Chapter 1: Secretary's Review

The Year in Review

The Year In Review

The Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (PM&C) continued to support government through its central coordination role. We have given advice to the Prime Minister and the Cabinet on questions of policy ranging from national security to social inclusion, and supported government and Cabinet processes.

PM&C had another busy and demanding year. We worked to develop domestic reforms, coordinated policy responses across government and monitored the implementation of key initiatives. In response to international challenges, we continued to advise the Government on its response to the global financial crisis and early global recovery. We assisted with negotiations between the Commonwealth, states and territories to progress the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) reform agenda. In the final days of the financial year, we facilitated the smooth transition to office of the new Prime Minister, the Hon Julia Gillard MP.

To help PM&C run more efficiently, we continued to adjust our structure and processes to suit the needs of the Government, including investing in policy development focusing on longer-term strategic challenges facing Australia. PM&C also undertook a review of Cabinet processes to ensure continuous improvement, including reflecting best practice in other jurisdictions and the private sector.

In recent times the department has taken on a number of challenges in support of the Government. These include managing large events like the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum (APEC), the Pacific Islands Forum (PIF) and more recently, the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM), which is scheduled to be held in Perth towards the end of 2011. To assist in managing such large, one-off activities, which are accompanied by significant fluctuations in budget and staffing, the department has worked to develop and improve its capacity and capability.

PM&C's role of progressing reform for the government of the day and managing other one-off or non-ongoing functions, such as the formation of taskforces, also requires careful management of resources and capability. At the same time, this allows diversity of experience and opportunities for staff to be seconded from across the Australian Public Service (APS), attracts staff from outside the APS and provides a wealth of opportunity for graduates and new starters to the public service and PM&C. We also witnessed a number of employees being transferred or promoted to other agencies following their experience in the department.

The department has not seen any significant changes to its base operations over the past five or so years. Actual staffing numbers for ongoing functions have increased by only 9.5 per cent over the past five years (to 530). This staffing level supports the combined impact of the implementation of new election commitments, reform of COAG arrangements and ensurance of the capacity to address circumstances of the day (such as the global financial crisis response, security issues and the need to improve our strategic policy capacity) and has seen:

  • a transfer of some functions to the department, such as the coordination of social inclusion functions from other social policy agencies and information law activities from the Attorney-General's Department (AGD)
  • new policy priorities, including the expansion of the Government's activities related to the coordination of national security arrangements following the Homeland and Border Security Review, and the capacity to manage larger-scale reforms and develop our policy capacity, and
  • the management of one-off or non-ongoing functions such as the Office of the Coordinator-General, COAG-related projects and events such as CHOGM.

Major non-ongoing functions have included APEC, CHOGM and the Office of the Coordinator-General.

Strong financial management and efficient use of resources resulted in the department recording an operating surplus of $3.4 million in 2009-10, compared to an operating surplus of $0.7 million in 2008-09. The Australian National Audit Office audited the department's financial statements and issued an unqualified audit opinion for the 2009-10 statements.

Within our portfolio, the Department of Climate Change became the Department of Climate Change and Energy Efficiency (DCCEE) and a portfolio in its own right on 8 March 2010. In addition, the Australian Public Service Commission (APSC), part of the PM&C portfolio, acquired responsibility for Australian Government workplace relations functions from the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations (DEEWR).