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Part 1 : Secretary's overview

The Secretary, Mr Ken Matthews, reviews the performance of the Department during 2001-02 and discusses the outlook for 2002-03.

Ken Matthews, SecretaryIn DOTARS we are working towards a simple objective: to ensure our Department is a high performing organisation and a great place in which to work. This year in my overview I want to account for our progress towards this objective.

A high performing department

What makes a government department a high performing organisation? Perceptions of good performance in public administration change over time. In my view there are currently four particular attributes for which the Governmentour principal clientand other stakeholders are looking. These are: responsiveness; productivity; creativity; and good governance arrangements.

The year under report required DOTARS to exhibit all four attributes. It was a year when quick and ready responsiveness to an incoming Government following an election was essential. It was a year when creativity and speed was required in the Departments responses to the events of September 11 and the collapse of Ansett Airlines. It was a year when our clients and stakeholders made clear their expectations that we would maintain output and productivity despite all the turbulence and resource constraints. It was a year when the quality of corporate governance in both the public and private sector came into very sharp focus.

Following the return of the Government, the co-location within the portfolio of transport and regional services functions was reaffirmed. In addition, the Department was enhanced by the integration of new natural disaster and regional-related staff and programmes which joined us from the Department of Finance and Administration, and the former Department of Employment, Workplace Relations and Small Business.

To ensure the Department was fully responsive to the Ministers incoming priorities, I initiated a fundamental reorganisation of the structure of the Department. For the first time the transport area of the Department has been structured along lines other than by mode of transport (roads, rail, sea and air). Instead, the new organisational concept is based on grouping together like functions, for example, all policy functions; all programme delivery functions; all regulatory functions; and all investigatory functions. The exception is in aviation policy where the rate of change is currently so rapid that I judged now was not the time to make a significant change to departmental organisational arrangements.

Similarly, in the area of the Department responsible for regional, Territory and local government functions, most programme functions have been co-located and most policy functions have been brought together.

A special feature of the new organisationdesigned to encourage creativityis the introduction of the highly successful Group Executive Teams which draw together people from different areas of the Department to work on shared policy challenges. Their task is to develop fresh perspectives for our Ministers, to advance new ideas, and to develop original policy advice which transcends organisational boundaries.

A valuable initiative towards creativity during the year was the initiation in the Department of the DOTARS in 5 Years project. This project sought to develop thinking about the policy and programme environment which the portfolio will be facing five years from now. Together with another initiative on major policy issues, these led to a variety of fresh ideas which were put to the incoming Ministers after the November 2001 election.

The tragic events of September 11 presented enormous challenges for the Department. In addition to developments in international aviation and security, the collapse of Ansett Airlines meant that the rate of change of aviation policy was more intense this year than had been the case for many years past. Staff of the Department worked extraordinary hours to develop creative responses to the rapid changes to domestic aviation, including ensuring the continuation of regional aviation services. I am proud of the Departments responses in these areas and feedback from stakeholders has been very positive.

The Department also broke new policy ground in the new area of war risk insurance following the disruption to the insurance market as a consequence of September 11. Again, this work has reflected well on the Department, both in Australia and abroad. The Australian Transport Safety Bureau has continued its involvement in a range of high profile aviation, marine and rail investigations and road safety work. It also completed an investigation into the Hyshot space launch accident at Woomera.

These demanding challenges needed to be dealt with in the same timeframe as the Government was selling Sydney Airporta sale which became the largest single trade sale to date by an Australian Government.

In the course of the year, the Department also worked closely with Minister Anderson to develop a fundamentally new approach to land transport decision-making and funding in Australia. These radically new policy concepts became known as AusLinkA National Land Transport Plan. In essence, it is proposed that the Government will develop a national transport infrastructure plan and invite competitive proposals from the States, Territories, local government and the private sector and other groups to advance the objectives of the national plan. Again, this is a radical departure from the way things have been done for many years and again the Department is proud of its contribution to the Ministers new approach.

A major piece of Departmental work this year was the Governments Stronger Regions, A Stronger Australia Regional Policy Statement. This statement was released on 29 August 2001 and provides a whole of government framework for the range of regional initiatives and programmes in this and other portfolios. It has led to a number of innovative and creative approaches to regional issues including:

  • Continuing collaborative work with other agencies on the More Accessible Government project
  • Application of the locational approach to regional policy through the innovative Sustainable Regions Programme
  • Establishing the Standing Committee on Regional Development in preparation for the first meeting of the Regional Development Council of Commonwealth, State and Territory Ministers
  • Development of the Commonwealth Regional Information Service and The Commonwealth Regional Information Book a Short Guide to Key Commonwealth Programmes and Services.

External Territories have been an area of focussed and innovative activity, particularly with the arrival of the Tampa, provisioning for unauthorised boat arrivals and the construction of an immigration processing centre on Christmas Island, as well as the Governments decision to assist with the development of a space centre on Christmas Island. Ongoing support for local government in service delivery and regional development has also involved consideration of innovative new approaches to funding services.

A great place to work

In addition to our goal of high performance, the second element of the Departments management objective is to make DOTARS a great place in which to work.

The Department recently completed a comprehensive staff survey. It was gratifying that over 90 per cent of all staff members participated in the survey. Overall, the survey results showed a statistically significant improvement in our peoples perceptions of most areas of the Departments performance and in our corporate health. To our staff the top two drivers of job satisfaction are the sense of citizenship within DOTARS and learning and development.

For that reason, the Department was delighted to receive re-accreditation as an Investor in People. This accreditation is an international standard affirming the quality and integrity of DOTARS approach to people management. DOTARS is one of very few government agencies to have qualified for the standard. It has become an important part of the Departments self-identity.

One of the areas which is currently making an important contribution to the corporate health of the Department is DOTARS flagship people development programme Leading in DOTARS. This three-day course which is available to all staff at all levels in the Department aims to assist staff members in their personal and professional development. It also aims to provide awareness of the changing management and policy directions of the Department and to encourage creativity and wider participation in corporate affairs. As Secretary, I join most courses for an informal evening discussion of where the Department is going in both management and policy areas. Over half of the total membership of the Department has now been through the programme in groups of twenty at a time.

Corporate governance

I am pleased that DOTARS had been attending to the vital issue of corporate governance long before it became the public issue it has recently become. Last year, DOTARS initiated an external review of its corporate governance arrangements by the National Institute of Governance, based at University of Canberra. A range of improvements flowing from that review has been implemented this year.

These improvements have centred around measures to reinforce the APS Values throughout our corporate governance arrangements. For example, a process is in train to review the full set of Chief Executive's Instructions to ensure observance of the APS Values and the more specific set of DOTARS corporate values. This process is being extended to the full suite of other corporate documentation. Already the Corporate Plan and the Departmental People Charter reiterate the APS Values. The recently completed 'People and Workplace' Survey gave particular attention to the place of values within the DOTARS working culture and governance environment. Key Departmental training and communications programmes, including induction programmes, our flagship 'Leading in DOTARS' programme, and my six monthly reports to staff give special emphasis to the APS Values. Opportunities are taken through staff communications and even computer screensavers to remind staff of the central place of the APS Values within our corporate governance arrangements.

In addition to these governance improvement measures, the Department has now articulated clearly the roles, responsibilities and inter-relationships of all internal committee machinery. It has also specified for the first time the roles and inter-relationships of other agencies outside the Department but inside the portfolio. In addition, to tighten up the Department's governance arrangements, the Department has issued a 'legislation directory' which provides an overview of each of the 112 pieces of portfolio legislation, summarises each Act's intended purpose, the Minister's roles and responsibilities, provides details of any reporting requirements and identifies a designated departmental division and contact officer so that accountability arrangements within the Department are clear.

Further, in its work towards improved corporate governance, the Department this year completed market testing of its legal, finance and human resources, property and security, and office services. I have decided to enter into contract negotiations with a view to outsourcing property and security services and office services, but to retain in-house legal services and finance and human resources. Further efficiencies will be gained through the Certified Agreement negotiated
during the year including initiatives in work level classification, introduction of a travelcard and savings from accommodation co-location.

Good corporate governance also requires good corporate planning. In the past year DOTARS has again completed and issued-on time-its Departmental Corporate Plan and Divisional Business Plans for each Division and Bureau.

These plans were issued on 1 July in conjunction with Divisional Budgets so that, on the day that the planning year commenced, all members of the Department were aware of the tasks expected of them, and the resources available to do the job.

Finally, I want to publicly and sincerely thank my colleagues at all levels in DOTARS for their commitment and tireless efforts over the year. Our shared aspiration to be a high performing organisation that is a great place in which to work can only be achieved through professional commitment and hard work. The staff of DOTARS deliver just that for the taxpayer-year in, year out.

Ken Matthews