5.2 DFAT Corporate Services
In 1997-98, the objectives of sub-program 5.2 were to:
The Corporate Management Division and two of the four branches of the Passports and Security Division administer the sub-program. CMD comprises two branches, Staffing Branch and Finance Management Branch, as well as the Conduct and Ethics Unit and the Management Strategy and Coordination Section, both of which report directly to the Division Head. Elements of PSD administering the sub-program are Services and Property Branch and Information Management Branch. During the review period, some corporate evaluation and strategic planning functions, including evaluation and audit, were transferred to sub-program 5.1, Executive Direction, administered by the new Executive, Planning and Evaluation Branch, although CMD and EXB work closely on these issues. All Australian overseas posts contribute to the sub-program.
The sub-program pursues strategies designed to help achieve two of the Departments corporate goals: to enhance Australias security; and to provide clients with highly professional, efficient and effective services. These strategies include assisting in preparing the Departments Action Plan and managing the implementation of its recommendations; providing support for the negotiation of the Certified Agreement and assuming responsibility for its implementation; continuing to progress APS reforms, particularly the devolution of financial management and preparation for the implementation of accrual budgeting; introducing new management information systems designed to strengthen departmental corporate resource planning; coordinating office services throughout the Department and for ministers offices; providing diplomatic mail services; and managing the Departments domestic and overseas property interests.
In 1997-98, the Department indicated that it would evaluate its performance using:
The Department continued an active recruitment and promotion policy to secure professionally skilled staff. In the review period, 27 Senior Executive Service and 76 non-SES positions were filled, with 5 SES and 37 non-SES (18.5 per cent and 49 per cent respectively) filled by the appointment, promotion, transfer or fixed-term engagement of officers from outside the Department. The Department also recruited 13 specialists, primarily in technical and accounting fields. All positions were filled under fair and efficient recruitment processes, with no appealable appointments challenged.
The Department recruited 20 graduate administrative assistants (GAAs) from 1 035 graduates who indicated the Department as their first preference in the APS graduate recruitment process. The group comprised 12 women and eight men. Three were from linguistically diverse backgrounds and two were indigenous. Five of the recruited GAAs, as well as six departmental officers, were specifically recruited to participate in the new Administrative Officer Development Program. The program, initiated in the review period and recommended by the Departments Action Plan, forms an integral part of the Departments strategy to improve its administration.
Photo: Some of the 1998 intake of Graduate Administrative Assistants attend a lecture by Senior Lecturer in Law, Tannetje Bryant, as part of Monash University's Graduate Diploma in Foreign Affairs and Trade. (photo: Michael Jensen)
The Department implemented best practice personnel services, notably the introduction of the Peremote computer system to enable staff and supervisors to process leave electronically. It also moved to Canberra payrolls for the 280 state and territory office staff; this centralised payroll functions and reduced the number of pay processing staff. The Department continues to process payments for approximately 2 000 staff, including more than 530 overseas, and is further reviewing its pay processing function to make personnel services more cost-effective.
The Department also managed an overseas placements policy covering over 530 positions at 79 Australian overseas posts, relocating more than 165 officers and their families. This included officers going on posting, returning from posting and cross-posted officers.
The Department is committed to workplace diversity and recognises the importance of cultural awareness programs. Its Indigenous Recruitment and Career Development Strategy maintained indigenous staffing levels at 1.25 per cent, a significant result in a declining workforce. The proportion of staff with disabilities decreased slightly from 2.5 per cent to 2.43 per cent. During the review period, the Department recorded its highest level of women in the Senior Executive Service with an increase from 13.9 per cent in 1996-97 to 18.4 per cent, in line with the Departments aim of 20 per cent by 2000. As of 30 June, 11 women were Heads of Missions, representing an increase of 37.5 per cent over the last review period (Appendices 2 and 3). Although the proportion of women on portfolio advisory boards and committees decreased slightly from 26 per cent to 25.4 per cent in 1997-98, the Department continued actively to seek suitably qualified women to serve on its boards to increase womens representation in decision making. As a demonstration of its commitment to this objective, the Department agreed to become one of only four commonwealth agencies to participate in an Executive Search pilot program sponsored by the Office of the Status of Women to identify appropriate women for board appointments. The Department continued to coordinate biannual data collection on all boards within the portfolio through the APPOINT system, including Austrade, AusAID and ACIAR in an effort to monitor closely the portfolios performance on this objective.
During the review period, the Department, through the Workplace Diversity/ EEO Unit, continued the successful High Profile Women Speakers Program, featuring women from the public, private, NGO and academic sectors. Australian overseas posts, state and territory offices and the Department in Canberra commemorated International Womens Week in March as an opportunity to promote Australias record on the status of women. One such event was a panel discussion in Canberra by three women officers entitled Women in the Firing Line, featuring women who had served on dangerous assignments, including a UN election monitoring exercise, a peacekeeping mission and at a hardship post during a coup.
The Department sought to ensure the equitable treatment of staff, both in Australia and overseas, particularly those in EEO target groups, by raising awareness of both DFAT and other agency staff of workplace diversity, workplace harassment and indigenous issues. During the review period, approximately 300 DFAT officers trained in cross-cultural awareness and workplace diversity during eight pre-posting overseas familiarisation training courses. In addition DFAT provided cross-cultural awareness training to Austrade and the University of Canberra.
In line with its objective to promote a professional and motivated workforce, the Department provided a range of training opportunities. It sought to improve leadership and management in the Department through training for the Senior Executive Service, and provided training in performance management and appraisal skills to ensure they were appropriately prepared for the performance appraisal scheme implemented as part of the Certified Agreement. The Department continued to equip its Australia-based and locally-engaged staff for service at overseas posts through a comprehensive program of pre-posting training, post management workshops and LES development. (See also sub-programs 2.2 and 4.2.)
As at 30 June, the Department had 400 language-designated positions at overseas posts. To increase the effectiveness of officers in these positions, the Department established a new examination format for the language proficiency allowance; the format had been trialed in the last review period. The new format is more rigorous and more relevant to professional tasks that officers overseas perform. In 1997-98, 158 officers participated in language training.
The Department continued to distribute Connections, its eleven-part cross-cultural kits series. Active promotion of the series realised $23 876 in commercial sales.
The Department, through a staff counsellor, provided a program to help maintain the psychological well-being, morale and productivity of officers and families. This included providing opportunities for short-term issues-focused counselling, referral to specialised counselling, providing input to training programs, offering after-hours access for staff and families to a professional psychologist and publishing articles on issues relevant to officer and family well-being. The counsellor conducted 138 face-to-face counselling sessions, 59 after-hours counselling sessions in Canberra and overseas, 32 specialist briefings to officers on pre-posting training and 26 briefings to senior management. The staff counsellor provides quarterly reports and an annual program review to senior management.
The Department, through its Foreign Service Medical Unit, provided an active and responsive program of medical support services to staff and their dependants. The medical adviser medically cleared over 165 officers and their dependants prior to posting, in addition to medically clearing 60 officers for deployment to Bougainville and Cambodia, an increase in clearances of around 20 per cent over the previous year. The medical adviser also gave medical briefings to officers and dependants prior to their postings, as well as to officers going on short-term missions. The Department also continued to improve the delivery and cost-effectiveness of its in-house medical service through introducing a new approach to vaccinations and fully implementing a policy regarding extensive medical treatment overseas. Market testing confirmed that the services provided were the most cost-effective available option.
As part of its commitment to family-friendly policies, the Department houses the Currawong Childcare Centre. The centre, operated by Southside Community Services and officially launched by then acting Prime Minister and Minister for Trade, Tim Fischer, in October, caters for up to 60 pre-school aged children. The centre currently operates at near full capacity; children of departmental officers occupy 70 per cent of places at the centre. The Departments Certified Agreement includes a number of provisions relating to the creation of a family-friendly work environment, including the amalgamation of most leave into 20 days of personal leave, giving staff with carer responsibilities more flexibility; provision of a babycare room in the RG Casey Building; and the proposed establishment of a family room, fitted out with a workstation and facilities to enable parents to work and care for non-contagious sick children concurrently.
Photo: The then acting Prime Minister and Minister for Trade, Tim Fischer, at the official opening of the Currawong Childcare Centre in the RG Casey Building in October. (photo: Tim Acker Photography)
As part of a continuing strategy to improve staff health, safety and welfare, the Department conducted a stress audit of its staff and offered officers health assessments. Some 355 staff, in Canberra, state and territory offices and overseas posts, participated in the stress audit. The audit consultants provided a report containing various findings and 11 recommendations. DFAT management received the report in September and responded positively. The Department also contracted a health professional to assess staff health and provide advice to staff for lifestyle improvements. Some 149 staff participated in the assessments; feedback indicated some aspects of officers health had been improved and assessments were very useful.
Photo: Deputy Secretary John Dauth has his cholesterol levels tested by Workhealth Promotion nurse Susan Page as part of the Department's health assessment program in May in Canberra. (photo: Michael Jensen)
The Department, through the offices of the staff counsellor, medical officer and family liaison officer, sought to alleviate the stresses of staff and families of both DFAT and other agencies associated with overseas service. To this end, it coordinated more than 400 reunion visits between officers and dependant family members, 25 compassionate travel cases, and facilitated departures from Phnom Penh and Jakarta involving 123 people. The Department also rationalised its overseas community liaison officer network from 27 to 24 officers who now cover a wider range of posts; developed a spouses skills database; and concluded six additional bilateral employment arrangements in an effort to increase work opportunities for officers dependants on posting.
5.2.2 Management Services
The Department implemented the Governments Workplace Relations reform agenda. Central to this was negotiating an agreement certified by the Australian Industrial Relations Commission in January. Under the terms of the agreement, the Department formed a Workplace Relations Committee comprising directly-elected staff representatives and representatives from staff organisations and management, implemented new departmental work-level standards in a broadbanding system, and began preparation of strategic plans for human resource management and training and development.
The Department also implemented 45 recommendations of the Action Plan on Departmental Resource Management. Implementation of the two remaining recommendations is currently underway; a further two recommendations were slated for no further action because their implementation was overtaken by the wider reform process. The background to, and objectives of, the Action Plan are reported in the Corporate Overview.
Following devolution of regulatory responsibility from the Department of Workplace Relations and Small Business on 1 July, the Department streamlined and simplified administrative processes relating to overseas conditions of service. The first of these related to family-oriented provisions, including education, reunion visits and compassionate travel which were revised and simplified after extensive departmental consultations. Further efficiencies will be generated in the next review period when determinations on health provisions, short-term travel and rent and utilities contributions are completed. In readiness for its devolution from DWRSB on 1 July 1998, the Department also a undertook a comprehensive review of the administration of the overseas living allowance system, including the development of an equitable and efficient system to calculate OLA.
The Department continued to streamline personnel policy and practices in line with the Governments Achieving Cost Effective Personnel Services agenda, incorporating the priorities as part of its internal reform process. Some priorities underpinned outcomes negotiated in the Certified Agreement.
The Department capitalised on the greater flexibilities provided by the Financial Management and Accountability Act 1997 by adopting new financial delegations in Canberra and at posts and developing a Finance Management Manual, recognised as best practice by other commonwealth agencies. It also educated staff about the new environment through targeted financial management training and, to prepare for the introduction of accrual budgeting, the Department established an Accrual Budgeting Unit and an Accrual Budgeting Steering Committee.
The Department continued to identify and harvest savings, resulting in the re-allocation of $14.5 million from posts and divisions to high-priority areas; this minimised the impact on highpriority activities of reductions in the Departments budget. It also revised the budget management system for overseas posts to reduce the administrative workload, both at posts and in Canberra, and undertook a review of accounts payment and procurement functions to make further efficiency gains. The Department continued to implement portfolio-wide travel arrangements to achieve substantial savings and facilitate effective resource management.
The Department began to develop management information systems designed to streamline and improve efficiencies in personnel practices and their support systems. In the review period, the Department completed two stages of a four-part review of the existing Human Resources Management Information System, in line with the Office of Government Information Technology guidelines. This review, comprising an externally prepared business case and a functional specifications report, established the need for a HRMIS to provide more accurate and timely forecasts of departmental staffing needs. The Department plans to implement the new system during the next review period.
Against the background of the APS reform and internal reform measures, the Department reshaped its Human Resource Development policies and practices. The Department continued its efforts to achieve best practice in HRD, through continuous improvement of training activities, particularly in evaluation and presentation. A comprehensive Training and Development Strategy (1998-2000) is being drafted to provide the framework for future HRD activities.
During the review period, the Department finalised a Property Resource Agreement with the Department of Finance and Administration for DFAT domestic property costs and implemented the first stages of an energy management plan, to reduce metered energy use and cost.
The Canberra headquarters of the Department, the RG Casey Building, passed into private ownership on 25 April. To ensure protection of national security interests, the Department achieved appropriate provisions in its new lease agreement regarding access by the representatives of the new owners of the building.
5.2.4 Information Technology
The Department initiated an information management strategy to better support the efficient and effective operation of the Department, focusing on establishing a policy framework, ensuring effective management mechanisms and improving officers access to enabling technology. Consultation with staff has been a key element in devising the strategy, and this will continue into the next review period. The Department continued to implement the unclassified communications system (NNS) asset replacement program and upgrade systems in Australia. During the review period, the Department installed standard NNS servers and infrastructure at 30 posts, and upgraded Microsoft Office user application software, Netware servers and the domestic communications infrastructure.
As part of its comprehensive information management strategy, the Department also continued to improve records management, including installing the automated records management system (TRIM) at another five overseas posts and two state and territory offices, bringing the number of installed sites to 35. Client feedback on improvements made to DFATs record handling capabilities was positive and by introducing a compulsory training course for officers proceeding on posting, record management at posts should improve too.
The Department further consolidated and improved international secure communication links through its use of equipment supplied by the Australian company, JTEC Pty Ltd. This equipment, to be used throughout the global network to provide more efficient voice and data transmission, was installed in seven posts. The completion of a high-speed optical fibre linking the Department with the Department of Defence, the Department of Primary Industries and Energy and Parliament House further enhanced communications.
Photo: (From left) Deputy Secretary Kim Jones, Director, Business Development and Management Section, Dominic McLoughlin, and CEO JTEC, John Riedl, receive the Silver Government Technology Productivity Award for the J5000 Pilot Project. (photo: ID Photographics)
The Department awarded ComTech Pty Ltd the contract to manage the upgrade of the RG Casey Building base network infrastructure and the Departments international unclassified network. The contract is proceeding effectively with the RG Casey Building infrastructure due to be completed on 30 October 1998 and the international rollout by 30 June 1999.
Consolidation of international secure communication links began with the creation of a portfolio network and the installation of infrastructure necessary for wider distribution. As a result of reorganising the Information Management Branch, the carrier service review was postponed.
As part of the outsourcing of its national communications links, the Department selected the Department of Defence as lead agency for domestic telephone services.
5.2.5 Conduct and Ethics
The Department implemented the requirements of the new Public Service Regulations by promulgating an agency-specific Code of Conduct, drafting Public Interest Whistleblower Guidelines and reviewing grievance procedures. The Department developed links between its ethical culture and performance management to raise awareness of fraud and misconduct, and develop and promulgate the Code of Conduct for Overseas Service.
The Department revised its policy on gifts and sponsored travel and developed a model Code of Conduct for locally-engaged staff. It began to develop a new and international best practice ethics outreach program for use in Australia and at posts, and aims to sustain high ethical standards in departmental policy and practice.
The Department also increased the membership of its Ethics Committee to reflect more accurately the Departments diversity. The Committee refocused on trends analysis and provided strategic guidance to the Conduct and Ethics Unit to facilitate more effective, ethical and accountable financial and resource management.
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