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Part 5: The department's response

I welcome and endorse the results of the capability review of the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry. The report confirms the very positive impressions about the capability of the department and its people that I have formed in the early weeks of my own tenure as incoming Secretary. In this respect, I would like to acknowledge the stewardship of Dr O'Connell over the department through often challenging times. As the report indicates, my colleagues and myself are in a fortunate position of being able to build upon considerable strengths within the department that have been fostered in recent times.

I would also like to express my sincere appreciation to the review team Dr Sue Vardon AO, Dr John Stocker AO and Dr David Gruen as well as officers from the APSC and my own department who assisted with the review. The willingness of the review team to share their experience, expertise and observations with the department has resulted in a valuable outcome which will influence the direction of the department in the future. The timing of the review, which coincided with my own commencement as Secretary, provided me with the opportunity to take into account the observations of three highly experienced and capable executives in forming my own views on the department. Pleasingly, many of the areas identified for attention in the report are consistent with my own early observations.

The department elected to manage the review process in a collaborative way involving a wide range of staff. The entire senior leadership team participated in the review through the self assessment process, interviews with the review team and commenting on the proposed findings and observations. This contributed to a report which was fully informed and widely endorsed and accepted by the department's leadership group. It also resulted in a very positive experience for all involved.

The department accepts the key findings from the review that it needs to be:

  • A policy leader, responsive to the government of the day, and the foremost policy influence on sustainable production and the use of food and fibre
  • Client focused, with a modern service delivery approach, proactive in programs that protect the animal, plant and human health status of Australia and improve the productivity of portfolio industries and offering the best possible service delivery options to its many and varied clients
  • Contemporary in its approach to business and ICT systems, building systems that support a modern service delivery approach including cost recovery arrangements suitable to its operations
  • A source of easily accessible quality public information, helping to inform public discussion around sometimes contentious issues through strong forecasting and scenario analysis and effective communication.

The department has commenced action to address findings in the review.

In order to further build the department's policy capability, I have made a decision to establish a Strategic Policy Branch. The roles, responsibilities and priorities of this branch have been agreed with a view to establishing the branch by the end of the 2012-13 financial year.

I have also commissioned and received a report on the appropriate arrangements for the provision of legal services within the department. Similarly, a review of internal governance has 33 been conducted to ensure that there is full control over all aspects of the department including its operations, finances, people and supporting infrastructure. The department is taking clear action to address the relatively high levels of unscheduled absenteeism and has developed comprehensive plans to modernise service delivery arrangements.

The department will shortly prepare an action plan which will detail all of the activities which are currently underway or which need to be initiated in order to address the findings of the review. The action plan will be developed by the entire senior leadership team and will be a key input into departmental business planning for 2013-14. This will ensure that the findings of the review are given priority and that the entire executive team is held to account for addressing them.

Andrew Metcalfe AO
Secretary
Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry