The Department

The Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade

The Department’s aim, outlined in the 1997-99 Corporate Plan, is to advance the interests of Australia and Australians internationally. The Corporate Plan articulates the Department’s goals, priorities, values and culture which inform its most valuable resource, its staff.

In response to domestic reforms and a challenging international agenda, the Department developed and began to implement an Action Plan on Departmental Resource Management. The Action Plan sets out the framework for more effectively allocating fewer resources and enables the Department to continue to meet its responsibilities as it faces domestic and international challenges.

Underlying the Action Plan and the Department’s operations more broadly is the value the Department places on staff responsiveness to the Government it serves and its other clients, including Parliament, business and members of the public. The Department looks for staff with personal and corporate flexibility, versatility and adaptability, so they can meet the challenges of a workplace with a particularly diverse agenda in often demanding and unpredictable environments. It expects the highest standards of ethical conduct from its staff, especially abroad where officers, in representing Australia, have an important impact on Australia’s reputation both in their professional and personal conduct.

The Department is managed by the Senior Executive which comprises the Secretary and four Deputy Secretaries. The Senior Executive, supported by the Senior Executive Service, makes decisions on corporate management and policy issues across the Department. In Canberra, the Department comprises 11 divisions, the Executive, Planning and Evaluation Branch, the Australian Safeguards Office and the Chemical Weapons Convention Office (Figure 3: Organisational Structure Divisional Structure as at 30 June 1998).

In addition, the Department manages a network of Australian embassies, high commissions, consulates-general and consulates to which departmental officers are assigned. On 30 June, Australia had a total of 138 posts, 79 managed by DFAT, 40 by honorary consuls, 17 by Austrade, and two by the Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs (Appendix 15). In addition, DFAT maintains offices in each state and territory capital city. These offices provide passport and consular services and perform an important liaison service to business throughout Australia (Appendix 16). The Department also maintains a Torres Strait Treaty Liaison Office on Thursday Island.

Organisational Change

During the review period, the Senior Executive made a number of significant organisational changes, reallocating functions between divisions in response to a widening reform agenda and budgetary stringencies. The following provides an overview of the major organisational changes; more detailed descriptions of the responsibilities of individual branches are included in the sub-program reports.

The Department’s corporate support services were reviewed, resulting in significant restructuring of both the Corporate Management Division and the Passports, Services and Security Division. The Corporate Management Division reduced its four branches to two branches and established a Conduct and Ethics Unit. Evaluation and audit functions formerly located in the Corporate Management Division moved to the newly formed Executive, Planning and Evaluation Branch. Working directly to the Senior Executive, the Executive, Planning and Evaluation Branch brings together a range of planning and evaluation mechanisms, a corporate planning capacity, and executive liaison and support.

The Passports, Services and Security Division now includes an Information Management Branch to bring together all aspects of the Department’s information technology and management work, both secure and unclassified; previously, different branches in the Passports, Services and Security Division and the Corporate Management Division handled this work.

The Americas and Europe Division amalgamated its two European branches, while the number of sections within the Europe Branch was reduced from five to two. The South Pacific, Africa and Middle East Division retained its three-branch framework, while reducing its sections from eight to six. The South and South East Asia Division established the Images of Australia Unit, funded mainly by the Public Affairs and Consular Division.

A re-examination of the trade and economic divisions resulted in a restructuring of both the Trade Negotiations Division and the former Economic and Trade Development Division. The latter was renamed the Market Development Division and provides market access and development functions, including through appointed sectoral negotiators. The Market Development Division also established the East Asia Economic Unit to coordinate policy advice and monitor the East Asia economic crisis.

The Department also restructured its Public Affairs and Consular Division, reducing it from five to four branches. Responsibility for foundations, councils and institute secretariats was transferred to relevant geographic divisions, as was responsibility for the Special Visits Program. The Cabinet Liaison and Ministerial Liaison Sections moved from the former Executive Branch to the Public Affairs and Consular Division’s Parliamentary and Media Branch.

APS Reform: Departmental Responses

Action Plan on Departmental Resource Management

The Task Force on Departmental Functions and Resources, established by the Department in April 1997 to develop initiatives and formulate new policies on reform issues, presented an Action Plan on Departmental Resource Management to the Senior Executive in July. Following consultation with departmental officers, the task force’s recommendations were adopted in September.

The main elements of the Action Plan included streamlining administration at posts, in Canberra and state and territory offices; downsizing the Corporate Management Division; adopting a broadbanded staffing structure; and establishing an Administrative Officer Development Program to strengthen the Department’s administrative and management skills. The Department implemented a review of selected work practices, and a voluntary redundancy program across all levels, which led to the departure of 270 officers over the review period.

The Action Plan also reviewed the workloads, functions and processes of posts, resulting in a five-tier categorisation of post functions according to the level and coverage of work expected, and the establishment of three posts (Nicosia, Malta and Tarawa) with only one Australia-based DFAT member of staff. The Corporate Management Division established a Small Posts Unit to support the work of these and other small posts. The Action Plan also led to an increase in nonSES Head of Mission positions and localisation of more than 60 junior support positions overseas. To enhance the Department’s ability to implement this reform agenda, reviews of both human resource and financial management information systems began, using the services of consultants to examine departmental needs and prepare business cases. Key objectives will be to strengthen workforce and succession planning capabilities, and streamline administrative processes.

The Executive, Planning and Evaluation Branch was established to strengthen the integration of the Department’s planning and evaluation mechanisms. During the review period, it managed the introduction of corporate governance structures, including undertaking work on risk management, a comprehensive review of the departmental Audit Committee and a re-structured audit process, and provided support for the Secretary’s fortnightly strategic planning meetings.

Workplace Relations

Another major challenge for the Department was to manage implementation of the Government’s wider workplace relations reform agenda. The Workplace Relations Act 1996 devolved authority to set the terms and conditions of employment to agency heads. This saw the negotiation and subsequent implementation of a Certified Agreement covering all staff, certified by the Australian Industrial Relations Commission in January. Officers of the Senior Executive Service are covered under separate, individual Australian Workplace Agreements.

As part of its Certified Agreement commitments, the Department established a new performance management system with direct links to performance pay, postings and promotions, placing special value on leadership and management. The system’s transparency and credibility are vital to enhance the Department’s performance culture, and the Department instituted a major training and information program to ensure departmental officers understand the new system, as all officers must establish performance agreements with their supervisors. The Department is developing a strategic plan for people management and a training and development strategy to provide strategic focus to human resource management and development.

The Department established a Workplace Relations Committee comprising management, staff (through direct elections) and staff organisations. The committee is the chief consultative body for all activities involving the Department’s employees and their conditions of employment. It held its inaugural meeting in March.

The Department also established a small unit to implement other aspects of the Certified Agreement, including new DFAT-specific work-level standards (ratified at the first meeting of the Workplace Relations Committee), and prepare a human resources manual to bring together all relevant policies and practices in an easily accessible, electronic form. The unit coordinated the first cycle of the Department’s performance management system and developed a model for the individual and team-based performance bonuses program, scheduled to begin in July 1998.

Financial Management and Accountability Act 1997

To implement the reforms of the Financial Management and Accountability Act 1997, the Department issued new Chief Executive Instructions. It also completed a new Financial Management Manual to give direction to financial operations at posts and engaged a consultant to rationalise these processes in Canberra. In line with government policy, the Department set up a Competitive Tendering and Contracting Unit to investigate functions for market testing and develop better practice principles for contract management.

The Department developed the new Simplified Overseas Financial Transactions accounting package to reduce the level of system maintenance and streamline financial reporting, introducing SOFT into its cash-based small posts.

An Accrual Budgeting Project Unit was established to prepare for the introduction of the new budgeting system and the particular challenges the Department faces with the proposed outcomes and outputs framework, particularly for its overseas financial transactions. The unit works closely with the Executive, Planning and Evaluation Branch.

The New Public Service Regulations

The Government drafted a number of new Public Service Regulations under the Public Service Act 1922 to introduce key reforms blocked by the Public Service Bill’s failure to pass through the Parliament. These took effect on 15 March and introduced a statement of APS Values, an APS Code of Conduct, higher levels of flexibility and public accountability, and required development of a Workplace Diversity program. In response, the Department promulgated a Code of Conduct for Overseas Service, developed guidelines for protecting Public Interest Whistleblowers and reviewed its grievance mechanisms. Proposals to devolve responsibility for the employment provisions of locally-engaged staff at posts were deferred, pending the outcome on passage of the Bill.

Staff Development

Despite significant challenges in a period of stringent budgetary control, the Department retained a high level of commitment to human resource development. Staff training and development focused on language training; leadership and management training for SES staff; performance management training for all staff to underpin the newly introduced performance appraisal system; financial management training; and systems training, including supporting the new streamlined personnel processes. A new Administrative Officer Development Program was introduced to provide a two-year training and development program to promote the administrative and management skills of junior officers.

The Department continued to support its overseas missions with a high standard of pre-posting training, including providing Head of Mission and Head of Post training programs, supplementing posts’ training funds for locally-engaged staff, running post-specific overseas management workshops and developing a new language training and proficiency framework geared more specifically to departmental requirements.

Social Justice and Equity

Charter of Public Service in a Culturally Diverse Society

In providing services to the public, the Department continued to apply access and equity initiatives using the seven principles from the Charter of Public Service in a Culturally Diverse Society as a framework. Service charters covering passport and consular services should be finalised towards the end of 1998 and will comply with the charter. Twice during the review period, divisions and state and territory offices provided the Public Affairs and Consular Division with progress reports on implementing the charter.

During the review period, the Department established a system of 24-hour access to consular services for Australian citizens, whether in Australia or overseas. Clients can access consular services from anywhere in Australia for the cost of a local call, by dialling 1300 555 135. Australians overseas who require emergency consular assistance when local Australian missions are closed can access the 24-hour Consular Unit in Canberra, in most cases by calling a 1800 number. Interpreter services are available.

Officers in Canberra and the Department’s state and territory offices frequently use their welldeveloped linguistic and cultural skills to ensure people from diverse linguistic and cultural backgrounds face no barriers in obtaining government services, receive clear information about their entitlements and obligations, and are assisted in ways which meet their particular needs. The Department has three identified indigenous positions and negotiations were completed for a fourth identified position, located in the Torres Strait Treaty Liaison Office on Thursday Island.

The Department’s state and territory offices and— to the greatest extent possible—overseas posts are accessible to people with physical disabilities. The Passports Office in Melbourne uses both audio and visual prompts to guide clients waiting for assistance. Most Canberra Passports Office staff have attended client interaction courses which include cross-cultural awareness components. Instructions on the process for the authentication of documents are available in Vietnamese, Arabic and Chinese, as well as English.

The Department’s Market Information Action Unit ensures requests for statistical services or publications are acted on within one working day. A market information officer is also available during business hours for clients to discuss their particular requirements.

The DFAT Internet website (http://www.dfat.gov.au) increasingly has been used as a communication tool, and has enhanced the accessibility of the Department’s services and programs, both nationally and internationally. During the review period, the site attracted an average of 90 000 hits per week. Clients are referred to the website for the latest information on a wide range of geographic, departmental, trade, policy, cultural and travel issues, and statistics. The Department’s website is linked to a number of other government and non-government sites. Many Australian overseas posts have foreign-language websites linked to the main DFAT site.

Workplace Diversity

The Department is concerned about the equitable treatment of all staff, regardless of their location in Australia or abroad. Its Certified Agreement provides for a more flexible workplace, catering to employees with a range of carer or cultural responsibilities. The then Acting Prime Minister and Minister for Trade, Tim Fischer, officially opened the Currawong Child Care Centre in October. The centre is open to the public but provides care primarily for the children of DFAT employees.

The Workplace Diversity/ EEO Unit began work to develop DFAT’s Workplace Diversity Program 1998-2001; this aims to better recognise and use the diversity that exists within the organisation. Workplace diversity programs at posts increasingly provide better access for locally-engaged employees as well as addressing the needs of special interest groups in the Department. A number of posts appointed workplace diversity coordinators to represent locally-engaged staff, and used management training and staff meetings to raise awareness of equity issues and good management practice. A network of trained workplace harassment contact officers was established in Canberra and at some posts to provide guidance and assistance if required. Workplace behaviour and workplace diversity awareness was incorporated into all training programs for officers going on posting.

During the review period, the number of women Heads of Mission increased to 14 per cent and the number of women in the SES increased to 18 per cent, the highest levels ever.

Internal and External Scrutiny

Internal Audit

A core function of the newly established Executive, Planning and Evaluation Branch is to promote improved corporate governance of the Department. It aims to do this by providing the Secretary with performance information and assurance through its evaluation and audit services.

Evaluation resources were directed at the Department’s internal change management exercises through intensively and extensively participating in a wide range of project teams implementing the Action Plan on Departmental Resource Management. The Department also undertook significant reviews of its Audit Committee and internal audit policies and procedures to ensure that these mechanisms better help the Secretary to meet the enhanced accountability requirements of the Financial Management and Accountability Act 1997. These reviews are now being implemented. In a related measure, a Risk Management Plan was drafted to identify and suggest treatment options for the key risks preventing the Department from achieving its objectives.

In addition to these substantial programs of change, a regular program of internal audits of posts and Australian operations was maintained, in accordance with the audit strategy approved by the departmental Audit Committee. This provided performance information to senior management and provided practical advice and solutions to the areas and functions reviewed.

Conduct and Ethics

During the review period, the Department, through the Conduct and Ethics Unit, reviewed its obligations and responsibilities under the Commonwealth’s Fraud Control Plan (currently being redrafted), consulting the Attorney-General’s Department and the Australian Federal Police. Reflecting the growing importance of performance management in the Department, emphasis was placed on early and active management by supervisors to address underperformance or misconduct, wherever possible.

External Scrutiny

The Auditor-General tabled a number of reports relating to DFAT. The most important were The Financial Statements Audit: Results of the 1996-97 Financial Statements Audit of Commonwealth Entities and The Australian Diplomatic Communications Network: Project Management. Details of these audits are in Appendix 10. The Department made 30 submissions to parliamentary committees; details are set out in Appendix 9.

One application was made to review an administrative decision made by the Department. On 22 June, the Administrative Appeals Tribunal ruled the Department had correctly cancelled the passport of an Australian citizen who was subject to extradition proceedings. Details of court actions involving the Department are provided in the Supplementary Information.

When the Ombudsman wrote to the Department seeking a response to additional complaints an Australian citizen lodged in relation to the handling of a consular case by an Australian overseas mission, the Department provided a comprehensive reply. The Ombudsman did not issue any formal reports in connection with departmental activities.

Freedom of Information

The Department continued to administer its responsibilities under the Freedom of Information legislation. During the review period, 50 requests from the public were finalised, compared with 48 during the previous review period. The Department met its obligations under Sections 8 and 9 of the Freedom of Information Act 1982. Further information is reported in sub-program 1.9, while the Department’s Section 8 Statement is in Appendix 6.

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