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Part 3.4: People

The Department aspires to be a high performing organisation with a positive culture based on collaboration, innovation, respect and staff engagement. We measure our performance and culture through the Australian Public Service Commission (APSC) Employee Census, internal Pulse Surveys and key human resource measures including workforce planning metrics, skills and capability and diversity benchmarks. As at 30 June 2019, the Department employed 4,280 staff on an ongoing and non-ongoing basis.

Organisational performance

Measures of leadership and culture

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 6 May and 7 June 2019, with 86 per cent of the Department’s staff participating (an increase from 79 per cent in 2018).

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 continues to improve and remains significantly higher than the APS average. Satisfaction with Executive Level 2 (EL2) leadership also continues to improve. Refer Figure 3.4.1 and Figure 3.4.2.

Over the coming year, the Department will focus on providing clearer performance expectations, and improving risk culture and change management.

The Department also conducts Pulse Surveys 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.

In November 2018, the Department trialled an Upwards Feedback Survey for all SES and 120 volunteer EL2s. The short Upwards Feedback Survey provided leaders with anonymous feedback from staff in their business unit about their leadership behaviours. The questions in the survey acted as a ‘checklist’ of behaviours that are common to high performing managers and the type of culture promoted in the Department. This feedback provided managers a better understanding of their leadership capability, including their strengths and areas for improvement.

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

Figure 3.4.1: Health and APS senior leadership perception

 high quality; visibility; effective communication; engaging with staff on future challenges; and articulating direction and priorities.

Figure 3.4.2: EL2 leadership perception over time

Figure 3.4.2 is a line graph depicting the level of satisfaction with EL2 leadership over time. The level of satisfaction continues to improve from 72% in 2016, 75% in 2017, 78% in 2018 to 80% in 2019.

Workforce composition

As at 30 June 2019, the Department had a workforce of 4,280 APS staff (including staff on leave and secondment). This is a decrease from 4,486 as at 30 June 2018, which is largely due to Machinery of Government transfers of staff undertaking grant management roles to the Community Grants Hub and staff from the former Aged Care Complaints Commissioner to the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission, tighter recruitment controls, and some redundancies.

At 30 June 2019:

  • 95.9 per cent of staff were ongoing and 4.1 per cent were non-ongoing;
  • 21.4 per cent of staff were employed on a part-time basis;
  • 68.2 per cent of staff were female;
  • 2.4 per cent of staff identified as Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander; and
  • 4.4 per cent of staff identified a disability.

The ongoing staff turnover rate in 2018-19, excluding voluntary redundancies and Machinery of Government moves, was 8.5 per cent, a minor decrease from 8.6 per cent in 2017-18. Including the voluntary redundancies and excluding Machinery of Government moves, the ongoing staff turnover rate was 10.3 per cent.

Figure 3.4.3: Comparison of gender profile at 30 June 2018 and 30 June 201912​​

 601 males, 1,561 females at the APS level; 687 males, 1,257 females at the EL level; and 69 males, 96 females at the SES level.

Employment arrangements

The Department’s practices for making employment arrangements with its staff are consistent with the requirements of the Workplace Bargaining Policy 2018 and the Fair Work Act 2009. Information on employment arrangements is outlined below.

Enterprise Agreement

During 2018-19, the Department negotiated a new Enterprise Agreement (EA). The Department of Health Enterprise Agreement 2019–2022 provides the terms and conditions of employment for non-SES staff. The EA commenced operation on 26 March 2019 and will nominally expire on 25 March 2022.

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 Information Technology efficiencies and improved management of work health and safety (WHS) obligations and unscheduled absences.

Executive Remuneration and performance pay

During 2018-19, the Department’s remuneration for SES officers was consistent with equivalent public sector entities. Base salaries and inclusions complied with Government policy and guidelines. Remuneration for SES takes into account the parameters set out in the Australian Public Service Bargaining Framework, the APS Remuneration Management Policy and any data provided by the APSC. Individual SES salaries are negotiated on commencement and all SES salaries are reviewed regularly by the Department’s Secretary and Deputy Secretaries. The Secretary determines SES remuneration.

Comprehensive terms and conditions of employment for new departmental SES staff are set out in individual determinations made under section 24(1) of the Public Service Act 1999. The Department’s framework for SES remuneration is published in a policy approved by the Executive.

No departmental staff received performance pay in 2018-19.

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

Workforce Capability

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 strategy identifies a number of key drivers and learning principles, recognising the different influences, learning methods and challenges staff in the Department face.

In 2018-19, the Department delivered a number of new learning and development initiatives including:

  • Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Build Your Brand Workshop;
  • Design Thinking and Evidence Based Problem Solving;
  • Accidental Counsellor;
  • Project Management for Leaders; and
  • Project Management Essentials for APS staff.

The Department also supports the continued professional development of our Medical Officer employees to assist them to attain and maintain work relevant skills and knowledge. Medical Officers have access to an annual professional development allowance to assist them in maintaining their professional qualifications.

The Department continued to deliver training incorporating elements from the APSC’s fundamental programs. Face-to-face, instructor-led training covered:

  • information technology;
  • writing and communication;
  • project management;
  • 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, security awareness, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultural appreciation, work health and safety, privacy, financial management and knowledge management.

In 2018-19, the Department offered varied learning solutions including access to Lynda.com to provide more learning opportunities to staff in all locations.

In addition to the training above, most of which is relevant to all roles in the Department, training and development opportunities are also provided to support employees to develop skills relevant to their particular roles, including:

  • better practice regulation and costing regulatory impacts;
  • data analytics; and
  • formal investigation training for those working in compliance roles.

Staff also access training and development to build their understanding of the policy and program areas they work on. This can include attending seminars and conference to give staff a broader perspective on the policy or program area, or specific targeted training. For example, Aged Care Funding Instrument (ACFI) reviewers undergo mandatory induction, ongoing and annual refresher training.

Leadership capability

The Leadership and Management Framework outlines leadership expectations required at each level and provides an overview of core leadership and management expectations for all staff. The Department supports leadership and management capability building at all levels by providing opportunities for learning and development through structured programs, practical workshops and social learning.

These opportunities 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 ‘Unlocking Best Work’ coaching program aims to embed Our Behaviours in Action and supports our focus on building a coaching culture in the Department. There are also a range of management programs and tools, such as 360 degree feedback, the Upwards Feedback Survey and on the job learning to support building leadership and management capability in the workplace.

The Department’s monthly ‘Management Snapshot’ sessions, delivered to EL2 and SES staff, focus on a leadership or management topic of interest, and facilitated ‘learning circles’ allow our managers to share and discuss matters in an open and supportive forum.

Sir Roland Wilson Scholarship

Three departmental staff were awarded scholarships through the Sir Roland Wilson (SRW) Foundation for 2020.

The SRW Foundation was established in 1998 to advance the study and development of public policy and management within Australia and internationally. The SRW Foundation offers two scholarship programs: the SRW PhD Scholarship and the SRW Pat Turner Scholarship. The scholarships are highly competitive and are awarded to high achieving public servants, enabling them to undertake research on issues of national importance.

Patricia Akee, Indigenous Health Division, was awarded the Pat Turner Scholarship to complete a Masters of Culture, Health and Medicine through the Australian National University. As a proud Meriam woman, Patricia has a thorough understanding of the issues impacting the health and wellbeing of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians and is keen to effect positive change and influence policy and program to improve health outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians.

Cathy Fussell, Health Economics and Research Division, was awarded a scholarship to complete a PhD on ‘Saving Lives with Big Data – Methods for Policy Impact in Health and Social Systems Analytics’. Cathy’s research aims to discover effective methods for producing big data analytics research with high policy impact. She seeks to identify critical methodology attributes to ensure success in delivering policy impactful outputs.

Katrina Howe, Regulatory Practice and Support Division, was awarded a scholarship to complete a PhD on ‘Understanding the challenges associated with ‘off-label’ prescribing and re-purposing of older medicines currently on the Australian Register of Therapeutic Goods to inform future policy development’. Katrina seeks to better align the use of ‘off label’ medicines with the objectives of the National Medicines policy, thereby improving access and safety.


The Department invests in its people, values, processes and systems to build the capability necessary to achieve and foster a high performance culture.

The Department’s leaders model the APS values and communicate priorities and expectations to ensure workplace behaviours align with the department’s strategic vision. This includes:

  • encouraging and rewarding high performance;
  • investing in the ongoing development and capability of staff;
  • clearly articulating and setting expectations through the Department’s Performance Development Scheme and Our Behaviours in Action;
  • creating a safe, inclusive and supportive workplace; and
  • encouraging flexibility, innovation and collaboration.

Through Our Behaviours in Action staff across all classifications are encouraged to take personal responsibility for their own performance and behaviour. Staff are encouraged to lead by example and support others to do the same.

All staff are required to participate in the Department’s Performance Development Scheme. The scheme requires formal performance discussions and assessments between managers and staff. It encourages regular, informal discussions to support timely performance feedback and ongoing development.

Workforce inclusivity and diversity

The Department acknowledges and respects the importance of workplace diversity and inclusion, how it enriches our workplace and helps us to deliver better health outcomes for all Australians.

Throughout 2018-19, the Department continued to implement the:

  • Accessibility Action Plan (AAP) 2016–19;
  • Innovate Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP) 2017–19; and
  • Gender Equality and Flexibility Blueprint 2017–20.

The Department also began the process of updating both the AAP and RAP. These plans collectively outline clear pathways for the Department to achieve a more inclusive workplace.

After a selection process of eligible Executive Level staff, two staff participated in the Jawun Program from April to June 2019. Jawun is a not-for-profit organisation that manages secondments for government and corporate sector staff to work temporarily in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations. The two Departmental staff members participated in a six week secondment in the Ngaanyatjarra Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara (NPY) Lands and Echuca. Through the secondment, Jawun supported the Department’s staff to use their own strengths and strategies to contribute to the capability development of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations and communities.

The Department’s diversity networks continued to expand during 2018-19 to include the:

  • Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Network;
  • Disability and Carers Network;
  • Gender Equality Network;
  • Health Pride (LGBTI+) Network;
  • National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Network; and
  • Friends of the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Network.

These networks provide representation, networking opportunities, information and valuable workplace and peer support. The executives of the networks met and agreed to work together to assist each other as they mature, while enhancing awareness and inclusion across the Department though promotion of joint days of significance.

Each network continues to receive support from an increasing number of SES Champions. This year our two newest networks, the Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Network and the Gender Equality Network, consolidated and established SES Champions. At 30 June 2019, a total of 14 SES Champions supported our networks.

The Department continues to participate in the annual Australian Workplace Equality Index, which is the national benchmark for LGBTI+ workplace inclusion in Australia. In May 2019, the Department received an overall Bronze Member status (with a total score of 120 out of 200), which is consistent with last year’s status result and demonstrates a sustained commitment to workplace equality.

Disability confidence and recognition of carers

Supporting staff

The Department strives to be an inclusive organisation that supports its staff with disability and those with caring responsibilities. Activities are aligned with As One: Making it Happen, APS Disability Employment Strategy 2016–19.

The Department’s AAP 2016–19 is currently under review and an extension is being considered. Highlights to date include:

  • participation in the APSC GradAccess program and affirmative measure recruitment program for people with a disability;
  • implementation of ‘Lunch and Learn’ and ‘Cuppa with Carers’ sessions offering opportunities for connection. Some topics at these sessions included Assistive Technology, Mindfulness and Invisible Disability;
  • development and implementation of our workplace adjustment passport. This valuable tool is designed to support manager staff conversations;
  • growth of our SES Changing Mindsets Program. This program is designed to provide SES experiential activities to interact with staff with disability and/or caring responsibilities; and
  • continued gold membership with the Australian Network on Disability.
Working with carer organisations

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

Disability Reporting

Since 1994, non-corporate Commonwealth entities have reported on their performance as policy adviser, purchaser, employer, regulator and provider under the Commonwealth Disability Strategy. In 2007-08, reporting on the employer role was transferred to the Australian Public Service Commission’s State of the Service reports and the APS Statistical Bulletin. These reports are available at: www.apsc.gov.au. From 2010-11, entities have no longer been required to report on these functions.

The Commonwealth Disability Strategy was overtaken by the National Disability Strategy
. The Strategy sets out a 10-year national policy framework for improving the lives of people with disability, promoting participation and creating a more inclusive society. A two-yearly report tracks progress against the six outcome areas of the Strategy, further information is available at: www.dss.gov.au

Our values and behaviours

The Department of Health adheres to the APS ICARE principles, which are central to Our Behaviours in Action. The Department continued to champion Our Behaviours in Action through 2018-19, with a particular emphasis on leadership requiring us all to model these behaviours.

 Nurture talent and build capability in others.

Career and succession

Performance management and development

The Department continues to focus on high performance by developing staff knowledge, confidence and capability.

All staff participate in the Department’s Performance Development Scheme. Through the Scheme each staff member agrees their goals for the year with their manager. Formal performance discussions and assessments between managers and staff occur at least twice a year, with regular informal discussions strongly encouraged to provide ongoing feedback, direction and supported development. Staff and their managers discuss individual development plans, to ensure staff have the right capability to meet their agreed goals.

The department offers training and development opportunities to build managers’ capability in setting clear goals, providing constructive feedback, and coaching their staff. In 2018-19, the Department also provided training to SES and EL2 staff to improve their understanding of the employment framework in the APS. The topics covered were WHS due diligence, bullying, harassment and discrimination and tough conversations about poor performance.

The Department also recognises the need to manage underperformance, whether it relates to an employee’s skills and capabilities, and/or their behaviour and conduct. Where performance concerns are identified, managers and staff are supported to consider job fit, ensure expectations are clearly articulated, address any capability gaps, and provide regular actionable feedback with the goal of closing any performance gap. Where this is not successful, the Department may initiate its formal underperformance process.

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 eight APS Code of Conduct investigations during 2018-19, resulting in seven breaches of the APS Code of Conduct being determined.

Entry-level programs

During 2018-19, the Department participated in a number of recruitment programs and activities to engage a diverse range of participants. These included the:

  • Department of Health Graduate Program, including an Affirmative Measures process for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians;
  • Digital Transformation Agency’s Australian Government ICT Graduate Program;
  • Office of the Chief Scientist Australian Science Policy Fellowships 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 2019-20 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.

Indigenous Apprenticeship Program

The Department proudly participates in the Indigenous Apprenticeship Program, a Department of Human Services’ initiative. The Department engages candidates from this program, commencing at an APS 3 with advancement to an APS 4 after successful completion. Participants are placed in various roles and locations across the Department. The program is available to Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander Australians, and sees participants complete a Diploma of Government qualification as well as being provided with a range of networking, learning and development opportunities.

Career development and mobility

The Department maintains an internal mobility register that allows ongoing staff to be considered for temporary and permanent placements. The use of this internal register was promoted to hiring managers seeking to fill a vacancy. During a period of controlled recruitment activity, there was a significant increase in both managers and applicants accessing the register.

Mobility was also supported through an increased volume of internal expressions of interest with consideration given to allowing non-ongoing officers to apply for these, increasing workforce mobility.

The Department supports broader APS mobility, with the use of available APS merit pools promoted to hiring managers seeking to fill a vacancy. In 2018-19, the Department put particular focus on the APSC Australian Government Indigenous Lateral Entry Program (AGILE) merit pool. The AGILE merit pool included Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander professionals and managers at the APS 6 level, and Executive Levels 1 and 2 with a broad range of skills and experience.

The Department is committed to career development and supports secondment and mobility opportunities both within the APS and beyond, maintaining 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. During 2018-19, the Department participated in Secretaries’ Talent Council processes. The Department also established a talent council to support the development of high-performing, high-potential EL2 officers. Development opportunities for these officers included secondments, acting opportunities, 360 degree feedback, leadership training, participation in Institute of Public Administration Australia events, coaching and mentoring.

Work Health and Safety (WHS)

The Department continued to improve its injury and illness management in 2018-19. The Department’s premium rate for the 2018-19 financial year was 0.86 per cent compared to the Commonwealth scheme average rate of 1.06 per cent. This positive trend has been consistent over the last four years.

The Department has a diverse workplace environment with our most common risks predominantly stemming from the office environment, in the form of ergonomic issues. These risks are well known and are managed through the provision of well-designed workspaces and WHS programs. Some parts of the Health Products Regulation Group (HPRG) have a unique risk profile that includes laboratory environments, where, whilst controlled, workers could be exposed to hazardous substances. The HPRG is also situated in a location requiring additional controls for encountering wildlife. The Department has policies, procedures, and practices in place to appropriately protect workers from, and respond to, all potential hazards.

Since 2013-14, the number of compensation claims accepted for the Department has been declining. Whilst there was a spike in accepted claims in the 2017-18 financial year, the Department has seen a significant decrease in the number of accepted claims for the 2018-19 financial year (six), with initial end of year data identifying a 75 per cent decrease from the previous year in accepted claims. No psychological injury/illness related claims were accepted.

Figure 3.4.4: Number of accepted compensation claims from 2014-15 to 2018-19

Figure 3.4.4 is a line graph depicting the number of accepted compensation claims from 2014-15 to 2018-19. The number of accepted compensation claims have significantly declined since 2014-15, with a total of six claims in 2018-19.

Evaluation of the Department’s WHS performance

The Department provides support to ill or injured employees and their managers 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.

The Department addressed the majority of recommendations and findings from the Comcare WHS management system audit conducted in 2016, and addressed all non-conformance findings from the Comcare Rehabilitation Management System audit in 2018. Only three actions to address observation findings remain.

Improving WHS in the workplace

In response to the higher than usual number of compensation claims in 2017-18, in early 2018-19, the Department developed a WHS Strategy to improve injury prevention and return to work outcomes. This strategy also resulted in a significant reduction in the number of accepted compensation claims during 2018-19.

A Department specific and mandatory WHS e-learning training module was launched to increase employees’ awareness and knowledge of WHS. The module was launched in March 2019 and was identified as essential learning for all workers.

The Department matured its approach to early intervention by providing early support to prevent and reduce the impact of both work-related and non-work related injuries and illness. This was achieved through initiatives including workstation assessments, the Employee Assistance Program, flexible working arrangements, prompt case management and where appropriate, reimbursement for medical treatments.

The Department is also participating in Comcare’s six-month Early Intervention Pilot Program. The Pilot Program uses an external service to provide 24/7 telephonic nurse triage support and advice to clinically assess injury or illness and make recommendations about the most appropriate intervention. Nurse triage outcomes may include self-management advice, referral to a medical practitioner or an allied health professional (either a physiotherapist or psychologist), or emergency care, and will help keep the employee at work or return them to work sooner.

With an increase in psychological claims made to Comcare in 2017-18, a key prevention initiative to mitigate the risk of mental ill-health was to develop a departmental mental health strategy. The Department engaged CommuniCorp Pty Ltd to assist with this important task. All departmental staff had the opportunity to participate in the initial consultation phase conducted in May and June 2019 to inform the content of the mental health strategy. Consultation will continue to feature in the next stages of development of the strategy and related action plan.

The Health and Wellbeing Program

During 2018-19, the Department continued to provide:

  • Access to the Employee Assistance Program (EAP). The EAP is available to Health and portfolio agency staff, and their immediate family members. EAP provides personal coaching and counselling to support staff and their family with issues at work or at home. EAP also provides services tailored to specific needs and specific groups such as coaching and advice to managers, vocational counselling and career planning, financial counselling, and specialist help lines for Aboriginal and Torres Islander employees, LGBTI issues, and domestic violence. The annual utilisation rate for EAP for the financial year was 15 per cent, that is, the EAP was accessed 722 times throughout the year. This is higher than the Public Administration/Government benchmark of 6.9 per cent.
  • An annual influenza vaccination program. In 2018–19, 2,718 employees and contractors across the country received an influenza vaccination.
  • A corporate gym membership scheme under which staff can access discounted membership or attendance rates at nominated gyms in major cities.

Notifiable incidents

The Department received 417 incident and hazard reports in 2018-19. This is a decrease from the 2017-18 financial year where 453 incident and hazard reports were received. In previous years, the same form was also used to request workstation assessments. However, this is no longer the case. The decrease in the number of reported incidents and hazards is likely attributable to this change. 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 417 incident and hazard reports, Comcare was notified for seven incidents. Comcare notified the Department that one was not deemed to be notifiable under the relevant legislation. These incidents were investigated and improvements to work health and safety systems, processes and training were implemented where required.


  1. 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. 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.
  2. 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. At 30 June 2019, one staff member had self-identified as non-binary.