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Part 2: About the department

2011 marked the centenary of


. The department's role in supporting the head of government has been a constant over the past 101 years, but the department of today is markedly different in its various functions from that of 1911.

Supporting the head of government in the 21st century has meant supporting the Cabinet and ensuring the effectiveness of the machinery of Australian government. This includes supporting the government's legislative program, its official establishments, ceremonial and hospitality activities, and awards
and national symbols, and driving Commonwealth-state relations, in which


has particular program as well as policy responsibility within the Australian Public Service (APS).

Where the Prime Minister exercises an administrative responsibility over particular matters,


works to the Prime Minister as owner of the policy or program. It must do more than understand issues and processes; it must seek to resolve and run them. The capability requirements for other priorities are much more variable. In those instances,


sometimes acts as the eyes and ears of the Prime Minister, sometimes as arms, legs and, from time to time, as the muscle where programs and policies fall within the nominal responsibilities of other ministers and departments.

In practical terms, the foremost tasks for the department include:

  • supporting the Prime Minister in their head of government role
  • leading the


    in collaboration with the

  • providing advice on major domestic and international policy, often drawing on expertise from across government
  • using forward-looking research and analysis to advise on emerging issues, strategic policy challenges and priorities
  • monitoring and providing advice on the implementation of key government initiatives, policies and programs
  • providing services to enable efficient, effective and coordinated management of the business of government.

In 2012-13, the department has the specific priorities of:

  • supporting the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) and


    senior officials in progressing the


    reform agenda in areas such as skills, disability, schools funding, and competition and regulatory reform
  • furthering national security strategic policy, including overseeing the implementation of the Cyber White Paper and the development of a risk framework to inform national security community decision-making
  • continuing to support the Prime Minister's leadership on Afghanistan and her international engagement, as well as leading and supporting efforts to strengthen the national security community, including the implementation of the Independent Review of the Intelligence Community
  • developing the Asian Century White Paper to consider the likely economic and strategic changes in the region and what more can be done to position Australia for the Asian Century
  • developing the framework for the launch of the National Disability Insurance Scheme
  • continuing engagement in the Group of Twenty (G20) Forum and planning for Australia's hosting of the


    in 2014
  • developing the future leadership capability of the


    through the Secretary's role as head of the


    and Chair of the Secretaries' Board.

In composition and character, the


of today is also much different from the agency established under its first Secretary in 1911.

It employs around 700 staff and since its recent restructure now comprises three major groups:

  1. Domestic Policy
  2. National Security and International Policy
  3. Governance.


engages with many stakeholders from a broad range of sectors and works with and through other federal agencies, state and territory governments, academia and peak non-government agencies and representational bodies.

It has played a pivotal role in the development of the


's blueprint for reform, Ahead of the game, and has specific responsibility for a number of implementation actions under the blueprint.

A May 2012 restructure has seen the department rearrange various divisions and branches under new reporting streams, with some functions ceasing, decreasing or being absorbed.

The department experiences high levels of turnover (in 2010–11, 22 per cent overall and as high as 30 per cent among the


cohort). This is not unusual by


's past standards or for a central agency, but is a significant risk to the ongoing effectiveness of the department if not effectively managed.

The department has a solid reputation for delivering sound policy advice and support, consistent with the government's agenda. This has required changes in the size and scope of the department over time, reflecting the complexity of the modern policy agenda and 21st century public administration. It
is apparent to the review team that corporate arrangements are still evolving to adequately reflect the needs of the organisation in an environment of increased complexity.

High levels of employee satisfaction and engagement are evident in the department's own pulse surveys, as well as in annual State of the Service employee survey results. Areas for attention identified through these datasets include the management of change, the establishment of a better work-life balance,
and opportunities for development and career advancement. In the workforce development area,


maintains a commitment to building and enhancing the capability of its employees in order to meet the strategic needs of the department and the broader


. This is comparable to, if not beyond, the efforts of most


agencies and reflects the skill requirements of a central policy agency.

The department's latest Capability Development Framework provides the foundation to actively encourage and support development opportunities for all employees. Initiatives under the framework address five development areas: leadership, professional development, core skills development, mandatory training
and graduate development.

The executive (the Secretary, associate secretaries and deputy secretaries) actively encourages


and Executive Level employees to participate in a range of leadership programs run by the


, along with a range of other targeted programs such as the Executive Fellows Program through the Australia and New Zealand School of Government.

Key performance indicators for the department are identified in its Portfolio Budget Statements, while key performance indicators for divisions are included in divisional operational plans. Specific measures are also identified at the divisional level in operational plans.

Reporting against these measures is undertaken at the group, divisional and departmental levels and forms part of the department's annual report to Parliament. Operational plans are regularly reviewed to ensure that progress towards outcomes is on track. However, as for any policy-focused department,
identifying appropriate and quantifiable measures of success is problematic.

Last reviewed: 
29 March 2018