The department operates posts in 111 locations overseas, with an additional nine posts managed by Austrade providing consular services. We also have offices in every Australian state and territory capital and the Torres Strait. At 30 June, 3,049 APS staff worked in Australia and 833 APS employees worked at our overseas posts, with some temporarily working from Australia due to the impact of the pandemic (see Appendix 1: Staffing overview).
Before COVID-19, the department had commenced a modernisation program to lift our HR management, systems, practices and policies, and to frame the way we recruit, retain and develop our people. As a global organisation grounded in the Australian Public Service—and working in an increasingly complex operating environment—we need people with diverse capabilities.
To strengthen our strategic workforce planning, the department is moving to a capability-based workforce model, initially focused on international development expertise. Our planning drew on our strengthened workforce data and analytical capability—critical for supporting diversity and inclusion and the broader HR modernisation program. We ran targeted recruitment rounds in priority areas, and adapted our recruitment practices under COVID-19 restrictions using technology and online tools to run cost-effective and streamlined recruitment processes.
Learning and development
Our Diplomatic Academy (DAC) moved quickly to deliver training programs online, including for 26 languages and other courses using flexible and ‘bite-sized learning’ options. Over the year, we delivered over 400 face-to-face and online courses and learning opportunities to more than 8,000 learners. Our focus is on building the capability of staff in core tradecraft skills. Participation from across the APS and state and territory governments has fostered stronger whole-of-government knowledge and skills transfer.
We continued to encourage international participation in core programs, including in a new four-week online program ‘Understanding the Pacific’. Twenty-six international participants—including strong representation from Pacific countries—joined the department’s 48 graduate trainees in 2019 for a six-week training program.
Employment arrangements and non-salary benefits
The department’s Enterprise Agreement sets out the terms and conditions for non-Senior Executive Service (SES) APS employees.
SES staff are employed under the terms of a determination made by the Secretary under section 24(1) of the Public Service Act 1999. Key management personnel, SES and other highly paid staff remuneration is set out in Note 6.2 of the financial statements (see Notes to and forming part of the financial statements) and in Appendix 2: Executive remuneration. Following the government’s decision on 9 April, we paused general wage increases for six months and implemented a freeze on increases in remuneration, entitlements and allowances for all SES.
The department provides a range of non-salary benefits, including influenza vaccinations, on-site gym facilities in Canberra and some posts, and prioritised access to designated childcare centres in Canberra.
At 30 June we employed 2,106 locally engaged staff in our overseas missions. These staff play a crucial role in promoting, protecting and advancing Australia’s interests internationally, and contributing to economic growth and global stability. They provide essential in-country knowledge, networks and continuity at our overseas posts. Locally engaged staff are engaged under local labour law as it applies to diplomatic and consular missions.
We operate in high-risk locations and staff welfare is our top priority. We are committed to embedding an organisational culture that effectively manages work health and safety risks, and fosters behaviours to sustain healthy and safe work environments. We consider WHS in all our operational decision-making.
We also provide staff with counselling services to build resilience and cope with complex and stressful environments.
Our Staff and Family Support Office and the department’s mental health strategy were at the centre of efforts to ensure a mentally healthy and inclusive workplace. We maintained Gold level status as a workplace with Mental Health First Aid Australia.
During the year, staff and families accessed:
- 1,797 individual sessions supporting over 862 staff and family members
- 138 training courses (in person and virtually) reaching over 2,671 staff, on topics such as workplace mental health for managers, stress management and self-care, and working with objectionable materials
- five mental health first aid courses.
We maintained regular contact and communication to support the health and wellbeing of our staff during COVID-19, including staff at post and those temporarily returned to Australia. We worked collectively across the department in Canberra, offices in Australia and our posts overseas to provide regular updates on the pandemic and the department’s responses, medical advice and counselling services. Our Employee Assistance Program providers further built our capacity to support staff.
Engaging with risk
Over the past three years we have refined our risk management framework. This positioned us well to support agile decision making in response to COVID-19 to:
- address risks to Australia’s national interests
- meet the significant increase in consular demands
- ensure staff wellbeing.
Management of risk is at the core of our strategic decision-making processes, including robust discussion by senior governance committees on risks of proposed actions. In 2019 the department won the Risk Management (Enterprise Wide) category of the Comcover Awards for Excellence in Risk Management. This recognised our work to systematically embed risk management across the department and to develop a high level of risk capability and maturity.
Our Enterprise Risk Register is updated three times a year and provides routine assurance of the critical controls to manage operations. Risk also underpinned the business continuity measures we put in place to respond to COVID-19 (see Enterprise business continuity).
Promoting a positive risk culture is a priority. The COVID-19 experience highlighted to staff the importance of engaging with risk. The results of annual surveys to gauge staff views of risk management, along with the outcomes of the APS Employee Census, inform engagement to help build risk management capability across the department.