Bringing together our people
On 1 February 2020 we began operating as a new department, bringing together people from the former Department of the Environment and Energy (DoEE) and the former Department of Agriculture into one large and diverse workforce.
The Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment has more than 7,000 people working across Australia, in our external territories, including the Antarctic and in overseas posts around the world.
We are inspectors, policy officers, assessment, licencing and permit officers, program administrators, biosecurity and compliance officers, investigators, veterinarians, scientists, researchers, economists, accountants, legal advisors, ICT specialists, data analysts, expeditioners, food safety meat assessors, auditors and park managers and more.
Our new purpose statement – Partnering and regulating to enhance Australia's agriculture, unique environment and heritage, and water resources – along with our objectives and priorities means that everyone in the department, wherever they are, can now see where their work fits into the department's purpose.
Snapshot: Building a new department
Following the Prime Minister's announcement of machinery of government changes on 5 December 2019, we have worked throughout 2020 to create our new organisation. In the 34 working days leading up to the beginning of the new department, we carried out a major program of work to ensure the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment would be operational by 1 February 2020.
In accordance with the Administrative Arrangements Order, former agriculture employees transferred onto the DoEE Enterprise Agreement. To ensure continuity of critical business functions a number of specific Biosecurity, Veterinary and Meat Inspection terms and conditions were preserved through section 24 (3) and section 24 (1) determinations under the Public Service Act 1999.
An urgent task was to review all of the former Department of Agriculture's instruments of delegation and authorisation. There were more than 600 instruments needed to legally carry out the former department's work. We made sure updated instruments were ready to be executed immediately after the stroke of midnight on 1 February 2020 to ensure business continuity and, in particular, to make sure our biosecurity operations continued without interruption.
We now work with 5 ministers and we worked early in the process to provide a seamless transition for the ministerial offices to the new portfolio. Thanks to our work we were able to continue a high level of service to our ministers and to coordinate the new department's first appearance at Senate Estimates hearings in February 2020. We have moved to a single set of ministerial IT systems to make sure that services and support continue to operate smoothly.
We are now working to consolidate our strategies and policies for the new department. This has included setting up a new governance framework to make sure we continue to comply with our legislative and accountability obligations. The secretary immediately established an Executive Board, which has now approved a set of committees to support the department's operations. The audit committees of the previous departments merged to provide the Secretary with continuing advice and assurance.
We are updating and integrating a range of information technology systems to help us work more efficiently and effectively. Our work has ranged from introducing common email addresses to launching common learning management and recruitment systems. Work will continue to integrate our intranet, internet and several management information systems such as those that support our finance and human resources. This work will streamline our processes and provide our staff with the right tools to do perform their roles.
In 2020 flexible working arrangements have been critical to our continued operations. Like most Australian Government agencies, we shifted the majority of our staff who were able to work from home onto home based arrangements as part of the response to the COVID-19 pandemic. This included providing them with a range of tools, including mobile devices and online applications such as Microsoft Teams, to enable them to keep working and stay connected with their colleagues.
The experience of working through the pandemic has highlighted the benefits of supporting staff to work flexibly. We are continuing to manage our working arrangements to ensure that our people are working safely and in compliance with local health orders.
In the longer term, we will apply the lessons learned in 2020 to explore new, flexible and varied ways of working to support the delivery of our broad responsibilities, and provide a working environment that responds to the diverse needs of our skilled and knowledgeable workforce.
Integrating our systems
The implementation of the machinery of government changes resulted in the department operating 2 Human Resource Management Information Systems (HRMIS). Processes have been put in place to support our critical workforce management requirements while planning towards the integration of the systems occurs. The integrated system will be a fit for purpose HRMIS capable of meeting the department's workforce requirements.
Learning and development
In June 2020 we launched a new and improved Learning Management System, available to all of our staff, contractors and authorised officers. Learnhub 2.0 provides a combined library from our former departments, offering learning and development modules and access to training opportunities.
We also combined mandatory and compliance training into an Essentials e-learning package. The package provides a single consistent set of mandatory training for all staff, in addition to role-specific learning requirements.
To support our own set of learning modules, our people now have access to LinkedIn Learning, an online library of courses, including learning packages that provide a pathway to accreditation in some fields.
Learnhub and our new training opportunities will be the first step in establishing our department's learning and development approach through the new People Strategy.
Supporting a diverse workplace
Having a large and diverse workforce enables our department to support Australians by ensuring that we reflect the communities that we serve. We are developing a new Inclusion Strategy that will embed inclusion in all that we do. Its implementation will ensure every employee can contribute and bring their authentic self to work.
In addition, we are developing action plans to implement the Commonwealth's Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Workforce Strategy 2020–24, Disability Strategy and Gender Equity Strategy. Our Inclusion Strategy will complement these APS-wide strategies.
This work builds on the commitment of our former departments to support our diverse workforce. In June 2020 we celebrated achieving 'Gold' status in the Australian Workplace Equality Index, recognising our ongoing commitment to building an inclusive workplace for our LGBTIQ+ colleagues.
We have also started developing the new department's first Reconciliation Action Plan 2021–24 (RAP). We play a key role in protecting Australia's natural resources and way of life, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are central to our work.
We want to highlight this link clearly in our RAP, to support our goal to be an employer of choice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and for staff within the department to have a high degree of cultural capability. We aim to develop and implement policies and programs through collaboration and co-design with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff and communities.
Work health and safety
Health and safety initiatives and outcomes
The department is committed to implementing and maintaining effective work health and safety (WHS) strategies, initiatives and practices that promote continuous WHS improvement and keep our people safe.
Following the establishment of the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment we have continued to focus on integrating systems and building on the strong WHS foundations laid in the former departments. We have:
- implemented a new WHS Commitment Statement, acknowledging the shared responsibilities and commitment to safety held by the Secretary and the Director of National Parks
- completed work with Parks Australia to validate critical WHS risks and controls to identify opportunities to mature our WHS risk management approach
- delivered a national onsite influenza vaccination program to 3,637 employees across our diverse workplaces
- provided systems and support services to keep our people safe and physically and psychologically healthy during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In addition to this work, we acknowledge the great achievements of our former departments in 2019–20, which we are building on as an integrated organisation.
Snapshot: Working through COVID-19
A key part of our response to the COVID-19 pandemic was ensuring the department was able to keep working, while keeping our own staff safe. We activated our business continuity and pandemic contingency plans in early March 2020, just a few weeks into our operations as a new department.
Like most Australian Government agencies, our department had most staff working from home in line with local movement restrictions. In early March 2020 we had already begun preparing for staff to work from home. Our Information Services Division worked with its strategic partners to ensure all staff had access to all the critical requirements to enable them to work remotely. This included issuing hundreds of portable devices and monitors to our biosecurity staff to make sure frontline biosecurity operations continued.
We equipped our staff with online collaboration tools, remote telephony to enable call centre staff to work from home, and online systems that enabled staff to use their own devices and internet connection to log into our networks.
Throughout the pandemic our priority has been the health and wellbeing of our staff, guided by advice from the Department of Health, Safe Work Australia and the Australian Public Service Commission. We set up a dedicated WHS COVID-19 support team to implement measures to ensure the health, safety and physical and mental wellbeing of our people.
We put in place protocols to report suspected and confirmed cases of COVID-19 to minimise the risk of the virus transmitting within our workplaces. We received positive feedback from managers and staff about our efforts to keep them safe.
Work health and safety at the Department of Agriculture
During the year the former Department of Agriculture focused on mental health and wellbeing through a psychosocial safety climate survey pilot in partnership with University of South Australia and Comcare. The department coordinated a mental health and wellbeing strategy working group, delivered targeted information sessions for managers and focused on mental health during Safe Month in October 2019.
We continued to evolve our health and safety culture by starting meetings with safety moments, providing WHS case studies to senior leaders and including a WHS category in its annual Australia Day awards.
We improved incident investigations through a consistent process for serious incidents and coordinated the review and implementation of high consequence WHS risk assessments with the Biosecurity Operations Division. We also conducted 2 external audits to obtain an independent assessment of the controls and work practices in the Northern Australia Quarantine Service (NAQS), covering:
- working in remote and isolated areas
- aerial surveillance
The audits found that NAQS had effective systems in place for managing the risks and provided recommendations to help it improve its systems further.
We worked with the department's property team to oversee the implementation of the WHS aspects of a new building contract.
We also drafted an updated work health and safety strategy in consultation with senior executives, operational leaders and health and safety representatives. We are using this process to inform support the development of the WHS strategy for the new department.
Work health and safety at the Department of the Environment and Energy
During the year the former Department of the Environment and Energy completed work to validate critical WHS risks and controls. This work identified opportunities to mature systems, including streamlining field-based risk assessments and tools, and improving reporting processes.
We completed assurance reviews to identify areas of focus to support integrating existing systems into an Enterprise WHS Management System. We also completed the design, configuration and testing for a whole-of-department electronic WHS Information System. This work is informing further systems development to meet the needs of the new department.
We provided due diligence masterclass training to senior executives and officers, to provide practical guidance on how to meet their duties under the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 (WHS Act) and foster a positive safety culture.
We also continued to provide access to employee and manager assistance programs, resilience coaching and training for health and safety representatives, first aid officers, workplace contact officers and domestic and family violence contact officers.
Further information about work health and safety initiatives in Parks Australia is provided in the annual report from the Director of National Parks.
Notifiable incidents under the Work Health and Safety Act 2011
Under Schedule 2, Part 3 of the WHS Act, the department must report details of notifiable incidents, investigations, improvement notices, prosecutions and other matters as prescribed. Table 20 shows details for 2019–20 including statistics for the former departments up to the establishment of the Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment on 1 February 2020.
Table 20 Incidents notified under the Work Health and Safety Act 2011
Type of incident
Number of notifiable incidents
Department of Agriculture, Water and the Environment (1 February 2020 to 30 June 2020)
Department of Agriculture
(1 July 2019 to
31 January 2020)
(1 July 2019 to
31 January 2020)
Deaths that required notice under section 38
Serious injury or illness that required notice under section 38
Dangerous incidents that required notification under section 38
In 2019–20 the department and our former departments were not subject to any investigations, improvement notices or prosecutions under the Act.