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Annual Report 1999-2000Annual Report 1999-2000 home page

ContentsContents > Overviews > Outcome 1: National Interests > Outcome 2: Consular & Passports > Outcome 3: Public Diplomacy > Management > Financial Statements > Appendixes > Glossaries

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Corporate governance

Senior Executive

The Secretary and Chief Executive, Ashton Calvert, is accountable for the management of the department and our performance in implementing the Government’s foreign and trade policies.

During the reporting period, the Secretary provided close direction on all major corporate, foreign and trade policy issues and decided all placements of Senior Executive Service staff. He provided direct leadership in shaping the professional values and culture of departmental staff at home and abroad. A vigorous ‘working smarter’ campaign was central to the Secretary’s efforts to lead the department in a time of change, with rapid developments in technology and inevitable reductions in staff numbers. Details on the working smarter initiative are provided on page 182.

The department has four deputy secretaries, each of whom oversees several divisions or work units in support of the Secretary:

The deputy secretaries were frequently called on to represent the Government at high-level meetings overseas. They chaired, at the Secretary’s invitation, key corporate governance bodies including the Audit Committee, Ethics Committee, Information Management Advisory Group and the Workplace Relations Committee. The Secretary also delegated ad hoc responsibilities to the deputy secretaries, such as coordination of the department’s Y2K preparations.

The Secretary and the deputy secretaries jointly comprise the Senior Executive (see also page 16, Departmental overview, Organisational structure).

The Senior Executive held regular separate meetings on current policy issues with the Minister for Foreign Affairs and the Minister for Trade. The Secretary chaired a weekly meeting of the Senior Executive, which was also attended by the heads of the Corporate Management and Diplomatic Security, Property and Information Management Divisions and the Director General of AusAID. The purpose of these meetings was to discuss issues requiring liaison with portfolio ministers and to make decisions on corporate policy issues.

The Senior Executive considered regular reports on the department’s budgetary and staffing situation, passports developments, information technology (IT) budget and performance, and divisional performance on ministerial correspondence and security breaches. It met once in separate session to review the performance and priorities of overseas posts and twice to review the performance of Canberra divisions and to allocate resources.

The Senior Executive is directly supported by the Executive, Planning and Evaluation Branch, which also has specific responsibilities for ministerial liaison, corporate planning, and evaluation and audit.

The Secretary chaired a weekly meeting with division heads. This was a central means for communicating corporate and policy priorities more broadly throughout the organisation. The Secretary also chaired strategic planning meetings at which major corporate issues and important policy questions were discussed. The forum provided an opportunity for division heads to participate more directly in determining the department’s corporate management strategy and to work with the Secretary and deputy secretaries to develop collectively a stronger sense of coherence and corporate solidarity in the department’s policy work.

Posts received policy guidance from Canberra in a number of ways. They include weekly reports from the Secretary, regular formal and informal communication with ‘parent’ divisions in Canberra, and periodic visits by Canberra-based officials, often in conjunction with ministerial visits or senior officials’ consultations. On corporate management issues, guidance was provided to staff through administrative circulars and regional management seminars. The Head of the Corporate Management Division issued regularly a management information bulletin to all posts and regular update cables on financial management issues.

Figure 2 provides information on the department’s organisation and Senior Executive structure. Information on senior management committees and their roles is at Appendix 6.

Working smarter

The working smarter policy is aimed at encouraging staff to manage better time and workloads so that they can operate at a sustainable pace with maximum effectiveness, with a surge capacity to respond to emergency situations when they arise. It also encourages staff to maintain a healthy balance between work and private life. The Secretary circulated a discussion paper in December 1999 with proposals aimed at helping staff to work with greater efficiency and complete essential tasks within reasonable working hours. The paper made clear that staff should always take their full entitlement of annual leave and should keep weekend work to a minimum. It proposed the streamlining of priority tasks, including through strict limits on the length of written reports to and from overseas posts, and a code of best practice for the efficient conduct of meetings.

The proposals received an overwhelmingly positive response from staff at all levels, both overseas and in Australia, and, after taking account of extensive feedback, the Secretary issued a final set of working smarter principles in June 2000. Adherence to the principles is now a key component in upwards and downwards performance appraisal for all staff. At the suggestion of staff representatives, the department’s commitment to helping employees work smarter has been anchored in our new Certified Agreement.

Planning and review

The department’s work is inevitably shaped by the evolving environment in which we operate, both domestically and internationally. In response to an increasingly tight budgetary climate, our planning and review processes have been developed with a view to maintaining a sharp focus on Government priorities and ensuring we are equipped to support the full range of Australian interests in the international arena.

The main planning and evaluation processes are:

Internal evaluation and planning processes

Divisional evaluation reviews

Divisional evaluation reviews take place in August each year, with a mid-term review in February. They perform two main functions:

  • They allow the Senior Executive to evaluate the performance of each division over the review period and determine priorities for the coming period.
  • They provide the Senior Executive with an opportunity to review the department’s resources and to make resource adjustments as necessary.

In August 1999 and February 2000, the Senior Executive approved the reallocation of resources in response to requests from divisions, overseas posts and State offices. The February mid-term review took place against the background of the finely balanced budget developed at the earlier August 1999 review. The Senior Executive examined all division, post and State office budgets and redirected resources to higher government priorities.

Post evaluation reports

The department reviews annually the performance of our overseas posts. Post evaluation reporting pays close attention to post management and to priority-setting for the coming year. Feedback from other departments and agencies on the extent to which posts are meeting whole-of-government objectives is an important part of this evaluation. In 1999–2000, a total of 25 departments and agencies gave feedback that was highly positive overall, indicating that the department was servicing other portfolios’ needs in most posts well in terms of policy and administration.

Office evaluation reviews

State and Territory offices operate on a similar basis to posts, defining objectives and performance indicators annually through the State office evaluation review process. Business liaison is a major part of State office activity, reflected in the fact that their reporting responsibilities are to the Market Development Division.

Post liaison visits

Deputy secretaries conduct post liaison visits to about 12 posts each year, assessing at first hand post performance against agreed objectives. The visits also provide an opportunity to assess whether posts are appropriately staffed and resourced.

Internal audit and risk management

The Audit Committee is the department’s governance body responsible for evaluation and audit process, including reviewing our risk management strategies.

The department’s audit program during the year contained performance and compliance audit elements. Performance audits focused largely on project management issues, responding to past criticisms of the department’s performance in this area by the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) (see External scrutiny) and the Joint Committee on Public Accounts and Audit (JCPAA). Audits focused on large-scale and high-cost projects in areas such as passports processing and financial and human resource management, assessing conformity with relevant ANAO and JCPAA better practice guidelines. Internal audit also provided independent advice throughout the year to steering committees for major departmental projects, in particular the Information Technology Management Projects Steering Committee.

For further information on the Audit Committee see Appendix 6.

The department reviewed key financial controls at 22 overseas posts during the year. Cash management issues (including bank reconciliations) continued to require attention and audit teams placed high priority on ensuring that relevant staff and managers were aware of their responsibilities and the correct procedures to apply. Audit teams also examined communication and information flows at all posts visited. This provided useful background for subsequent high-level post liaison visits and formed the basis of The Right Information at the Right Time, a better practice guide for departmental managers.

A monthly administrative procedures checklist was introduced in March 2000 at all overseas posts. By focusing regularly on key financial controls and reporting requirements, the checklist was an example of better management practices at posts and should provide a basis for improved audit outcomes in the future.

We issued a Risk Management Policy and Toolkit in March 2000 as a guide to all line areas required to undertake risk assessments. We will review the operation of the toolkit after 12 months to identify better practice examples that might be disseminated more widely.

Conduct and ethics

The Public Service Act 1999 gave new legislative force to the Australian Public Service (APS) Values and APS Code of Conduct. Embracing this change, we reaffirmed the importance of values for our governance systems and guidelines, including through the Corporate Plan, individual performance agreements and the Certified Agreement. We distributed the APS Values and Code of Conduct to employees as a reminder of the need to observe the highest ethical standards in their work in Australia and when representing Australia overseas. In addition, we issued a number of administrative circulars providing information and guidance on various legislative and procedural changes arising from the new Act, including new disciplinary procedures for managing breaches of the Code of Conduct.

Measures to promote the highest standards among our employees included maintenance of a conduct and ethics homepage on our departmental intranet, and refinement of training tools to assist staff at all levels to resolve ethical dilemmas that might arise in the workplace. Some of these tools are available as part of the department’s training and development program while others are available on the intranet. Under our ethics outreach program, we conducted regular ethics workshops aimed mainly at staff on overseas assignments. By the end of the year more than 300 employees, over half of all Australian-based staff at posts, had undertaken pre-posting ethics training. Four posts—Brussels, Hanoi, The Hague and Stockholm—also conducted local ethics workshops. All departmental employees posted overseas and travelling overseas on official business are required to sign an undertaking to comply with the department’s own code of conduct for overseas services, which is underpinned by the APS Code of Conduct.

We maintained our vigilance in seeking to ensure our employees were behaving appropriately. Consistent with requirements of our Fraud Control Plan, we conducted fraud awareness workshops and other training and provided post-specific advice to employees assigned as senior administrative officers overseas. A contract to develop a new fraud control plan was let during the year and a comprehensive fraud risk assessment of relevant departmental functions in Australia and overseas was undertaken.

For further information on the Ethics Committee see Appendix 6.

Remuneration of senior executives

Using the APS remuneration survey as a benchmark, the department sought to offer Senior Executive Service (SES) salaries and conditions that were competitive and put us towards the front of comparable policy agencies in the APS. To take account of the high lateral mobility of officers within the department, we preferred to offer Australian Workplace Agreements (AWAs) that were not position- or role-specific, with the exception of very senior positions overseas. In determining the mix of salary and non-salary components in the remuneration of SES officers, the department drew on information about the general situation in other agencies in the APS, sought to deliver remuneration in a streamlined and cost-effective way and put a high priority on promoting a performance-based culture.

YOU ARE CURRENTLY AT: Management > Corporate governance

Annual Report 1999-2000Annual Report 1999-2000 home page

ContentsContents > Overviews > Outcome 1: National Interests > Outcome 2: Consular & Passports > Outcome 3: Public Diplomacy > Management > Financial Statements > Appendixes > Glossaries


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