Go to top of page

2020–21 in review

I am pleased to present the Department of Parliamentary Services’ Annual Report for 2020-21.

The reporting period marks five and a half years since I commenced as Secretary of the department. Our people take pride in their work to effectively support the needs of the Australian Parliament and the community. I am proud of our evolution to an organisation with high levels of staff engagement – which has a direct relationship to our high levels of client satisfaction. An ethos of service excellence continues to underpin our transformation journey.

During 2020-21 we commenced the third stage of our organisational reform. This work is embedding our strategic priorities of innovation, quality service delivery and improved corporate culture. Early success of this reform was evident in our capable and agile response to the challenges of the global COVID-19 pandemic.

During this reporting period, dominated by the pandemic, our people successfully responded to significant external and internal challenges to ensure the parliament could safely continue its work. The department’s response to the pandemic has demonstrated the capacity to pivot quickly to unforeseen challenges, changing priorities and new ways of service delivery.

We upgraded our digital network infrastructure and adapted our services to enable remote participation in parliamentary proceedings and uplift the ability for our network users to work remotely from home or office. Our people worked around the clock to rapidly develop and implement reliable and secure video participation technology to enable the regular business of Parliament to continue uninterrupted.

A wide shot of all the recipients of the 2020 Secretary’s Awards with the President of the Senate, the Honorable Scott Ryan, the Speaker of the House of Representative, the Honourable Tony Smith and the DPS Secretary, Rob Stefanic in the background.
Recipients of the 2020 Secretary’s Awards were recognised for their outstanding contribution to the department and their commitment to DPS values.

We continued to enhance our cyber security capabilities to protect the parliamentary network against increasingly sophisticated and significant cyber-attacks. Following one such attack, we brought forward our rollout of upgraded messaging infrastructure by three months, which involved migrating all email data for over 3,000 users. I am grateful to our people who once again worked around the clock to expedite a task which had little room for error. This was a highly disruptive activity to our network users and I am immensely appreciative for their patience and perseverance as evidenced by the comparatively small number of related Service Desk calls. The outcome was ultimately a more secure and improved messaging platform capability.

We not only progressed the ongoing capital works program focussed on refurbishment and replacement of infrastructure reaching end-of-life, but we also leveraged the low occupancy of the building to accelerate capital works projects. Among these was the continued major upgrade to the building’s service kitchens to improve efficiency and meet contemporary food safety and work, health and safety requirements. In the Queen’s Terrace Café and Staff Dining Room we also reinstated the architects’ original design intent while improving service capability and customer experience.

I am committed to instilling the highest standards of respectful behaviour throughout the department and providing effective support to our people when it is needed. A key component of our culture change program has been to address any behaviour that is not consistent with the Parliamentary Service Code of Conduct and Parliamentary Service Values. The success of this strategy can be seen in the results of the 2020 staff survey, which showed:

  • 90 per cent of our people have good relationships with their colleagues
  • 85 per cent have a positive work relationship with their supervisor
  • 75 per cent of staff are completely engaged in their work, and
  • 70 per cent are satisfied with the culture in their work groups.

This positive employee feedback reflects a motivated and engaged workforce.

The department was also subject to unprecedented levels of scrutiny through a Senate Finance and Public Administration Committee inquiry into the operation and management of DPS, an Australian National Audit Office performance audit into security works at Parliament House and through routine Senate estimates committee hearings. The department was also the subject of media interest following allegations of a sexual assault in the ministerial wing of Parliament House.

The sexual assault allegation precipitated two reviews examining the culture in parliamentary workplaces – Review of the Parliamentary Workplace: Responding to Serious Incidents (Foster Review) and Independent Review into Commonwealth Parliamentary Workplaces (Jenkins Review). The department has actively engaged with the reviewers to facilitate their work.

The Foster Review, which was adopted shortly after the reporting period, produced two recommendations relevant to DPS. The department assisted in the development of these recommendations and has developed a suite of security-related procedural measures to better identify, report and respond to serious incidents – some of which the department has already implemented administratively in consultation with Ms Foster, the Australian Federal Police (AFP) and Department of Finance. Other measures will require parliamentary approval and additional resourcing that is beyond the department’s current budgetary capacity.

The department has also participated in the Jenkins Review to provide clarity about the functions and workplace arrangements of the parliamentary service which are distinct and separate from the Australian Public Service, and the Executive Government and the employment arrangements between members of parliament and their staff. While our departmental employment arrangements, workplace policies and cultures under the Parliamentary Service Act 1999 are very different to those pertaining to staff of parliamentarians and ministers, who are employed under the Members of Parliament (Staff) Act 1984, we encouraged all DPS staff to participate in the Jenkins Review where they had an ability to assist.

In September 2020, the Senate referred to the Senate Finance and Public Administration Legislation Committee, an inquiry into the operation and management of the Department of Parliamentary Services. The department took the opportunity to make a submission and provide evidence at its hearings, which highlighted our achievements and significant work undertaken since the 2014-15 inquiry as well as our ongoing commitment to sustain and develop our values driven culture and commitment to service excellence. The committee tabled its report in late June 2021 and made three recommendations which recognise the immense effort and commitment by our people since the committee’s last inquiry.

In particular, the committee acknowledged our efforts to improve workplace culture and recommended that the work continue and that the department ensures that all our staff are able to confidently use appropriate avenues to raise concerns about workplace and employment concerns. The committee also noted the department’s work in protecting the security of ICT systems and recommended continued improvement in the context of constantly evolving and increasing cyber security landscape. Finally, the committee recommended that DPS continue its work with the AFP to continue improvements to Parliament House security, including the security-related recommendations of the Foster Review. The committee’s recommendations are accepted and will be implemented.

In June 2021 the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) completed its review of the security works at Parliament House. We welcomed the audit as an important accountability mechanism and agreed in principle with the three recommendations. The audit process was also an opportunity to evaluate our processes as part of a program of continuous improvement. Importantly the ANAO did not identify systemic challenges and the outcome provides confidence that the department has the project management capability to deliver complex large scale capital projects worth over $100 million.

The 2020-21 reporting period has been a busy, challenging and rewarding time for the department. I thank all of our people for their resilience and commitment in these times of uncertainty. I also thank my senior executive team for their support and leadership, and my fellow heads of the parliamentary departments Richard Pye, Claressa Surtees and Stein Helgeby for their collegiality.

Finally, I wish to express my immense gratitude to the Speaker of the House of Representatives, the Hon Tony Smith MP, and the President of the Senate, Senator the Hon Scott Ryan. Both Presiding Officers have announced their intention not to contest the next election. They are staunch defenders of the institution and dignity of parliament and strong advocates for the parliamentary service which enables our parliamentary democracy to operate. I thank them for their support, insight and vigilance during an extremely demanding period as we have navigated the complex challenges posed by the global pandemic. I also pay tribute to their Chiefs of Staff Cate Clunies-Ross and Vincent Sheehy who worked tirelessly to coordinate through countless competing priorities. Their legacy for DPS is illustrated in this and previous annual reports, which outline a considerable body of work that has ensured DPS and Parliament House are well positioned for the future.