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Part 1 : Secretary's Overview

Looking Forward

dotars Secretary - Mr Ken Matthews

In this foreword I want to depart from the conventional retrospective Secretary's Overview and show how the Department's accomplishments this year lay the groundwork for contributing to the new Portfolio Outcome Statement recently endorsed by the Ministers:

a better transport system for Australia and greater recognition and opportunities for local, regional and territory communities.

Trends and Developments in 19992000

The year 1999-2000 was characterised by very great public interest in regional Australia. The Government made clear that it wished to respond to the needs and aspirations of regional Australia. The Department of Transport and Regional Services (DOTARS) was able to play a central role in the Governments efforts.

For example, we are proud of our contribution in arranging and following up the Government's very successful Regional Australia Summit. (A feature story on the Department's role in arranging the Regional Australia Summit is included in this report.) The key message of the Summit that regional Australians seek economic opportunities and service levels closer to those enjoyed by metropolitan Australians but wish to tailor their own solutions to the circumstances of their local community is already proving useful strategic guidance in the design of a range of future Government programs.

Regional Australia will certainly continue to be a key feature of the Government's and the Department's work in the year ahead.

The past year was characterised also by continuing intense public interest in transport safety issues. Incidents and accidents in the aviation, rail, road and maritime sectors continued to be a focus of public attention and, again, the Department was called on to support the Government in its response.

Issues such as the Avgas fuel contamination drama, the Laura DAmato shipping incident and the Whyalla Airlines crash were major items of national news. In each case the Department assisted handling the issue, and through its investigations is following up lessons we can learn for the future.

The way the Department deals with transport safety is future-oriented. Investigations by the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) are always designed to be no fault investigations. Their purpose is to implement lessons for the future, rather than to lay blame for the past. Australians want the best and safest transport system. Consistent with our new Portfolio Outcome Statement, transport safety will be a feature of the Department's work in the year ahead. The new ATSB will be playing a key role in that work.

The year also saw the development of national infrastructure emerge more strongly as a public policy issue. Here too DOTARS was able to play a role. For example, the Department provided extensive support to the Government in its consideration of the second Sydney Airport issue, the Very High Speed Train proposal, various major rail track investments and a series of new major investments in roads throughout Australia.

In the year ahead infrastructure issues such as these will be high-profile features of the Government's work toward its Outcome of a better transport system for Australia, while at the same time almost certainly providing new opportunities for regional, territory and local communities.

Finally, all these challenges during 19992000 were encountered in an environment of significant reform in the Australian Public Service (APS). The Department has engaged deeply with the Governments reform agenda behind the shopfront without losing momentum on the public policy outcomes the Government seeks for the benefit of the wider community.

APS Reform

The APS is grappling with a range of reforms and changes with implications for administration and management. In DOTARS we have been approaching these changes not as problems, but as opportunities to lay the groundwork for higher organisational performance in future years.

For example, the Government has been emphasising the importance of quality governance arrangements within its agencies. The Auditor-General has identified four key areas requiring special attention if the quality of governance is to be maintained:

  • good business planning;
  • strong internal controls;
  • sound performance monitoring and accountability; and
  • careful management of relationships with stakeholders.

Within DOTARS we have responded to the Auditor-Generals business planning objective through a special effort this year to put in place a hierarchy of new plans, from the corporate plan through to divisional business plans, branch or team plans and individual officers plans on a page. These plans were in place by the end of the year under report for the year ahead. So too were divisional budgets. Together, these planning and budgeting initiatives ensure that members of the Department already know what is expected of them for the year ahead and what resources will be available to them to do their jobs.

The plans link closely to the Governments agenda to have work priority and budget allocation decisions taken in an outcomes and outputs framework.

Readers will note that this years Annual Report provides, for the first time, reports in the same outcomes and output format in which we have previously planned and budgeted. Achieving this coherence in planning, budgeting and reporting offers considerable efficiency and effectiveness benefits for the Department in the future.

In relation to the Auditor-Generals emphasis on internal controls DOTARS has implemented an extensive process to identify and manage the full range of our business risks. At the end of the year our fraud control plan was also well advanced. In a novel initiative for a Government Department I have commissioned the Departmental Audit Committee to oversee the introduction of new trust-based administrative instructions and arrangements, based on high ethical standards, throughout our Departmental systems.

In relation to the Auditor-Generals emphasis on performance monitoring and accountability the performance of each senior executive service officer is monitored through processes defined in each officers Australian Workplace Agreement (AWA). Other staff have opportunities several times a year to settle the specific tasks ahead of them and account for their performance through performance exchange discussions with their supervisor about their plans on a page. For clarity and accountability all corporate committees have had their terms of reference, membership and roles specified in a Governance Compendium available to all staff on the Intranet. At years end work was also in progress to define expectations (accountabilities) of leaders at any level throughout the Department in the future.

In relation to relationships with stakeholders a new Portfolio Chief Executive Officers Forum has been created to bring together regularly the Chief Executive Officers of all major bodies in the portfolio. Identification of, and relationships with key industry, regional and territory clients and stakeholders are being strengthened through, among other things, the Departments Client Service Charter. A more cooperative climate is being sought in the Departments dealings with the central agencies. A closer partnership relationship and jointly improved performance are being fostered with our key supplier agencies, such as our information technology and systems suppliers.

The Future

These governance initiatives provide a strong basis for the further set of APS reforms now in progress. These include the Governments market-testing initiative, the Government On-line initiative and the Departments Output Pricing Review. Each of these is enormously far-reaching and each is now being implemented in DOTARS. It is clear that the DOTARS of the future is going to be a very different organisation from the DOTARS of today.

What will not change, however, is the set of values now endorsed in the new Corporate Plan which characterises our organisation. These corporate values, consistent with the broader APS values but reflective of DOTARS own corporate culture are:

  • results orientation;
  • being honest, professional and accountable;
  • responsiveness to our stakeholders and clients;
  • commitment to providing development opportunities for our people; and
  • a safe, diverse and trusting workplace where we lead with integrity and treat each other decently.

Nor will DOTARS status as an Investor in People (IiP) organisation change. The Departments IiP accreditation is a powerful way of demonstrating that the organisation is a high-performing Department and a great place to work the two are inextricably connected.

Acknowledgments

Finally, may I take this opportunity to thank the many people who have worked so hard to achieve the results that we have. DOTARS is an exemplary organisation and I am proud to have the opportunity to lead an outstanding group of professional Australian public servants.

I want to pay particular tribute to two former members of the Department. My colleague Allan Hawke, the Secretary of the Department until 1 November 1999, left the organisation in fine shape and made an outstanding contribution to transport and regional issues. John Bowdler, Deputy Secretary until his recent retirement in August 2000, also made an immense professional contribution.

Ken Matthews
Secretary

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