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Part 2: About the department

DAFF makes sure that Australians can trust that the food and fibre we produce is sustainably grown and safe, while every year helping millions of people and goods move in and out of Australia without harming animal, plant and human health or our environment.

There has always been a government agency fulfilling these vital functions that are crucial to the Australian community.

Australian agriculture, fisheries and forestry are billion dollar industries that benefit from DAFF’s research and science, policy and programs to improve their productivity, competitiveness and sustainability. The department’s impact and reach, and the way science and economics are combined with policy development and program and service delivery responsibilities, makes DAFF a credible organisation in the eyes of the Australian community and Australia’s trading partners.

Agriculture, fisheries and forestry make an important contribution to Australia’s economic prosperity.

The industries recorded a combined gross value of production of $53.1 billion in 2011–12 and accounted for 2.2% of gross domestic product. Nearly two-thirds of our agricultural production is exported, generating $34.7 billion in 2011–12. Our major agricultural exports are wheat, beef, wool, dairy products, cotton and wine.

Agriculture and forestry occupy 63% of Australia’s 7.7 million square kilometre land mass. Our fisheries, although based largely inshore, use an Exclusive Economic Zone of approximately 10 million square kilometres.

Together, agriculture, fisheries and forestry industries employed 351,000 people in 2010–11.

DAFF employs more than 5,000 staff in Australia and overseas, including policy officers, program administrators, economists, scientists, biosecurity officers, meat inspectors, researchers, veterinary officers, communicators and project managers. Staff work in places as varied as offices, airports, mail centres, shipping ports, laboratories and abattoirs—located in regional centres, rural communities, capital cities and embassies and consulates around the world.

The age distribution of DAFF staff is similar to that of the APS (43% under 40 years of age). DAFF staff are employed at lower employment classifications (48% at APS 1–4, compared with the APS average of 35%).

Staff are also more likely than average to have worked in more than one agency (49%, against the APS average of 35%). A total of 59% of staff are located outside Canberra. The department has undergone significant change in recent years in response to Australia’s changing political and economic environment and the vulnerabilities in Australia’s biosecurity system exposed by the August 2007 outbreak of equine influenza. The report of the Quarantine and Biosecurity Review panel chaired by Roger Beale AO (the Beale Review), released by the Minister in December 2008, made 84 recommendations to improve Australia’s biosecurity system, all of which were agreed to in principle at the time by the government.

The department’s response was immediate, driving a new focus on biosecurity that included combining the biosecurity functions previously undertaken by four groups to form the 3 Biosecurity Services Group. The Beale Review recommended the establishment of a statutory office of the Inspector General of Biosecurity, which has been implemented at operational level pending legislation. However, the recommendation to establish a separate statutory authority was not followed through. Rather, the Australian Government decided at the time of its 2011–12 Budget that biosecurity functions would remain in the department because of their links to policy and the cost to establish a separate agency.

Shortly thereafter, on 14 November 2011, the department released a new Strategic Statement and launched a new identity.

Among other things, the new strategy takes the view that the most efficient and effective approach is to conduct quarantine activities along the biosecurity continuum addressing pest and disease risks offshore (before they reach Australia), at the border, and onshore (within Australia), rather than at the border alone; a concept consistent with the Beale Review recommendations. These changes also reflect the preparation of new biosecurity legislation, developed with the contemporary trading environment in mind and the risk it poses. This focus on the biosecurity supply chain more closely aligns the biosecurity function with related policy and program delivery.

The new strategy aims to unify the department’s culture, and this has included the progressive ‘retirement’ of the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service (AQIS) brand. At the same time, in view of its high degree of public and professional recognition, the Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES) brand was retained but aligned more closely with the department. DAFF ABARES is a key part of the capability of the department and its work is used to provide an important evidence base to inform a range of policy challenges within governments and industry.

A milestone for DAFF was the signing of the Intergovernmental Agreement on Biosecurity by the Prime Minister and all state and territory first ministers—excluding Tasmania—in January 2012. Work continues on the new biosecurity legislation and on the transition from rigid intervention targets to a flexible and more cost-effective risk-return approach across Australia, which allocates staff and resources based on intelligence to areas that pose the highest biosecurity risk.

The Strategic Statement also reflects the department’s challenges in policy and program delivery. A number of drought support measures ended in 2012. The April announcement that Exceptional Circumstances Interest Rate Subsidies were to be phased out nationally from the end of June 2012 was a key milestone. New carbon farming programs began as part of the department’s support for portfolio industries in moving from crisis management to long-term sustainability and risk management. A new policy framework and regulatory arrangements for the export of live animals in accordance with internationally recognised animal welfare standards has been developed and implemented. There has been comment on how expeditiously this was achieved. It is now in place for all markets. Progress has also been made to finalise the transition to new streamlined export certification arrangements, and the National Food Plan green paper, outlining policy options for maintaining Australia’s food security and maximising food production opportunities, was released for public feedback in July 2012.

Each of these initiatives supports the department’s strategic goals—summarised as RPM: Resources, Productivity and Markets. This RPM Framework has struck a chord with DAFF’s staff, strengthening the connection between the department’s activities and its Strategic Statement and beginning to unify DAFF with its broad span of responsibilities and ambitious change agenda.

In the 2012 employee census, 81% of DAFF staff agreed with the statement: ‘I am committed to the department’s vision, mission and goals.’ This result was consistent across DAFF, with little variance across divisions and regions.

The department engages with a significant number of clients (people and businesses directly impacted by programs, service delivery or regulation) and stakeholders (those who have an interest in policy and its impact but are not directly affected by it), including public and private companies, brokers, industry associations, not-for-profit organisations, state and territory governments and other Australian Government agencies. The portfolio includes three prescribed agencies under the Financial Management and Accountability Act 1997 (FMA Act) that have regulatory roles, a statutory marketing authority and six research and development (R&D) corporations.

The department manages its relationships with clients and stakeholders through advisory and working groups operating across its business. Engagement through consultation provides the foundation for DAFF in the conduct of its business, for example in formulating the annual regulatory plan that provides business operators, business representatives and the public with input and access to information about changes to its business regulations.

In a 2012 survey of stakeholders, 44% agreed that ‘The Department fully engages with my organisation, listens to our views and provides feedback on the outcomes.’ A total of 20% of respondents did not think DAFF fully engaged, while 36% of respondents neither agreed nor disagreed with the statement.

Clients and stakeholders are increasingly seeking to engage with the department in its regulatory capacity on issues relating to their ‘social licence’—the implicit approval to operate given by communities in addition to government regulatory requirements. This community approval can sometimes change rapidly and vary across stakeholders. The issues that arose in 2011, relating to the live animal export industry, and in 2012, relating to the operation of the FV Margiris—Abel Tasman fishing trawler, underlined the importance of understanding the complex relationship between social licence, regulation and evolving community opinion.