Go to top of page

2019–20 in review

I am pleased to present this year’s Secretary’s Review.

This reporting period has been one of extreme contrasts. While the latter part of 2019 saw the completion of a number of complex and large projects on a scale not seen since the construction of Parliament House, the first half of 2020 proved to be enormously challenging, both for my department and the community we serve.

Our annual reports are the only enduring and consolidated public record of our organisation’s achievements. I am committed to producing content rich reports that articulate the challenges we face and celebrate our work. To all my Department of Parliamentary Services (DPS) colleagues, I would like to thank you for your professionalism and commitment to our purpose in serving Australia’s Parliament.

In many ways Parliament House is a microcosm of Australia. As well as parliamentarians, the Executive Government and their staff, it is home to many office workers, retail spaces, customer service staff, tradespeople, contract service providers and others. Then there is the operation of one of Canberra’s most popular tourist venues. Along with the community it reflects, the impacts of the January bushfires, hailstorms and the COVID-19 pandemic on Parliament House were many and varied. I am enormously proud of the way our people adapted to evolving circumstances to ensure the Parliament could function effectively and serve the people of Australia during the pandemic. I am also proud of the resilience we have shown and our willingness to support others, whether that be through rapidly enabling our 5,000 IT network users around the country to adapt to remote working, working with Services Australia (SA) as part of the broader government JobSeeker response to COVID-19, or leveraging our catering services to support St Vincent de Paul in Canberra to get food to those in most need.

July 2019 saw the commencement of the 46th Parliament and the Swearing-in of the new Governor-General. Both activities required significant effort across the department including welcoming new parliamentarians and their staff, providing access to our services, issuing hundreds of new building passes, and supporting the thousands of extra people coming and going from the building for formal and informal meetings and events.

In December 2019 we completed the Parliament House physical security upgrade, the largest and most complex security investment in the building’s history. While this project was not without some well publicised challenges, all elements were delivered within the revised time-frame and allocated budget.

Following a significant cyber incident in early 2019, the parliamentary computing network was again targeted during the reporting period. We continue to work closely with our partners in the security and intelligence agencies to implement ongoing proactive measures to repel and mitigate these types of attacks.

In January 2020 we implemented an organisational realignment designed to drive our transformation journey and to progress our strategic priorities: innovation, quality service delivery, and improving our corporate culture. This has laid the foundations for our efforts to effectively support our nation’s Parliament through continuous improvement and ongoing professionalisation of our services. The groundwork we did in preparation for the realignment meant that we were well positioned to face the rapidly escalating and evolving crisis that is COVID-19. This included being able to leverage our new structure so that, we could address immediate concerns, while also identify emerging issues and plan our next steps. In addition to managing the welfare of the thousand people working for DPS, we supported our colleagues in the other parliamentary departments to manage their response and brought forward significant capital works to support the local building industry. Through it all, we ensured the building continued to fulfil its primary purpose as a functioning Parliament.

Our response to the pandemic has been no small achievement, a response of which our entire workforce is justifiably proud. However it has been particularly difficult for many members of the team who could not perform their roles in an office environment. Our staff who normally work with the public providing tours, catering, security and other services were redeployed in a variety of ways during the crisis, which was instrumental in helping DPS step up its response in other areas. One innovative response was our assistance to SA to establish a Job Seeker satellite processing centre within Parliament House. While our volunteers were being trained at SA in Tuggeranong, we quickly adapted space within Parliament House where our staff and SA supervisors (also including secondees from other agencies) were able to assist the many Australians needing access to Government support. The satellite processing centre helped SA rapidly expand its capability while maintaining physical distancing requirements for our workforce.

Developing a culture of innovation has been an important focus for the department over the past year. In April 2020 we launched the inaugural DPS Ideas Challenge, encouraging our people to ‘think outside’ their usual framework and submit ideas on how we can find better ways of working. The challenge is an initiative of our Innovation Council, which was formed in November 2019 to facilitate and foster a culture of innovation at DPS. I believe that enthusiasm for the work of the council, combined with the effect of having to work outside our comfort zone as a result of COVID-19, has helped our department to think differently about innovation, what it is and how we achieve it. I am proud to have a ringside seat while we build on these foundations in coming years.

Of course, Parliament House was born from architectural innovation, and I am indebted to both Ms Pamille Berg AO Hon FRAIA and Mr Harold (Hal) Guida LFRAIA AIA for their invaluable knowledge, advice and guidance regarding major capital works and maintenance projects throughout 2019–20. As the joint moral rights administrators for the late Romaldo Giurgola AO LFRAIA AIA (the recognised principal Architect for Parliament House), they have helped our staff better understand the design intent, symbolism and craftsmanship underpinning the construction of this iconic building. Their continued willingness to engage with the department has produced innumerable benefits to preserve the integrity of the building while we renew and adapt its uses. Their advice is reflected in realised project solutions that are consistent with the Architect’s original design intent for Parliament House while importantly still being responsive to the changing demands of the Parliament, 32 years after its opening.

A major milestone, which will assist staff in the ongoing effective stewardship of Parliament House, neared completion this financial year. Ms Berg, aided by Mr Guida, has almost finished the first phase of the Central Reference Document project. This outlines the Architects’ design intent for Parliament House in response to the Parliament’s 20-volume design brief. This document now contains additional material and subjects not previously covered in the 2004 draft, including illustrations, photographs, comprehensive endnotes and bibliographies. Work to complete stage one and begin the final stage of the project will be undertaken in 2020–21.

I thank my senior executive team for their support and for the leadership that guides our work. I also thank my fellow heads of the parliamentary departments, including the Clerk of the Senate, Mr Richard Pye, the Clerk of the House of Representatives, Ms Claressa Surtees, the former Parliamentary Budget Officer (until 24 December 2019), Ms Jenny Wilkinson for their goodwill and collegiality as we work to better serve the Parliament of Australia. On this note I would like to especially acknowledge our former colleague Mr David Elder who retired early in the reporting period. David was the 16th Clerk of the House of Representatives since Federation. He served for 38 years, and saw nine different prime ministers and 14 different speakers. David served the House and our nation with distinction.

Finally and most importantly, I thank the Speaker of the House of Representatives, the Hon Tony Smith MP, and the President of the Senate, Senator the Hon Scott Ryan, for their continuing support of me and of the department in 2019–20, especially during these uncertain times. I look forward to the following year as we navigate the imminent challenges ahead.