Evidence to parliamentary committees
ACARA attended the following hearings of the Senate Education and Employment Legislation Committee to give evidence:
- Supplementary Budget Estimates (24 October 2019)
- Additional Estimates (5 March 2020).
Judicial decisions and reviews by outside bodies
There was no decision by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (AAT) in relation to ACARA’s operations during this reporting period.
There were no reports made about ACARA’s performance or ACARA’s officers or employees by the Auditor-General, parliamentary committees, the Commonwealth Ombudsman, or the Office of the Australian Information Commissioner.
Compliance with the PGPA Act
During 2019–20, ACARA maintained appropriate internal controls and processes to review its compliance with the finance law, including to ensure that instances of significant non-compliance were notified to the responsible minister in accordance with section 19 of the PGPA Act. ACARA identified no instances of significant non-compliance and did not report any non-compliance to the Minister for Education in the reporting period.
Work health and safety (WHS)
ACARA is committed to providing a workplace that enables all activities to be executed in a healthy and safe environment, where employees feel safe and are not at risk of physical or mental injury.
ACARA’s training program is a key area of how the organisation ensures staff understand their obligations and ACARA’s role in providing and maintaining a safe workplace. This training program takes the form of workplace inductions and e-learning activities, including refresher courses, where workers learn about ACARA’s WHS policy; their legal WHS responsibilities; emergency evacuation instructions; how to report hazards, incidents and injury; work station ergonomics and manual handling.
WHS information is provided to staff on the importance of maintaining understanding of work-related risks. Presentation themes include mental health, being active at work and travelling to and from work. Emphasis is placed on mitigating work-related risks to avoid physical or mental injury.
ACARA’s commitment to providing a safe workplace is implemented through its national WHS Committee with a representative from each key location. The committee promotes awareness of WHS in the workplace and meets every three months to discuss health and safety issues identified by staff, or hazards that have been identified during workplace inspections.
During 2019–20, no new claims were submitted to Comcare. No provisional improvement notices (section 90, Work Health and Safety Act 2011), prohibition notices (section 195) or improvement notices (section 191) were issued. There were no investigations undertaken by Comcare arising out of ACARA’s responsibility in ‘conducting a business or undertaking’, in accordance with the Act.
ACARA’s Audit and Risk Committee is advised of any issues arising and the actions carried out to mitigate WHS risks.
In 2019–20, consistent with the legislative requirements of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011, ACARA aimed to provide and promote a safe and healthy workplace by:
- eliminating or reducing the risk of hazards
- encouraging health initiatives; for example, by providing fruit to all staff, implementation of a wellbeing program offering discounted gym memberships and installing sit-to-stand desks in the Sydney office
- arranging for influenza vaccinations to be available for all staff at no charge
- providing access to the Employee Assistance Program
- introducing a functional first aid room with amenities to support staff, including those returning from parental leave
- conducting a training program to cover laws and regulations around workplace bullying and harassment, as well as to educate staff on their responsibilities
- conducting regular workplace inspections and encourage reporting of any incidents or hazards
- In March 2020 ACARA implemented a comprehensive COVID-19 response plan that included the option for all staff to work from home, regular health and safety updates and significant additional sanitation practices for all ACARA office locations, these measures have remained in place throughout the pandemic.
Insurance and indemnities
During 2019–20, ACARA held insurance protecting directors and officers from liability for the consequences of managerial misconduct or negligence, to the extent that the provision of the indemnity is not prevented by applicable legislation.
Ministerial directions and government policy orders
No policy orders or ministerial directions under the Act or instrument have been issued by the Australian Government under the PGPA Act during the year.
Ecologically sustainable development and environmental performance
ACARA continues its commitment to ecological sustainability across its operations. During 2019–20, ACARA continued to embed the use of new technologies and to improve flexible workplace practices. This was enabled by means of initiatives:
- ACARA’s Sydney office commenced collecting plastic bottle caps for Envision, an Australian organisation that recycles plastic bottle tops to make prosthetics for hands and arms, and mobility aids, for people in need.
- Sydney and Perth offices use video-conferencing facilities as a preference to travel, wherever possible.
- ACARA continued its recycling program through its Sydney office tenancy. Items that are recycled include glass, paper, metal, plastics and printer cartridges.