Executive Direction : Sub-program 5.1
The Senior Executive, comprising the Secretary and four Deputy Secretaries, supported by the Executive, Planning and Evaluation Branch, administers this sub-program. The Senior Executive provides leadership and strategic direction to the department, including its divisions in Canberra, the State and Territory offices, and all Australian overseas posts. The branch works closely on the department’s planning and evaluation mechanisms with the Corporate Management Division, particularly the Finance Management Branch.
During the year, a number of functions were added to the sub-program. In November 1998, an officer was assigned full-time to support the Portfolio Coordination Group on Year 2000 issues. This group, established under the chairmanship of a Deputy Secretary, provided assurance across the portfolio on the range of complex risks posed by Y2K\. In December 1998, ministerial liaison (particularly the coordination of services to ministerial offices, and the organisation of international travel for portfolio ministers and parliamentary secretaries) was transferred to the branch from Sub-program 3.1, Services to Parliament, the Media and the Public. This transfer was designed to ensure appropriate strategic input and oversight for these functions.
n.a.: Not applicable.
Objectives, Performance Indicators and Result
The Senior Executive provided support and advice to portfolio ministers and the Government on all aspects of the foreign and trade policy agenda, including developing policy options on new and emerging issues. This advice included Australia’s responses to the changing situations in Indonesia and East Timor, dealing with the Asian economic crisis, preparations for a new round of multilateral trade negotiations, Australian engagement in APEC in the wake of changed economic circumstances in the region, and Y2K-related issues. Portfolio ministers expressed overall satisfaction that this advice and support had been well prepared, timely and contributed to the advancement of Australian foreign and trade interests.
The Senior Executive also provided briefing and the branch coordinated the provision of support services to the incoming Government after the October 1998 election. This support helped incoming ministers and parliamentary secretaries take up portfolio activities smoothly and efficiently.
In February 1999, under the guidance of the Senior Executive, the department developed new departmental templates to ensure shorter and more focused ministerial briefing papers, and to streamline the preparation process. The new briefing format was introduced in May 1999 and has been well received by ministers.
During the year, the department organised three meetings of the Foreign Affairs Council. Established in December 1997, this advisory body comprises leading Australians from business, academia and the media. The Foreign Affairs council is independent of, but supported by, the department and is chaired by Mr Downer. The three meetings—in July, November and March—were organised and conducted to the minister’s satisfaction. A list of council members is provided at Appendix 12.
Travel is an essential means by which portfolio ministers advance Australia’s foreign and trade policy interests. Portfolio ministers and parliamentary secretaries expressed satisfaction with the 17 overseas visits the department organised to support their pursuit of Government objectives. Many of these visits were logistically complex. One such visit, by Mr Fischer in May 1999, covered eight countries in three continents in just two weeks. Other visits required a quick response to new developments, such as the visit to Indonesia by Mr Downer in April in order to accompany the Prime Minister in discussions with President Habibie on the future of East Timor.
Detailed planning in close consultation with ministers, parliamentary secretaries and their offices contributed to all visits running smoothly and to schedule. In cases of unforeseen changes to plan, the department responded quickly and effectively, ensuring minimum delay and inconvenience.
The closer integration of the department’s major planning, evaluation and coordination mechanisms during the previous reporting period improved capabilities in this area. During the year in review, we streamlined and refocused the processes for departmental planning and evaluation, notably the annual Divisional Evaluation Review and Post Evaluation Report mechanisms. The department’s planning and evaluation processes are also now linked to the accrual-based frameworks (see Sub-program 5.2). We have worked to ensure, by adjusting these internal evaluation mechanisms, that the department can readily produce the additional performance information required under accrual budgeting.
The department also prepared for an Output Price Review foreshadowed for 1999–2000. We reviewed our costing methodology, and consulted other organisations to gather information on the lessons they had learnt from similar processes.
In addition, the department undertook a comprehensive review of divisions’ and posts’ budgets, to align resource allocation more closely with the Government’s key foreign and trade policy priorities. As a result, staff numbers were increased in the Trade Negotiations Division and East Asia Analytical Unit, and a new branch was formed—the Images of Australia Branch—to spearhead a more focused and coordinated drive to project a positive image of Australia overseas. We also created nine new junior policy positions overseas, and initiated a phased reduction of corporate support staff in Canberra.
In August 1998, we relaunched our Post Liaison Visit Program. The purpose of this program is to review, at a senior level, the activities and performance of our posts in advancing core national interests. To better inform these visits, we aligned the internal audit schedule more closely with the post liaison visit schedule. By conducting an audit immediately prior to a post liaison visit, we were able to provide the visit team with up-to-date information on the post’s management performance. We also sought ways of continually improving our internal audit processes; we completed a major performance audit aimed at identifying and promoting better practice in managing locally engaged staff; and we produced a better practice guide, the Locally Engaged Staff Management Toolbox.
With the announcement of the October 1998 election, we ensured all areas of the department received prompt and accurate advice on the caretaker conventions and administrative arrangements.
In response to feedback regarding the 1997–98 annual report from the Senate Legislation Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade, we reviewed our approach to the preparation of our annual report with the aim of ensuring that this year’s report matches more closely the committee’s requirements for performance reporting.
The Senior Executive expressed broad satisfaction with the range of corporate planning, evaluation, assurance and coordination services provided during the year. Nevertheless, we are committed to seeking ways of continually improving the efficiency and effectiveness of our services.