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Australian Government - Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

Advancing the interests of Australia and Australians internationally

Australian Government - Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

Advancing the interests of Australia and Australians internationally



External scrutiny

In 2009–10, the Auditor-General tabled in Parliament the following reports by the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) related to the department’s operations:

Report No.2: Campaign Advertising Review 2008–09

This cross-agency review included DFAT. As part of the ANAO’s role in reviewing proposed advertising campaigns for compliance with the June 2008 guidelines, the Auditor-General advised the Joint Committee of Public Accountants and Audit (JCPAA) that the ANAO would provide regular summary reports on its advertising review activities to Parliament.

DFAT reviewed ANAO’s assessment of government advertising campaigns to ensure continued compliance.

Report No.14: Agencies’ Contract Management

The ANAO completed a performance audit of agencies’ contracts management. The department was one of three agencies reviewed. The ANAO found overall that DFAT’s practices were reasonable. More broadly it recommended that all agencies should review and where required strengthen their compliance with Finance Regulations, with specific reference to management of contract records. It also recommended that agencies managing a broad range and large number of contracts develop a systematic approach to disseminating information on contract management including periodically reviewing aggregate contract management information to identify trends in contract management performance to improve contract management processes.

The department reviewed its contract management processes and procedures to ensure ongoing compliance with Finance Regulations and took steps to reinforce with staff the requirement for compliance. It also began investigating options to further enhance contract information management systems to facilitate more strategic use of aggregate contract data. The department is currently undertaking a review of the content and delivery of contract management training to develop a more systematic approach to disseminating information on contract management.

Report No.17: Audits of the Financial Statements of Australian Government Entities for the period ended 30 June 2009

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.

Personal Profile:

Photo - See caption below for description
William Ewing

William Ewing

William Ewing joined DFAT as a graduate trainee in February 2009. He worked with legal counsel on the Japan and Korea Free Trade Agreements (FTAs), and was involved in a number of FTA negotiation rounds, including one in Seoul. He has also worked in the Korean Peninsula and Mongolia Section and the Solomon Islands Section. William also acted as liaison officer for high-ranking foreign officials visiting Australia under DFAT’s Special Visits Program. He recently coordinated a visit by the Governor of the Central Bank of Solomon Islands.

William will shortly begin his first posting, as Third Secretary in the Australian High Commission in Honiara, Solomon Islands. His responsibilities will include liaising with representatives of the Solomon Islands Government, the private sector and non-governmental organisations, and reporting on bilateral developments and the political and economic situation.

“My exposure to a wide range of DFAT’s core tasks has prepared me well for my first posting. I’m looking forward to applying the skills and knowledge I’ve learnt in Canberra to help advance Australia’s relationship with Solomon Islands—a regional partner of great strategic importance.”

Report No.32: Management of the Overseas Owned Estate

The objective of this audit was to assess the effectiveness of OPO’s management of the overseas owned estate. In particular, the audit examined whether: sound arrangements are in place to effectively plan and oversee the management of the overseas estate; OPO effectively manages owned property on a day-to-day basis; the condition of the overseas owned estate is adequately maintained by structured and systematic repair and maintenance arrangements; OPO has appropriate information to manage the owned estate effectively; and OPO consults appropriately with stakeholders.

The report made four recommendations which related to tenant agency arrangements, improving the property condition rating system, strengthening building compliance auditing and performance indicators and reviewing with Finance the effectiveness of the current commercial management model. The department has agreed to these recommendations and is in the process of implementing them. An improved property condition rating system will be implemented in 2010–11. We will be undertaking a joint review with Finance of the overseas property operating framework with the objective of reporting to ministers during 2010–11.

Report No.38: Campaign Advertising Review July 2009 – March 2010

This cross-agency review included DFAT and supplements the reviews included in report No.2 above. As part of the ANAO’s role in reviewing proposed advertising campaigns for compliance with the June 2008 Guidelines, the Auditor-General advised the JCPAA that the ANAO would provide regular summary reports to Parliament on its advertising review activities.

DFAT reviewed ANAO’s assurance report on campaign advertising and will endeavour to incorporate the report’s findings into future smartraveller advertising campaigns.

Report No.41: Effective Cross-agency Agreements

This cross-agency audit of 21 agencies, including DFAT, assessed whether agreements between Australian Government (Commonwealth) agencies reflected sound administrative practices. To meet this objective, the audit reviewed current government policy and a range of better practice guidelines, conducted interviews with agencies and examined cross-agency agreements, to formulate suitable audit criteria and subsequently develop better practice principles.

DFAT noted the contents and recommendations contained in the ANAO’s report and will endeavour to implement the better practice principles contained in the report when negotiating or renegotiating new and current cross-agency agreements respectively.

Report No.50: The Interim Phase of the Audit of Financial Statements of Major General Government Sector Agencies for the Year Ending 30 June 2010

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

Courts and administrative tribunals

The department was involved in a number of legal matters during the year. There were no decisions that had a significant legal impact on the operations of the department. Details of matters in which the department was involved are at Appendix 7.

Commonwealth Ombudsman

The Commonwealth Ombudsman investigated 27 approaches/complaints with respect to the department’s activities in 2009–10, making no findings of administrative deficiency. No formal reports were issued.

Fair Work Ombudsman

On jurisdictional grounds, the department has objected to a complaint lodged with the Fair Work Ombudsman by a locally engaged staff member.

Legislation

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

Amendments to the South Pacific Nuclear Free Zone Treaty Act 1986 made by the Crimes Legislation Amendment (Serious and Organised Crime) Act (No. 2) 2010 began on 20 February 2010. Amendments to the Export Market Development Grants Act 1997 made by the Crimes Legislation Amendment (Serious and Organised Crime) Act (No. 2) 2010 began on 20 February 2010. Further amendments made by the Export Market Development Grants Amendment Act 2010 commenced operation on 30 June 2010. The Statute Law Revision Act 2010 repealed the Papua New Guinea (Application of Laws) Act 1973 on 1 March 2010 and made a number of minor amendments to Acts on 19 March 2010 to Acts administered by the portfolio.

The department facilitated the enactment and amendment of a number of regulations and determinations. Among them were regulations to implement Australia’s obligations under the United Nations Security Council resolutions to impose sanctions upon several countries, a declaration to impose trade sanctions and determinations to implement amendments to the Australian Passports Determination 2005.

The department 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.

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.

We are in consultation with the Office of the Privacy Commissioner (OPC) about replacing Public Interest Determination 7 with a new enhanced Public Interest Determination. This new Public Interest Determination would aid the department’s consular staff overseas when assisting Australians abroad by being able to share information with medical staff in hospitalisation cases, and to provide further details to next of kin and authorities when responding to whereabouts enquiries.

In 2009–10, three complaints were made directly to the department. We concluded our investigations into one case, finding no breach of privacy. In another case, we found a breach of privacy had occurred and we offered an apology to those affected. We are continuing to investigate the other complaint.

The OPC completed one own-motion investigation in the year, finding that our handling of the issue was appropriate. It initiated another own-motion investigation in the year and found on 20 August 2010 that the department handled the issue appropriately. We continue to work with the OPC on the conciliation of a complaint it received in 2007–08, where we had found no breach of privacy.

We concluded our investigations into two of the three complaints received during 2008–09. In one matter, we found no breach of privacy. In the other, we found a breach of privacy had occurred and we offered an apology to the complainant. We are continuing an investigation into a complaint and a department-initiated investigation, both from the previous year.

A Privacy Impact Assessment (PIA) was completed and another two are being undertaken, one as part of a data sharing project between the Australian Passport Office and the Department of Immigration and Citizenship and the second will inform the design and development of an online passport application system.

We took part in interdepartmental consultations on proposed reforms to the Privacy Act 1988.

Parliamentary committees

The department made submissions and/or gave evidence to 10 parliamentary committee inquiries. In addition, departmental staff appeared before the Joint Standing Committee on Treaties in relation to 15 proposed treaty actions (see Appendix 6 for further details).

Compensation for detriment caused by defective administration

Thirty-two cases were lodged under the compensation scheme for detriment caused by defective administration. Twenty-one cases were resolved during the year (including six from previous financial years), resulting in 11 payments made from administered funds (two additional payments were processed in the subsequent financial year). In six cases, compensation under the scheme was found not to be warranted (including one case from a previous year). Nineteen cases (including two from the previous year) remained in progress at the end of the financial year.

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