Go to top of page

Part 3.2: People


The Department aspires to be a high performing organisation with a positive culture that enables collaboration, innovation, respect and staff engagement. We measure our performance and culture through the Australian Public Service Commission (APSC) Employee Census, internal Pulse Survey, and key HR measures including workforce planning metrics, skills and capability, and diversity benchmarks. As at 30 June 2018, the Department employed 4,486 staff on an ongoing and non-ongoing basis.

Organisational performance

Staff Survey
The Australian Public Service (APS) State of the Service Employee Census (Staff Survey) continues to provide valuable insight into staff views. The survey was conducted between 7 May and 8 June 2018, with 79 per cent of the Department’s staff participating (an increase from 74 per cent in 2017). Overall, the Department has maintained its positive results from previous years with a general improvement across the majority of questions in the Staff Survey. The perception of Senior Executive Service (SES) leadership improved, and remains significantly higher than the APS average. Satisfaction with Executive Level 2 leadership has steadily improved since 2016. Refer Figure 3.2.1 and Figure 3.2.2.

Over the coming year, the Department will focus on improving its internal communications, staff consultation, staff wellbeing and workforce management functions.
The Department also conducts a Pulse Survey twice a year, which complements the annual Staff Survey. The Pulse Survey is an internal tool to further measure employee outcomes, organisational performance, leadership and culture. The Pulse Survey links to and supports Our Behaviours in Action and the People Strategy.

The collection of people data is critical in helping the Department continue to drive improvements in performance and culture.

Workforce composition

As at 30 June 2018, the Department has a workforce of 4,486 APS staff (including staff on leave and secondment). This is a decrease from 4,720 as at 30 June 2017, which is largely attributed to tighter recruitment controls, targeted voluntary redundancies and a higher turnover rate, compared to the historical low level of 2016-17. At 30 June 2018:

  • 95.4 per cent of staff were ongoing and 4.6 per cent were non-ongoing;
  • 22.3 per cent of staff were employed on a part-time basis;
  • 68.9 per cent of staff were female; and
  • 2.8 per cent of staff identified as Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander.

The ongoing staff turnover rate in 2017-18, excluding voluntary redundancies, was 8.6 per cent, an increase from 7.7 per cent in 2016-17. Including the voluntary redundancies, the ongoing staff turnover rate was 11.6 per cent.

81 Excluding the Secretary, Holders of Public Office and the Chief Medical Officer. SES staff and equivalent comprise SES Band 1–3 and Medical Officers 5-6. Executive Level (EL) staff and equivalents comprise EL 1-2, Medical Officers 2–4, Legal 1-2, Public Affairs 3, Senior Principal Research Scientist and Principal Research Scientist.
82 The Department has implemented the Australian Government Guidelines on the Recognition of Sex and Gender and made changes to human resource management systems to enable collection of non-binary gender. As at 30 June 2018, two staff had self-identified as non-binary.

Employment arrangements

The Department’s practices for making employment arrangements with its staff are consistent with the requirements of the Workplace Bargaining Policy 2015 and the Fair Work Act 2009. Information on employment arrangements is outlined below.

Enterprise Agreement

The Department of Health Enterprise Agreement 2016–2019 (EA) provides the terms and conditions of employment for non-SES staff. The EA commenced operation on 3 February 2016 and will nominally expire on 26 January 2019.

The EA contains a flexibility term, which enables the Department to make an Individual Flexibility Arrangement with a non-SES staff member. An Individual Flexibility Arrangement varies specified terms and conditions provided under the EA for that individual where necessary and appropriate.
All salary increases awarded to staff by the EA are funded through a range of productivity improvements. These productivity improvements include corporate initiatives, such as property and ICT efficiencies,and streamlining processes and removal of restrictive and/or inefficient work practices.

The Department does not have any Australian Workplace Agreements in place and generally does not use common law contracts. However, common law contracts may be used where necessary to establish and/or supplement conditions and entitlements.

Executive remuneration and performance pay

The Department maintained remuneration for senior executives consistent with equivalent public sector entities during 2017-18. Base salaries and inclusions, complied with Government policy and guidelines. Individual salaries are negotiated on commencement and reviewed annually by the Department’s Executive Board.

Comprehensive terms and conditions of employment for new departmental SES staff are provided via individual determinations made under section 24(1) of the Public Service Act 1999. Remuneration information for executives and other highly paid officials is published on the Department’s website1 in accordance with the Executive Remuneration Reporting Guidelines issued by the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet.

No departmental staff received performance pay in 2017-18.

Refer Appendix 1: Workforce Statistics for more information on the Department’s staffing numbers,
workplace arrangements, remuneration and salary structures.


Building the right capability

The Department’s Learning and Development Strategy 2016–2019 (L&D Strategy) supports a diverse learning environment that builds a capable workforce to achieve departmental outcomes. The L&D Strategy also identifies a number of key drivers and learning principles, recognising the different influences, learning methods and future challenges staff in the Department face.

In 2017-18, the Department delivered a number of new learning and development initiatives including:

  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Cultural Appreciation Program;
  • records management and TRIM training; and
  • dealing with change.

The Department continued to deliver training incorporating elements from the Australian Public Service Commission’s fundamental programs. To build the capability of the Department’s staff, face-to-face learning, instructor-led training covered:

  • information technology;
  • writing and communication;
  • stakeholder engagement;
  • finance and procurement;
  • culture and inclusion;
  • work health and safety; and
  • leadership and management.

The Department also offers e-learning programs to staff, encompassing subjects such as APS Values, cultural awareness, work health and safety, financial management and knowledge management.

Leadership capability

The Department continues to deliver leadership development programs, building leadership and management capability at all levels within the Department.

In 2017-18, the Department implemented the Leadership and Management Framework. The Framework outlines leadership expectations required at each level and provides an overview of core leadership and management options available for staff. The Framework supports the People Strategy, and embeds Our Behaviours in Action through the development of leadership at all levels.

A range of leadership and management development options are available to support the development of a range of skills required to lead effectively. These options are aligned to leadership at all levels, and include the IGNITE program for Individual Leaders (aimed at technical and specialist leaders), Ready to Supervise (those who are new to supervision or soon to be first time managers), Foundational Leaders (those who manage a small team), Expansion Leaders (for more experienced managers) and the Section Leaders program for Directors. The Department continues its focus on building a coaching culture through the ‘Unlocking Best Work’ coaching program which aims to embed Our Behaviours in Action. There are also a range of management
programs and tools, such as 360 degree feedback, and on the job learning to support building leadership and management capability in the workplace.

The Department also continued to develop the leadership capability of EL2 and SES staff, by providing ‘Manager Snapshot’ sessions which focus on an individual topic of interest each month, as well as facilitating ‘learning circles’ that allow our managers to share and discuss matters in an open and supportive forum. These initiatives provide for continual learning and development through practical and social learning.


Workforce inclusivity and diversity

The Department is committed to reflecting the diversity of the Australian community in its workforce by building an inclusive culture that respects and celebrates differences. Diversity in our experiences, backgrounds, skills, talents and views enriches our working environment and capacity to deliver health outcomes for all Australians.

Our staff survey results indicate our senior leaders actively support people from diverse backgrounds (8 per cent higher than the APS), and 78 per cent of employees agree the agency supports and actively promotes an inclusive workplace culture (3 per cent higher than the APS).
In 2017-18, the Department’s diversity related staff networks were supported by ten champions from its Senior Executive cohort. These officers raise awareness and understanding by educating colleagues and advocating for diversity across the Department more broadly.

The Department supports three formal staff networks, each championed by a Deputy Secretary, the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Staff Network, Health Pride Network, and Disability and Carers Network, and two informal staff-led networks – the Gender Equality Network and the Multicultural Network. The Department also continues to participate in whole-of-government forums, roundtables and meetings with stakeholders and corporate partners including the Australian Network on Disability and Pride in Diversity.

In 2017-18, the Department entered into its second year of implementation for the Accessibility Action Plan and the Innovate Reconciliation Action Plan, with the development of the first Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex (LGBTI) Action Plan underway. These plans collectively outline clear pathways for the Department to achieve a more inclusive workplace.

The Department continues to participate in the annual Australian Workplace Equality Index (AWEI),
which is the national benchmark for LGBTI workplace inclusion in Australia. In 2018, the Department received an overall Bronze Member status (with a total score of 92 out of 200), which is an increase from Participating status (59 out of 200) in 2017.

Career and Succession

Performance development

Creating a culture of high performance and an environment that provides both job satisfaction and opportunities for career growth were a continuing focus for the Department. Investing in high performance is central to Our Behaviours in Action, with nurturing talent and building capability fundamental to this investment.

This included the ongoing provision of a range of behavioural and ethical education and training opportunities aimed at embedding staff knowledge and understanding of their responsibilities, and emphasising the workplace behaviours expected of all staff under the APS Code of Conduct.
The Department’s Performance Development Scheme requires that all staff engage in formal performance discussions and assessments at least twice a year. The purpose of these discussions and assessments is to ensure that goals are clear, progress is monitored and any obstacles are addressed. Discussions around individual development plans and opportunities are also held and reviewed through this process to ensure that appropriate development is provided to staff.

Simplifying and streamlining of the systems used to support performance development continues to be a focus with the aim of reducing barriers to participation.

All alleged breaches of the APS Code of Conduct are treated seriously and managed in accordance with best practice. The majority of complaints received were handled through local management action or preliminary assessments. The Department finalised 15 APS Code of Conduct investigations during 2017-18, resulting in 13 breaches of the APS Code of Conduct being determined.

Entry-level programs

During 2017-18 the graduate and apprentice teams were merged to become an employment pathways team. This created efficiencies and promotes consistent development opportunities across all employment pathways programs.

The Department is committed to diversity and inclusivity in the workplace and this year successfully piloted the 2019 Graduate Development Program – Affirmative Measures recruitment process.

The Department currently participates in a number of other recruitment programs and activities to engage a diverse range of participants. These include:

  • Digital Transformation Agency’s Australian Government ICT Graduate Program;
  • APSC GradAccess Program (an Affirmative Measures recruitment program for people with a disability);
  • APSC Indigenous Graduate Program (Affirmative Measures); and
  • Department of Human Services Indigenous Apprenticeship Program.

In 2018-19 there will be a continued focus on enhancements to entry level programs including:

  • program attraction and retention strategies;
  • reviewing the learning and development offering; and
  • post program pathways.

Career development and mobility

The Department is committed to career development and supports secondment and mobility opportunities both within the APS and with the private sector. The Department was one of seven agencies that participated in Operation Free Range, an Australian Public Service Commission-led study on APS mobility. During the period of the study, there were a total of 326 jobs published, with the Department posting 224 of these. At the completion of the study, there were a total of 14 staff placed in the participating agencies with four of these staff from the Department and four placed in the Department.

The Department maintains an internal mobility register that allows ongoing staff to be considered for placements both temporary and permanent. The use of this internal register is promoted to hiring managers seeking to fill a vacancy.

The Department also maintains strong connections with the private sector, professional bodies and academia to promote collaboration and sharing of professional expertise. Mobility and stretch opportunities are encouraged as ways of developing depth and breadth of experience. Talent management practices link to the long-term needs of the Department’s business. Through succession planning, the Department identifies, attracts and actively retains critical staff by investing in their careers—through the innovative use of employment, development, remuneration and entitlement frameworks.

This year the Department partnered with the Canberra Business Chamber, Human Rights Commission and other federal government agencies to offer secondments opportunities to Health employees. The Department has also hosted secondees from both the public and private sector.

Work Health and Safety (WHS)

The Department’s Comcare Premium has reduced by $1,067,742 (from $4,417,466 in 2016-17 to $3,349,724 in 2017-18). This positive trend has been consistent over the last four years. In 2017-18, our premium was 1.15 per cent (scheme average = 1.23 per cent) and in 2018-19 our premium is 0.86 per cent (scheme average = 1.06 per cent)

The majority of the Department’s staff work in an office, exposing them to well-documented ergonomic risks. The Department seeks to provide well-designed and innovative work spaces and WHS programs.

Some of the Department’s staff work at the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA), which has a different risk profile that includes laboratory work with potentially hazardous substances. The TGA is also situated in a rural setting, where controls for encountering venomous wildlife are in place.

The Department has policies and procedures in place to appropriately protect workers from, and respond to, all potential hazards.

An emerging issue for the Department is an increase in the number of psychological claims accepted in the latter half of 2017-18, which have a higher average incurred cost. This will be an area of focus in 2018-19.

Creating the right work environment and managing potential sources of harm (such as high work demands, low levels of control and poor support) will benefit everyone at work. Improving mental health at and through work will help us realise the health benefits of work, while also driving greater productivity and inclusion.2

Evaluation of the Department’s WHS performance

The Department provides support to ill or injured employees and their managers in relation to assist both workers compensation claims and non-work related injury and illness. The Department aims to return employees to the workplace as quickly as possible and provide a positive influence on our productivity through low rates of unscheduled absence. Since 2013-14, the number of compensation claims accepted for the Department has been consistently declining. There were 33 accepted claims in 2017-18.

The Department continues to progress audit recommendations from a Comcare WHS audit in 2016, and has completed all but four recommendations from the Comcare Rehabilitation Management System audit in 2017.

Improving WHS in the workplace

There were a number of initiatives undertaken in 2017-18 to improve WHS in the Department.

  • The in-house development of a departmental specific WHS e-learning training module which is designed to increase existing and new employees’ awareness and knowledge about WHS.
  • Trialing a more accessible influenza vaccination program involving on-site and pharmacy voucher options, and including contractors in the vaccination program for the first time.
  • Streamlining the Department’s Ergonomics Program by developing an ergonomic equipment catalogue and providing staff with the ability to self-order ergonomic equipment that has been recommended to them by an in-house ergonomic specialist.
  • Embedding the Department’s Early Intervention Policy which was finalised in May 2017. The Policy aims to minimise the impact of injury or illness on employees and the Department, through various activities including workstation assessments, access to the Employee Assistance Program, flexible working arrangements, and where appropriate, reimbursement for medical treatments.
  • Improved reporting on WHS and return to work outcomes to Senior Executives.

The Health and Wellbeing Program

During 2017-18, the Department’s Health and Wellbeing Program continued to provide support to staff through a variety of initiatives. These include the:

  • Employee Assistance Program (EAP) – 16.5 per cent of staff in Health and its portfolio agencies used the EAP, with 789 new referrals recorded;
  • annual Vaccination Program – 2,305 employees across the country received an influenza vaccination; and
  • corporate gym membership scheme – staff accessed discounted membership or attendance rates at nominated gyms in the major cities.

Notifiable incidents
The Department received 453 accident and incident reports in 2017-18. The Department is working to improve the WHS related reporting culture, with a focus on increasing the reporting of near misses and hazards, and the identification of early intervention opportunities.

Of the 453 hazard and incident reports, there were seven notifiable incidents sent to Comcare. The incidents have been investigated and where action has been required action plans have been developed.

Disability confidence and recognition of carers

Supporting staff
The Department remains committed to being an employer of choice for people with disability and those with caring responsibilities. The Department’s goal is to minimise barriers to employment for people with disability, fostering an environment that enables people with disability, and carers, to maximise their productivity and potential.

The Accessibility Action Plan (AAP) 2016–19 has entered into its second year of implementation. The APP is inclusive of both our staff with disability and caring responsibilities. Highlights from 2017-18 include:

  • implementation of SES Changing Mindsets Program. This program is designed to provide experiential activities for SES employees to interact with staff with disability;
  • launching APS As One Disability Awareness and Building Disability Confidence e-learning modules;
  • growth of our Disability and Carers Staff Network and delivery of their workplan; and
  • recognition of the Department as a carer-friendly workplace by Carers Australia and a gold member of the Australian Network on Disability.

The Department participated in the Access and Inclusion Index evaluation and benchmarking report for the first time. Participation allowed us to comprehensively self-assess our organisation’s maturity on the journey towards disability confidence.

Changing Mindsets program

In 2017-18, the Department launched its Changing Mindsets program. This program was developed in partnership with the Department’s Disability and Carers Network and SES Disability
and Carer Champions. All SES were invited to participate as were all staff from the Disability and Carers Network.

The program focuses on providing a collection of experiential activities for our SES leaders providing direct exposure to staff with disability and/or carer responsibilities. Program experiences are designed to encourage SES to consider practical actions they can take in their leadership role to improve employment experiences of staff with disability and/or carer responsibilities. Participants of the program have found the activities to be honest, informative,
unique and positive.

The sessions allowed issues to be raised in a safe environment and connected staff across various levels. The feedback and suggestions gathered through the sessions were valuable
in understanding key issues our staff face and provided focus areas where we can improve. The sessions also raised visibility of the Department’s existing strategies and policies available.

The Changing Mindsets program is an important part of the Department’s commitment to delivering our Accessibility Action Plan 2016–19 and another valuable step towards achieving our goal to be an inclusive organisation that values fairness, equity and diversity consistent with the APS Values and Code of Conduct and improving diversity and inclusion across the APS.

“As a carer for my son with a high level spinal injury, having the support and flexibility that the
Department has given me has been immensely important. Having the opportunity to participate in
the SES Changing Mindsets 5+5 experience demonstrated to me that our SES are committed to
understanding the diverse needs of people with a disability and their carer’s. Most importantly
it gave me confidence that the sessions will translate into practical actions to support people with
a disability and their carers.”

Working with carer organisations

The Department consults with carer organisations to develop support mechanisms and implement reforms to ensure that programs and services continue to meet the requirements of the Carer Recognition Act 2010 and consider the needs of carers, people with disability and vulnerable populations.


  1. 83 Available at: www.health.gov.au/internet/main/publishing.nsf/Content/executive-remuner...
  2. 84 Source: Australian Public Service Commission, 2013, Working Together: Promoting mental health and wellbeing at work. Available at: www.comcare.gov.au/static/mental_health/index.html#2/z