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Part 3: Summary assessment


DIAC

operates in a complex, high-profile and highly contentious environment. Compared to most departments, it carries an unusually wide set of responsibilities across all areas of public service capability, including research, policy development, program management, service delivery, industry regulation
and corporate services. It works under intense public scrutiny, maintaining high-volume business-as-usual activities such as visa processing and migrant settlement services, while responding to urgent and high-profile events such as IMAs and crises such as the South-East Asian and Japanese tsunamis.

Staff members of

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are highly motivated and engaged by the department's mission and the contribution the department makes to Australian society. They have a strong client-oriented culture, seeking to interact with citizens and non-citizens in a professional and empathetic manner.

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staff members are acutely aware that decisions they make directly impact individuals' lives, sometimes profoundly. They have proved to be highly resilient in the wake of a sustained period of public and parliamentary criticism and a series of external reviews and inquiries.

The department has a strong and widespread network across Australia and internationally. It has made some significant improvements in recent years in managing stakeholder relationships in operational areas and is well regarded by international counterparts in the Five Country Conference (FCC).

The Secretary and the Acting Secretary are widely respected by both staff and stakeholders. The Secretary demonstrated deep personal knowledge of all areas of the department's operations. He is respected for his ability to lead and manage through years of crises, criticism and successive 'transformations'
of the department. The recently arrived Acting Secretary is recognised and welcomed for his leadership experience in other areas of the

APS

, his personal interest in good management, and the fresh perspective and opportunity for renewal that he brings to the department.

While dealing with external pressures, events and crises,

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's internal focus in recent years has been on making the necessary changes in response to the findings in the 2005 Palmer report Inquiry into the Circumstances of the Immigration Detention of Cornelia Rau and the 2005 Comrie report Inquiry into the Circumstances of the Vivian Alvarez Matter about failures of process. This has involved repeated structural changes, changes to process, changes to senior personnel,
changes to

ICT

and other systems, and a sustained effort to change culture. However, in the review team's view, the department has been only partially successful in developing control mechanisms to reduce the risk of future failures of process.

The department will therefore need to continue to improve its management processes to deal with this continuing risk while seeking also to lead and manage, in a less reactive way, as new post-Palmer – Comrie crises and external pressures, such as IMAs and detention issues, continue to challenge
it.

This will inevitably involve yet further changes to

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internal management processes. However, the last thing the department needs or wants at this time is a further root and branch restructure or open-ended and diffuse 'transformation' campaign. Rather this review has diagnosed six specific areas for management attention.

Based on the management reforms, changes and improvements since Palmer/Comrie, the review team recommends these six specific, practical areas now be adopted as the forward management reform agenda for the department. The six areas are:

  • Risk and crisis management: develop a more systematic approach to risk and crisis management.
  • Higher whole-of-department planning and decision making processes: improve the impact, relevance and durability of higher departmental corporate planning and decision-making processes to put a stronger stamp on and drive whole-of-department priority setting, resource management and workforce planning,
    and accountability.
  • Support for operational managers: provide the necessary authority and support for the Executive Level (EL) and Senior Executive Service (SES) Band 1 managers to perform effectively.
  • Corporate buy-in by

    SES

    officers: develop

    SES

    understanding of and commitment to the full range of their

    SES

    corporate responsibilities beyond their immediate line responsibilities.
  • Strengthen the department's Functional capabilities in six specific areas: namely contract management, program management,

    ICT

    systems and services, financial literacy and management, evaluation and knowledge sharing, and stakeholder management.
  • Innovation: reinvigorate a proactive innovation capability.

Each of these areas is addressed in more detail below.

Risk and crisis management


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staff are proud of their ability to manage through a crisis and mobilise resources quickly to respond. However, some stakeholders perceive that the Department is prone to regular crises that could have been recognised as risks and pre-empted or scaled-down before they occurred. Internally, it is widely
recognised that crises distract the department from delivering core business, consume staff time and resources, interrupt processes of change and improvement, and crowd-out 'space' for horizon scanning and longer term planning. Perceptions that

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is crisis prone have an effect on the department's public and parliamentary reputation and are a legitimate concern for the Minister and the Government.

Scanning and planning for risks require more than simply being alert. Good management practice is needed in terms of systematic and proactive identification and management of risks, learning from previous experiences, utilising the experience and external perspectives of partners, and risk can be better
managed by building incentives and staff capacity for better risk management. Much can be done to reclaim the agenda by proactively improving risk management rather than reacting to events.

Similarly, the management of crises need not always be ad hoc. Good management practice is needed to design structures and processes that are sufficiently flexible to make exceptional crises unexceptional.


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's culture is heavily risk averse. Post the Palmer – Comrie reports, many routine decisions have been routinely escalated because there has been an excessive reliance on the risk-scanning intuition of a small number of senior people. The review team encourages the department to embed a more analytical
and sophisticated approach. In particular the team suggests mobilising the intelligence of all 8,576 staff members in the risk scanning process, and providing more clarity throughout the department about when to inform, alert or, when appropriate, escalate risk-related decisions.

The review team encourages the department to focus on the following areas as part of its ongoing improvement initiatives:

  • maturing its approach to risk and crisis management to improve scanning of impacts to stakeholders, clarity in escalation and notification protocols, and capturing and sharing of lessons learned
  • maturing the department's capability in scenario and contingency planning, drawing on lessons learned and expertise from the broader

    APS

    network.

Higher whole-of-department planning and decision-making processes


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has most of the corporate policies and procedures that would be expected of a large, mature and professional department. However, they are not well integrated or consistently driven by senior governance committees and the

SES

. Many staff members and some external stakeholders say that

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has a 'culture of plans, not planning' and that measuring and reporting on organisational performance are viewed as 'getting in the way of real work'. The impact has been that valuable processes and tools have been turned into compliance exercises that add little to the effectiveness or efficiency
of teams at the coalface. Good corporate management processes should help, not hinder, line areas to do their job and they need to be taken seriously by operational areas and followed through consistently by the Executive and senior governance committees.

There is a lack of clarity regarding accountabilities and responsibilities in many areas of the department. In both internal and external interviews, people said that they were not always sure who to go to and that 'there are so many fingers in the pie that no-one owns the problem'. Even the most capable
general staff member cannot resolve such issues which ultimately are the responsibility of any department's higher decision-making processes.

Departmental staff are also seeking greater clarity about priorities and budgets, particularly to support effective and systematic resource management and workforce planning. Whole-of-department work planning, tasking, prioritisation and budgeting, need to be more rigorous and transparent. The recently
issued draft Strategic Intent 2012–15 provides a vision and mission and has been well received by most staff. Building on the Strategic Intent document, it is now time to renew and embed a whole-of-department corporate planning process to provide the necessary clarity of priorities within and across
groups, enabling the proper cascading of work planning from whole-of-department, to group, division, branch, team and individual levels.

The review team encourages the department to consider building on the Strategic Intent 2012-15 to reinvigorate the department's corporate planning process to provide real rigour to decisions about work planning, tasking, prioritisation, budgeting, and assignment of accountabilities.

Support for operational managers

Significant gaps exist in the support that the department provides for

EL

and

SES

Band 1 managers. In a demanding operating environment, the

EL

and

SES

Band 1 managers are being asked to play the major role in delivering the department's work program. It is not unreasonable that in return the department provides the necessary authority and support for them to function at a level that will meet expectations. Operational support includes the necessary
training, more supportive corporate services, fit-for-purpose

ICT

systems, and clear guidance on when to escalate issues.

The ELs and

SES

Band 1s are not always clear about priorities within and between line areas and are looking to the Secretary and Executive to more clearly articulate the department's priorities. Departmental priorities need to be agreed and communicated to provide consistent guidance to staff for business planning
processes, individual performance plans, and accountabilities. Decisions made about changes in priorities also need to be communicated at all levels and plans adjusted to reflect such changes. This will become increasingly important as resources are likely to be more constrained in the future. If priority
setting continues not to be integrated or transparent, there is an increased risk to the department's ability to deliver and, consequently, its reputation could be at risk.


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's ELs and

SES

Band 1s are proficient technical managers; however, their core management skills –

HR

management, financial literacy and management, and performance management (both individual and operational), are patchy partly because newly promoted staff or staff recruited at level have minimal guidance or induction. This poses a significant risk for the department, particularly in the areas of
financial management, contract management, and individual performance management. Such a risk could be improved by setting expectations through a structured induction process, on-the-job and tailored training and mentoring, and more consistent professional assistance from corporate services areas.


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is an information-driven organisation and operational staff members are highly dependent on its operational and corporate

ICT

systems. The functionality and usability of corporate systems such as the

HR

and financial systems are sources of frustration. However, there is even stronger disappointment and frustration with the widely perceived shortcomings and delays in the 'Systems for People'

ICT

development program's delivery of its promised integrated, functional support for the daily business of the department.

It is concerning to the review team that, after years of disappointment in systems delivery, staff expectations of

ICT

systems are uniformly low.

EL

and

SES

Band 1 managers have every right to expect adequate

ICT

support for their work.

ICT

planning processes are a vital area for management attention.


EL

and

SES

Band 1 managers also emphasised the lack of consistent guidance on when to escalate risks. Common opinion was that the department has become highly risk averse, which impacts on the levels of responsibility and accountability at these levels, unnecessarily elevating decision-making and detracting from
officers' sense of professional empowerment.

The review team encourages the department to consider improving the support provided to the

EL

and

SES

Band 1 levels as part of its ongoing management improvement agenda through improved clarity of priorities, accountabilities and decision-making responsibilities, and improving the supporting services provided by the corporate functions, particularly in

ICT

systems. The department is encouraged to monitor improvements with the ELs and

SES

Band 1s through regular feedback sessions and/or surveys.

Corporate buy-in by

SES

officers


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's

SES

is highly committed to and focused on individual line responsibilities. However, significant work needs to be done to improve the

SES

's commitment to broader corporate responsibilities. The overall health of the department is not 'someone else's or the Secretary's business'. More committed and sustained participation in corporate processes across the department are required at all levels of the

SES

.

Recent changes to the top governance structures in the department will help facilitate a more corporate approach by the

SES

, ensuring its focus is applied to the three core management skills within the department – performance management, people management, and financial management – and significantly improve the operating standard of the department.

The well-rounded

SES

officer has a responsibility to represent the department and build constructive relationships with central agencies and other departments. External feedback about performance in this area indicates that

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SES

are not always present 'in the forums that matter', are slow to acknowledge risks and impacts on other portfolios, are not always open to ideas when consulting, and do not always represent the department as a whole.

Professional

SES

officers must seek to be supportive and responsive to colleagues outside their line areas and groups and in other departments. Similar to the 'One

APS

' concept, there needs to be an integrated 'One

DIAC

' approach for its

SES

group – across organisational boundaries – as well as recognition of its responsibility to contribute to the overall whole-of-government

APS

SES

network.

The review team encourages the department to consider the following as part of its ongoing improvement initiatives:

  • the Acting Secretary should set expectations regarding

    SES

    corporate responsibilities and behaviours
  • networks across groups and divisions should be improved
  • an approach to interactions with central agencies and other departments should be developed to improve

    DIAC

    representation and projection into the wider

    APS

    .

Strengthen the department's Functional capabilities in six specific areas

There are six critical capabilities in

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that are either below the necessary standard today, or seem likely to be required in larger measure in the future.

  • Contract management capabilities need improvement, but are maturing in some areas such as detention and some settlement services. Increased rigour in the management of contracts and related financial arrangements is required to ensure that associated risks are adequately managed.
  • The department lacks a common definition and understanding of program management, which leads to confusion about accountability and responsibility for programs as opposed to structural lines of business. A whole-of-department effort to clarify accountabilities, including for the department's formal
    portfolio budget statements programs and for contributory programs of service delivery, will improve the department's ability to manage its performance in meeting program objectives and outcomes.
  • The review team believes that the department's

    ICT

    systems and services need to be better aligned with business priorities and specific business needs. Building on past investment, the department now needs a clear view on how it will deliver to the needs and expectations of staff and stakeholders by delivering integrated systems that provide accurate
    and timely information. Accordingly, the department urgently needs to improve its capacity to plan and prioritise with business areas, and roll-out

    ICT

    .
  • Financial literacy and management is an area of weakness. Over time, financial management within the department has become so centralised to a point where business lines often have poor visibility and understanding of their budgets. Managers, particularly

    SES

    managers, do not always understand their financial management responsibilities, which poses serious risks for the department. Those risks now need to be addressed.
  • Evaluation and knowledge sharing was commonly observed, both internally and externally, to be an area requiring significant improvement. No structured process exists for sharing knowledge and the department is highly reliant on informal networks rather than more systematic approaches to evaluation
    and knowledge discovery and sharing. Of particular concern is the inconsistent approach to capturing, sharing, and incorporating lessons learned from crises or even ongoing business activities.
  • Stakeholder engagement has improved in the past 12–18 months. However, improvements are mainly due to the efforts of individuals rather than a whole-of-department strategy. The department lacks a planned approach to stakeholder relationship management. In particular,

    SES

    level relationships with central agencies and other departments need attention.

The review team suggests that the department include the development of the six capabilities as a departmental priority, assigning responsibility and accountability for their implementation to appropriate

SES

officers.

Reinvigorate Innovation


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has a demonstrated capability to develop innovative solutions to complex challenges in policy and service delivery. Many of

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's international counterparts have adopted some of its more innovative policy and service delivery solutions such as the Electronic Travel Authority.

However, in recent years despite the existence of a small fund for the purpose, innovation has tailed off. The review team believes this is due to the following factors:

  • the department is too occupied by crises to give attention to innovation
  • the department lacks an innovation strategy, with streamlined processes, that is championed by the

    SES
  • the department has a high level of risk aversion.

The department's staff would benefit from a clear signal from the top that innovation is welcomed and greater resources and a systematic framework to support the development and implementation of new ideas and initiatives.

The way forward

A lot has been achieved by

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as a result of the succession of management reforms since 2005. However, significant risks and challenges remain in each of the areas of the Capability Model: leadership, strategy and delivery. The appointment of the Acting Secretary is an opportunity for the department to take stock of progress and
identify next steps. The six specific areas for future management attention identified in this report provide a roadmap for the department's leaders and staff to further improve the department's performance well into the future.