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5. The department's response

The Department of Health was established in 1921 and has a proud 93 year history of achievements in contributing to Australia’s reputation as a world-class health system. I credit this to our people, their ability to develop and implement policy ideas, and deliver outcomes across a broad range of areas in a complex and challenging operating environment. The Capability Review Report (‘the Report’) acknowledges that our staff have a sense of pride in the work they do and a commitment to helping improve Australian health outcomes. The senior review team also acknowledges the department’s overarching strength of having highly capable and well educated people with a deep subject matter expertise. However, sometimes this is not enough.

The Report provides us an opportunity to take the department forward, build our capability for the future and make the Department of Health the best organisation it can be. The department has already taken important steps to address areas of concern by investing in people, capability development, workforce management tools and related strategies. I recognise that the department has been on a journey of strategic reform and this is enduring as we operate in an environment of constant change and tight fiscal constraints. It is therefore critical that we are ready to respond to the future challenges and opportunities. The need for continuous improvement is recognised and welcomed in the department.

I, with the executive leadership team are united in the need to develop an action plan to respond to the Report’s five themes to strengthen our people, leadership, culture, performance, governance and capability. Our people are essential for our success and leadership is one of the key issues for me. If we build strong leadership, we can build the capability of the organisation, build a strong team culture to remain relevant and effective in supporting the Government and all Australians.

I would like to make initial comments on each of the identified themes for capability improvement from the Report:

Prioritise focus on organisational culture and people leadership

The department acknowledges the importance of continuing to invest and build people capability, especially in leadership. Although the department has made significant progress by investing in people development programs, the ambitious work agenda and an emphasis on delivery has, at times, shifted this focus. For this reason, leadership at all levels, across all areas of the business is a key area for focus.

The executive leadership team and I recognise that we need to strengthen leadership engagement and address unacceptable behaviours. This starts with us and modelling the behaviours we expect of others. We will focus on our core values and desired behaviours so everyone is aware of their obligations and committed to change, especially in relation to how we treat each other. It is vital that we continue to motivate our people by involving them.

I am strongly committed to strive for a culture in which people have permission to try new things, to learn and develop their capability. Occasionally we will make mistakes, this is how we will learn.

Develop a high-level organisational and policy strategy

The department is widely recognised for its ability to deliver the initiatives and reforms required by Government, often in short timeframes. Having said this, in light of a rapidly changing operating environment we recognise that more needs to be done to realign our purpose, not only for our people but our stakeholders. We will be focusing on strengthening our organisational strategy and formulating our future direction.

The department will revise its approach to strategic policy development through a reassessment of the Government’s expectations. We will reconsider our policy context with consideration of the impacts of government reform, the overall Australian health system and the needs of all external stakeholders. Defining our strategic intent will ensure all staff are clear on how they contribute and position us to be the “advisor of choice” to Government.

The department will undertake internal reform and invest in policy capability development for staff. A commitment to innovation and engagement with risk will enable greater agility and flexibility in the policy arena.

Address inadequate governance arrangements and delivery frameworks

A review of existing arrangements is currently underway to ensure the department’s governance and delivery systems are aligned and sustainable to face future challenges.

One key area I plan to focus on is to ensure decision making is not centralised and that decisions are being made at the right level. Where they are not, responsibility will be delegated to foster innovation and empower staff in making decisions that are aligned with the organisational strategy. It is critical that we are accountable and transparent in decision making at all levels.

As acknowledged in the Report, the department has commenced work to break down silos. Our focus moving forward is to ensure we work across internal boundaries and limit potential duplication while fully utilising our highly capable workforce. It is recognised that the department needs to simplify processes, streamline internal workflows and engender greater support for planning right across the department.

Foster a culture that appropriately embraces and manages risks within defined tolerances

As highlighted in the Report there is an ongoing need to address the way we manage and engage with risk while building a culture that shares information and makes decisions at appropriate levels. With continued challenges in our operating environment it is increasingly important for us to further develop clear accountabilities and well defined tolerances and support a culture which is willing to engage with risk in a managed way.

Lead purposeful engagement and partnership with external stakeholders

Although it was acknowledged in the Report that good relationships exist with a number of stakeholders, the department will need to invest in and develop a stakeholder engagement strategy and delivery model that reflects the value we place on having meaningful and considered engagement with our stakeholders. Further focus in this important area will be aimed at sharing information and fostering strong partnerships to maintain situational awareness of emerging issues requiring policy attention.

Concluding comments

I welcome the Report as it provides an opportunity to refresh and build a blueprint for the department’s future. Significant work has been undertaken already and we have the opportunity to build on this report to further strengthen our capability. The Executive Leadership Team and I fully accept the findings of this Report and are committed to working as a leadership team and in particular are committed to the development of our people.

Our next step will be addressing each of the five key findings through detailed action planning and progressing these as part of our business. The department’s action plan is being developed through an inclusive and collaborative process involving staff. I am confident that the department has the commitment and ability to implement organisational change utilising the areas addressed in the Report.

I would like to thank the Australian Public Service Commissioner, Mr Stephen Sedgwick AO, for his dedication to the capability review program. On behalf of the department I would also like to also thank the senior reviewers: Ms Rachel Hunter, Mr Paul Fegan and Mr Nigel Ray for their professionalism and engagement throughout the review.

Finally, I am certain that this review will mean that the department will be a more agile, contemporary and best practice organisation for our stakeholders, our people, the Government and the Australian public. The department will benefit greatly from our involvement in this program.


Martin Bowles PSM


Department of Health

Last reviewed: 
29 March 2018