Go to top of page

Provide a secure and effective overseas presence

Icon shows an Australian map marker placed on the globe symbolising Australia assisting as a positive overseas neighbour.
The pandemic, growing cyber threats, sporadic civil unrest and world-wide protest movements added to an already complex operating environment in 2019–20. We responded strongly to these challenges, giving staff the tools and skills to identify, assess and mitigate, where possible, security risks, no matter where they work or what work they do. We harnessed technological advancements to enable remote and accessible working, and prioritised cyber resilience. We refocused our property services to protect staff and visitors to our domestic and overseas premises during COVID-19.

Security of our network

Performance measure

How we rate our performance*

Effective security culture and practices guided by the DFAT Security Framework.

On track

Source: Corporate Plan 2019–20 p. 23, PBS program 3.1 p. 45 | Funding: PBS 2019–20 programs 1.1 and 3.1

Performance measure

How we rate our performance*

Staff engagement with security materials and products, and evidence of risk-based decision making on security issues using the DFAT Security Framework security risk management tools.

On track

*Our assessments are informed by tracking implementation of recommendations from internal and external audits and reviews, assurance reports, project reporting and qualitative data

Our performance

We improved transparency, capability and accountability of our services, strengthening the department’s security culture and risk management practices. We rate our performance as ‘on track’ against these measures, while acknowledging we need to continue long-term investment in our people and our physical security measures.

Effective security culture and practices

To deepen the department’s security culture, we drew on recommendations from a number of previously conducted audits and internal reviews, as well as seeking feedback from our own network. We also reviewed security breach, incident and other data.

We delivered innovative security awareness campaigns to educate staff, most recently on the government’s new sensitivity and security classifications. This resulted in a high level of engagement with intranet content, attracting more than 950 hits in the first month. We reviewed and streamlined risk management tools and key security policies to improve the DFAT Security Framework (DSF). This enhanced staff engagement, with a 43 per cent increase in the number of staff reviewing the risk management tools and a 173 per cent increase in staff accessing the revamped travel security policy.1

We made our security clearance processes more efficient by digitising and transforming key elements. This contributed to a significant service enhancement with a 61 per cent increase in the number of initial Negative Vetting clearances completed compared to 2018–19, and a 12 per cent reduction in overall processing times. We are also making a concerted effort to build the number of departmental staff with Positive Vetting clearances.

Adapting to the COVID-19 operating environment, we refocused resources to provide support remotely and tailored advice to our network. We provided targeted security guidance to support the transition to remote working arrangements, completing threat and risk assessments and awareness raising to continue protecting people, information and assets across the globe. We streamlined risk assessment processes to facilitate essential staff travel.

Managing security risk

We implemented a peer review process and targeted training to improve the quality and consistency of reporting, enhance governance and improve security risk management. As a result, the reporting provided a more nuanced understanding of posts’ security environments and guided resources to areas of highest risk. We completed security fit-outs for new interim chanceries in Tehran, Abuja and Washington, and upgraded perimeter fences in New Delhi, Port of Spain and Port Moresby to address key security vulnerabilities. We started security upgrades in a further 19 locations.

By integrating the Security Enhancements Program into ‘business as usual’, we were able to respond swiftly to COVID-19 challenges. As global travel restrictions affected infrastructure builds and security inspections at overseas posts, we pivoted to bring forward domestic projects—including improved security measures at the RG Casey Building in Canberra—and enhance secure communications facilities.

We began an overhaul of security training to lift our ability to understand and manage security risks and the quality of our service to all Australian agencies represented overseas. To overcome COVID-19 restrictions that prevented face-to-face learning, we combined online pre-course work, virtual tours of posts and live web sessions. Our training delivery model is now more integrated, agile and responsive. We delivered 117 training courses either face-to-face or through other mechanisms over the year.

We continued building a network of security specialists to provide real-time access to security expertise for posts, and a more comprehensive understanding of regional security environments. A new regional security officer commenced in Abuja. A further eight security specialists will be deployed as COVID-19 restrictions allow.

Fit-for-purpose and secure ICT

Our ICT environment has been undergoing significant reform since 2018 through careful investment and measured decisions in line with our Corporate Plan. With many of our technological reform foundations in place before COVID-19, the department was able to mobilise operations, test and strengthen remote and innovative technologies, and transition these into normal working life.

Performance measure

How we rate our performance*

Fit-for-purpose and secure ICT systems.

On track

Source: Corporate Plan 2019–20 p. 24, PBS 2019–20 program 3.1 p. 45 | Funding: PBS 2019–20 programs 1.1 and 3.1

* Our assessments are informed by our rapid delivery of large scale remote working arrangements during COVID-19, the shared audit assurance program and our maturing compliance with the ACSC Essential Eight (E8) Cyber Security Maturity Model

ICT Response to COVID-19

When the department activated its pandemic plan, we had advanced audiovisual technology and a strong remote working capability ready and waiting. Staff made more than 19,000 video conferencing calls in April—13,000 more than the same time last year. From 1 March the department supported an average of 3,400 remote users a day. This compared to an average of 315 remote users before COVID-19.

We had already invested in expanding our gateway infrastructure, environment and associated licencing and we ramped up quickly to meet the department’s needs. The ICT supply chain quickly became the one area outside of our control that had potential to significantly affect our IT capability. Quick planning and engagement with multiple vendors enabled us to source additional equipment to meet our needs.

We introduced game changing tools to the department’s central COVID-19 Coordination Unit, improving the quality of information provided to decision makers and the speed of operations. Microsoft Teams—a cloud-based platform—enhanced collaboration and reduced the need for face-to-face staff handovers. We delivered five desktop applications to the department in a few weeks and these became critical to the government’s efforts to enable Australians overseas—including our staff—to return safely. Data from these custom-built applications fed directly into daily briefings for the Prime Minister, Foreign Minister and the Secretary, supporting critical COVID-19 decisions with real-time information.

These technological advances will remain long after the pandemic. COVID-19 has provided valuable lessons and shown that our ICT transformation agenda is on point and delivering fit for purpose and secure ICT systems.

We will continue investing in innovation and emerging technologies. Moving the department to the cloud is our initial priority. Close to 50 per cent of staff are using cloud-based email. Investment in cloud-based platforms has allowed us to rapidly develop and deploy technology to meet specific business needs, such as relationship management capability in ‘Contacts and Events’.

We also continued to build cyber maturity in accordance with the Australian Cyber Security Centre’s Essential Eight Cyber Security Maturity Model (E8). This has increased our compliance and enabled us to stay ahead of malicious cyber actors—a key part of our cloud transition activities.

Centralised logging capabilities across the majority of our global network are enabling us to detect, analyse and respond quickly to suspicious network activity, and to keep our information safe. We used increased cyber assessment capability to proactively block the use of several mobile applications, reducing the risk of malicious actors gaining access to our information.

Effectively managing our property

The department applies best practice measures to ensure safe work sites and bespoke solutions in some of the most challenging environments in the world. We manage the differing approval requirements in various overseas jurisdictions, sometimes in challenging markets where there is varying availability of materials and skills provided by local industry.

We apply a range of industry methodologies and financial principles in project delivery. We review lessons learnt for all completed capital works projects and apply the outcomes to future project development and delivery, including forward planning to identify and treat project risks.

Performance measure

How we rate our performance*

Construction and refurbishment of departmental overseas property estate completed to agreed quality standards to meet government requirements and deliver operational efficiencies.

Partially on track

Source: Corporate Plan 2019–20 p. 24, PBS 2019–20 program 3.2 p. 47 | Funding: PBS 2019–20 programs 1.1 and 3.2

*Our assessment is informed by tracking project progress against baseline schedules, outcomes delivered against defined deliverables, and the impact of COVID-19 on construction from February 2020

Performance measure

How we rate our performance*

Management and refurbishment of the domestic property portfolio, including the state and territory offices, to meet government requirements and deliver operational efficiencies.

On track

Source: Corporate Plan 2019–20 p. 24 | Funding: PBS 2019–20 program 1.1

*Our assessment is informed by tracking project progress against schedules, outcomes delivered against departmental priorities

Our performance

COVID-19 affected construction and refurbishment projects across the overseas property estate, disrupting availability of workforce, resources and supply chains. Projects in the construction phase slowed or were paused, while projects in the planning phase were delayed by the inability to conduct proper feasibility studies and due diligence. Our forward planning will take account of likely further impact in subsequent years on project completion times. Despite this, we maintained revised schedules to deliver capital works projects. We assess our performance as ‘partially on track’ for the overseas estate and ‘on track’ domestically.

We delivered interim chanceries in compressed timeframes in Tehran and Abuja. We delivered an interim chancery in Washington on schedule, completing the department’s largest commercial office fit-out. We handed over the former chancery for demolition and works are progressing, but the project has been challenged by the impact of COVID-19, fluctuations in foreign exchange rates, and the application of tariffs. As a result, completion is now forecast for the first half of 2023.

We sourced property solutions to operationalise new posts in Koror and Rarotonga. COVID-19-related travel restrictions hindered progress on new posts in Majuro, Papeete and Alofi, but the department remains focused on establishing all new posts by 2022. We completed residential refurbishments in Apia, Honiara, Port Moresby, Port Vila and Suva.

Our projects model safe work practices aligned with Australian construction industry expectations in challenging environments. We delivered construction and fit-out works with a recorded Long Term Injury frequency lower than comparable Australian industry benchmarks.

We collaborated with the Australian prefabrication construction industry to deliver two new solutions for Rabat and Tarawa. Our first off-site constructed chancery—for Rabat—was built, tested and commissioned in Sydney and then shipped to Casablanca. Installation was delayed by COVID-19 restrictions, but the chancery is ready to be transported and reassembled in the Canadian Embassy compound in Rabat, and we have recommenced site works in preparation. This world-first innovation demonstrated a new capability to deliver fast-tracked, high-quality, low-maintenance, environmentally friendly, secure buildings anywhere in the world. With 75 per cent of the project budget spent in Australia, this model will be refined for further use in other locations.

COVID-19 travel restrictions affected site works, causing delays in the Tarawa Property Replacement Project. Five residential properties and a new chancery—designed and manufactured in Australia—will be shipped from Melbourne to Tarawa for assembly. This project showcases environmentally sustainable design and will set a new benchmark for future Pacific projects.

Large box (prefabricated embassy) about to be loaded off a semi-trailer at the docks.
Our first prefabricated chancery—for our post in Rabat—was built, tested and commissioned in Sydney in collaboration with the Australian prefabrication construction industry. It was loaded at Port Botany for shipping to Morocco [C.C. Pines/Admiralty Maritime Consultants]

Our domestic portfolio management included a strong focus on health and safety. We responded to bushfire-related smoke hazards by reprioritising services and working with building owners to maintain air quality across our portfolio.

In response to COVID-19, we worked through the department’s business continuity mechanisms to protect the health and safety of staff in Australia. We supported relocation efforts to prevent interruption of key services and functions while adhering to social distancing restrictions. We also established protocols to support health and hygiene in the workplace, underscored by a comprehensive internal communication campaign.

We completed a range of capital projects to support departmental priorities at our Canberra sites.

Managing our assets

Performance measure

How we rate our performance*

Asset management plans are in place for all owned properties in the overseas estate.


Source: Corporate Plan 2019–20 p. 24, PBS 2019–20 program 3.2 p. 47 | Funding: PBS 2019–20 programs 1.1 and 3.2

*Our assessment is informed by the delivery of asset management plans contained in the property management system, which is the repository for property-related information

Our performance

Asset management plans are in place for all properties in the overseas owned estate, including those where COVID-19 has limited detailed inspections. The plans guide decision-making on priorities for maintenance, upgrades, replacements and divestments to optimise the management and performance of building assets.

The need for new capital initiatives to support security and foreign policy priorities has increased demand on resources to maintain assets to acceptable standards. We are monitoring this risk to improve decision-making, taking account of both property and strategic priorities.

Client satisfaction with property services

The Commonwealth’s owned and leased portfolio is managed by the department’s Overseas Property Office and Services (OPO) and global real estate service provider, Jones Lang LaSalle (JLL).

Performance measure

How we rate our performance*

Satisfaction ratings of over 80 per cent on the performance of the service provider and the Overseas Property Office.


Source: Corporate Plan 2019–20 p. 24, PBS 2019–20 program 3.2 p. 47 | Funding: PBS 2019–20 programs 1.1 and 3.2

*Our assessment is informed by the annual client satisfaction survey results conducted by an independent third party

Our performance

Independent research group ORIMA Research conducted the annual online survey to assess client satisfaction with the performance of OPO and JLL’s management of the domestic and international property portfolio. The 2020 survey received 229 individual responses from 107 locations, a 96 per cent response rate. The survey recorded ratings of 98 per cent satisfaction for OPO and 93 per cent satisfaction for JLL—the highest ratings on record.

The 2019–20 survey showed a strengthening in results across a broad range of measures, exceeding the target of 80 per cent satisfaction, a solid increase compared to 84 per cent in 2018–19. We worked in partnership with JLL to manage the COVID-19 risk on properties in Australia and overseas by implementing best practice measures and delivering property services, despite supply chain challenges. We completed approximately 12,500 planned and preventative maintenance tasks and 19,000 reactive maintenance tasks initiated by staff across the network.


1 The number of staff reviewing or accessing the material in December 2019 compared to in December 2018