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Department of the Prime Minister & Cabinet

Annual Report 2000-2001 Annual Report > Secretary's Review
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Secretary's Review

A year of centenaries

We celebrated the Centenary of Federation and the Centenary of the Australian Public Service in 2001.

The Centenary of Federation provided us with the opportunity to reflect with great pride on our achievements as Australians over the past century. As the Prime Minister has remarked on several occasions, Australia was a pioneer of democracy among free nations, becoming one of the first nations in which women could both vote and stand for Parliament. As the Prime Minister has also noted, we are one of a limited number of countries that remained democratic throughout the course of the twentieth century.

Celebrations for the Centenary of the Australian Public Service were organised in June 2001 by the Australian Capital Territory Division of the Institute of Public Administration Australia. I had the honour of addressing the dinner held in the Great Hall of Parliament. Among other things, I noted that:

The way the Service has handled the quite remarkable social, cultural and economic developments in Australia over the last century has been a testament to its strengths, its intellectual capacities and its integrity - its 'character', for want of a better term. We can take pride in the way that we are carrying on a long tradition of adapting and reinventing our Service to meet new challenges. The APS today is meeting the needs of the twenty-first century in ways that suit the needs of our times.

At the dinner, several present and former members of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet were honoured for their exemplary service. They were: Barbara Belcher, Liz Hickey, Henry Hilhorst, Judi Holgate, Tony Levy, David Webster and Julie Yeend who are featured on the cover of this report. Also honoured at the dinner were two former secretaries of the department, Michael Codd, AC and Michael Keating, AC.

The department itself postdates Federation. As noted in the Special Report, 'Supporting the Cabinet', the first Prime Ministers personally, and very briefly, recorded decisions in Cabinet diaries. It was not until 1911 that the business of the Commonwealth Government became sufficiently complex to require the creation of a Prime Minister's department.

Over the past 90 years officers of the department have supported the work of our Prime Ministers and their Cabinets, bringing to that role the skills and experience exemplified by the 2001 recipients of awards. The department looks forward to celebrating its own centenary in 2011. In its ninetieth year the department's challenges and achievements were those described below.

Sydney 2000 Games

Many Australians contributed to the success of the Sydney 2000 Olympic and Paralympic Games, described as the 'best ever' by the Presidents of the International Olympic and Paralympic committees. Seven years of work in leading and coordinating the extensive involvement of the Commonwealth in the Sydney 2000 Games represented this department's contribution to those very significant sporting events.

The department's Sydney 2000 Games Coordination Task Force, which played an important role, was commended for its excellent work by the Prime Minister, the New South Wales Government and the organising committees.

The economy

The New Tax System was introduced on 1 July 2000. The department provided extensive policy advice to the Prime Minister and his office on a range of tax issues following the introduction of The New Tax System. This included advice on measures to simplify the Business Activity Statement and on tax rebate measures affecting part-pensioners and self-funded retirees, announced in the 2001-02 Budget.

The department provided advice to the Prime Minister on current and prospective economic conditions in Australia and overseas. Our assessments of economic conditions were complicated by the temporary distortions to the profile of economic activity associated with the introduction of The New Tax System and with the Sydney Olympics. High and volatile world oil prices, exchange rate fluctuations and a sharp slowing in world economic growth, also had an impact on the Australian economy and influenced the advice we provided to the Prime Minister.

Backing Australia's Ability, a package of initiatives announced on 29 January 2001, was an important focus for us in 2000-01. We advised the Prime Minister and his office on many measures associated with the development of the package, including the development of changes to tax incentives for research and development. Backing Australia's Ability commits substantial additional money to the already significant funding provided for science, research and innovation.

Council of Australian Governments

The department supported the Prime Minister in his role as Chairman of the Council of Australian Governments (COAG), which met twice in 2000-01. COAG achieved significant outcomes in a range of important policy areas in 2000-01, including endorsement of the National Action Plan for Salinity and Water Quality, and agreements on a response strategy for handling an outbreak of foot-and-mouth disease, a framework for practical reconciliation, and nationally consistent provisions in legislation to prohibit human cloning.

Transport and communications

We provided advice on a number of important transport and communications issues in 2000-01, including issues related to Sydney's transport needs, proposed new rail links, and proposals for road funding (for example, the Roads for Recovery package). Improving transport links and communications services is reducing the tyranny of distance faced by many Australians.

The department also played a significant role in developing the Government's response to the Telecommunications Service Inquiry, and on issues related to implementation of the Telstra social bonus.

Social issues

In 2000-01, the department, working with other departments, was closely involved in a range of important social issues. The department was involved, for example, in promoting a national response to problem gambling in Australia. The department also made a significant contribution to the development of initiatives relating to veterans and aged Australians. Those initiatives were announced in the 2001-02 Budget.

The department led the negotiation of new bilateral social security arrangements with New Zealand, which were jointly announced by the Australian and New Zealand Prime Ministers on 26 February 2001. The new arrangements secure a durable and affordable approach to bilateral social security payments for both countries and remove uncertainties about the extent of and responsibilities for future costs.

In late 2000 the department chaired a whole-of-government review of measures to tackle people smuggling and to streamline processing of asylum seeker claims. It also contributed to detailed planning for the management of future arrivals.

From December 2000, the department chaired and provided the secretariat for an interdepartmental task force on welfare reform. The task force developed the Australians Working Together package announced in the 2001-02 Budget, a $1.7 billion investment in making sure Australia's social safety net of employment services, income support and community services keeps pace with current needs.

The Prime Minister launched the Honouring Women project, which aims to increase the number of women who are nominated for awards and honours, at the Australia Day Awards ceremony in January 2001. The department is working in partnership with the Honouring Women ambassadors, some 30 high-profile women with diverse backgrounds, to promote and increase awareness of this initiative.

Advice was provided to Ministers on a range of issues associated with violence against women, including domestic and family violence and sexual assault. The department continued to manage the Partnerships Against Domestic Violence initiative.

International relations

The department supported the Prime Minister on a range of critical international, defence, intelligence and security issues, including implementation of the 2000 Defence White Paper. We provided secretariat support to the National Security Committee and continued to coordinate Australian initiatives in key areas, including East Timor, Bougainville and the Solomon Islands. Australia promoted a smooth transition to independence and for long-term stability in independent East Timor, provided assistance to facilitate Papua New Guinea government reform and the Bougainville peace process, and encouraged a return to peace in the Solomon Islands through the Townsville Peace Agreement.

Major state visits coordinated by the department in 2000-01 included visits by His Excellency Dr Johannes Rau, President of the Federal Republic of Germany and His Excellency K H Abdurrahman Wahid, President of the Republic of Indonesia. President Wahid's visit was particularly significant as it was the first visit to Australia by an incumbent Indonesian President in 26 years.

The department is leading policy preparations for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM), which will bring together nearly a quarter of the world's leaders, representing one third of its population, in Brisbane in October 2001. The CHOGM 2001 Task Force expanded to accommodate the logistics, security, delegate relations and media elements of the meeting. A Brisbane office was established in January 2001 to provide a local task force presence.

Support services for government operations

The Cabinet Secretariat assisted with transitional arrangements and support for the Secretary to Cabinet. The Prime Minister appointed Mr Paul McClintock as Cabinet Secretary following the appointment of the former Secretary to Cabinet, Mr Michael L'Estrange, as Australian High Commissioner in London.

Concerted efforts were made during 2000-01 to reinforce messages about the need for sound process in bringing complex issues to Cabinet. In particular, efforts were renewed to improve compliance with the requirement that Cabinet submissions be circulated at least five days before Cabinet consideration of them. Ministers and departments have responded positively to those efforts.

The department assisted with arrangements for the appointment of the new Governor-General, His Excellency the Right Reverend Dr Peter Hollingworth, AC, OBE, on 29 June 2001.

Along with other agencies, the department was closely involved in the refurbishment of 4 Treasury Place, Melbourne, which accommodates the Prime Minister's Office and the offices of former Governors-General Sir Zelman Cowen and Sir Ninian Stephen. The Prime Minister reopened the refurbished offices on 8 May 2001 as part of the Centenary of Federation celebrations.

The department

Our people

The department's second Certified Agreement for non-SES staff was negotiated during the year. The agreement covers the period 1 October 2000 to 31 September 2002 and provides for moderate pay increases, a revised four-band structure providing separate bands for Executive Level 1 and Executive Level 2 employees and more flexible leave arrangements to assist staff to balance their work and private lives.

Australian Workplace Agreements, offered to Executive Level 1 and Executive Level 2 employees, included access to performance bonuses and revised travel expense arrangements for employees who travel on duty.

The department revised its Performance Appraisal and Development Scheme, with the revision simplifying the documentation associated with the scheme and improving its transparency.

As at 30 June 2001, 363 staff were employed by the department. Staff numbers during the year were affected by structural changes associated with the disbanding of the Olympics Task Force, the departure of the Office of Indigenous Policy and the build up of the CHOGM Task Force. Adjusted for those changes, staff numbers were effectively the same at the end of the year as at the start.

Changes to our role and structure

A number of adjustments were made to the role and structure of the department in 2000-01, reflecting changing priorities and government decisions about the machinery of government.

The Forests and Olympics Division, in the Economic, Industry and Resources Group, was abolished. The Forests Task Force was re-integrated into an expanded Industry, Infrastructure and Environment Division. The Sydney 2000 Games Coordination Task Force was disbanded when its work was completed.

The Office of Indigenous Policy ceased to be part of the Social Policy Group and became the new Department of Reconciliation and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs (DORATSIA). The new department advises the Minister for Reconciliation and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Affairs. When DORATSIA was established, the role of providing policy advice on Indigenous issues to the Prime Minister passed to the Social Policy Division of this department.

Unauthorised release of information

In April 2001, the department learnt of an unauthorised release of Budget related briefing material prepared within the department. The unauthorised release of briefing documents constitutes a serious breach of professional standards of behaviour, which is damaging to the effectiveness of the department. The Australian Federal Police are investigating the matter.

Financial performance

In 2000-01, total expenses for the department were $58.3 million, of which $13.2 million related to CHOGM. Total revenues were $61.9 million and the operating surplus was $3.6 million.

The department finished the year with a strong net asset position of $12 million and is well placed financially to meet the challenges of the coming year.

The department received an unqualified audit report on 6 August 2001.

The year ahead

The department will be involved in a number of major events in financial year 2001-02. Chief among those will be the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Brisbane and the federal General Election.

The department looks forward to assisting the Government to host a successful and productive CHOGM and in providing advice to the Government and Commonwealth agencies on preparations for the calling of the election and the application of the caretaker conventions.

In the forthcoming year we will continue to play a key role coordinating the Government's economic, industry and social policy activities and the administrative operations related to those.


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