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Corporate governance

The department’s governance framework supports the achievement of our purposes. The framework is an effective system for managing risk and fraud as well as human and financial resources through planning and assurance processes.

Governance committees

A number of governance committees support the Secretary and ensure effective governance within the department.

Executive Board

Executive Board is the department’s primary decision-making body. The board sets the vision and strategy for the department, oversees risk and ensures organisational performance. It is responsible for driving organisational capability, culture and strategic stakeholder engagement. It comprises the Secretary and Deputy Secretaries, the Australian Government Solicitor, Chief Finance Officer, Chief Information Officer, Chief Operating Officers (the department and AGS), Assistant Secretary of the Human Resources Branch and Assistant Secretary of the Strategy and Governance Branch. One SES representative from each group takes up a rotating membership every 6 months.

Throughout the year, Executive Board meets with senior management from each business unit as part of executive reviews. These reviews focus on strategic priorities, risk management, emerging challenges and opportunities, workforce planning, culture, resource allocation and progress of key initiatives.

Incident Management Team

The Incident Management Team comprises the Deputy Secretaries, Chief Operating Officers (the department and AGS), Chief Finance Officer, Chief Information Officer, Assistant Secretary of the Human Resources Branch, and Assistant Secretary of the Strategy and Governance Branch. Advisers are invited to attend meetings as required to facilitate timely decision-making and action. During 2020–21, the Incident Management Team met regularly to manage the department’s response to the pandemic.

Senior Management Committee

The Senior Management Committee is an information-sharing forum for significant corporate and strategic whole-of-department issues. The committee acts as a conduit to support 2-way communication between the senior executive and staff and meets weekly to discuss significant issues and priorities.

Strategic Operations Steering Committee

The Strategic Operations Steering Committee is a forum for ongoing dialogue between the Deputy Secretaries, the Chief Operating Officers (the department and AGS) and the Secretary’s Senior Advisor about the operations of the department. The committee assists the Chief Operating Officers to advise Executive Board about the department’s needs, priorities and culture and informs inter-group decision-making on matters that do not go to Executive Board. It also serves as the Investment Review Board, ensuring capital investments and projects are aligned with the department’s strategic priorities and are financially stable.

Workforce Planning Committee

The Workforce Planning Committee monitors the department’s external environment to ensure workforce management activities and employee development initiatives enable effective performance. The Workforce Planning Committee also considers how best to meet the strategic workforce needs of the department.

Audit and Risk Management Committee

The Audit and Risk Management Committee was established in accordance with section 45 of the Public Governance, Performance and Accountability Act 2013 (PGPA Act) and section 17 of the PGPA Rule. The committee provides independent advice to the Secretary on the department's financial and performance-reporting responsibilities, risk oversight and management and systems of internal control. It oversees the department’s internal audit program and the implementation of recommendations arising from internal and external audits of the department’s activities.

Information on the committee’s charter is available on the department's website.

During 2020–21, the Audit and Risk Management Committee comprised of 5 members (3 external and 2 internal). The committee met 6 times and also reviewed documents and information intersession. In May 2021, the committee established a Performance Statements Subcommittee to provide advice to the department on its performance framework and reporting processes.

Members

Ms Maria Storti FCA, FAICD (Chair - external member)

Ms Storti has been a member since October 2018 and Chair since March 2019. She attended all 6 meetings. She is a member of the Performance Statements Subcommittee and has attended one subcommittee meeting. She was remunerated $27,000.00 (GST exc).

Ms Storti is a former EY partner with extensive experience in audit, systems of control, risk management and performance measurement and improvement. She has held senior executive roles across the public, private and tertiary education sectors. Ms Storti is a Chartered Accountant and a member of the Australian Institute of Internal Auditors and has a Master of Business Administration. She has extensive experience as chair and member of boards and audit committees across a range of government and not-for-profit entities. Ms Storti serves as an independent member and chair of audit committees for a range of small to large Australian Government agencies.

Mr Matthew Minogue (external member)

Mr Minogue has been a member since December 2018 and attended all 6 meetings. He is the Chair of the Performance Statements Subcommittee and attended one subcommittee meeting. He was remunerated $24,000.00 (GST exc).

Mr Minogue is a former government lawyer and senior executive with more than 30 years’ experience in the Australian Public Service and held a number of Senior Executive Service positions. Mr Minogue has extensive experience in legislative reform, policy development and risk management and governance.

Ms Karen Toole FCA (external member)

​Ms Toole has been a member since December 2018 and attended 5 of 6 meetings. She was remunerated $20,000.00 (GST exc).

Ms Toole has over 20 years’ experience in finance, ICT and risk management, and program delivery across the public, private and not-for-profit sectors. She is a Chartered Accountant and has previously been a Chief Financial Officer for a government department, currently sits on 3 other public sector audit committees and is the treasurer of a not-for-profit board.

Ms Kathleen Denley (internal member)

Ms Denley was a member from November 2018 to December 2020 and attended 4 meetings. She did not receive payment for participation. Ms Denley is the Assistant Secretary of the Native Title Unit in the Legal Service and Families Group.

Ms Alison Durbin (internal member)

Ms Durbin was a member from March 2020 to June 2021 and attended 5 meetings. She did not receive payment for participation. Ms Durbin was the First Assistant Secretary of the Employment Conditions Division in the Industrial Relations Group until her posting to Geneva as a Ministerial-Counsellor for the department.

Mr Kenneth Eagle (internal member)

Mr Eagle has been a member since January 2021 and attended 2 meetings. He did not receive payment for participation. Mr Eagle is a National Manager of Commercial for the Australian Government Solicitor.

Ms Alex Mathews (internal member)

Ms Mathews has been a member of the Performance Statements Subcommittee since May 2021 and attended one subcommittee meeting. She did not receive payment for participation. Ms Mathews was the Assistant Secretary of Family Safety Branch in the Legal Service and Families Group until she commenced as acting First Assistant Secretary of the Employment Conditions Division in the Industrial Relations Group on 25 June 2021.

Security and Risk Management Committee

The Security and Risk Management Committee is responsible for ensuring a cohesive and coordinated departmental approach to risk, fraud, business continuity and information, physical and personnel security.

In November 2020, 2 subcommittees were established to focus on the management of security and fraud risks and to support the committee and inform its decision-making.

Corporate planning

We develop a corporate plan each year in accordance with section 35(1)(b) of the Public Governance Performance and Accountability Act 2013. The plan details the priorities for the year ahead, how they will be achieved and how success will be measured, as well as the factors that may affect us undertaking our activities. It is an important part of the department’s performance framework and provides a vital link between the portfolio budget statements and the annual report.

Risk management

The department’s risk-management framework aligns with the Commonwealth Risk Management Policy and enables us to manage risks in line with our risk appetite. We monitor and report on risks via a series of risk registers. Executive Board, the Audit and Risk Management Committee and the Security and Risk Management Committee regularly review the risk-management framework, including the strategic risk register and other risk registers as appropriate.

The pandemic changed the risk environment managed by the department. Heightened and new risks are escalated to senior management and governance committees for consideration and response.

Commonwealth Child Safe Framework

The department is committed to keeping children safe, as outlined in the Commonwealth Child Safe Framework. We are compliant with all 4 requirements of the framework.

The department reviews its risk register annually to ensure risks related to child safety are documented and treatments are applied to reduce levels of risk. A risk assessment in 2020–21 rated the department’s child safety risk as low. Our staff generally have little or no interaction with children, however, contact may occur where:

  • the department funds third parties that provide services to children and families, including providing legal representation in the courts. Funding may be provided directly to the third party or via states and territories. Interactions may be in person or in writing
  • the AGS undertakes legal work that involves a child. Interactions may be in person or in writing
  • a child applies for a grant or financial assistance through a program administered by the department. Interaction is usually in writing
  • a child attends a co-located childcare facility or accompanies their carer to the workplace. Interaction is incidental and in person.

In areas where there may be occasional or limited contact with children, or where the department funds third parties that may interact with children, we have put in place measures to ensure that risks are well-managed. These include:

  • providing all staff with access to targeted training and information, including eLearning modules provided by the Human Rights Commission
  • ensuring contracts and agreements with third parties include clauses relating to child safety and vulnerable people
  • avoiding calling or cross-examining child witnesses where they have been called to give evidence
  • providing specific guidance to staff working in areas that process applications for grants or financial assistance
  • enabling claimants under 18 years to nominate an adult to assist and support them with the claim process
  • ensuring that children visiting the workplace or attending a co-located childcare facility are accompanied by a parent or guardian
  • requiring staff who work with vulnerable people, including children, to obtain a Working with Children Check or Working with Vulnerable People Check according to jurisdictional requirements.

Fraud prevention and control

The department’s fraud control framework includes policies and processes that minimise fraud risks by preventing, detecting, investigating, recording and reporting instances of fraud and corruption. The fraud control framework is regularly reviewed and aligns with the Commonwealth Fraud Control Framework 2017.

During 2020–21, the department’s fraud control framework was reviewed and the Fraud Control Handbook was updated. We also conducted a successful campaign to help staff maintain their fraud awareness given the possible heightened risk of fraud as programs are rolled out and expanded in response to the pandemic.

With the support of the Commonwealth Fraud Prevention Centre, we tested the effectiveness of a range of fraud control measures related to financial assistance provided by the department to members of the public. It provided increased confidence about the department’s existing countermeasures and assisted in setting work priorities for the next financial year.

Internal audit

We conduct internal audits to provide independent assurance that the department’s systems of internal control and risk management are operating in an efficient, effective, economical and ethical manner. These audits strengthen accountability and promote a culture of performance, risk management and continuous improvement. Each year we develop an internal audit plan in consultation with Executive Board, the Audit and Risk Management Committee and other departmental stakeholders so that it reflects strategic priorities and our risk profile.

In 2020–21, we adjusted the department’s internal audit plan to respond to risks emerging from the pandemic, including adapting to an agile 'health check' audit format.

Ethical standards

During 2020–21, the department maintained high ethical standards for the behaviour of our employees. As part of their acceptance of an offer of employment, new employees sign a statement to acknowledge that they have read and understood the APS Values, Code of Conduct and relevant parts of the Criminal Code Act 1995. Our induction program provides clear guidance for new employees in relation to the APS Values, Code of Conduct and Employment Principles.

The department participates in the Australian Public Service Commission Ethics Contact Officer Network. Information is available to employees on how to contact the Ethics Advisory Service to discuss concerns they may have. All alleged breaches of the Code of Conduct are treated seriously and managed in accordance with best practice.