Annual Report 2008-2009
 

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External scrutiny

The Auditor-General tabled in Parliament the following reports by the Australian National Audit Office related to the department’s operations:

Report No.1: Employment and Management of Locally Engaged Staff

The objective of the audit was to assess the effectiveness of our employment and management of locally engaged staff at Australia’s overseas missions. In particular, the audit examined arrangements for: planning and risk management; guidance and training; recruitment, engagement and employment of locally engaged staff; and performance management.

Report No.13: Government Agencies’ Management of their Websites

This audit involved the department and two other agencies. Particular attention was given to the audited agencies’ website purposes, risk management and planning, policies, content management procedures, and website performance monitoring and reporting.

Report No.14: Audits of the Financial Statements of Australian Government Entities for the period ended 30 June 2008

Financial statement audits are an independent examination of the financial accounting and reporting of public sector entities. This report complements the interim phase report and provides a summary of the final results of the audits of the financial statements of all Australian Government entities, including the Consolidated Financial Statements for the Australian Government.

Report No.25: Green Office Procurement and Sustainable Office Management

This cross-agency audit of 63 government agencies assessed their progress in achieving better practice in green office procurement and sustainable office management.

Report No.42: The Interim Phase of the Audit of Financial Statements of General Government Sector Agencies for the Year Ending 30 June 2009

The interim audit of agencies related to agencies’ financial reporting responsibilities, and an examination of relevant internal controls, including information technology system controls.

Courts and administrative tribunals

We were involved in a number of legal matters during the year (see Appendix 7). There were no decisions that had a significant legal impact on the operations of the department.

Ombudsman

The Commonwealth Ombudsman investigated 31 approaches/complaints with respect to the department’s activities in 2008–09 (down from 36 in 2007–08), making two informal findings of administrative deficiency (down from seven in 2007–08).

Privacy

No reports were served on the department under section 30 of the Privacy Act 1988 (the Privacy Act), nor were there any determinations made by the Privacy Commissioner relating to the actions of the department under sections 52 or 53 of the Privacy Act.

No public interest determinations were sought from the Privacy Commissioner under section 72 of the Privacy Act. However, the department has proposed to the Office of the Privacy Commissioner changes to Public Interest Determination 7, issued under section 72 of the Privacy Act. The proposed changes would provide greater scope for the department’s consular staff to contact next of kin and authorities in whereabouts enquiries and to share information with medical staff in hospitalisation cases when assisting Australians abroad.

In August 2008, the Secretary issued an Administrative Circular, ‘Personal Information—Obligations under the Privacy Act 1988’, reminding staff of their obligations when handling personal information. Consular staff at overseas posts were provided with more guidance on privacy issues that arise when assisting Australians abroad with the launch of the revised Consular Handbook.

Five complaints were made directly to the department this year. We concluded our investigations into two of these complaints, finding no breach of privacy occurred in relation to both matters. We are continuing to investigate the other three complaints.

We concluded our investigation into one complaint made in the previous year, finding a breach of privacy occurred. We offered an apology to the complainant.

We initiated investigations into two possible breaches of privacy by the department this year. We concluded our investigation into one matter, finding a breach of privacy had occurred and we provided an apology to the individual. We are continuing our investigations into the other matter.

The Office of the Privacy Commissioner (OPC) completed investigating one complaint it received in 2007–08, finding that the department had handled the matter appropriately and agreeing that the department had not interfered with the complainant’s privacy. The OPC is investigating the other complaint it received in 2007–08 where the department had found no breach of privacy occurred.

In June 2008, the department made a submission to the OPC on the draft Guidelines for Personal Information Security Breach Notifications. We also participated in the OPC’s government wide survey on ‘Portable Storage Devices’.

Legislation

The process for all portfolio-related legislation has been managed effectively.

Amendments to the Export Market Development Grants Act 1997 made by the Same-Sex Relationships (Equal Treatment in Commonwealth Laws—General Law Reform) Act 2008 began on 10 December 2008. Amendments to the Trade Representatives Act 1933 made by the Same-Sex Relationships (Equal Treatment in Commonwealth Laws—General Law Reform) Act 2008 began on 10 December 2008. Minor amendments were made to a number of Acts we administer by the Statute Law Revision Act 2008, which commenced operation on 4 July 2008.

We facilitated the enactment and amendment of a number of regulations and determinations. Among them were regulations to implement Australia’s obligations under United Nations Security Council resolutions to impose sanctions upon several countries and regulations on diplomatic and consular privileges and immunities.

We provided input to legislation managed by agencies within the portfolio and to legislation managed by other agencies that affected foreign affairs and trade portfolio legislation.

Compensation for detriment caused by defective administration

Thirteen cases were lodged under the compensation scheme for detriment caused by defective administration. Eight cases were resolved during the year (including three from previous financial years), resulting in five payments made from administered funds. In three cases, compensation under the scheme was found not to be warranted. Eight cases (including one from the previous year) remained in progress at 30 June 2009.

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