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Chief Operating Officer's Report

The 2019-20 financial year saw the Department adapt to extraordinary circumstances.

The COVID-19 pandemic propelled us into new ways of working and connecting, as the Department worked diligently to support staff to do their best work safely, wherever their location. The Corporate Operations Group continued to prioritise our diverse customer base to enable a more effective Health portfolio.

Ensuring staff behave in a COVIDSafe manner is now part of our everyday lives, both within and outside the office. The Department developed a COVIDSafe Workplace Transition Plan, with a focus on enabling safe, flexible work arrangements which build on our capability to work in ways that are more flexible and maintain connection. This included supporting our managers through the Managing Teams in 2020 development program, and building our digital capability through a rollout of laptops and enhanced collaboration tools.

The June 2020 Pulse Survey included questions enabling us to target staff support through each stage of the COVID-19 pandemic response, and aid our understanding of how we can deliver a safe and productive experience for staff working remotely. Staff reported an increased satisfaction with their managers communicating clearly when managing change, and a culture of learning from mistakes. Satisfaction with Senior Executive Staff (SES) and Executive Level 2 leadership remain at high levels and continue to improve. While 53 per cent of staff reported their workload had increased during the COVID-19 pandemic, the vast majority reported a good or excellent experience of remote working arrangements, and managers indicated staff had maintained or increased their productivity.

Corporate Operations Group 2019-20 strategy

Corporate Operations Group continued to focus on our customers, placing them at the centre of everything we do. Our customer base is diverse, extending beyond the Department and into portfolio entities, industry and the public. The Group established a high level strategy outlining key activities and goals for the 2019-20 financial year. The strategy is aligned around six themes – understanding our customers, delivering high quality services, empowering our teams, improving our planning, enabling better policy and program work, and taking a long term view – and spans all corporate activities. It details the activities we will execute, how we will monitor and measure our performance, and the mindset required to be successful.

Chief Operating Officer (COO) Committee

In February 2020, the COO Committee was established by the Secretaries Board. The committee includes COOs of departments and major entities within the Australian Public Service (APS), aimed at ensuring an enterprise-wide approach to APS operations and management. The committee quickly prioritised management of a whole-of-APS operation responding to the COVID-19 pandemic, with the Department playing a leading role through the committee in supporting the APS workforce to deliver critical work operations safely, while planning beyond the immediate crisis. The need for the APS to connect, collaborate and communicate is more important than ever.

Governance

In early 2020, the Department reviewed its senior governance committees, introducing temporary and robust governance and assurance arrangements to support delivery of the COVID-19 pandemic health response package, as well as ensure effective delivery of Government outcomes and priorities. More information on the Department’s corporate governance is available in Part 3.1: Corporate Governance .

Harnessing diversity

The Department is committed to recognising and celebrating diversity and inclusion. In 2019-20, the Department:

  • introduced its first Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex (LGBTI+) Action Plan;
  • supported the Australian Government’s commitments to World AIDS Day; and
  • funded a number of programs to support the mental health needs of the LGBTI+ community.

Key highlights from the Department’s diversity networks included:

  • The National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Staff Network invited all employees to participate in a Virtual Reconciliation Walk (through time) video for National Reconciliation Week.
  • The Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Network held three group mentoring sessions, led by invited SES from across the Department.
  • The Health Pride Network celebrated Wear it Purple Day, and hosted virtual lunch time chat sessions to share stories and check in with each other.
  • The Disability and Carers Network engaged with the SES through the Changing Mindsets program, designed to provide SES with experiential activities to interact with staff with disability and/or caring responsibilities.
  • The Gender Equality Network organised events for International Women’s Day, including a panel discussion where senior leaders reflected on personal journeys and thoughts on building a gender equal world.

New Ways of Working

The New Ways of Working (NWOW) program aims to create a modern, flexible and healthy work environment, empowering staff to deliver their best work in a more collaborative and flexible manner. It brings together improved physical workplace design and mobile technology, providing a more supportive environment for staff to work in a way that suits their needs.

Some elements of the NWOW program were piloted in the Department’s Hobart, Tasmania office in February 2020. The office now features a range of collaboration spaces, the latest technology and improved workplace design to support more working styles, with positive feedback received from staff in response to these changes. Many of the Department’s COVIDSafe Workplace elements were already implemented in Hobart due to the NWOW fit-out and flexible working environments. This allowed staff to quickly adapt to COVID-19 pandemic working arrangements.

Building upon lessons learned from this small-scale pilot, and incorporating our experience of implementing our COVIDSafe Workplace Transition Plan, the Department will now seek a pilot on a larger scale, beginning with a pilot floor within the Sirius building in Canberra, Australian Capital Territory. This pilot will incorporate the learnings from working flexibly under the COVID-19 pandemic and generate more staff feedback to inform the Department’s future NWOW rollout.

Department of Health 2019–21 ICT Strategy

The Department continues to enable workforce transformation through the delivery of stable, fit for purpose information and communication technology (ICT) services. The Information Technology Division delivered a number of critical ICT enabled business programs, including:

  • the transition of the My Aged Care system from the Department of Social Services to Health;
  • improved online services for aged care recipients and their carers;
  • an improved online user experience through health.gov.au;
  • delivery of the Out of Pocket Expenses online portal;
  • rationalisation and improvement of contact centre capabilities; and
  • enabling better exchange of critical health information through the Connected Health Data program.

The Department also continued to uplift the cyber and physical security awareness of Health staff and mitigate security risks for the Department.

The way staff use digital and mobile ICT solutions has also undergone a significant transformation this year. The Digital Workspace transformation program saw the replacement of the desktop environment with laptops and underpinned the improvement to video conferencing capabilities. This was a significant factor in the success of the Department’s business continuity measures undertaken in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Information Technology Division played a key role in the delivery of the COVIDSafe and Coronavirus mobile apps that continue to play a significant role in Australia’s public health response to the pandemic.

Responding to the public: Health Contact Centre

The Contact Centre partners with program, policy and corporate business areas to answer community, health provider and employee enquiries about the Department’s policy, programs and services.

The Australian bushfires and COVID-19 pandemic resulted in a surge of activity, roughly doubling workloads. Recent business modernisation, including technology upgrades, have enabled the Contact Centre to develop systems and processes to adapt and quickly respond to increased demand.

Business Continuity Management during the COVID-19 pandemic

On 5 March 2020, the Department activated its Pandemic Incident Management Plan, activating the Continuity Management Team (CMT) and establishing the Pandemic Incident Management Team (PIMT). The CMT and PIMT met daily to coordinate and oversee implementing the Department’s Pandemic Action Plan, COVIDSafe Principles and the Workforce Transition Plan. This work enabled the Department to transition quickly to remote and flexible working arrangements, ensuring a safe and productive working environment for staff facilitating delivery of the Government’s COVID-19 health response package.

Grants

The Department continued to be the largest granting agency in the Commonwealth throughout 2019-20, funding approximately 12,600 grant activities. This is a significant increase on the approximately 10,000 grant activities funded in previous years, with the increase attributed to emergency support in response to the Australian bushfires and the COVID-19 pandemic, along with ongoing funding for existing and new services and capital works programs.

The Department works in partnership with the Business Grants Hub in the Department of Industry, Science, Energy and Resources, along with the National Health and Medical Research Council to deliver research grants funded through the Medical Research Future Fund, and the Community Grants Hub, managed by the Department of Social Services. These partnerships form part of the Streamlining Government Grants Administration Program, which supports the administration and management of community-based grants, administered on behalf of Australian Government client entities, to help standardise how grants are designed, selected, established and managed.

Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission

On 1 January 2020, the Department transferred its aged care compliance function and approval of providers function to the Aged Care Quality and Safety Commission (the Commission) to further strengthen regulatory controls, and provide the Commission with responsibility for end-to-end regulation of Commonwealth funded aged care services.

The Commission independently oversees the approval, accreditation, assessment, complaints handling, monitoring and compliance of aged care providers to protect and enhance the safety, health, well-being and quality of life of people receiving Government funded aged care services. The Commission is a primary point of contact for consumers and providers in relation to aged care quality and safety.

Financial Results
In 2019-20, the Department administered 27 Programs across six Outcomes. Administered expenses totalled $73.4 billion and were comprised primarily of payments for personal benefits of $48.6 billion (66.2 per cent of the total), including those for medical services, pharmaceutical services and private health insurance rebates. Subsidies, predominantly for aged care, amounted to $13.4 billion (18.2 per cent of the total). Grants expenditure was $9.2 billion (12.6 per cent of the total), the majority of which was paid to non-profit organisations.

At 30 June 2020, the Department’s administered assets totalled $6.4 billion, including investments in health related agencies and inventories held under the National Medical Stockpile. Administered liabilities were $3.0 billion, which included provisions for personal benefits, grants and subsidies.

Key administered expenditure is illustrated in Figures 1 and 2.

After adjusting for unfunded depreciation and lease expenditure under relevant accounting standards, the Department recorded an operating surplus of $5.4 million. The Department is committed to delivering the program of Government within available resources and remains in a net asset position at 30 June 2020.

The Department’s financial statements, which include information on the unqualified financial performance of the Department, are provided in Part 4: Financial Statements.

Figure 1: Breakdown of administered expenditure

 personal benefits; grants; subsidies; and other. The amount of administered expenditure has slightly increased each year from 2015–2020.

Figure 2: Administered expenditure by category

 personal benefits (66%); grants (13%); subsidies (18%); and other (3%). The chart also breaks down the personal benefits category into the subcategories of medical services (52%), pharmaceutical and pharmaceutical services (26%), private health insurance (13%) and other (10%).