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

Corporate governance

The department’s achievement of its performance outcomes are underpinned by a robust institutional governance framework.

The Executive

The Secretary oversaw all significant foreign and trade policy and corporate management issues and decided all placements of senior executive staff. The deputy secretaries supported the Secretary through management of the department’s work units (see figure 1 on page 13 for the Executive structure and the deputy secretaries’ areas of responsibility). Members of the Executive also represented the Government at meetings in Australia and overseas and chaired key corporate governance bodies.

Senior management committees and their roles

Portfolio coordination

As the lead agency in the foreign affairs and trade portfolio, the department worked closely with portfolio agencies to coordinate objectives and ensure consistency. In addition to routine consultation, weekly consultations were held with AusAID and Austrade through the Secretary’s Policy Meeting.

Through the Development Effectiveness Steering Committee (DESC), a body chaired by the Director General of AusAID and charged with enhancing whole-of-government coordination of the aid program, the department worked with AusAID to support the Government’s commitment to increase levels of development assistance to 0.5 per cent of Gross National Income by 2015. The department assisted in developing the government’s response to the Independent Review of Aid Effectiveness.

Whole-of-government coordination

The Prime Minister’s Directive on the Guidelines for the Management of the Australian Government Presence Overseas sets out the department’s role, including for the growing number of other government agency representatives attached to our diplomatic missions. The department worked closely with agencies to achieve whole-of-government objectives, including in hosting major international meetings, in responding to consular crises, in regional counter-terrorism cooperation, and in coordinating policy approaches to bilateral and multilateral trade negotiations.

Demands on government during responses to international and domestic crises and natural disasters increased. The department implemented reforms to enhance our responses to international incidents. We complemented reforms in other agencies, including Crisis Centre staffing through a dedicated Crisis Centre ‘cadre’ during major overseas crises.

Personal Profile:

Photo - See caption below for description
As a member of the Consular Contingency Planning Assistance Team, Natalie Thean (left) liaises with a member of the Republic of Korea National Emergency Management Authority.

Natalie Thean

In her role as a corporate financial and management trainee, Natalie Thean rotated through areas of the department dealing with government finances, management of posts and locally engaged staff, diplomatic security, and consular crisis management as well as serving on the International Financial Crisis Taskforce.

Early in 2011, she had a short term posting to Kathmandu where she assisted the embassy with internal audit, consular work and multilateral policy reporting. In March, Natalie travelled to Seoul as part of the Consular Contingency Planning Assistance Team. She was deployed to Tokyo immediately from Seoul as part of the Australian Government’s crisis response to the Japanese earthquake and tsunami. Natalie assisted Australians and their families affected by the events in Japan.

“Although the events in Japan were confronting to see in the media, consular work was interesting and challenging. I have just started my first posting as Second Secretary and Vice-Consul in Seoul, and am looking forward to using the experience I gained from working in various areas across the department.”



Management mechanisms and meetings

The Departmental Executive, with membership from across senior levels of the department, met weekly to focus on strategic resource management and priorities, along with other matters requiring high-level attention.

The Secretary’s Policy Meeting continued weekly to discuss current, emerging and medium to long-term foreign and trade policy issues. Its membership included senior departmental staff and senior officers from the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, AusAID, Austrade and the Office of National Assessments.

The Secretary met division heads weekly to communicate the department’s foreign and trade policy and corporate priorities. Further information was conveyed to staff through administrative circulars, the intranet and the staff newsletter.

The Secretary initiated a monthly forum open to all staff, to discuss policy and corporate issues. The first monthly forum was held in March 2011.

All Australia-based Senior Executive Service officers continued to meet on a six-monthly basis for professional development and to discuss and develop the department’s strategic thinking.

A staff survey was conducted between 25 October and 9 November 2010, the first of its kind ever undertaken by the department. The results helped inform the Executive’s thinking about the department as an organisation and provided a basis for future benchmarking.

The overseas network was informed of policy and corporate issues through:

  • regular formal and informal communication with divisions in Canberra
  • regional heads of mission/post meetings
  • regional management conferences
  • post liaison visits led by a deputy secretary.
Governance activities

In 2010–11, we continued to strengthen the department’s business continuity planning processes at overseas posts and in Canberra. A new risk management policy and handbook were released with the aim of simplifying the risk management framework and further embedding risk management practices across the department. Management of intellectual property was revised in line with whole-of-government guidelines, and delegations were updated.

The department’s Audit and Risk Committee provides independent assurance and assistance to the Secretary and the Executive on the department’s risk, control and compliance framework, and its external accountability responsibilities. The Committee is chaired by a deputy secretary and has two independent members as well as several departmental representatives. In 2010–11 the committee met six times.

The Ethics Committee met three times during 2010–11 to oversee and make recommendations on the development and implementation of conduct and ethics policies. The Committee is chaired by a deputy secretary with representatives from various staffing levels and areas of the department.

The Workplace Relations Committee is the primary consultative forum for management and staff representatives. It is chaired by a deputy secretary. Membership includes representatives from management areas and elected staff representatives at each level. The Community and Public Sector Union, the Australian Manufacturing Workers’ Union, the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance and the Association of Foreign Affairs and Trade employees are also represented on the Committee. In 2010–11, the committee met four times and focused on issues that included conditions of service, the Enterprise Agreement, and reconciliation and disability strategies.

Conduct and ethics

The Conduct and Ethics Unit (CEU) investigates allegations of fraud and misconduct, and promotes the Australian Public Service (APS) Values and Code of Conduct and the department’s Code of Conduct for Overseas Service. The CEU provides conduct and ethics and fraud awareness training to all staff.

The Conduct and Ethics Awareness Program regularly reminded staff of their responsibilities in accordance with departmental guidelines and procedures in the Conduct and Ethics Manual. The program included group and individual training, briefings on overseas conduct and ethics issues for heads of mission, deputy heads of mission and senior administrative officers. An external review of the CEU resulted in changes to the department’s Conduct and Ethics Manual that clarified the steps involved in managing alleged cases of misconduct.

Countering fraud

The department’s fraud prevention, investigation, reporting and data collection procedures meet our specific needs and comply with Commonwealth Fraud Control Guidelines.

The fraud control plan, updated during 2010–11, focused on raising awareness of fraud among staff, fostered an ethical and professional working environment aligned with APS Values and APS Code of Conduct, and maintained strong internal control and audit processes to reduce fraud risks.


I, Dennis Richardson, certify that I am satisfied that for 2010-11, the Department of Foreigh Affairs and Trade had in place:

  • fraud risk assessments and a fraud control plan; and
  • appropriate fraud prevention, detection, investigation, reporting and data collection procedures and processes

that met the specific needs of the department and complied with the Commonwealth Fraud Control Guidelines 2002.

Signature: Dennis Richardson
Dennis Richardson
1 August 2011

Evaluation and planning

The department’s performance was evaluated regularly to ensure resources were directed effectively to support the Government’s foreign and trade policy goals. Performance expectations and planned use of resources are outlined in our Portfolio Budget Statements. The department sharpened its Deliverables and Key Performance Indicators for the Portfolio Budget Statements 2011–12.

Divisional evaluation reviews (DER), conducted annually in July–August, enable the Executive to evaluate each division’s performance and to determine or refine priorities for the year ahead.

In January 2011 the department revised the process for evaluating the performance of posts and state and territory offices (PER/OER), following a comprehensive review. Post performance is now evaluated on a rolling basis, with each post reviewed every 18 months. The department continues to seek feedback from other agencies and departments on the performance of posts and state and territory offices as part of the review process. PERs and OERs are discussed at the regular Departmental Executive meeting where heads of mission and state directors are present.

In 2010–11 deputy secretaries led small teams to 11 posts—Amman, Baghdad, Belgrade, Honiara High Commission, Honiara Special Coordinator, Nicosia, Nuku’alofa, Port Louis, Port of Spain, Ramallah and Tel Aviv—to conduct post liaison visits to assess at first hand each post’s performance against agreed objectives.

The Executive decides budgets and considers Budget Allocation Review (BAR) and Capital Management Plan (CMP) bids. The BAR and CMP are mechanisms for reviewing funding within the department. Work units in Australia and overseas are able to bid for funds annually and mid-term through these reviews. The reviews allow for strong budget planning and expenditure forecasting, and ensure internal processes align with the Government’s Budget timetable. Mid-term BAR/CMP meetings were held in December 2010 for budget refinements; BAR/CMP meetings were held in May and June 2011 for 2011–12 budget allocations.

Risk management and business continuity planning

In 2010 a comprehensive review of the department’s risk management framework was completed to ensure compliance with the revised international risk standard (AS/NZS/ISO 31000, of November 2009). This simplified our framework and will enable greater access to risk management tools for all staff. The department also aligned its internal Strategic Audit Plan with its’ risk assessment and management priorities, including addressing the departments’ critical risks and to provide for their mitigation. A submission was made to the annual Comcover risk management benchmarking survey.

In 2010–11 we revised the RG Casey Building Business Continuity Plan (BCP) in accordance with Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) recommendations. A key change was inclusion of an ICT disaster recovery plan in the BCP. All BCP recovery team plans were updated along with BCPs for overseas posts and state and territory offices. The department’s business continuity relocation plans were pursued with the Attorney-General’s Department, AusAID and the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet.

Internal audit

Internal audit forms an important part of the department’s governance framework by contributing to governance, risk management and control. Internal audits presented to the Audit and Risk Committee in 2010–11 included:

  • 10 post compliance audits
  • a review of the process for inspection, handling and storage of highly sensitive national security material
  • reporting of inspections of accountable Cabinet documents (a quarterly requirement).

All recommendations arising from these audits were either satisfactorily addressed during the year or are in the process of being addressed.


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