Go to top of page

12.1 Managing our people

At 30 June 2019, the department employed 30,595 people, of whom 28,092 (91.8 per cent) were ongoing, 502 (1.6 per cent) were non-ongoing and 2,001 (6.5 per cent) were irregular/intermittent. Changes to the department’s workforce size reflect government priorities, Budget measures, service delivery demands, ongoing efficiencies and natural attrition.

Appendix A presents statistics by classification, location, employment status, employment type, gender, disability, diversity background, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander identity. It also sets out salary ranges and employment arrangements.

Departmental culture

Organisational culture continues to be an important priority as it underpins the capabilities of the department to deliver payments and services for the community.

In 2018–19, an evidence-based approach underpinned the development of the department’s Enterprise Culture Framework, which will guide the implementation of strategic, enterprise-wide culture initiatives. The framework is being validated through a series of pilot projects that are exploring new ways of working.

Staff engagement

In 2019, 85 per cent of the department’s staff completed the government-wide Australian Public Service (APS) Employee Census. Results indicated that engagement scores have improved since the 2018 APS Employee Census. Other results indicate that improvements were made in the areas of senior leadership, immediate supervisors, wellbeing, workplace conditions and capability measures. Table 58 shows levels of staff engagement, as measured by the APS Employee Census, since 2014.

In 2018–19, the department’s peak staff consultation body, the National Consultative Committee, met five times to discuss matters of strategic significance for staff, including those arising from new technologies and systems.

The department helps staff balance their work and personal commitments through access to flexible working hours. At 30 June 2019, 7907 staff members (25.8 per cent) worked part time (excluding irregular/intermittent staff).

Table 58: Levels of employee engagement

Engagement element




Job engagement




Team engagement




Supervisor engagement




Agency engagement




Note: The engagement index uses a 0 to 10 point scale, with 10 being the highest level of engagement.

Strategic workforce planning

The department’s Strategic Workforce Plan helps the department to ensure that we have the right workforce composition in terms of numbers, skills and capabilities, and strong leadership at all levels.

To test how the department might operate in the future we are trialling new ways of working with a number of operating model pilot programs. The pilot programs will inform any further rollout.

The department is implementing the 2019 APS job family model and developing additional statements for its emerging job roles, including agile ways of working. The model underpins strategic workforce planning and job design by segmenting the workforce into function‑based groups.

Workplace diversity and inclusion

The department is committed to creating workplaces that are accessible and inclusive for all staff. In 2018–19, the department continued to deliver on key commitments outlined in the Workplace Diversity and Inclusion Strategy 2016–19. The strategy includes five staff plans:

  • Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (Multicultural) Employee Plan 2016–19
  • Workplace Accessibility Plan 2016–19
  • Mature Age Employee Plan 2016–19
  • Gender Equality Plan 2016–19
  • Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex (LGBTI) Inclusion Plan 2016–19.

Cultural and linguistic diversity

The department’s Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (Multicultural) Employee Plan 2016–19 demonstrates a commitment to increasing and supporting a diverse workforce.

During 2018–19, the department continued its membership of the government’s National Anti‑Racism Partnership, which is implementing the National Anti‑Racism Strategy. The department also provides multicultural awareness training to staff and celebrates events of significance such as Harmony Day and Refugee Week.

In addition, the department continues to pay a Community Language Allowance to staff in line with the Department of Human Services Enterprise Agreement 2017–2020 (see ‘Language services’).

ICT support for greater accessibility

In 2018–19, the department provided support, training and advice to approximately 500 staff with disability who use assistive technology software; and to 300 staff with disability who use accessible telecommunications products. The department continues to explore new and emerging technologies that will remove barriers to workplace participation for employees with an accessibility requirement.

The department continued to provide shared services accessibility support to the National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA), Australian Taxation Office (ATO) and Department of Veterans’ Affairs (DVA). New accessibility support shared service arrangements were established with the Department of Social Services (DSS) and National Disability Insurance Agency Quality and Safeguards Commission.

Employment of people with a disability

The department’s Workplace Accessibility Plan 2016–19 outlines recruitment and retention strategies for attracting, supporting and retaining people with disability.

The department also implemented and piloted new programs and initiatives, including:

  • the development and implementation of a Workplace Adjustment Policy
  • the Australian Public Service Commission’s NextStep program, under which the department recruited nine entry-level trainees with disability
  • refining ways for staff to request workplace adjustments and a Workplace Adjustment Passport by adding these options to an online system.

Employment for people on the autism spectrum

In 2015, the department initiated a broad corporate initiative offering targeted recruitment opportunities into information and communication technology for people diagnosed as being on the autism spectrum. Through the Dandelion Program (launched in 2015 in consultation with DXC Technology) the department has employed over 45 ICT trainees for a period of three years.

Following the success of the Dandelion initiative, a broader federal pilot program was established focusing on creating a sourcing and assessment centre to hire and support autistic talent, known as the Federal Talent Hub. Under this program, the department has engaged an additional 11 contractors up to June 2019.

In consultation with Specialisterne Australia, the department has undertaken a series of awareness sessions to encourage greater understanding of autism in the workplace. The sessions are designed for all staff, including those with leadership responsibilities to ensure staff are equipped to understand and support our employees with autism.

Other diversity initiatives

The department’s other initiatives to promote workplace diversity in 2018–19 included:

  • participating in the 2018 Australian Workplace Equality Index, where the department achieved Bronze Employer status
  • launching a new LGBTI resource hub
  • implementing a gender equality ‘panel pledge’ to highlight and actively discourage the under‑representation of women at public and professional forums
  • hosting five staff diversity networks to share information and to support Indigenous staff, staff with disability, mature age staff, staff with culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds and LGBTI staff.

Employing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people

The department is committed to the recruitment, development and retention of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff. As at 30 June 2019, the department had 1,726 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff, equating to 5.6 per cent representation across the department.

The department is committed to increasing the representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff through affirmative measures for Indigenous recruitment. In 2018–19, it placed approximately 192 Indigenous vacancy advertisements in the APS employment gazette. From these, 64 Indigenous people were recruited to the department.

Supporting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff

The department provides a range of support initiatives for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff.

The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Employees Strategy 2018–22 provides direction and guidance to all employees in driving change and achieving positive and sustainable employment outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employees.

The Indigenous Mentoring Program and the Indigenous Buddy Program assign trained Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff to help new Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff to adjust to the workplace and balance their community and work obligations.

The Indigenous Cultural Capability Framework aims to increase knowledge and awareness of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures across the department. In 2018–19, 6,973 staff accessed and completed Indigenous cultural awareness eLearning training and 1,912 participated in face-to-face training.

The department leads the Indigenous Champions Network—a network of senior representatives committed to improving Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employment outcomes across the APS. The department also has four internal Indigenous Champions who are responsible for advocating improved recruitment, retention and developmental outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employees.

The department supports Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff to attend regional presence forums and Australian Public Service Commission employee yarns. These events provide opportunities for staff to discuss their career aspirations, hear from inspiring leaders and build networks in their region.

As part of the Jawun APS Secondment Program, eight staff members were seconded to Indigenous communities in 2018–19.

Carer Recognition Act 2010 report

The department complies with its obligations under the Carer Recognition Act 2010 and adheres to the principles of the Statement for Australia’s Carers. The Department of Human Services Enterprise Agreement 2017–2020 and internal human resources policies are also developed with due regard to the Statement for Australia’s Carers, in areas that may significantly affect an employee’s caring role.

The department supports staff with caring responsibilities through:

  • flexible working arrangements
  • part‑time work
  • home‑based work
  • an elder care advisory service
  • the department’s Employee Assistance Program.

The department also works with partner agencies to ensure that carer policies and service delivery align with the statement and the six priority areas identified in the Australian Government’s National Carer Strategy Action Plan 2011–2014.


In 2018–19, the department advertised approximately 559 vacancy notices in the APS employment gazette, generating approximately 38,169 candidate applications. These vacancy notices covered the breadth of departmental functions and ranged from APS 2 to Senior Executive Service (SES) classifications. The department also makes use of labour hire and other contractors to supplement the ongoing workforce on an as-needed basis.

National Graduate Program

The department’s National Graduate Program offers both professional and generalist pathways to successful applicants. The 2019 intake for the National Graduate Program comprised 34 professional and 35 generalist pathway participants.

Indigenous graduates

The Affirmative Measure—Indigenous provisions, as authorised under section 26 of the Australian Public Service Commissioner’s Directions 2016, allow for the advertisement of employment opportunities as restricted to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander applicants. For the 2019 National Graduate Program, eight applicants applied through the Affirmative Measure—Indigenous provisions, and two Indigenous graduates were recruited into the program.

Indigenous Apprenticeships Program

The entry-level Indigenous Apprenticeships Program is designed to attract Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians into the APS. In 2018, 278 apprentices commenced within the department and 14 partner agencies. It is expected that the next intake will place over 300 participants across 21 partner agencies.

Digital Apprenticeship Program and Digital Cadetship Program

In 2019, 20 apprentices joined the department as part of the Digital Apprenticeship Program and 20 cadets started under the Digital Cadetship Program. These programs increase the department’s store of expertise in ICT.

Science, technology, engineering and mathematics

In 2018–19, the department recruited 74 science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) graduates and professionals to the Chief Information Officer Group through the STEM Scheme.

Job Placement Scheme

The Department of Human Services Enterprise Agreement 2017–2020 formalises the department’s commitment through the Job Placement Scheme to retain and redeploy staff whose roles may be affected by organisational change. The scheme aims to ensure that the department retains valuable skills, experience and capabilities.

In 2018–19, 866 people in the Job Placement Scheme were found ongoing positions or left the department.


The department is building on the success of the Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP) 2015–17, which saw it become the first Australian Government department to be awarded ‘Elevate’ status by Reconciliation Australia.

The department reaffirmed its commitment to being a reconciliation leader in the APS and embarked on the next phase of its reconciliation journey, guided by the RAP 2018–22. The department developed the RAP 2018–22 with the assistance and collaboration of key advisors, including the department’s RAP steering and working groups, the National Indigenous Coalition and Reconciliation Australia.

The RAP complements the department’s two other internal Indigenous strategies—the Indigenous Servicing Strategy 2018–22 and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Employees Strategy 2018–22.

Standards of behaviour

Ethics and values

All departmental staff are required to comply with the APS Values and Code of Conduct as set out in section 13 of the Public Service Act 1999. Possible breaches of the Code of Conduct are taken seriously, and action is taken when breaches occur.

In 2018–19, 249 investigations were completed, with 241 findings of a breach of the Code of Conduct. By comparison, 235 investigations were completed and 224 findings of a breach were made in 2017–18.

Almost half of the breaches arose from unauthorised access to information, where staff had inappropriately accessed customer records. Almost a quarter of all breaches related to incorrect reporting of income by staff who were also in receipt of Centrelink benefits.

A number of staff were dismissed, resigned or ceased casual work when found to have breached the Code of Conduct. None were reinstated by the Fair Work Commission. In less serious cases, a fine or reduction in salary was applied.

The department has in place compulsory training programs, staff policies, and guidelines to help staff to understand their obligations and to support good workplace behaviour.

Managers and staff have access to a Workplace Bullying Prevention Kit, and the department also has a network of over 400 harassment contact officers trained to provide information and support to staff who have concerns about workplace behaviours including bullying, harassment and discrimination. Harassment contact officers receive a fortnightly allowance, as set out in the Department of Human Services Enterprise Agreement 2017–2020, to undertake this role.

Performance management

The department’s performance management process is designed to foster a culture of high performance by providing staff with a clear link between their work effort and departmental priorities. All APS employees develop and negotiate an individual performance agreement with their manager. These agreements:

  • give staff a clear understanding of their role and the performance and behavioural standards expected of them
  • align individual and team work efforts to departmental priorities
  • help staff to identify their learning and career development needs.

In 2018–19, 96.8 per cent of staff negotiated individual performance agreements. Nearly all of those who did not (3.2 per cent) were on long‑term leave or had not yet completed more than eight weeks of duties during the performance cycle.

Learning and development

The department is effective in managing and developing its employees to achieve its objectives. The department’s Learning Strategy 2015–19 represents a cultural shift across the department from training to learning. The strategy’s main aim of building a workforce with the skills to meet future service delivery challenges, is complementary to the Strategic Workforce Plan.

Digital learning

Advancing the department’s digital agenda is a priority. The department has increased awareness of digital technologies for learning and a growing proportion of staff are engaging with technology to support the department’s digital transformation. The department also deploys learning programs using virtual meeting technology, allowing staff in rural and remote sites greater access to learning opportunities.

Developing service delivery capability

In 2018–19, the department continued to roll out its Service Skills Learning Program to develop the service and communication skills of service delivery staff and improve business outcomes. These skills enable staff to excel in their roles and contribute to reducing the risk of customer aggression.

The program blends different forms of learning solutions such as self‑paced learning, social learning through online forums and virtual and face‑to‑face workshops to practise skills. The program is currently being reviewed to ensure that it is working as intended and to identify areas where it can be improved.

Developing Indigenous leadership and management

The department has a number of programs and initiatives to support the leadership development of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff.

The Australian Graduate School of Management’s Emerging Indigenous Executive Leaders Program develops future Indigenous leaders in the public and private sectors. Four Indigenous staff from the department completed the 2018 program and nine Indigenous staff commenced the program in 2019.

The Certificate IV in Indigenous Leadership, delivered through the Australian Indigenous Leadership Centre, builds on participants’ existing leadership skills and further develops their skills and knowledge. Ten Indigenous staff completed the program in 2018. The department will support similar numbers to undertake the program in 2019.

One Indigenous staff member commenced in the 2019 Public Sector Management Program intake. This is a postgraduate course delivered by the Queensland University of Technology and designed for public sector employees to develop management skills in the business of government. Participants qualify with a Graduate Certificate in Business (Public Sector Management).

The Sir Roland Wilson Foundation’s Pat Turner Scholarship provides full-pay scholarships for public service employees to complete postgraduate study at the Australian National University or Charles Darwin University. The department supported two Indigenous Executive Level staff, who were offered places in the inaugural 2018 intake.

The department’s Talent Management Program is targeted at Indigenous Executive Level 1 and 2 staff who aspire to SES roles. It combines peer group learning sessions and mentoring sessions over a six-month period. The pilot program, delivered by Coolamon Advisors, has one Indigenous Executive Level participant.

Leadership programs and talent management

Investing in the capability of departmental leaders is a key focus for the department. The department increased investment in SES development, with a greater emphasis on strengthening leadership capability throughout the whole SES cohort while addressing areas of improvement identified in the APS Employee Census. 360-degree feedback assessments support honest and constructive development discussions between SES staff and their managers.

Recognising excellence

External awards

In 2018–19, the following individuals and teams from the department were recognised by public and private sector industry association awards:

Indigenous Apprenticeships Program

  • 2018 Stan Grant Indigenous Employment Award from the Australian Human Resources Institute
  • Special mention, 2018 Australian Public Service Diversity and Gender Equality Awards

SES Changing Mindsets: Direct Experiences Program

  • First place, Agency category, Driving cultural change through direct exposure to the experiences of people with disability, 2018 Australian Public Service Diversity and Gender Equality Awards

Pressure Testing Team

  • Silver Prime Minister’s Award for Excellence in Public Sector Management

Access and Inclusion Unit

  • Finalist, Recovery and Return to Work category, 2018 Comcare National Conference Awards

Ms Lisa Conway

  • Finalist, Individual category, for her leadership and vision in the development of the Indigenous Cultural Responsiveness Program for social workers, 2018 Australian Public Service Diversity and Gender Equality Awards

Ms Jacqueline Ferrer

  • Outstanding Graduate of the Year for helping to achieve the goals of the Delivery Modernisation program, 2018 Leadership in Government Awards

Ms Lauren Callinan

  • Highly commended as an Emerging Leader of the Year for leading the development of the Indigenous Servicing Strategy 2018–22, 2018 Leadership in Government Awards

The department also received the highest ranking in the Australian Network on Disability’s Access and Inclusion Index.

Internal awards

The department’s Awards and Honours Program recognises and rewards excellent performance. It places particular emphasis on exceptional service delivery, successful innovation, inspiring leadership and business excellence for individuals and teams.

The department’s primary awards program is the 2018 Pinnacle Achievement Awards. Three individuals and four teams won awards for their exceptional contribution and performance, and 18 nominees were highly commended.

In 2019, the department’s Australia Day Achievement Awards recognised 17 staff for their significant contributions to the department and the Australian community.

The department also presents awards in National Aboriginal and Islanders Day Observance Committee (NAIDOC) week. In July 2018, two individuals and one team won awards for their exceptional achievements, and four nominees were highly commended for their commitment to, and excellence in, Indigenous servicing.

Employment arrangements and statistics

Enterprise agreements

The Department of Human Services Enterprise Agreement 2017–2020 covers all non-SES staff in the department, with the exception of those on individual contracts and medical officers. Medical officers are employed under the Department of Human Services Medical Officers Agreement 2018–2021, which took effect on 17 January 2019.

The Department of Human Services Enterprise Agreement 2017–2020 provided two final pay increases on 2 November 2018 and 2 May 2019. The agreement nominally expires on 2 November 2020.

Individual flexibility arrangements

The department makes individual flexibility arrangements with staff to provide additional conditions of service in exceptional circumstances that are not in the enterprise agreements. For example, individual flexibility arrangements have been used to attract and retain staff in remote and isolated places.

In 2018–19, the department had 90 individual flexibility arrangements.

Injury management, work health and safety

The department complies with its obligations under the Work Health and Safety Act 2011.

The department’s Work Health and Safety Strategy contains a commitment to reduce serious injury rates (claims resulting in one or more weeks of absence) by 30 per cent by 2022. The rate of serious injury for 2018–19 was a reduction of 87.3 per cent from the 2011–12 rate.

Supporting mental health and wellbeing at work is a strong focus for the department. It is currently developing a Protecting Mental Health Policy to ensure that effective risk management and controls are implemented in relation to psychological health.

The department has a number of initiatives to enable early return to work and, in turn, reduce the likelihood of matters progressing to a claim for workers compensation. These initiatives continued to show good progress against strategy targets. The work health and safety outcomes in 2018–19 included a 53 per cent reduction in the number of workers compensation claims and a 66 per cent reduction in the number of body stress injury claims (compared with 2011–12).

Figure 1 below shows a breakdown of injury claims in the department that were accepted in 2018–19.

Figure 1: Claims accepted in 2018–19, by mechanism of injury (per cent of total claim numbers)

Falls, trips and slips 34% Hitting objects with part of the body 1% Being hit by moving object 4% Sound and pressure 0% Body stressing 30% Heat, electricity and environment 2% Chemicals and other substances 0% Biological factors 0% Mental stress 22% Vehicle incidents and other 6%

Work Health and Safety Act 2011 — reporting

In 2018–19, Comcare undertook seven reactive workplace inspections in the department. These were visits made in response to an incident or complaint. In addition, Comcare completed seven proactive workplace inspections across 17 workplaces. These visits were not related to an incident or complaint and were aimed at education and continuous improvement. Comcare identified no contraventions of the Work Health and Safety Act 2011 and issued nil improvement notices under the Act.

A total of 33 incidents in the department were notified to Comcare in 2018–19 (compared with 39 in 2017–18).

Table 59: Incidents notified to Comcare in 2018–19

Type of incident




Serious injury or illness


Dangerous incidents