Diversity Program. We provide mechanisms to receive feedback and grievances from internal and external sources. As the provider of passport and consular services, the department’s Passports Client Service Charter and the Consular Services Charter set out and govern relevant services provided to all Australians, including people with disability.

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Locally engaged staff from a range of overseas posts participating in a training session in Canberra. Photo: Howard Moffat, Auspic
Enlarge image :: Photo gallery

Training and development

The department is committed to ensuring employees in Australia and overseas are equipped with relevant skills and have access to professional development opportunities to ensure they perform their duties to a high standard. We strive to adapt our training program to respond to the changing staff environment, external developments and departmental priorities. The recommendations of the recently concluded senior executive Review of Training and Development Strategies and Programs will form the basis for an action plan to be implemented over the next year.

Staff have access to over 70 training workshops covering professional development skills in key areas including; leadership and management; emerging policy issues; finance and administration; consular operations and crisis management; passports, IT and security and other specialised training. The department’s core corporate training workshops are delivered by a panel of 23 training contractors selected through a public tender process in 2005. Responding to increased recruitment levels in 2006–07, we strengthened our induction and orientation training programs to ensure that all new employees have the necessary skills and knowledge to work effectively in the department and more broadly in the APS environment.

Additional training and development opportunities were made available to staff through the Staff Training and Development Initiative, which was introduced in 2006. These included opportunities for increased numbers of staff to participate in a range of Australian Public Service Commission workshops, including on whole of government issues, and for junior staff to participate in international discussions and negotiations, providing valuable on-the-job experience.

In 2007, we introduced defensive driver and remote area first aid training for staff at higher risk posts and enhanced records management training for all staff.

Remote area first aid training

In 2006–07, the department introduced the mandatory Remote Area First Aid (RAFA) course for staff being posted to locations where medical help may be delayed or not readily accessible. This training is provided to the department by St John Ambulance (ACT) and consists of Senior First Aid training and Remote Area First Aid training.

The department has been working with St John Ambulance to customise the training to meet our specific requirements. The course covers a range of first aid events and techniques including casualty assessment; safe movement of a casualty; management of blast, crush and gunshot wounds; use of oxygen and longer-term casualty care.

On successful completion of Senior First Aid training, participants receive a nationally-accredited certificate that entitles them to the first aid allowance outlined in the Collective Agreement 2006–2009. The RAFA training program is also available to accompanying partners and family members of employees.

The average number of training days per employee during 2006–07 was ten days, well above the minimum amount of five days a year required under the department’s training and development strategy.

Trainee programs

In February 2007, 39 Graduate Trainees joined the department, the same number as recruited in the previous year. Before proceeding on their first postings, Graduate Trainees undertake a two-year in-house training program consisting of four work placements to build their bilateral, trade, multilateral and corporate policy skills. This is supplemented with a professional skills training program that includes, as required, short academic courses in international relations, international law and economics. The training program is designed to enhance diplomatic trade-craft skills and equip the Graduate Trainees to undertake the full range of duties overseas, including economic and political reporting, advocacy and representation.

Seven Corporate and Financial Management Trainees joined the department in February 2007. They are recruited with a minimum of a university minor in accountancy and are trained to be corporate policy specialists in the department. In their two-year training program they undertake workplace rotations in seven areas covering financial management, audit, consular policy and post management issues. The trainees also undertake professional skills training and study towards qualifying as a Certified Practising Accountant or a similar qualification. After approximately two years they can expect to be posted overseas in an administrative capacity.

The two-year Administrative Development Program aims to provide a pool of skilled staff to fill administrative positions at overseas posts and in Canberra. Over the longer term, these employees provide a feeder group for administrative positions overseas. This program is offered to employees at the BB1—3 levels of the department. In 2006–07, eight staff participated in the program.

In 2006–07, the department’s Indigenous Cadetship Program assisted seven cadets with their tertiary studies. Three of the seven cadets completed the program and commenced duty in the department. The others undertook work assignments in Canberra between November 2006 and February 2007. A further three cadets joined the department in March 2007.

Indigenous Cadetship Program graduates undertake professional training and four work placements over a two-year period before being assigned to long-term placements and postings. The department encourages its cadets to apply for the Graduate Trainee program and, if they have accounting qualifications, the Corporate and Financial Management Trainee program. The department provided Indigenous employees with advice and access to appropriate training and career development opportunities as part of the department’s Indigenous Recruitment and Career Development Strategy 2004–07.

PERSONAL PROFILE: Stewart McBride

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Corporate, Financial and Management Trainee Mr Stewart McBride.
Enlarge image :: Photo gallery

Stewart McBride is one of seven Corporate, Financial and Management Trainees who joined the department in February 2006.

Stewart is working in the Evaluation and Audit Section, the fifth of seven work placements he will undertake as part of his two-year training program. Stewart’s job in the section will equip him to undertake a desk audit of an overseas post—an important avenue through which the department meets its compliance and accountability obligations.

Stewart previously worked in the Consular Policy and Crisis Management Section. He travelled to Fiji as part of an emergency response team despatched to ensure the safety of Australians during political upheaval there in December 2006.

Drawing on his legal skills, Stewart has worked on the management of the department’s budget and contracts procurement policy and assisted with the review of the department’s language training budget. While working in the Staff Development and Post Issues Branch, Stewart travelled to Brussels to support the post in the lead-up to a large regional meeting and a ministerial visit. During 2007, along with other trainees, Stewart is working as a liaison officer for visiting foreign ministers and senior officials for APEC 2007.

In addition to on-the-job training, Stewart has upgraded his professional skills and is studying to qualify as a Certified Practising Accountant. Stewart’s training is designed to provide him with a solid understanding of the department’s corporate policy objectives—focusing on consular policy and financial and staffing management issues. Stewart’s first overseas posting at the end of his training program will further strengthen his skills as a professional administrator in the department.

Studies assistance

The department continued to offer a Studybank scheme providing leave and financial assistance to staff to complete academic courses in areas relevant to the department’s work. A review of Studybank is currently under way with a view to streamlining and updating procedures. As of June 2007, 46 staff were studying under the scheme. This included staff undertaking postgraduate studies in international law, public policy, accounting and financial management, and business administration.

Regional management conferences

In May 2007, the department organised a regional management conference in Brisbane for managers and a number of locally engaged staff from our Pacific island posts to ensure they kept in touch with corporate and administrative developments. Conference participants, including senior staff from Canberra, discussed consular, passport, finance, security, property and other administrative issues. In addition, we held informal meetings between senior administrative officers from relevant regional posts and Canberra-based staff in Athens in October 2006 and Abu Dhabi in November 2006.

Language training

The department trains staff in priority languages reflecting Australia’s foreign and trade policy interests. Over the year, 81 employees undertook long-term language training in Australia or overseas. A further 82 undertook survival language training in preparation for their postings. Total expenditure on language training was $2.1 million.

To encourage staff to maintain existing high-level language proficiency in priority languages, the department held three one-week, intensive in-house immersion courses in Indonesian, Japanese and Mandarin. The department also conducted weekly lunchtime language discussion classes—participation at these classes also includes employees from other APS agencies. In order to further encourage staff to maintain skills in priority languages a financial incentive, in the form of an allowance, is paid to officers who maintain a tested proficiency.

Performance management

The performance management system continues to be a vital component of the department’s human resources strategy. The department remains committed to a system that is fair and equitable for all staff and is conducted with integrity. It is designed to foster a strong performance culture. It encourages and rewards high achievement, improves and manages individual performance and develops and trains staff to meet both their career development needs and the needs of the department.

The Collective Agreement 2006–2009 enhanced the transparency of the performance management process by introducing compulsory appraisal feedback training for supervisors. Training was provided over the past year to staff in Canberra and a number of the department’s interstate offices on their supervisory responsibilities. Further changes, introduced in response to staff feedback, included enhanced transparency of staff comparative assessment that determines ‘outstanding’ and ‘superior’ performance ratings.

Locally engaged staff management

Locally engaged staff (LES) continued to contribute substantially to the effective performance of our overseas posts.

The department comprehensively reviewed the LES Better Practice Guide to ensure that the policy and employment conditions for LES remained current and that overseas posts had an effective guide to assist them to manage LES.

We audited the department’s employer obligations for LES at all our overseas posts, targeting in particular social security and other compulsory employer payments.

The department maintained its close engagement with other government agencies represented overseas on administrative arrangements relating to employment issues for LES.

Australian workplace agreements

All SES staff are employed under Australian Workplace Agreements (AWAs). So too are some non-SES staff, including in specialist/technical positions or positions that involve additional responsibility or significant additional working hours compared to other staff at the same level.

Remuneration of senior executives

SES employees will receive a pay rise of 12 per cent over the nominal three-year duration of the AWAs up to June 2009.

Certified and collective agreement

The department’s third employee collective agreement, 2006–2009, came into effect on 6 July 2006. The agreement included a salary increase of 12 per cent over three years.

Non-salary benefits under the collective agreement and Australian workplace agreements

Both the collective agreement and AWAs in the department provide non-salary benefits, including access to performance-based bonuses and a range of flexible and family-friendly work practices, such as flex-time, time off in lieu, 12-weeks full pay or 24-weeks 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.

Staff welfare

The department supports staff through specialist services provided by the Staff Counsellor’s Office, the Medical Unit and the Family Liaison Officer.

The Staff Counsellor’s Office provided psychological support services to staff in Canberra and overseas. Staff counsellors were deployed to major incidents including the Lebanon crisis and the air disaster in Yogyakarta. To provide a whole of government response to crises, the Staff Counsellor’s Office strengthened links with counsellors from other government agencies. The Office hosted an inaugural international conference of mental health professionals in April 2007 involving delegates from the United Kingdom, Germany, Japan, New Zealand and AusAID. The conference promoted information-sharing and cooperation with international counterparts.

The Medical Unit provided services to support staff, in particular employees and their families posted overseas. The unit managed over 50 medical evacuations including one air ambulance evacuation and others requiring medical escorts on commercial flights.

With the help of the Community Liaison Officer network at overseas missions, the Family Liaison Officer advised employees and their families on issues including spouse recognition and employment, children’s education requirements, culture shock and general conditions at post. The office managed 25 compassionate travel requests, provided logistical assistance to 22 medical evacuations to Australia and liaised with posts and attached agencies on the evacuation of non-essential staff and dependants from Lebanon and Fiji. The department provided direct assistance to the family of the departmental officer who died in the Yogyakarta air disaster in March 2007.

The department monitored avian influenza and has in place arrangements to protect staff and dependants at high risk posts.

The department consulted staff on occupational health and safety (OHS) issues through regular OHS forums (see Appendix 3 for more information on our policy and measures). We delivered training modules on OHS and workers compensation and rehabilitation. We continued our program of OHS briefings to employees undertaking overseas postings and to new staff as part of orientation training. We began work on new Health and Safety Management Arrangements which will replace the Occupational Health and Safety Employer/Employee Agreement.

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