DFAT Corporate Services : Sub-program 5.2
The Corporate Management Division and two of the four branches of the Passports, Services and Security Division administer this sub-program. The Corporate Management Division comprises three branches: the Staffing Branch, the Staff Development Branch and the Finance Management Branch. It also incorporates the Conduct and Ethics Unit and the Management Strategy and Coordination Section, both of which report directly to the division head. The division works closely with the Executive, Planning and Evaluation Branch on corporate evaluation and strategic planning issues, including accrual budgeting. The two branches within the Passports, Services and Security Division responsible for administering elements of this sub-program are the Services and Property Branch and the Information Management Branch. These branches’ areas of responsibility also include services to all Australian overseas posts.
A Chief Finance Officer was appointed in April 1999. The responsibilities of this position are to provide high-level financial management reporting to the Senior Executive; to manage the department’s accrual budgeting strategies, competitive tendering and contracting policy, and procurement and accounts processing; and to help oversee the streamlining, updating and reform of the department’s financial processes. This position absorbed the responsibilities of the Assistant Secretary, Finance Management Branch.
Another development during the year was the re-establishment, in October 1998, of a dedicated Staff Development Branch. This branch incorporates the Staff Development and Language Section, Graduate Recruitment Unit, and Performance Management and Workplace Forecasting Unit.
Note: Adjustments include one-off Office of Government On-Line payment to cover Y2K issues.
n.a.: Not applicable.
Objectives, Performance Indicators and Result
The department continued an active recruitment and promotion policy to secure professionally skilled staff. We recruited 33 graduate trainees (28 policy and five management trainees) from 5 715 graduates who indicated the department as their first preference in the Australian Public Service graduate recruitment process. This group of graduate recruits comprised 19 women and 14 men. They ranged in age from 22 to 36, with an average age on commencement of 26. Three were from linguistically diverse backgrounds and one was Indigenous.
*Filled by promotion from inside the department.
**Filled by appointment, promotion, transfer or fixed-term engagement of officers from outside the department.
Fourteen departmental officers were identified to participate in the Administrative Officer Development Program. This program, initiated in February 1998, forms an integral part of our strategy to improve the management of the department. Officers taking part in this two-year program receive additional management-specific training, and are placed strategically throughout the department on short-term rotations to provide them with broad, practical management experience.
In addition to training new recruits, the department continued to conduct a broad-ranging Strategic Leadership and Management Program in Canberra for all staff, including those assuming management responsibilities at overseas posts. Formal feedback through course questionnaires indicated that participants responded positively to the course improvements that we had introduced since the end of 1998. Although the aims and objectives of the course remained constant, we had redesigned the course outline and material, and contracted new course presenters.
n.a.: Course not available.
In January 1999, as part of the Ethics Outreach Program, the department conducted six Ethics and Values Orientation workshops. These were attended by 92 officers, who evaluated the course at an average of 4.2 on a five-point scale. We also held five Public Sector Ethics Management Skills workshops for 81 officers, including regional workshops at our New York, Paris and Bangkok posts. Feedback from these courses was very positive, with officers particularly welcoming the focus on ethical leadership and the ethical implications of working with locally engaged staff.
In December 1998, the department created a conduct and ethics website on the departmental Intranet to provide staff with ready access to information on ethics issues. This site contains policy guidance and frequently asked questions and answers, as well as an interactive, video-based ethics training package. From December 1998 to June 1999, the number of ‘hits’ recorded for this site was 2 558.
Following consideration by the Ethics Committee, the department issued new policies on public-interest disclosures and the ethical use of sponsorship. The committee also considered a code of conduct for honorary consuls of Australia, aimed at assisting them to exemplify the values of the Australian Government. This code will be published shortly.
In January 1998, the department introduced a new performance appraisal scheme as part of the 1998–2000 Certified Agreement. The department has now conducted two cycles of the new performance appraisal scheme, which covers all permanent Senior Executive Service and non-SES officers who have worked for more than three months in a 12-month cycle. Through this scheme, staff are eligible to receive performance pay (either in the form of a paypoint move or a percentage-of-salary bonus) reflecting the appraised level of their performance. Marking a major cultural change for the department, the scheme strengthened our performance culture by rewarding high-quality work. The scheme also provided valuable input to promotion, posting and placement processes, and is linked to the new training and development strategy.
*The first round covered the period from January to June 1998 for non-SES officers.
**The significant increase in the second round is due to changes to the departmental profile and complexities in the system which benefit some officers only after two years of high performance.
All Canberra-based officers were offered further training at the conclusion of the first round of performance appraisals in July 1998. Approximately 70 per cent of all staff attended these training sessions. Officers in the Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane State offices were offered similar training, for which a participation rate of approximately 85 per cent was recorded. This training also provided an opportunity to gauge staff views on the conduct of the first cycle, with the trainers completing detailed reports on the outcomes of each session.
In addition, we produced and distributed a training video to all our overseas posts and State and Territory offices. This video showed management representatives and Canberra-based officers discussing the performance appraisal system, and the key issues encountered by staff in the first cycle. Feedback from staff overseas and interstate indicated that this video was useful in dispelling misunderstandings about the process, and in helping staff understand the framework within which the system operated.
In July 1998, the department adopted a broadbanded staffing structure as part of the 1998–2000 Certified Agreement. Under this structure, the eight APS levels were grouped into three broadbands: APS 1–4 as Broadband 1, APS 5 – Exec. Level 1 as Broadband 2, and Exec. Level 2 (merging the former SOG B and A groups) as Broadband 3. This scheme was designed and introduced in conjunction with the performance appraisal system, to streamline promotion procedures and to broaden the choice available to staff for placement in Australia and posting overseas. Under broadbanding, staff receiving one of the top two performance ratings (superior or outstanding) automatically move paypoints. Staff are thereby able to move to the next APS level within the band without the need for a promotion round, making the process less resource-intensive for everyone, and more closely linking APS levels with actual performance.
Generally, staff response to the new structure has been positive, particularly in relation to the wider opportunities for postings and for placements in Canberra. The transition to broadbanding did not require significant allocation of resources; managing the transition was part of the responsibility of a four-person team who spent five months managing the overall implementation of the Certified Agreement.
The department continued to explore innovative management practices consistent with the Government’s APS reform agenda. (Details of these reforms are in the Corporate Overview.) Both portfolio ministers and the Senior Executive have indicated their broad satisfaction with the introduction of the reformed management practices, acknowledging their contribution to the department’s increasingly efficient operation and management. In its inaugural State of the Service Report covering the 1997–98 year, the Public Service & Merit Protection Commission cited several of the department’s reforms as examples of good and innovative practice. These included the broadbanded structure linked to performance management, and the work we have undertaken on strengthening ethical standards, particularly in the overseas context.
In response to the devolution of financial management to agencies, the department introduced a new financial management information system. Details of this system are included below.
A major corporate priority in the period under review was the preparation of the department’s first accrual budget. The results—the Portfolio Budget Statements 1999–2000—were tabled in Parliament on 11 May 1999. These papers reflect the smooth translation of the department’s cash budget into the accrual framework, within the department’s new outcomes, outputs and accrual-based performance information structures. In tailoring these processes to the requirements of the Department of Finance and Administration, we had to overcome significant challenges arising from the long-term nature of our work. The fluid international context in which we operate was a further complicating factor.
In addition, we completed the installation of the department’s new financial management information system, SAP/R3, in all Australian sites. This system will begin operation from 1 July 1999. To ensure that staff fully understand the requirements of the new financial framework, the department established a new Financial Management Professional Development Program. During the year we held seven courses relating to this program, with all 115 participants successfully completing the course (course assessment is based on a written exam). Formal evaluations indicated that participants considered the course had increased their understanding of the new accrual-based framework.
We have now completed 95 per cent of the department’s Human Resources Manual. This manual provides staff with a comprehensive and transparent source of reference for conditions of employment both in Australia and overseas. The manual will be finalised before the end of 1999, following implementation of initiatives related to training and development, and household removals. These are currently being developed in consultation with staff.
We reviewed the processes for placements, promotions and postings during the year, to strengthen their integrity. Although not yet officially launched, the posting and promotion reviews—which were conducted in consultation with staff—showed that, while existing processes were basically sound, there were some specific additional steps that could be taken to improve them. In response, we introduced measures to ensure a more consistent approach to postings, in keeping with operational requirements, and to entrench merit-based, consistent and transparent promotion processes. The placement review, completed in August 1998, re-introduced a centralised placement system. This system is now operating smoothly, and has improved the fair and efficient deployment of staff in Canberra.
During the year, the department managed an overseas placement policy covering over 260 positions at 81 Australian overseas posts. More than 460 officers and their families were relocated during this period: either going on posting, returning from posting or being cross-posted. As at June 30, we had 217 language-designated positions at overseas posts, with 160 officers undertaking language training during the year to equip them for their postings.
PeopleSoft, the department’s new human resource management information system, was installed on schedule and within budget. Pay processing trials were conducted successfully in June 1999, and this system is scheduled to be fully operational from 1 July 1999. It includes a ‘self-service’ facility through which staff are able to electronically lodge and process leave, overtime and higher duties requests.
The interface ‘bridge’ between PeopleSoft and SAP/R3 (see above) is also scheduled to become operational from 1 July 1999. The integration of these two systems will provide the department with more flexible and comprehensive financial and human resource data and reporting capabilities.
Through the Conduct and Ethics Unit, we remained vigilant in our efforts to ensure the highest standard of accountable and ethical conduct. We opened 25 new cases during the year (relating both to departmental officers and locally engaged staff): nine of these related to alleged frauds, while the remainder were instances of alleged misconduct. Of the 36 cases closed, 15 cases were of fraud involving the loss of some $37 000 in total (of which $12 000 were recovered). The remaining 21 cases that were closed involved misconduct. Four frauds were prosecuted in the courts, three successfully, including the first case of abuse by a Commonwealth public servant of officially accrued frequent flyer points.
The department also initiated the design of a secure investigation management database to enable investigators and support staff to manage cases more efficiently. This system will also assist managers to produce more sophisticated trend analysis and statistical reporting. Installation of this system is planned for early in the 1999–2000 financial year.
In July 1998, the Department of Employment, Workplace Relations and Small Business devolved to departments the power to set overseas conditions of service. The system we developed for managing these conditions was implemented smoothly in January 1999, to wide staff acceptance. This new system has allowed us to tailor these conditions to the needs of staff, streamline the decision-making process, and reduce the resources devoted to managing conditions of service. These improvements have resulted in a marked decline in staff complaints and casework.
In the last reporting period, we developed a system for calculating overseas living allowances. Its subsequent adoption by 28 other agencies with staff on long-term overseas postings has highlighted the value of this system.
During the year, the department established effective working arrangements to protect its interests. Notably, we:
Following an architectural consultant’s study in December 1998, the department implemented a systematic program of substantial fitouts and reconfigurations for 20 offices. These fitouts were designed to facilitate intra-divisional co-location and more efficient and effective use of office space in the RG Casey Building, and were carried out in close consultation with work units. Through effective financial management and technical oversight of fitout work, the department achieved substantial savings on the original cost estimates for 11 of these projects.
The department renegotiated a cost-effective lease for the Newcastle Passports Office as well as a fitout to accommodate the new Project Delta passports processing system there. We also ensured the timely and cost-effective relocation of the strongroom facilities at Sydney airport, required to facilitate site works for the Olympics. These facilities are used by departmental couriers who have enforced stop-overs in Sydney and for preparing safehand bags carried on behalf of the NZ Government under our sharing arrangements.
Overseas, the department provided office accommodation through 31 Commonwealth-owned and 54 commercially leased chanceries. During the year in review, we provided financial and technical support for chancery relocations to leased premises for seven posts. Despite varying local conditions, all seven relocation projects ran smoothly, on time and within budget, demonstrating the effectiveness and efficiency of our design and project management. We also opened two new posts during the year: in Abu Dhabi and Dili. In Abu Dhabi, the office fitout is on track and is scheduled for completion by the end of 1999. In addition, we ensured that new leases negotiated with landlords at posts were favourable to the Commonwealth.
In January 1999, the department commenced an energy audit of the RG Casey Building with the new building manager. This audit involves monitoring the performance of systems over a full-year cycle, including air-conditioning, power consumption and lighting. This monitoring will provide the basis for the comprehensive energy audit report to be compiled in the first quarter of 2000. This planned audit will cover the RG Casey Building and all domestic Commonwealth-leased accommodation sites.
The Workplace Relations Committee is the chief consultative body for all activities involving the department’s employees and their conditions of employment. This committee comprises 11 employee representatives and an equal number of representatives from management. (Employee representatives comprise one each from the Foreign Affairs and Trade Association, the Community and Public Sector Union, the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union and the Media, Entertainment and Arts Alliance, two employees from each of the three departmental broadbands, and one SES employee.) Throughout the year, we continued to implement the department’s 1998–2000 Certified Agreement, demonstrating a strong commitment to staff consultation through regular, productive consultation with the Workplace Relations Committee.
The committee met four times during the year—on 18 August, 2 December, 24 February and 19 May—and covered a wide range of personnel, financial and information management issues. These issues included rewards and incentives systems (postings, promotions, training and performance appraisal), domestic and overseas conditions of service (salary packaging and implications of new fringe benefits tax legislation), and important security and technology issues (email policy, Y2K issues and the department’s Information Management Strategy).
The Secretariat provided strong support to the committee, including the conduct of elections for a number of the 11 staff-elected member positions that became vacant or due for re-election over the period. A number of subcommittees and advisory groups, covering human resource management, occupational health and safety and overseas conditions of service, have also worked well, developing initiatives to streamline administration and improve employment conditions.
Australia’s first White Paper on foreign and trade policy, In the National Interest, was published in August 1997. It set out the principles and priorities of the Government’s foreign affairs and trade policy, and examined the key international challenges Australia will face over the next 15 years. Representing a significant rearticulation and rebalancing of Australian foreign and trade policy, the White Paper set out the broad framework for Australia to meet these challenges.
Since the paper’s publication, the department has developed staffing strategies to deliver the policy priorities of the White Paper. The new broadbanded staffing structure (detailed above) delivered greater flexibility to managers in deploying staff to positions both in Canberra and overseas. In August 1998, we recentralised the Canberra placement system to provide the flexibility we needed to ensure that priority areas received the right number and type of staff.
In addition, we 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. This resulted in an increase in staff numbers in the Trade Negotiations Division and East Asia Analytical Unit. A new branch—the Images of Australia Branch—was also formed, with responsibility for spearheading a more focused and coordinated effort to project a positive image of Australia overseas. As well, the department created nine new junior policy positions overseas, and initiated a phased reduction of staff in the corporate management areas.
During the year, the department established task forces to meet priority needs. These covered issues such as Y2K, the crisis in Kosovo, and East Timor.
In July 1998, the department published the principles and recommendations of the Information Management Strategy. This strategy’s primary principle is to develop a common platform for the department’s two computer networks—ADCNET (‘secure’) and NNS (‘in-confidence’)—to simplify support arrangements and reduce costs. The first stage of the strategy’s implementation—installing Lotus Notes software—will be completed in July 1999. More details on the department’s information technology are provided in Sub-program 4.1, Australian Diplomatic Communications and Information Network.