SearchArchives for August 200826 August, 2008
Small Agencies make big noise at Inquiry
The Parliamentary Joint Committee of Public Accounts and Audit has held two days of hearings into the impact of the Government’s efficiency dividend on smaller Government Agencies.
Committee Chair and Labor MP for Newcastle, Sharon Grierson, said submissions were received or evidence heard from the Australian National Audit Office, the Commonwealth Ombudsman, the Inspector-General of Intelligence and Security; the High Court of Australia, the Family Court, the Institute of Health and Welfare, National Archives, National Library, National Gallery, Australian War Memorial and the Australian Institute for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies.
The Australian Electoral Commission also appeared before the Committee as did the Parliamentary Departments and the Community and Public Sector Union.
“These agencies are vital to our democracy,” Ms Grierson said.
“The submissions suggest that many of the cultural Agencies have been impacted by the efficiency dividend.
“They have suggested that cuts they have made to their activities do not sit well with their mandate to grow and develop their collections.”
According to CPSU National Secretary, Stephen Jones told the Committee that that increased dividend – up from 1.25% to 3.25% this year – was wearing down the Public Services’ ability to deliver essential services.
"Reports that we have received from our members suggest that managers at some these smaller public sector agencies are being forced to make up the cuts to wages and other basic operational costs by slashing services," Mr Jones said.
"The sad reality is that if Federal Government's arbitrary cut of 3.25 per cent continues, institutions such as the War Memorial and National Art Gallery will scale back important exhibitions.
"The reality is that most of these smaller agencies run a tight ship as it is, with very few staff and resources," Mr Jones said.
He said because managers were forced to take tough decision about whether to slash jobs or services: “Wither way services suffer”
He said he hoped the Committee’s inquiry would lead the Government to scrap arbitrary cuts to public services.
Ms Grierson said the Committee would be holding further hearings in September.
26 August, 2008
Union seeks info on motherhood issue
The Community and Public Sector Union has called on its members to share their experiences of the career harm done to women who take maternity leave.
The Union has asked anyone who has experienced reduced promotional opportunities after returning to work to log their story on its website.
“Following the release of data from the Australian Public Service Commission suggesting that public sector women who take maternity leave are less likely to be promoted after their return to the workplace, CPSU wants to know your experiences,” the union said.
It said research which informed the APSC's submission to the Government's paid maternity leave inquiry surveyed female public sector employees who had taken paid time off work for the birth of a child.
“The survey revealed 65% of women, who accessed paid maternity leave in 2000-1, failed to achieve promotion by June 2007, the union said.
“By contrast, only 42% of women who had not had children in the same period failed to achieve career progression.”
It said while the reasons behind the gap were not clear, the APSC said it might be due to the personal choices made by employees about balancing family commitments with the increased demands of more senior positions, and access to part-time work at more senior levels.
National Secretary of the CPSU, Stephen Jones said that union was concerned that a lack of flexible working arrangements and support options for women returning from maternity leave “spelled a dead end for the career paths” of many women in the APS.
"While it's a complex problem with no easy answers, we clearly need to engage new ways of thinking to tackle this issue,” Mr Jones said.
“ With a tight labour market fuelling a battle for talent, we need to start thinking about redesigning jobs and career paths that ensure the Public Service's best and brightest don't have to sacrifice a career for the sake of a family,.”
He said that there were many ways employers could support women returning to work from paid maternity leave but a recent CPSU survey found 66% of mothers believed their employers did nothing to keep them connected to the workplace while they were away from work.
"Members reported that simple, thoughtful steps such as phone calls, emails or invitations to bring babies into work would have made the return to the work environment far easier," Mr Jones said.
Responses to the union’s call can be made to www.cpsu.org.au
26 August, 2008
Health Institute passes examination
The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare has been named as one of the Best Organisations to Work for in 2008 by the Great Place to Work Institute Australia.
The AIHW said it was proud to be recognised by Great Place to Work Australia and planned to continue “providing fulfilling work in a trusting environment”.
Great Place to Work Australia said it was dedicated to building a better society by helping organisations transform their workplaces.
Its work has been based on over 20 years of research that found trust between managers and employees was the defining characteristic of the best workplaces.
Great Place to WorkAustralia aimed to offer services and tools to help companies become more effective organisations by building staff relationships on the basis of trust.
The Institute said the main purpose of recognising organisations as great places to work was to facilitate the sharing of knowledge among organisations wishing to improve the quality of their workplace.
A spokesperson said that each year, Great Place to Work Australia conducted a study of workplace culture across a range of Australian organisations and shared the results with all participating organisations.
Each year it also found the Best Companies to Work for in Australia to recognise organisations that provided their employees with great work environments and to encourage other organisations to follow suit.
Companies were selected for the Best Companies lists based on the answers employees gave to the Great Place to Work Trust Index, a survey developed by the Institute.
For more information on Great Place to Work Australia visit www.greatplacetowork.com.au
26 August, 2008
Media in spotlight over FOI failings
The main issue for Public Servants dealing with Freedom of Information requests was not that releasing documents could create a risk, said the Australian Public Service Commissioner Lynelle Briggs, but the uses to which the released information could be put.
Speaking to journalists at a Public Affairs Convention in Canberra recently, Commissioner Briggs said much of the information requested under FoI fell somewhere between what the media would like to use for a good story and what the Government needed to keep under wraps in the interests of effective decision making.
“I start from the position that as much information as possible about Government decisions and actions should be in the public domain,” Commissioner Briggs said.
“In other words, the more transparent the actions of Governments are, the cleaner they tend to be.
“So why all the fuss about FOI?”
She said the ‘fuss’ was caused because some media reporting of information obtained under FoI showed a misunderstanding of how the Australian system of Government worked, the role of Departments and the Cabinet system.
“When the Public Service and Ministers develop policy,” Ms Briggs said, “it is common and good practice to look at all options.
“It is especially important that the seemingly radical options which involve major change are not excluded for fear of early public release.”
She said if those pre-policy papers were released to the public however, experience showed that the media’s need for provocative sound-bites and its practice of reporting to generate the most interest and response could impact on the way policy was developed and evaluated.
“This makes for ‘good’ news but can make the Public Service and the Government look incompetent or incoherent or just ridiculous when select pieces of this information are taken out of context, or it can cause Ministers to ask that nothing be committed to paper,” she said.
Commissioner Briggs took as an example the recent coverage of the Fuel Watch policy.
“The media reported that four key Departments had recommended against the Government’s policy,” she said.
“The reported implication being that the Government had acted – foolishly – against the advice of the Public Service, and that there was disconnect between the new Government and its Public Service advisors.
“This reflects a misunderstanding about our system of Government, the role Departments play in providing advice to the Government, and the Cabinet system.”
She said there were very few policy proposals that went to Cabinet with which all Departments agreed, or agreed without qualification.
She said the result of sensationalising policy options had led the Public Service to act defensively in dealing with requests for information.
“The media should accept some responsibility for the current state of FOI.”
Commissioner Briggs said she would “like very much” to see more open debate on policies.
“But, this requires more responsible behaviour on the part of the media, lobbyists and Opposition political parties.”
She said she expected the current review of FoI to look at what was happening overseas and in the States and Territories and try to find a way that both protected confidences between the Public Service and Ministers but which also provided more information in a timely and less process-driven and costly way.
26 August, 2008
Legal leader lays down law on APS
Retiring Secretary of the Attorney-General’s Department, Robert Cornall, has left the Australian Public Service with a collection of learned lessons, sage advice and comments from an outsider.
Recruited from the Victorian Public Service to head up AGs in 2000, Mr Cornall delivered his thoughts on eight and half years in the APS at a valedictory speech delivered in Canberra recently.
“I know these observations will not be anything new to Secretaries and Agency heads,” he said in an entertaining talk, “but I am putting them on the record for officers coming through the ranks of the APS in case they find them helpful.”
He then went on to share his views on PS expenditure, consultants, the media, leadership and other issues that crossed a Secretary’s desk.
“Fifteen years as a private practitioner permanently etched in my mind the principle that every dollar spent is a dollar less net profit,” Mr Cornall said.
“I have regularly asked my colleagues putting forward a new policy or spending proposal: Would you spend this if it was your money?”
“There are two sorts of consultants,” he said, “those that add value and those that don’t.
“Sometimes, engaging a consultant is a management cop out. (It) can give the temporary impression that some progress is being made and the unsatisfactory result can be blamed on the consultant.”
He said some consultants talked in the current management gobbledygook, provided template recommendations and contributed little or nothing.
“I don’t like those consultants.”
On the media:
He said dealing with the media taught him the value of careful and thorough preparation.
“It taught me the value of short, accurate statements that clearly answer the question.”
He said he learned to avoid negative and uncommon words “because you can’t convey a positive message in negative language” and “uncommon words cause the listener to lose the thread of what you are saying.
“I was taught that viewers form opinions about people appearing on television roughly like this: 50 or 60 % on how they look, 30% or more on how they sound and about 10% on what they say.”
“Leadership is more about persuasion and example than direction.”
Mr Cornall said that among many lessons he took from the APS, he believed commonsense and sound judgment were still the most valuable management attributes.
During his time as Secretary of AGs, Mr Cornall also served as President of the ACT Division of the Institute of Public Administration for two and a half years and was honoured as an Officer in the Order of Australia on Australia Day 2006.
26 August, 2008
Interpretation rise translates to record
Demand for interpreting Services from the Department of Immigration and Citizenship has reached record levels following an 11 per cent increase in 2007-08.
Parliamentary Secretary for Multicultural Affairs and Settlement Services, Laurie Ferguson said the Translating and Interpreting Service (TIS National) provided 627,865 telephone interpreting services during the year.
He said demand for interpreting services indicated multicultural Australia was thriving with TIS National averaging over 1,700 interpreting services each day.
Mr Ferguson said the services were invaluable to non-English speaking members of the Community.
“Our non-English speaking clients use interpreters to connect with Government Agencies, private businesses, emergency services and community-based organisations,” he said.
“In many situations, TIS National’s interpreters offer a lifeline to non-English speakers.”
He said demand for TIS National’s telephone interpreting service had grown by an average of 12.3 per cent over each of the past three years with the languages most requested in 2007-08 being Mandarin, Arabic, Vietnamese, Cantonese, Korean, Persian, Spanish, Turkish, Serbian and Greek.
Mr Ferguson said the TIS National Contact Centre was located in Melbourne but serviced the whole of Australia 24 hours a day, seven days a week with on-site interpreting available by appointment.
He said translating for new settlers could also be arranged.
TIS National had access to over 1,300 contracted interpreters who were living and working around Australia.
Mr Ferguson said in the 2007-08 financial year, TIS National recruited 159 new interpreters who spoke 85 different languages and dialects.
26 August, 2008
Book stands up for fallen comrades
A guide to help the Defence Force look after its families who have suffered the death of a loved one has been launched by the Chief of the Defence Force, Air Chief Marshal Angus Houston.
The Guide, ADF Commanders Guide (Looking after Families Following a Service Death), was written by Squadron leader Kay Ellis, who lost her husband in a Boeing 707 accident in 1991.
Sqn Ldr Ellis said it would be great if there was no need to write the Guide but “there will be people who have to use it,” she said.
“So, I hope it helps.”
According to Air Force News, in 2002, the then Flight Lieutenant Ellis wrote a report about managing bereaved families following the death of a Service member.
She examined the practices of Britain’s Royal Air Force and the United States’ Air Force and discovered they had protocols on how to look after family members after a death.
“This was important,” Sqn Ldr Ellis said.
“Firstly the ADF had no such orders and, secondly, it did not acknowledge that people would die and therefore would have families to whom it would have an ongoing commitment.”
The 2002 report was initially produced as a 30 page guide for Air Force Commanders, and proved its worth following the 2005 Sea King crash tragedy in Indonesia in which nine Service members died.
Following the crash, the Chief of the Defence Force commissioned a tri-Service guide to reflect the joint nature of Defence activities.
Sqn Ldr Ellis said the Guide covered topics ranging from immediate action following the death through to the use of supporting organisations and long-term support for families.
She said the Guide read almost like a book, with illustrations, case studies and comments from people who had suffered a loss.
“I wanted it laid out so that, like a novel, once a person picked it up they wouldn’t put it down,” Sqn Ldr Ellis said.
ACM Houston said it was important for commanders to read and understand the Guide.
“I expect every commander in the ADF to read this so they can handle the challenge of a death on their watch,” he said.
“It will assist everybody in dealing with a set of very difficult and challenging circumstances.”
ACM Houston thanked Sqn Ldr Ellis for making the Guide user friendly and for living up to the expectations surrounding it.
“Like you, I’d like to see no deaths at all, but it is a part and parcel of what we do in the ADF,” he said.
26 August, 2008
ASIC invests in new senior management
The Australian Securities and Investments Commission has announced its new senior executive structure following a strategic review begun in May.
The new arrangements will take effect from 1 September.
According to ASIC Chairman, Tony D’Aloisio, the goal of the strategic review was to better position the Commission to respond to changes in the market over the next three to five years.
“These appointments involve internal promotions and external recruiting,” Mr D’Aloisio said, admitting that some of the external appointments may not be on deck on 1 September.
“Together these leaders will provide the quality and depth and breadth of experience and industry knowledge to implement the initiatives that have come out of our strategic review”.
He said the new structure was made up of 20 teams to be led by Senior Executive Leaders, a new designation which combining the two levels of Executive Directors and Directors.
He said following the changes, the Commission would still employ the same number of staff, around 1600.
Mr D‘Aloisio said 12 of the new teams would make up a “financial economy” structure and would be led by Senior Executive Leaders Lee White, Stefan Dopking, John Price, Mark Adams, Greg Yanco, Camille Blackburn, Pamela Hanrahan, Louise du Pre-Alba, Greg Kirk, Deborah Koromilas and Delia Rickard. He said one position was still to be finalised.
Eight “deterrence” teams would also be formed to manage the investigation and prosecution of serious misconduct.
Mr D’Aloisio said these teams would be led by Kathleen Harris, George Stogdale, Glen Unicomb, Sean Hughes, David McGuinness, Tim Mullaly, Tim Castle and Julie Read.
He said positions in a third group, the “real economy” had been filled through internal promotion.
“Carlos Iglesias has been appointed Senior Executive Leader. Kathrine Morgan-Wicks will lead teams managing applications, misconduct/breach reporting and enquiries. “Rosanne Bell will manage teams responsible for registry services and licensing.”
He said John Bligh had been recruited externally as CEO and would oversight the real economy work and the Shared Services of ASIC.
Mr D’Aloisio said the Shared Services would support all of ASIC’s work.
He said 11 of the positions were in Sydney and 10 in Melbourne with most other capitals receiving one but more appointments to be made soon in Adelaide, Brisbane and Perth.
26 August, 2008
Counter ban serves customers right
The Commonwealth Ombudsman has found that Centrelink’s practice of banning difficult or aggressive clients from their offices was reasonable but made five recommendations for improvement.
The Ombudsman, Professor John McMillan, said his office had received complaints from customers whose face-to-face contact with Centrelink had been withdrawn due to their behaviour.
“In most instances,” Professor McMillan said, “Centrelink’s decisions to ban customers from its offices were reasonable.”
He said Centrelink did not have national guidelines to ensure consistency and transparency of decision making in this area and that different regions had developed guidelines specific to their particular needs.
Professor McMillan said after discussions with his office and consultation with community organisations, Centrelink had implemented national guidelines in February 2007.
He said under Centrelink’s alternative servicing arrangements model, staff could decide to cease face-to-face contact with customers if their behaviour posed a threat to staff or other customers.
Professor McMillan said in these circumstances, arrangements needed to be made for the customer to contact Centrelink in a different way, and he reported on how Centrelink had applied this policy.
He recommended Centrelink review letter templates to ensure correct customer notification; implement strategies and training to ensure staff were aware of review processes; introduce an internal monitoring/review mechanism to ensure the quality and consistency of alternative service arrangements; explore the most appropriate servicing arrangement for future contact before withdrawing face-to-face contact; and amend the guidelines to ensure staff recorded enough detail to justify their decisions.
Centrelink and the Department of Human Services welcomed the Ombudsman’s recommendations and agreed to implement them.
26 August, 2008
Starter kit to fire up hiring
The Australian Public Service Commission has launched a new ‘starter kit’ to help Departments and Agencies develop strategies for attracting, recruiting, retaining and developing Indigenous employees.
Unveiling the kit, Building an Indigenous Employment Strategy – a starter kit for APS, Public Service Commissioner, Lynelle Briggs, said each Agency had an important part to play in stabilising the decline in the employment of Indigenous people in the APS. Commissioner Briggs said it was important for Agencies to take their own steps to develop and implement Agency-based Indigenous Employment Strategies (IESs).
She said the kit aimed to provide Agencies with ideas on how to create an IES and consisted of five papers and an instruction leaflet.
Commissioner Briggs said the papers covered context and information; a summary of areas to focus on; possible initiatives regarding workplace environment, recruitment and retention; performance indicators; time frames; responsibility allocations; Agency reconciliation plans, workplace diversity plans, Agency objectives; stakeholder identification; cost analysis; and a resource list.
She said the kit was based on the 2005 APS Employment and Capability Strategy for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, which was introduced to tackle the decline in Indigenous employment in the APS.
Commissioner Briggs said the APS and its Agencies faced a number of challenges to ‘close the gap’ in the participation of Indigenous Australians in paid employment and in improving the variety of roles for Indigenous workers.
She said while the number of Agencies with their own strategies had gradually increased, the 2006-2007 State of the Service Report found these Agencies were in the minority.
Commissioner Briggs said in addition to the Kit, the Commission could provide Agencies with continuing support with strategy development.
She said further information could be obtained by contacting (02) 6202 3593 or emailing IndigenousLiaisonOfficer@apsc.gov.au
26 August, 2008
Attitude survey is top of mind
A study into suicide rates of ex-members of the Australian Defence Forces has been commissioned by the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, Alan Griffin.
Mr Griffin said the study would examine a number of specific cases that had occurred in recent years to help identify members who might be at risk of self harm.
“We know that war service can have both a physical and mental impact on the lives of service personnel,” Mr Griffin said.
“Physical impairment can be obvious, psychological injury is less so.”
He said the Government was determined to support veterans and ex-service personnel who might suffer psychologically as a result of their service.
He said in order to give this support, a better understanding of the incidence and characteristics of suicide amongst the veteran community was needed.
Mr Griffin said that epidemiologist and public health specialist, Associate Professor David Dunt would conduct the study and would report to Government by the end of the year.
“Professor Dunt is also conducting the recently announced review of mental health services in the Australian Defence Force,” Mr Griffin said, “and his appointment to conduct the suicide study will deliver a more coordinated response to mental health while in-service and post-service.”
He said the study would be conducted independently of his Department and the ADF and that terms of reference had been developed in consultation with the National Veterans’ Mental Health and Wellbeing Forum.
“We are seeking to better identify those at risk, common contributing factors in recent cases, the incidence of suicide in the ex-service community, and whether there is more that Government Agencies and the medical and allied-health professions can do to support veterans under stress,” Mr Griffin said.
He said Professor Dunt would take submissions from members of the veteran and ex-service community until 5 October 2008 but would not publish them to allow veterans full privacy and confidentiality.
Mr Griffin said comments or contributions could be sent to email@example.com and further details were available from www.dva.gov.au
26 August, 2008
Library books party for 40th anniversary
The National Library of Australia has celebrated the 40th anniversary of its building in the Parliamentary Triangle in Canberra.
The landmark building, which has stored Australia’s documentary heritage since it opened on 15 August 1968, has obvious references to the Parthenon in Athens but also encompasses more contemporary architectural trends.
Director-General of the Library, Jan Fullerton, said the anniversary was about much more than merely celebrating the building’s past.
“It is a time to embark on the Library’s vision for the future, including a focus on preserving our digital memory and the creation of a new Treasures Gallery,” Ms Fullerton said.
She said the Library was a tribute to the vision of architects Bunning and Madden, and included contributions from artists Henry Moore, Tom Bass and Leonard French.
Ms Fullerton said the Minister for Heritage and the Arts, Peter Garrett, had cut the birthday cake.
She said that in the mid-1950s, which was almost 30 years after the Library had moved from Melbourne, its collection was spread across 15 buildings in Canberra, including the local morgue, the laundry and caretakers office at the old Canberra Hospital; a grocery store at the railway station; and an explosives shed at the Mugga quarry.
She said that in 1961, the Sydney firm of Bunning and Madden was appointed as architect for a new library on the shores of Lake Burley Griffin.
The foundation stone was laid by then Prime Minister, Sir Robert Menzies on 31 March 1966, who said he wanted “something with columns”.
Two years later the library was completed, granting the PM his wish.
The National Library of Australia was officially opened by Prime Minister John Gorton, and admitted its first readers on 18 August 1968.
A display entitled The Opening Chapter: Building the National Library, would commemorate the building’s history be on show in the Visitors’ Centre until 16 November 2008.
26 August, 2008
Council to join dots on Aboriginal art
Council member of the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies, Terri Janke, has called for a National Indigenous Cultural Authority to be set up to advance and protect Intellectual Property and cultural rights for Indigenous people.
Ms Janke, an Indigenous arts lawyer, called for the Authority during her presentation of the 2008 Wentworth Lecture.
She said growth in the value and demand for Indigenous arts, cultural expression and knowledge over the past 40 years had made the Aboriginal Art Market worth around $300 million per year.
She said this level of demand had led to the rise of a “rip-off industry” where Indigenous arts and knowledge were taken without consent or acknowledgment.
“In 40 years of calling for legal protection most of the measures have been instigated by Indigenous advocates guarding their ground by asserting cultural rights, bringing test cases, devising protocols and enforcing rights under agreement,” Ms Janke said.
“Hence, my call for a National Indigenous Cultural Authority for Indigenous people to continue the advancement of rights.”
She said traditional oral and performance based Aboriginal art and culture had not been covered by the law of copyright until recent case law.
“Prior to the recent case law, Aboriginal arts was seen as folklore and considered unoriginal in that copying artistic traditions did not amount to innovation and interpretation,” she said.
“Culture is not static, it evolves and adapts, and Indigenous people must be recognised for the primary custodians of their culture.”
Ms Janke said in 1975, the first Chair of the Aboriginal Arts Board, Wandjuk Marika, called for greater copyright protection parity after seeing his important sacred works reproduced on a tea-towel.
Mr Marika said: “This was one of the stories that my Father had given to me and no-one else amongst my people would have painted it without permission.”
“I was deeply upset and for many years I have been unable to paint. It was then that I realised that I and my fellow artists needed some sort of protection.”
Ms Janke said the 1999 report, Our Culture; Our Future, recommended a National Indigenous Cultural Authority be established to develop policies and protocols; authorise uses of Indigenous cultural material through a permissions system; monitor cultural exploitation; undertake public education strategies; and advance Indigenous cultural and Intellectual Property Rights.
“Very little of the measures were considered, not even a draft of a sui generis law, or moves to establish a National Indigenous Cultural Authority,” she said.
The Wentworth lecture is held biennially to honour Bill Wentworth, the first minister of Aboriginal Affairs and founder of what is now AIATSIS, an institute promoting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies.
26 August, 2008
Defence hits target with cadetships
The Department of Defence is to fund three cadetships worth more than $300,000 over five years for Indigenous students to take on full-time tertiary studies in science.
Using the resources of the Defence Science and Technology Organisation, the students would have their Higher Education Loan Program fee paid and receive mentoring support and a fully-paid 12-week work experience program.
Minister for Defence Science and Personnel, Warren Snowdon, said one cadetship would be awarded each year for the next three years starting from 2009, with each cadetship for three years of tertiary study.
Mr Snowdon said after successfully completing their studies, the scholarship winners would be offered employment at DSTO.
“DSTO is one of the largest employers of scientists in Australia and is particularly reliant on highly qualified science graduates to undertake research in support of Defence,” he said.
“While the demand for science-qualified staff is growing, the numbers of students studying science is falling. The shortage of science skills is not good for Defence or for the Australian economy.”
Mr Snowdon said like the Army, Navy and Air Force, Defence needed to broaden its recruitment to meet current and future commitments.
He said DSTO needed to improve its methods of attracting potential scientists.
“I believe the Defence science cadetship initiative will go a long way towards motivating Indigenous students to take up science as a career.”
He said DSTO would be working closely with Macquarie University to find Indigenous high-school students interested in pursuing science.
Mr Snowdon said the University had experience in supporting Indigenous students studying science in high school and in preparing them for undergraduate studies through its ‘Pathways to Higher Education’ program.
26 August, 2008
Superhighway leads to coasts’ website
A new website containing the latest information on the state of Australia’s coasts and estuarine waterways has been launched by Geoscience Australia.
Unveiled at the Coast-to-Coast conference, the website would allow scientists, natural resource managers and policy organisations to download maps, satellite images, reports and data to help manage estuaries and the coast.
The site was a collaborative project between Geoscience Australia and the National Land and Water Resources Audit, National Estuaries Network, the Queensland Environmental Protection Agency and the NSW Department of Environment and Climate Change.
A senior marine scientist with Geoscience Australia, Phil O’Brien, said the website was designed with input from over 100 scientists and 50 Agencies including the Government and universities.
“OzCoasts, and its predecessor OzEstuaries, has been accessed by visitors from more than 180 countries, and has important links to strategic priority areas in the Australian implementation plan for a national cooperative approach to coastal zone management”, Dr O’Brien said.
“Anyone with a keen interest in their community can read easily accessible fact sheets on current issues such as declining water quality, ocean acidification, beach erosion and habitat loss.”
He said the website had received strong interest from education institutions seeking information to contribute to environmental studies.
“The OzCoasts data and information repository will become an important national resource as the debate on climate change increases the demand for evidence-based decision-making”, Dr O’Brien said.
He said an interactive map highlighting the potential impacts of climate change such as rising sea levels and shoreline erosion would soon be available through OzCoasts.
To visit the website go to www.ozcoasts.org.au
26 August, 2008
Mint modernisers are in the money
The Royal Australian Mint has continued its modernisation program by signing up for a new $3.6 million business IT system.
Chief Executive Officer of the Mint, Janine Murphy, said the new system should be up and running in late 2009 and along with other refurbishment projects, was central to the Mint’s plan to become one the best manufacturing facilities in the world.
Ms Murphy said the contract was won by Cincom Systems of Australia.
“The future of the Mint will be well catered for through Cincom’s innovative solutions for our IT Business Systems,” Ms Murphy said.
“The refurbished Mint reopens in early 2009, with a more up-to-date public gallery and display of the National Coin Collection, which attract thousands of visitors to the Mint each year.”
Ms Murphy said Cincom delivered and supported software and services to simplify complex business processes.
The Managing Director of Cincom, Paul Hargreaves, said the company was established in 1968 and had helped thousands of clients increase revenue, control costs, minimise risk and achieve rapid return on investments.
Mr Hargreaves said they were committed to bringing the latest advances in manufacturing business solutions and technologies to the market.
“Cincom is proud to have won the contract and to be associated with the Royal Australian Mint,” he said.
“Our systems and experience are in concert with the modernisation process currently underway at the Mint.”
Mr Hargreaves said he was looking forward to working with Frontier and Demand Management Systems to help the Mint improve the efficiency, governance, and accountability of its business processes.
26 August, 2008
Tanner to address IPAA
The Minister for Finance and Deregulation, Lindsay Tanner is to address a breakfast seminar being hosted by the Institute of Public Administration Australia on ICT procurement on 4 September in Canberra.
Mr Tanner is expected to discuss the Government’s management of ICT, how he thinks ICT could be strengthened by a whole-of-Government approach and how Aencies managed ICT investments including maintenance, intra-agency links, development and staffing.
ABC Radio National has developed an online place to foster creativity and encourage creative content makers to collaborate with each other and upload and publish their work.
Known as “Pool,” the new website would take animation, video, audio, photography, film, music and sound art and all would be available to share and broadcast.
Pool won its category for Best Blue Sky Project at the ABC Digital Media Awards last February and can be accessed at www.pool.org.au
Health publication survey
The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare has invited visitors to its website to complete an online survey aimed at improving the effectiveness of its publications.
The survey was aimed at generating feedback on a number of publications such as Australia’s Health 2008 and the 2007 National Drug Strategy Household Survey: first results.
For more information or to complete the survey visit www.aihw.gov.au
ADFA opens up
The Australian Defence Force Academy is to open its doors to the public on 30 August for its annual open day.
Open Day will provide the chance for students, parents and the local Canberra community to see a range of exciting military displays and learn about life at ADFA.
For more information on Open Day, which will be held from 9am to 4 pm, visit www.defence.gov.au/adfa
TAS PS back to work
Public Service unions in Tasmania have called off further industrial action and have returned to talks with the State Government over a bid for interstate pay equality for the State’s Public Servants.
They met with officials last week to discuss the possibility of a pay rise of 20 to 29 per cent over three and a half years.
Indigenous pass half million
The Australian Bureau of Statistics has estimated Australia’s Indigenous population reached 517,000, or 2.5 per cent of Australia’s total population, as at 30 June 2006.
Of the 517,000 people identified, 90 per cent identified as being of Aboriginal origin, 6 per cent as Torres Strait Islander and 4 per cent as a mixture of both.
The bureau found New South Wales (152,700) and Queensland (144,900) housed the largest Indigenous populations while 32 per cent lived in major cities and 15 per cent lived in very remote areas.
Road toll trend stalls
After a 30 year decline in the number of deaths on Australia’s roads, the Minister of Infrastructure and Transport, Anthony Albanese has released statistics showing the trend has stopped.
Mr Albanese said the figures showed Australia would struggle to meet the 40 per cent reduction in the road death rate from 2000 to 2010 which was agreed upon by all governments.
He said the goal of no more that 5.6 deaths per 100,000 Australians was unlikely to be achieved as the rate for 2007 was 7.7.
More information on Road Deaths Australia 2007 Statistical Summary was available from www.infrastructure.gov.au
English teachers wanted
The Department of Immigration and Citizenship is seeking submissions to help in its bid to increase the number of English language tests currently accepted as evidence of English proficiency.
The Department is accepting submissions from test owners on their ability to provide English Language testing for Australian visa applications.
Submissions close on 31 December, with more information available from www.immi.gov.au
19 August, 2008
Union pays out on wage variations
A study of salary levels by the Community and Public Sector Union has uncovered a wide range in salary variations between officers of the same level in different Departments and Agencies.
The union described the differences as “massive” and resulting from “10 years of Agency-based bargaining.”
National Secretary of the CPSU, Stephen Jones said the CPSU research had discovered that the APS had become a collection of more than 90 Agencies and that workers were employed on more than 750 different rates of pay.
“On top of this sit thousands of individual contracts,” Mr Jones said.
“The result has been a divided Public Service, where the value of work is no longer determined by the tasks or the quality of the work, or the importance of the program.”
He blamed the pay discrepancies on the former Government’s PS workplace policies.
“The massive wage gap is the product of more than a decade of rule by a Government obsessed with slicing up a coherent workforce into smaller and smaller parts.”
Mr Jones said the CPSU was particularly concerned at the “disproportionate impact” the pay gaps had on women.
“Broadly speaking, our analysis shows that smaller Agencies with a high proportion of female staff such as the Defence Housing Authority or the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission – tend to have lesser pay outcomes,” he said.
According to the CPSU study, the salary for an entry-level APS 1 varied $13,000 between the Agencies paying the lowest and the highest, with the average pay rate just over $39,000.
It showed the greatest disparity was at the EL2 level where the difference between the lowest paid EL2 and the highest was $34,688.
The study found significant differences at the APS 4 and APS 5 levels which accounted for nearly 40 per cent of all APS staff. The average salary for APS 4 was $55,610 with a $14,000 bandwidth between top and bottom and for APS 5, $60,935 across an $18,400 range.
Mr Jones said the new Government needed to rebuild the Public Service and return to sector-wide bargaining if it was to meet the long-term challenges the nation faced.
“It is not too late to break down these differences and rebuild a coherent public service,” Mr Jones said.
“The real test for Government is to equip its public service for big nation building challenges that we currently face – climate change, national security and adapting to new technologies,” he said.
More information about the differences in pay rates and a summary of the CPSU study could be found on the CPSU website at www.cpsu.org.au
19 August, 2008
Tax Commissioner puts money where mouth is
The Australian Taxation Office has released its compliance work plan for 2008-09 and is to give priority to helping Government organisations dealing with complex transactions.
Included on a long list of tax targets including a general focus of cracking down on tax havens, dodgy tax schemes, big business and the cash economy, Taxation Commissioner Michael D’Ascenzo said the ATO would make it its business to help Government Agencies when they restructured or became involved in difficult tax issues and it would review its public ruling on grants of financial assistance.
Mr D’Ascenzo said the ATO would place practical advice and information to Government organisations on its website and follow up complaints from employees and contractors who had not received the correct super guarantee contributions or had not been offered a choice of super fund
“In 2008-09 we are working with Government grant providers and representatives of recipients to review our GST public ruling on grants of financial assistance with a view to providing further clarification,” Mr D’Ascenzo said.
“(We would) continue to review the GST treatment of property transactions involving Government organisations, communicating the correct position through discussions with Agencies and with audits where there is potential non-compliance.”
He said in 2007-08, the ATO conducted 295 visits with Government employers to encourage their early lodgment of end-of-year employer obligations reports.
He said his Office actioned 46 cases relating to employee complaints on super guarantee obligations and raised $1.9m in super guarantee liabilities.
“Our compliance program is an important part of our ‘prevention is better than cure’ approach to tax administration,” Mr D’Ascenzo said.
“By publishing our compliance program, we are letting the community know where we will focus our attention and the action we will take.”
He said additional funding received from Government this year would allow the ATO to expand its coverage of income tax compliance issues across the board.
He said the Office was encouraging people who may have done the wrong thing to come forward before being contacted and to take advantage of reduced penalties for coming clean.
Mr D’Ascenzo said the greater use of data matching techniques would help the ATO identify and target people who may have under-reported income or over-claimed expenses.
He said Tax Office staff would carry out more than 5,000 cash economy audits or reviews.
He said he full range of compliance measures, were available on the ATO website at www.ato.gov.au
19 August, 2008
Introspection urged for Privacy Week
Government Departments and Agencies, as well as private organisations, have been urged to use this year’s Privacy Week to focus on their privacy policies and practices.
Australian Privacy Commissioner, Karen Curtis said Privacy Awareness Week was an opportune time to organisations in all spheres to review their practices and procedures for handling personal information.
Commissioner Curtis said the week, which would run from 24 to 30 August, was an annual promotion by the Australian Office of the Privacy Commissioner and the other Asia Pacific Privacy Authorities.
She said during Privacy Week, various activities would be held to promote privacy responsibilities within the public and private sectors, and raise awareness of the public’s privacy rights.
She said the Office's 2007 Community Attitudes survey revealed that 73 per cent of Australians considered Government Departments to be trustworthy, an increase from 64 per cent in 2004 and 58 per cent in 2001.
In the lead up to, and during, the Week, Commissioner Curtis suggested Agencies could further enhance their privacy awareness by:
"Remember, privacy is your business!"
She said further information about Privacy Awareness Week could be found at www.privacyawarenessweek.org/paw/australia.html
19 August, 2008
Free advice is money maker
The Australian Securities and Investments Commission has issued advice to wage earners to put their tax returns to work
The Commission says that while many people may use their tax return to buy a new pair of shoes or the latest DVD box set, they should consider using it for both a bit of fun and to improve their financial position.
“If you receive a tax refund, you might decide to use a small part of your refund to splurge on something for yourself, but also consider letting your money work for you and use the bulk of it to put yourself in a better financial position,” said ASIC’s Acting Executive Director of Consumer Protection, Delia Rickard.
“By doing this, you can really boost your financial position, especially if your weekly budget is tight for other reasons, such as higher fuel costs.”
Ms Rickard said one of the best ways to make your money work for you was to pay off some or all of your credit card debt.
“And if you are able to pay off your credit card in full, consider using a card that debits your savings account instead, so you spend your own money and you’re not paying to use someone else’s,” she said.
Ms Rickard said another good option was to put your tax refund straight into your super fund. Contributing more than the usual nine per cent (the Superannuation Guarantee) could really boost your savings.
“The key to growing your super is to start early so you can harness the power of compound interest. Money invested today has longer to earn interest compared to money invested just before you retire.”
While Christmas and the summer holidays were still months away, Ms Rickard said planning ahead could help many families get through this expensive time. She offered three ways to use a tax refund to help out come Christmas time:
19 August, 2008
Auditor fills books with year long plan
The Auditor-General has published his Planned Audit Work Program for 2008-09, identifying six themes for the coming year and outlining the criteria to be used in selecting which audits he will direct his team to undertake.
The 135-page Audit Work Program lists performance audits in progress at the beginning of the financial year and the topics from which other performance audits would be selected in the coming 12 months. It also lists possible reserve topics to replace planned audits that did not go ahead for whatever reason.
In introducing the Audit Work Program, Auditor-General, Ian McPhee said his Office reviewed and updated its rolling program of performance audits each year to ensure
it met the needs of Parliament and its public sector clients.
Mr McPhee said the Australian National Audit Office’s planning was designed to ensure appropriate audit coverage of Commonwealth administration having regard to the priorities of Parliament, and to provide a platform for communication with Agencies and the Parliament on ANAO audit strategies.
“The AWP is developed against the backdrop of trends in the Australian Public Sector,” Mr McPhee said.
“In this context, the identification of high risk areas is an important consideration when designing the ANAO’s audit program.”
He said factors taken into account when preparing the AWP included:
“The ANAO’s development of themes is refined throughout its annual planning
cycle and is strongly influenced by the risks and opportunities facing the entire public sector,” Mr McPhee said.
He said performance audit themes were derived from:
19 August, 2008
Tourism misses boat on tender processes
An audit into Tourism Australia by the Auditor-General has found a lack of transparency in the Agency’s tendering processes and potential conflict of interest issues.
In his audit report, Auditor-General Ian McPhee said Tourism Australia relied heavily on a small number of service providers to achieve its objectives and outcomes yet did not have effective processes in place for selecting and managing those providers.
He said the majority of Tourism Australia’s marketing activities were delivered through three major contracts for creative development, media placement and digital services, with the three arrangements consuming about 35 per cent of the Agency’s total budget between 2004-05 and 2006-07.
He said this level of dependence underlined the importance of having effective processes in place.
He said however that despite the Agency’s policies and guidelines providing a sound framework, the relevant guidelines were not followed when procuring creative development and the media placement services and, to a lesser extent, digital services.
“In particular, procurement plans were not developed and the risks to the successful completion of these procurements were not assessed,” he said.
Mr McPhee recommended Tourism Australia identify, analyse and regularly review all significant strategic, operational and project level risks.
“The documentation to support the original assessment was also not comprehensive and, as a consequence, the selection of these service providers lacked transparency,” he said.
The Auditor-General said lack of planning meant there was insufficient consideration of tenderers’ financial viability.
He found that a probity advisor should have been engaged for the high risk and complex procurement process but none was until concerns about the contracts were raised by the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet.
The Auditor-General also found a potential for conflict of interest.
“A number of industry stakeholders expressed the view, in discussions with the ANAO and through survey responses from STOs, that the perceived conflicts of interest of Board members are a major risk to Tourism Australia’s reputation,” he said.
“It is important, particularly in a competitive tourism industry, that the decisions of the Board are transparent and that any perceived or actual conflicts are being (and are seen to be) appropriately addressed.”
The Auditor made three recommendations including that Tourism Australia align its corporate and operational planning documents; develop measureable outcomes; align the performance indicators in its Portfolio Budget Statements, Corporate Plan and Operational Plan; and review performance data collected through surveys to more effectively meet its legislative reporting requirements.
19 August, 2008
Gov’t sings out on privacy overhaul
The Federal Government has responded positively to the Australian Law Reform Commission’s call for a sweeping overhaul of the nation’s privacy laws.
Cabinet Secretary, Senator John Faulkner and Attorney-General Robert McClelland said the Government would use the ALRC’s report For Your Information: Australian Privacy Law and Practice to bring Australia’s privacy laws into the 21st Century.
“The broad coverage of the report shows that the concept of privacy is increasingly relevant to individuals as well as business, and privacy laws should work effectively for both,” Senator Faulkner said.
“The capacity for businesses to collect, store, use and indeed share and sell large quantities of information has caused concern.”
He said the ALRC report was the culmination of a two-year inquiry and contained 295 recommendations to improve Australia’s privacy framework. Given the large number of recommendations, the Government proposed to consider the report in stages.
Senator Faulkner said the first stage of the response would focus on the recommendations relating to the unified privacy principles (UPPs), health and credit reporting regulations and improving education about the impact on privacy by new technologies.
He said the second stage would consider the recommendations relating to the removal of exemptions, data breach notices and the tort of privacy.
“I will, of course, be consulting with relevant portfolio Ministers about recommendations which fall outside my portfolio, as well as the States and Territories about proposals to harmonise Commonwealth, State and Territory privacy regulation,” Senator Faulkner said.
“An effective privacy framework should provide an appropriate balance between the protection of personal information while at the same time permitting the reasonable flow of information for government and business purposes.”
The ALRC undertook extensive research and consultation with community groups and privacy professionals in considering the many complex issues canvassed by the inquiry.
“The Government congratulates the ALRC in releasing this comprehensive and significant report, and I thank them for their thorough review of this complex area,” the Attorney-General, Robert McClelland, said.
A copy of the report was available at www.alrc.gov.au
19 August, 2008
Olympic stamps can’t be licked
A joint exercise between the National Portrait Gallery, Australia Post and the Australian Institute of Sport has produced an exhibition of enlarged replicas of Olympic Gold Medallist 50c stamps from the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games.
According to the Director of the National Portrait Gallery, Andrew Sayers, the exhibition provided a small taste of what would be in the new Portrait Gallery when it opened in December this year – “a vast and joyous celebration of Australian achievement in the past and in our own time.”
Mr Sayers said the new National Portrait Gallery would display many portraits of world-beating Australian sportsmen and women from the last 200 years.
“The Australia Post stamp portraits are a small taste of what will see in the new Gallery,” he said.
The 2008 Olympics images are being exhibited in the Sport Visitors Centre Foyer at the Australian Institute of Sport until the close of the Games on 24 August and were being hung within 48 hours of an Australian Athlete being presented with their gold medal.
The display was being continually updated as Australian Olympians won their Gold Medals and the stamps were produced.
Included in the portraits already on exhibit are swimmers Stephanie Rice, Libby Trickett and Leisel Jones and rowers David Crawshay, Scott Brennan, Duncan Free and Drew Ginn.
Acting Director of the Australian Institute of Sport, Phil Borgeaud said the AIS was thrilled to be able to celebrate Australia’s sporting success with Australia Post and the National Portrait Gallery.
19 August, 2008
Homeless helpers let sleeping bags lie
Fifteen staff members from Centrelink’s head office have camped out overnight in a Canberra winter carpark to raise funds to help homeless people.
The staff were joined by Acting Chief Executive of Centrelink, Carolyn Hogg and staff from other Government Departments, who slept in the carpark of the Caroline Chisholm Centre at Tuggeranong, with all money raised going to local men’s shelter, Samaritan House.
Ms Hogg said the “sleeping rough” fundraiser was one of many Centrelink activities across the country to mark National Homeless Persons’ Week, which ran from 4 to 10 August.
“National Homeless Persons’ Week highlights the issues facing homeless people in Australia, and provides a more holistic view of what being homeless means,” Ms Hogg said.
“It’s a timely reminder that every night, there are 100,000 Australians who don’t have a place to call home - that’s one in every 200 people.”
She said sleeping rough for a night was a way for Centrelink and other Government Departments to demonstrate their commitment in supporting some of Australia’s most vulnerable people.
Staff from the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations and the Department of Families and Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs also joined in on the night.
The local Canberra community also got behind the “sleeping rough” fundraiser with Camping World at Tuggeranong donating 20 sleeping bags, as well as some foam mattresses and pillows. These were later donated to Samaritan House after the sleep-out.
“Centrelink already offers specialist services and outreach programs for people who are homeless, or at risk of becoming homeless,” Ms Hogg said, “including a network of social workers and specialist community support teams,”
“I would urge anyone seeking support or who needs information about Government services for the homeless to contact their nearest Centrelink Customer Service Centre.”
19 August, 2008
Election counters eye off scanners
The Electoral Commission is to introduce electronic scanners for the first time this year to read votes in the Australian Capital Territory’s Legislative Assembly election to be held in October.
Electoral Commissioner for the ACT, Phil Green, said the voters of Canberra could expect their election results two to five days earlier than usual as a result.
Commissioner Green said after the last election it took 10 days for 40 data entry operators to input 180,000 votes twice.
He said the new scanners would be able to scan the entire 240,000 votes cast in the ACT in one or two days.
Commissioner Green said the scanners would read the ballots in batches of 50, with any unclear votes being cross-checked against the originals.
He said some voters in Canberra would also be able to cast their votes electronically.
In the 2004 election Commissioner green said 28,169 votes were recorded electronically while this year he expected around 30,000.
He told the Canberra Times that 20 machines at five polling stations in Belconnen, Civic, Tuggeranong, Gungahlin and Woden would record votes electronically from 29 September.
“Last time we put all the pre-polling votes on to the website at 10 past six on election night,” he said.
In the ACT, members of the Legislative Assembly are elected using the Hare-Clark system of voting in which votes are transferred between candidates as part of the counting process.
The ACT also uses Robson rotation that changes the order of candidates on the ballot paper.
19 August, 2008
Consumer law consummated
Australia’s Consumer Affairs Ministers have agreed to adopt a new national consumer law which would operate across all Australian jurisdictions.
Meeting as the Ministerial Council on Consumer Affairs, the Ministers decided to base the new law on the current consumer protection provisions of the Trade Practices Act 1974 and incorporate appropriate amendments reflecting best practice in State and Territory legislation.
Consumer Affairs Minister, Chris Bowen said the Governments had placed the Australian consumer “front and centre” as they took an important step on the road to achieving a single, national consumer law.
“These reforms will bring Australia’s consumer protection laws into the 21st century and reflect the Rudd Government’s commitment to a seamless, national economy,” Mr Bowen said.
He said business would also benefit from a reduction in compliance costs as nine sets of consumer laws would be folded into a new single, national law.
The Productivity Commission estimated that taking these steps could result in benefits to Australian consumers and businesses of up to $4.5 billion a year.
The Council of Australian Governments (COAG) would now consider an enhanced consumer policy framework at its October meeting.
“Today’s agreement builds on MCCA’s earlier agreement to introduce a new national product safety regulation and enforcement system, as well as the agreement of the State and Territories to transfer their responsibilities for the regulation of consumer credit to the Commonwealth,” Mr Bowen said.
“I would like to thank my Ministerial colleagues and the officials for the spirit in which they have conducted negotiations and moved along reform proposals in sight of yet another historic agreement.”
It was anticipated that the national consumer law would be fully implemented by 2011.
Mr Bowen said key features of the new national consumer law would include:
19 August, 2008
Do-Not-Call register to take new message
A discussion paper has been prepared by the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, exploring the possibility of expanding the national Do Not Call Register.
The Minister for BCDE, Senator Stephen Conroy, said while the current Do Not Call Register was popular, the Government was aware that there was some community demand to register fax numbers and the telephone numbers of small businesses and other organisations.
He invited public comment on the paper
“The discussion paper seeks community views on whether the eligibility requirements should be expanded to allow the registration of all telephone and fax numbers on the Do Not Call Register,” Senator Conroy said.
The proposed changes would extend the protections provided by the Do Not Call Register to businesses, other organisations and fax users.
Senator Conroy said views were being sought on whether these potential changes could enhance the operation of the Register while taking into account the needs of the telemarketing and fax marketing industries.
The discussion paper also aimed at testing more modest approaches, such as whether small businesses should be eligible to register their telephone and fax numbers.
“I would encourage all interested stakeholders to participate in this consultation so a range of views can be taken into account,” Senator Conroy said.
Interested parties were invited to provide written submissions commenting on the issues raised in the discussion paper by 12 September 2008. Community input would contribute to further consideration by the Government.
Further information and the discussion paper were available at: www.dbcde.gov.au/donotcall
19 August, 2008
Health records plan gets check-up
The Australian Privacy Commissioner has called for legislative controls to be placed on the proposed national Individual Electronic Health Records system, saying some valuable privacy considerations had been raised.
“The National E-Health Transition Authority (NEHTA) has identified some valuable privacy considerations for the proposed IEHR system,” said Commissioner Karen Curtis.
“The suggestion that individuals should be able to opt-in to an IEHR system is welcome, as this promotes genuine choice.”
Commissioner Curtis said it was also important that there be specific legislation for the system to ensure robust privacy protections were in place.
Her recommendations were made in a submission to NEHTA’s Privacy Blueprint, which would feed into a business case that NEHTA would deliver to the Council of Australian Governments later this year.
Commissioner Curtis said another key point made in her Office’s submission was the importance of having “sensitivity labels” in place at the start of the system to restrict access to certain information within the IEHR.
“My Office argues strongly in favour of sensitivity labels being in place at the start of the project,” Ms Curtis said.
“This would be of prime importance to, say, a patient who is suffering a sensitive condition, such as a mental or sexual illness.”
She said the sensitivity label would prevent a healthcare worker in an area unrelated to the patient’s illness, from accessing this information. She also called for individuals to be able to see who has accessed their records through the availability of audit logs.
“This is an important accountability and transparency measure,” Commissioner Curtis said.
19 August, 2008
Director makes case for museum’s needs
The Director of the National Museum of Australia, Craddock Morton, has criticised the facility he heads up as falling short of the Museum Australia deserved, seven years after it was opened.
In a recent speech at Manning Clarke House in Canberra, Mr Morton said although he believed the NMA would become one of the “world’s great museums”, it was currently lacking in storage space, hard research and scholarly work and didn’t have adequate physical facilities.
He said past Governments had built up a “sort of grand narrative history from above” that the museum did not deliver.
Mr Morton said spending on the museum had been too little, despite $150 million dedicated to creating the building on a peninsular jutting into Lake Burley Griffin.
He said requests for extra funding from the Government were not even considered.
“You can imagine the sort of response we would have got if we said, ‘Even though you have given us $150 million out of a total Australia-wide budget of $1 billion, we really think that you should divert some of those funds from elsewhere to put more dollars into Canberra’,” Mr Morton said.
He said during his directorship he had focused on making a commitment to scholarship and that the Museum now had a Centre of Historical Research and was in partnership with the new Graduate School of Humanities at the Australian National University.
“I feel confident in saying that we now enjoy a pre-eminent position in material history studies in Australia, and are developing an international reputation in this area,” he said.
“If only we were proceeding as quickly in relation to our storage issues.”
Mr Morton said less than five per cent of the Museum’s collection was on display at any one time, meaning the remaining 95 per cent needed to be stored in an ideal climate that was easily accessible to staff and scholars for research and conservation.
“We need a purpose-built facility in reasonable proximity to the museum,” he said.
“With the new Portrait Gallery, the changes to the National Gallery, the recent completion of major works at the Australian War Memorial, and the problems with the forecourt at the National Library of Australia, the till doesn’t seem to have any money left for us.”
Mr Morton said the Museum was caught by the “spending-money-in-Canberra curse” as they had been trying to obtain funding for a new storage facility for a number of years.
He said the facility was supported by the Department of Finance, and was declared a high priority project by the Australian National Audit Office.
In the meantime, Mr Morton said Museum staff were looking at changing spaces that were rarely used, such as the broadcast studio, into exhibition space.
“It won’t be easy to achieve everything we want to achieve,” he said.
“We will need strong government support, but there is every indication the current Government will help us.”
19 August, 2008
Track athletes being tracked
A new collaboration between the Australian Institute of Sport and the CSIRO has produced a world-first athlete tracking system which was being billed as the latest weapon in the Australian athletes’ training arsenal.
In a world first, a mobile radio transmitter attached to an athlete or his or her equipment can track their every move. The information is instantaneously sent back to the coach via a wireless network, enabling monitoring of an athlete’s location, speed and position relative to other athletes.
According to the Head of the AIS Applied Research Centre, Professor Allan Hahn, a cyclist training in a velodrome for example could use a light, mobile phone-sized device attached to the bike and his or her coach could monitor, in real time, the cyclist’s location, speed, split times and accelerations.
In addition, he said, the device could marry that information with the athlete’s sensory data such as body temperature and various indicators of fatigue.
Professor Hahn said the information would help coaches and sports scientists adjust the training for their athletes to provide a winning edge over competitor nations.
He said while other monitoring devices such as GPS were currently used, they did not offer the combined accuracy and ease of use of the new radio tracking system, and had limited applicability to indoor sports.
“CSIRO’s ground breaking technology will help the AIS monitor athlete movements with a level of accuracy that we have never had before,” Professor Hahn said.
“The detailed information this tracking system can provide to the coach, for indoor and outdoor sports, will help adjust training regimes and strategies.
“When you consider that many world rankings are determined by just milliseconds, this AIS-CSIRO collaboration could help to produce Australia’s next sporting triumph.”
Professor Hahn said the radio tracking system would be particularly useful in team-based sports such as hockey and soccer because it had the capacity to monitor the position of every player on the field simultaneously. He said this would help the players and coaches analyse attack and defence formations and in some cases, scrutinise competitor strategies.
According to the Director of Wireless Technologies Research at the CSIRO ICT Centre, Dr Jay Guo, the application of wireless research, particularly in indoor or tightly confined areas, had resulted in a system that could be adapted for many different purposes from the development of elite athletes to miners and emergency service personnel.
The collaborative research was being conducted in Marsfield in Sydney and at various sporting venues.
19 August, 2008
Environment game gets green light
A new computer simulation game has been developed to encourage better understanding and management of the Australian environment.
Catchment Detox was an initiative of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, CSIRO, the Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research, eWater and National Science Week and allows players to make decisions about the control and restoration of an environmental land package.
Players would get to understand the ramifications of their decisions as they attempted to sustain the natural environment
According to the Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research, Senator Kim Carr, the initiative was “exciting and innovative “and highlighted the environmental challenges facing all Australians.
“This interactive computer game will give kids and adults alike a greater understanding of the daily pressures facing the environment,” Senator Carr said.
“Through this experience it will help to build more environmentally responsible citizens.”
Catchment Detox, which has a Sim-style game at its centre, is supported by radio programming and online activities and was available to play online at the National Science Week website, www.scienceweek.info.au
Players decide what activities to pursue. They choose between planting olives or grapes, running cattle or sheep, planting forests or logging them while the landscape constantly evolves, reacting to the decisions being made.
“I encourage students, teachers, parents and others to go to the website and see how successful they are at balancing the many environmental and social issues this game raises,” Senator Carr said.
Catchment Detox wasbased on an original idea by Natural Resource Management advisor Tim Stubbs and consultant Lucy Broad.
Senator Carr said the game was just one of the many hundreds of initiatives that occurred throughout National Science Week.
The festival, which was now in its 11th year, will run until 24 August and feature a calendar packed with touring displays, hands-on presentations, speeches, forums and a national tour of international science personalities.
National Science Week is an initiative of the Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research and is being sponsored by Australian Geographic. It was also supported by CSIRO, the ABC and the Australian Science Teachers Association.
19 August, 2008
Computers sign off
APS Agencies were expected to replace about 140,000 computers in the next year or so as part of the Government’s response to climate change.
According to a recent newspaper report, the APS was using that number of Pentium 4 desktops which were 3 to 4 years old and in line for replacement by more energy efficient models.
A recommendation to upgrade was expected to be among the outcomes of the study into Government IT being conducted by UK efficiency expert, Sir Peter Gershon.
Search for top Aussies now on
Nominations for the Australian of the Year Awards 2009 close on Sunday 31 August 2008 and the National Australia Day Council was encouraging people to lodge their nominations in before it’s too late.
More than 1800 nominations for Australian of the Year, Senior Australian of the Year, Young Australian of the Year and Australia's Local Hero had already been received and nomination forms are online at: www.australianoftheyear.org.au
19 take out DSTO scholarships
The Defence Science and Technology Organisation has awarded scholarships with a total value of $47,000 to 19 university students in South Australia.
The scholarships were aimed at encouraging young scientists and engineers to strive for excellence in the fields of photonics, radar and information technology.
The scholarship programs are administered separately by the University of Adelaide and the University of South Australia on behalf of DSTO.
Thais bind in new visa deal
Australia and Thailand have agreed to more than double their reciprocal work and holiday visa arrangement for young people.
The change was expected to increase the number of work and holiday visas available to each country from 200 to 500 per year.
The work and holiday visa enables professional and tertiary educated Australians and Thais aged between 18 and 30, to visit each others’ country for up to 12 months and subsidise their holiday through periods of work.
The work and holiday visa differs from a working holiday visa as it requires applicants to have the support of their Government, hold tertiary qualifications or be studying towards a tertiary qualification, and to speak functional English or Thai respectively.
Meteorologist leaves high pressure job
The Director of Meteorology at the Weather Bureau, Dr Geoff Love, has moved on to become Director of the World Meteorological Organisation’s weather and disaster risk reduction service.
Dr Love is to take on the task of improve the world’s meteorological services by trying to bring other countries’ weather forecasting and climate monitoring up to the same level as Australia’s.
He hoped to help them improve their responses to natural disasters such as cyclones, floods and bushfires.
Vision for visual future
A new report, First We See: The National Review of Visual Education, provides a blueprint for the visual education of Australian students into the future.
The report is the result of a two-year review of Australia’s visual education that examined existing programs and good practice from across the education system.
It was released jointly by the Australia Council for the Arts and the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations in cooperation with the Department of Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts.
Greg Urwin passes on
Diplomat and staff member of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade,Greg Urwin, has died.
Foreign Minister Stephen Smith said Mr Urwin made a very significant contribution to the development of Australia’s relations with Pacific countries and to the advancement of regional cooperation in the Pacific throughout his career with the Department and, subsequently, as Secretary-General of the Pacific Islands Forum Secretariat.
As an officer of the Department, Mr Urwin held a number of senior overseas appointments including as Head of Mission in Samoa, Vanuatu and Fiji and as Deputy Head of Mission in Wellington. He was 62.
Boat show to sail on
The exhibition Bateaux Jouets - toy boats from Paris 1850-1950 is to remain on view at the Australian National Maritime Museum for an additional two months until 12 October.
The exhibition, from France’s Musée national de la Marine, comprises about 200 colourful and imaginative craft, ranging in style from simple paper boats to mechanical marvels with the ability to propel themselves across a carpet, a pond or even an open bay.
Australia in Korea MoU
Australia and Korea have signed a Memorandum of Understanding on education.
The new MoU was expected to provide a framework for closer cooperation between Australia’s Department of Education Employment and Workplace relations and Korea’s Ministry of Education, Science and Technology.
It will allow the two Agencies to exchange information on education challenges and identify priorities for practical cooperation.
12 August, 2008
Privacy report to make noisy impact
The Australian Law Reform Commission has released its report into Australia’s privacy laws and recommends 295 changes be made.
The 2,700-page report was the result of two years’ work and was unveiled in Sydney by the Special Minister of State, Senator John Faulkner, and Attorney-General, Robert McClelland.
Among its main recommendations were a total restructuring of the Privacy Act; a new set of Privacy Principles; a crackdown on exemptions; tougher penalties for breaches; and allowing victims of privacy invasions to take action in the Courts.
ALRC President, Professor David Weisbrot, said the report, entitled For Your Information: Australian Privacy Law and Practice, recommended changes to the Privacy Act despite the fact that it had worked “pretty well” to date.
“Although the federal Privacy Act is only 20 years old, it was introduced before the advent of supercomputers, the Internet, mobile phones, digital cameras, e-commerce, sophisticated surveillance devices and social networking websites,” Professor Weisbrot said, “ all of which challenge our capacity to safeguard our sensitive personal information.”
He said these days, information privacy touched almost every aspect of daily life, including medical records and health status, finances and creditworthiness and personal details stored on public and corporate databases.
The Commissioner in charge of the Privacy Inquiry, Professor Les McCrimmon, said during consultations it became clear that Australians cared about privacy and wanted a simple, workable system that provided effective solutions and protections.
“At the same time, people appreciate that other interests often come into the balance, such as freedom of speech, child protection, law enforcement and national security,” Professor McCrimmon said.
He said Australians also wanted the benefits of the Information Age, such as shopping and banking online, and communicating instantaneously with friends and family around the world.
“And, of course, businesses want to be able to market effectively to current and potential customers, and to process data efficiently-including offshore,” he said.
Professor Weisbrot said the ALRC had been given many examples of the Privacy Act being used as a reason for failing to provide information or assistance.
He said this underlined the need for the simplification and harmonisation of law and practice, as well as more education about what the law did and did not require.
“In For Your Information, the ALRC provides a clear framework for establishing world’s best practice in privacy protection,” Professor Weisbrot said.
“The massive range of issues has resulted in a huge report - but really this report comprises eight or nine substantial inquiries in one.”
Professor Weisbrot said a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach would not work, so the ALRC had endeavoured to find sensible solutions to problems.
“In many cases, this will involve the Privacy Commissioner providing education and guidance to individuals, businesses and Government Agencies, but in other circumstances, stronger action and sanctions may be required.”
He said key recommendations included streamlining the Privacy Act to ensure clarity; a set of privacy principles to apply to all Federal Government Departments and Agencies; accountability for personal information being transferred outside the country; clarification of exemptions to the Act; improved credit reporting to facilitate better risk management practices; education of children and young people; improved data breach systems; and federal laws allowing victims of privacy breaches to take the issue to court.
12 August, 2008
Misconduct guide on best behaviour
The Australian Public Service Commission has issued a Circular to advise Agencies that its publication Handling Misconduct – a human resources practitioner’s guide to the reporting and handling of suspected and determined breaches of the APS Code of Conduct had been revised and was now available on the APSC website.
It was also available as a hard copy for the first time.
According to the Circular, Handling Misconduct was a good practice guide to assist human resource areas in Agencies to review and improve their guidance material and their procedures for reporting and dealing with suspected and determined breaches of the APS Code of Conduct.
Group Manager of the APSC Policy Group that issued the Circular, Georgia Tarjan
said the new edition incorporated advice contained in recent Commission Circulars covering the release of information in Code of Conduct matters and requirements under the Privacy Act 1988.
The revised edition also contained updates on the best practice for:
She said it might be more appropriate for more complex or sensitive queries to be dealt with in writing.
Hard copies of Handling Misconduct – a human resources practitioner’s guide to the reporting and handling of suspected and determined breaches of the APS Code of Conduct could be ordered from the Publications page of the Commission’s website www.apsc.gov.au/publications
12 August, 2008
Public recognition for privacy awards
A Division of the Attorney-General’s Department responsible for identifying people ineligible for ID cards in the aviation and maritime industries as well as Centrelink, Medicare and the Child Support Agency have all been named among the finalists in the inaugural Australian Privacy Awards 2008.
Privacy Commissioner Karen Curtis announced the shortlist saying the entries in the awards were “unbelievably impressive”.
“I believe it shows that organisations are increasingly recognising the value that good privacy practices play in building customer relationships,” Ms Curtis said.
The category winners and the overall Grand Award winner would be announced at a gala dinner to be held in Sydney on 27 August 2008.
Commissioner Curtis described the dinner as the highlight of Privacy Awareness Week, saying it would also feature the presentation of the Australian Privacy Medal to an individual who had shown an outstanding level of achievement in the privacy field. The keynote speaker would be Special Minister of State and Cabinet Secretary, Senator John Faulkner.
Commissioner Curtis said the category finalists in the Awards were:
Government category: AusCheck - Attorney-General’s Department, Centrelink, Child Support Agency, Kingston City Council, Medicare Australia.
Large Business category: Hitachi Data Systems, National Australia Bank, Sony Australia, Telstra Corporation;
Small-Medium Business category: Data Solutions Australia, Records Solutions, Space-Time Research, StudentNet;
Community and NGO category: Association of Market & Social Research Organisations, Australian Dental Association (NSW Branch), Australian Privacy Foundation, Biometrics Institute, Pharmacy Guild of Australia - Queensland Branch
12 August, 2008
Defence Chief hits target in Court
A senior Public Servant has successfully sued a large media organisation for defamation, winning a six-figure pay-out to compensate for claims the organisation he led had become politically compromised.
Former Head of the Defence Intelligence Organisation, Frank Lewincamp was awarded over $400,000 in two lawsuits following articles in the now-defunct Bulletin magazine that claimed DIO had deliberately stemmed the flow of intelligence to Australian troops in East Timor because it had Indonesian sympathies.
Mr Lewincamp took the matters to the ACT Supreme Court and Justice Anthony Besanko found in his favour. Mr Lewincamp also has actions against other media organisations pending.
According to Justice Besanko, the Bulletin “did not have reasonable grounds to believe that the imputations were true” and, in fact, “was at least wilfully blind as to the truth or falsity of the imputations."
In June, Justice Besanko awarded Mr Lewincamp damages of $35,000 and a full apology from naval reserve Captain and barrister, Martin Toohey whose internal review of a grievance case for Defence formed the basis of The Bulletin articles.
Mr Toohey found in his review that there had been a "pro-Jakarta lobby in the DIO" and that intelligence had been deliberately cut to the Australian forces.
Mr Lewincamp did not seek damages on the basis of that review but in relation to the comments Mr Toohey made in the Bulletin article.
In a consent judgement, Mr Toohey issued a full apology to Mr Lewincamp and agreed to pay damages saying he greatly regretted the distress he had caused to Mr Lewincamp and his family.
Mr Toohey said he now accepted there was never any cut to the overall flow of intelligence to East Timor.
"Furthermore, I accept General Cosgrove's evidence that the loss of access to the database did not endanger lives of Australian soldiers in East Timor," Mr Toohey said.
He said it followed that his other findings relating to the distortion of intelligence assessments and criticisms of DIO were not accurate.
In Mr Lewincamp’s second case settled at the end of July, Justice Besanko ordered the former publisher of the Bulletin to pay Mr Lewincamp $375,000 for defamation over the articles.
A spokesperson for the publisher said the company was considering its options.
12 August, 2008
Top end hits bottom in PS slash plan
Threats by the Northern Territory Country Liberal Party to slash the NT Public Service by 860 positions over the next three years have been criticised by the Community and Public Sector Union as irresponsible and counter productive.
The CLP made the pledge in the lead-up to last week’s Territory election saying the cuts would be needed to pay for other election commitments.
Party Leader Terry Mills said 700 general staff of the NTPS and 40 executive officers would not be replaced when they left over the next three years but the CPSU said that number was 10 per cent of the entire PS.
"There will be no sackings of Public Servants below the executive level," Mr Mills said.
He also promised to reduce to 45 the number of political staffers working for the Government and appoint only eight Ministers instead of nine while cutting portfolios from 36 to 13.
He said he would sell off the NT car fleet, the Government Printing Office and Sports House which would bring in an extra $93 million.
CPSU Regional Secretary, Naomi Porrovecchio said if the cuts went ahead they would have a “devastating effect” on the delivery of public sector services in the NT.
“The knock-on effect to front line services would be disastrous,” Ms Porrovecchio said.
"Our economy is growing and fuelling greater demand on public services as the population increases.
“Attacking our social infrastructure by slashing the ranks of the public sector is irresponsible and counterproductive.”
She said the NTPS was already struggling to attract and retain employees in the tight labour market. To remain competitive in the battle for talent, she said, it required quality jobs, competitive pay and conditions, opportunities for personal development and career advancement.
"Threatening the job security of public servants will do nothing to ensure the ranks of the public sector are staffed by our best and brightest," she said.
12 August, 2008
Archives call to band together
The Director-General of the National Archives of Australia has called on Government archivists around the world to develop close links to encourage better recordkeeping across their Public Services.
Ross Gibbs said archivists should seek out “natural allies” because many Public Servants had such heavy demands on their time that they gave low priority to messages pointing out the importance of good recordkeeping.
“In addition to their better known heritage role, Government archives perform a vitally important role in supporting the integrity, accountability and the efficiency of public offices,” Mr Gibbs said.
“They do this by providing expert advice on creating, managing and disposing of records.”
Mr Gibbs said it was crucial for archives to develop close links with other high profile institutions such as Auditors-General, Public Service Commissions and Ombudsmen, which understand the crucial importance of good recordkeeping as an “enabler of good governance”.
He was speaking at the 16th International Congress on Archives in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia in July which was attended by 1200 international delegates.
Joining Mr Gibbs in presenting Archives and Their Allies: Recordkeeping for Good Governance were the Auditor-General of Victoria, Des Pearson, the Public Service Commissioner of Papua New Guinea, Rigo Lua, and the Deputy Ombudsman of New Zealand Leo Donnelly. The speakers all stressed the importance of Agencies working together to ensure good recordkeeping and public office accountability.
Mr Gibbs said the National Archives’ recent move from the arts portfolio to the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet was significant in that it co-located the Archives with other integrity and accountability agencies. They included the Australian Public Service Commission, the Australian National Audit Office, the Office of the Ombudsman, the Privacy Commissioner and the office of Freedom of Information.
The four talks are available on the National Archives website http://naa.gov.au
12 August, 2008
Immigration deal goes both ways
A partnership between the Department of Immigration and Citizenship and the Indonesian Immigration Service has been hailed by the Minister for Immigration as an example of the close cooperation between the two countries.
The Minister, Senator Chris Evans, and the Indonesian Minister for Law and Human Rights, Andi Mattalatta, jointly announced the successful implementation of an important border movement alert computer project which was a major upgrade of its predecessor.
Senator Evans said the Enhanced CEKAL System was an Indonesian system used in ports and offices in Indonesia, and also in embassies and consulates around the world, to check the names of people applying for visas or entry permits.
“The Enhanced CEKAL System is a major upgrade to the CEKAL system and it is now operational at five Indonesian ports – Jakarta, Denpasar, Surabaya, Medan and Batam,” Senator Evans said.
“It will enable more reliable detection of people of concern, as well as assist to prevent people-smuggling and irregular migration.”
He said projects like this made travel in the region safer and more secure.
The total cost of the project was about $A10 million and an additional $A2.4 million was allocated in 2008-09 to provide support and maintenance of the project until 2010.
Other measures to further enhance regional cooperation on border security were also on the agenda for the Ministers’ meeting.
“Indonesia is a key partner for Australia and the Government is committed to a close, practical working relationship,” Senator Evans said. “We are doing a lot together to improve border security, including through forensic document examination training and initiatives to detect people who seek to travel on fake or altered passports.”
Senator Evans said both countries were exploring ways to share information better on immigration issues and trends which would help prevent people-smuggling, human trafficking and other forms of trans-national crime.
He also met senior representatives of the Indonesian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the regional representatives of International Organisation for Migration (IOM) and the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
“A robust immigration program benefits both countries through forging closer people-to-people links and we have seen a steady growth in Indonesian visitors to Australia with nearly 60,000 visitor visas granted last year,” Senator Evans said.
He said the IOM and UNHCR played important roles in supporting the work of his Department.
“IOM is a major partner in the delivery of many … programs in Indonesia including those which assist people who may be vulnerable targets for people-smugglers,” he said.
“UNHCR also plays a crucial role in dealing with the situation of asylum seekers in the region and addressing protection issues.”
Senator Evans also travelled to Malaysia, Thailand and Singapore to discuss a range of border security, migration, humanitarian and tourism initiatives.
12 August, 2008
Child payments study shows small change
An analysis of changes to the Child Support system has revealed that most parents will see a change of less than $20 per week.
Released jointly by the Ministers for Human Services and Families, Senator Joe Ludwig and Jenny Macklin, the findings showed that in a large number of cases, the changes would be less than $10 per week.
The Ministers said a study of 691,000 child support cases took into account the actual changes in child support assessments and modelled changes to Family Tax Benefit.
They said the figures were based on obligations under the new formula but might not represent what was actually paid or received because full details on levels of compliance would not be available for some time.
“Based on the analysis of the 691,000 cases, around 37 per cent of payees and 51 per cent of payers have net increases in household income as a result of the reforms (i.e. they receive more overall),” the Ministers said.
“Around 49 per cent of payees and 33 per cent of payers have net reductions (i.e. they receive less overall).”
They said around 13 per cent of payees and 16 per cent of payers had no change.
“The child support changes aim to create a more balanced approach to calculating child support taking into account both parents’ income and the actual cost of raising children,” the Ministers said.
“The changes respond to trends towards increased shared parenting and recognise that when care of a child is shared, the costs are also shared.”
They said the Government was confident that the new scheme recognised that Australian society had changed remarkably since the original child support formula was developed 20 years ago.
They said the Child Support Scheme reforms were a key recommendation of a 2005 independent ministerial taskforce on child support, established as a result of the House of Representatives inquiry entitled Every Picture Tells a Story. The reforms were implemented in three stages with the final stage being the new child support formula that began on 1 July 2008.
“These reforms ensure that payments within the child support system are based on evidence about the cost of raising children,” the Ministers said.
“We understand that the changes will concern some people. The Government will continue to monitor the ongoing impact of the reforms to ensure the best interests of children are protected.”
The Ministers said an important part of the reform package was the introduction of a range of measures to improve compliance, resulting in an extra $104 million child support being paid over the past two years.
“The Government is backing up the reforms to child support with tough new enforcement measures, which came into effect from 1 July 2008, to make sure parents who have child support obligations pay in full and on time,” they said.
12 August, 2008
DFAT audit shows mission possible
An audit of how effective the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade was in employing and managing its Locally Engaged Staff overseas has found that despite being able to make some improvements, DFAT looked after them well.
Auditor-General, Ian McPhee made recommendations included developing standard training material, improving consistency in health checks and monitoring performance outcomes for the overseas staff.
Mr McPhee said DFAT had undertaken a major review of locally engaged staff (LES) in 2000, which had resulted in changes to improve the way LES were managed.
He said while the Department had reviewed various aspects of LES management since that time, more systematic monitoring and periodic evaluation of LES workforce initiatives would help the Department employ and manage its LES.
Mr McPhee said DFAT’s risk management plans were “well-established” and represented a “sound approach” to managing LES-related risks across different posts.
He said all overseas posts provided new starters with security briefings and information on the conditions of service and code of conduct.
“However, inadequate briefings were provided on the role and structure of DFAT; the operation and function of the post; performance management arrangements; training and career development opportunities; and financial and fraud awareness issues,” Mr McPhee said.
He said the training delivered to LES was common across posts and it would be simpler and more efficient for the training material to be prepared and maintained centrally.
He said DFAT should remind posts that the performance appraisal context provided a good opportunity to identify, discuss and document LES training needs.
Mr McPhee said while recruitment of most LES was generally sound, “two recruitment processes at one post did not use selection criteria”, some hired through “word of mouth” rather than advertising and that it was important to ensure all new recruits undertook pre-employment health checks.
He recommended that DFAT “facilitate a more consistent approach to LES health checks by providing advice to posts on its minimum requirements”.
Mr McPhee warned DFAT posts against rating LES staff too highly during compulsory performance management appraisals.
“Over-rating LES performance has the potential to reduce the incentive for LES to perform beyond the level for which they are normally paid,” he said.
He suggested DFAT enhance accountability and transparency by requiring posts to formally brief their Heads of Mission on the outcomes of annual LES performance appraisals and to monitor the outcomes of the performance rounds.
DFAT accepted the audit as a comprehensive and detailed review of the employment and management of locally engaged staff.
“DFAT welcomes in particular the findings of the report which acknowledge that, overall, DFAT effectively employs and manages its locally engaged staff in a complex and diverse overseas operating environment.”
12 August, 2008
Treasury review to be taxing time
Secretary of the Treasury, Dr Ken Henry has released a discussion paper on Australia’s future taxation system.
The paper was welcomed by the Treasurer, Wayne Swan.
“Long-term reform of our tax and welfare systems is a key way to secure our economic foundations for the future, create wealth, spread opportunity and reward working Australians,” Mr Swan said.
“The Australia’s Future Tax System Review will play a vital role in modernising Australia’s economy to meet the great economic, social and environmental challenges of the 21st century.”
Mr Swan said meeting these future challenges – such as climate change, the ageing population, new technologies and rapid globalisation – would require a tax system that was as fair and efficient as possible and the AFTS Review would help achieve that goal.
He said the Review would be the most comprehensive examination of the tax system in more than 50 years.
“It will complement other key Rudd Government reforms such as the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme and modernising the Federation through the Council of Australian Governments process,” Mr Swan said.
“Like these other key reforms, the AFTS Review will help boost Australia’s productive capacity, and build prosperity in an increasingly competitive global environment.”
He said the Government was particularly focused on building a tax system which was internationally competitive; streamlined, simplified and harmonised; and which encouraged hard-work and rewarded workforce participation by removing complex disincentives.
The review would encompass Australian Government and State taxes, except the rate and base of the GST, and interactions with the transfer system, and would consider:
To ensure the Review considered the widest range of views and information possible, the Review Panel was inviting submissions. It hoped to provide its final report to the Treasurer by the end of 2009.
The discussion paper is available at www.taxreview.treasury.gov.au and an information line would be in operation on 1800 614133.
12 August, 2008
Long life survey finds a hitch
Findings by the Australian Bureau of Statistics that married people lived longer than single ones have been released by the Minister for Ageing, Justine Elliot.
ABS data on age-specific death rates in Australia per thousand per age group showed that married people had lower death rates than non-married people in almost all age groups, for both men and women (the data compares the rate of death per 1000 for single people versus married ones.)
Data analysed by the Department of Health and Ageing showed the difference between single and married people started in the 40s and grew sharply in the 60s.
It found the real spike appeared in the 70-84 group with the death rate for single people almost double that of married men and women.
“It seems that longevity and marriage are directly linked and marriage is good for your health,” Mrs Elliot said.
“Overseas studies have provided similar results on marriage and ageing and the link with longevity has been debated for more than 100 years.”
She said the data also found that for men, the difference evened out after age 85 while married women over 80 continued to have a greater survival rate than single women in the same age group.
However, widowed males over 85 had the highest rate of death per 1000, showing that once their life-partner died, they often followed. It was 191.6 per thousand compared to 140.3 per thousand for married men in the same age group.
Mrs Elliot said that historically, one main explanation had been put forward – that marriage reduced the risk of an earlier death as a person was less likely to participate in risky behaviour and more likely to nurture or “guardian” each other’s health through promoting good diet and physical care.
She said the Australian marriage data came on top of research showing that Australians now had the second longest life expectancy in the world - 81.4 years - after the Japanese.
The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, using the World Health Organisation’s 2007 figures for selected countries, reported that Australian women had a life expectancy of 83.7 years and Australian men 79 years.
In addition, Women on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast and Western Australia’s wheat-belt near Perth had the longest life expectancies in the country and the world.
Mrs Elliot said that by 2045-2050, Australian men and women could expect to live five years longer than they currently did with women going from 83.7 to 88 and men going from 79 to 84.1 years.
She said by 2060, an Australian woman could expect to reach the age of 90 and by mid-century most Australians could expect – on average – to reach the mid-to-late 80s.
Currently, there were 2800 Australians aged 100-years or more, and that was expected to increase to 12,000 by 2020 and grow to 78,000 by 2055.
12 August, 2008
Secrecy laws to be brought into open
The Australian Law Reform Commission has been asked to look at simplifying Australia’s secrecy and confidentiality laws.
Attorney-General Robert McClelland has referred the laws to the ALRC with a request that it come up with options to ensure a consistent approach across Government to the protection of Commonwealth information.
“There are currently more than 100 secrecy and confidentiality provisions in Commonwealth legislation,” Mr McClelland said.
“The interaction of these provisions with one another, and with other legislation, is overly complex.
He said the Government was committed to being open and accountable and wanted to ensure that Commonwealth information was only protected where there was a legitimate reason for doing so.
He said where there were legitimate reasons for protecting Commonwealth information – such as information relating to national security – Australia needed to ensure that its laws provided sufficient protection against unauthorised disclosure.
Mr McClelland said the Government recognised the increasing need for Agencies to be able to share information with one another and the private sector.
“Removing barriers to the sharing of information has been identified as an important step to achieving a whole-of-Government approach to national security,” Mr McClelland said.
“Equally, we need strong secrecy laws in place to ensure that sensitive Commonwealth information remains protected from unauthorised disclosure if it is passed to other agencies.”
The Attorney-General has asked the ALRC to provide its final report to him by 31 October 2009.
12 August, 2008
Homeowners scheme is money in the bank
The Australian Prudential Regulation Authority has released its final package of rules governing the authorisation and oversight of financial institutions planning to offer the new First Home Saver Accounts.
The accounts were being introduced to assist Australians aged 18 and over to save up for their first home. They are the first of their kind and have been designed to provide a simple, tax effective way for people to save for their first home with the Government assisting by making contributions and imposing lower taxes.
The APRA package is made up of a prudential standard relating to superannuation licensees (known as RSE licensees), an authorisation form, a notification of intention to offer FHSAs form and a reporting standard. The standard will come into effect on 1 October 2008, the first day the FHSAs could be offered.
Deputy Chairman of APRA, Ross Jones said submissions received after consulting on the draft requirements had led to some minor changes being made to the proposed package.
Under the First Home Saver Accounts Act 2008, passed in June, RSE licensees, life insurance companies, banks and other ‘authorised deposit-taking institutions’ (ADIs) would be eligible to offer the accounts.
The rules require the RSE licensees to establish a separate trust for the purpose and the Superannuation Industry (Supervision) Act 1993 would not apply to that new trust.
Mr Jones said the paperwork required by APRA required RSE licensees to demonstrate that the risks arising from the new trust were properly considered and addressed.
He said the reports required from providers in all three industries would collect relevant information and companies planning to offer the accounts needed to notify APRA of their intention to do so in advance.
Mr Jones said the APRA prudential standards that already applied to the operations of life companies and ADIs were adequate for the provision of FHSAs.
12 August, 2008
NT call centre gets Indigenous coo-ee
A call centre staffed by Indigenous employees has won an award for service excellence for Centrelink.
Centrelink’s Indigenous Call Centre (ICC) in Palmerston, NT, has taken out the “Contact Centre of the Year for 50 staff or less” category in the South Australia/Northern Territory Australian Teleservices Association (ATA) awards.
Call Centre Manager Bob Jones said he and his staff were thrilled to receive the award.
“This is the first year a Northern Territory nomination was received in the history of the ATA awards,” Mr Jones said.
“Now we compete against other State and Territory winners on 19 September 2008 at the National Awards on the Gold Coast.”
Each year, the awards are held for ATA members from across various individual and call centre categories. Nominations for the awards come from local and national business and Government organisations.
Entrants are assessed on a number of criteria, including physical environment, cultural feel, achievements and staff qualities.
The Indigenous Call Centre at Palmerston was opened in December 1998, as a pilot starting with only four staff. It is one of four Call Centres that field Indigenous-related enquiries. The others are located at Cairns (QLD), Bunbury (WA) and Port Macquarie (NSW).
The Indigenous Call Centres were implemented to provide a culturally appropriate access for Indigenous people particularly in remote areas, who may have not have direct access to Centrelink.
The four sites, which also include the ABSTUDY line, answer approximately half a million calls per year.
The Indigenous Call Centres cover the Northern Territory, North Queensland, the Kimberley region, Kalgoorlie and Bunbury regions of Western Australia, the top part of South Australia and two islands off Tasmania and the Torres Strait.
12 August, 2008
Bankers cash in on police operation
The Australian Federal Police has joined forces with the Australian Bankers Association to warn against job offers that lead to money laundering for criminals.
The organisations say allowing your bank account to receive stolen funds is to become a “money mule”.
The mule is usually approached online via email, instant message or criminals may advertise on legitimate employment websites.
Director of the AFP Australian High Tech Crime Centre (AHTCC) James McCormack said that although the prospect of making some easy money may appear attractive, any “commission” payments would be recovered as they were the proceeds of fraud and the person - the money mule - could become part of a police investigation that could lead to a maximum penalty of 20 years imprisonment.
“You would be very suspicious if someone you didn’t know asked you to carry a package or money overseas, and similarly, you should be very suspicious about someone asking you to transfer money in and out of your bank account to other accounts,” Mr McCormack said.
Chief Executive of the Australian Bankers Association David Bell said criminals sent out millions of fraudulent job offer emails to random email addresses, in the hope of involving unsuspecting, innocent persons in their criminal activity.
“You should ignore and immediately delete any such emails,” Mr Bell said.
“Criminals may also use a romance scam where they target singles and ask for money to be transferred and remitted, allegedly for airfares to enable the singles to meet.”
Mr Bell said such transactions were unacceptable to banks and could result in the withdrawal of banking facilities.
“The customers who respond to this email also leave themselves at risk of identity theft, as the criminals ask for confidential bank account details,” Mr Bell said.
Banks and police advised that if you were offered an opportunity of making easy money and the offer seems too good to be true, then it probably was.
They said following some simple advice can prevent involvement in criminal activity:
12 August, 2008
Portrait gallery faces contest
The National Portrait Gallery in Canberra has invited entries in its National Photographic Portrait Prize for 2009.
According to Gallery Director Andrew Sayers, the Gallery’s first portrait competition attracted a high-quality field and greatly encouraged organisers who were looking forward to another strong response.
He said the prize money on offer was $25,000.
‘‘The first National Photographic Portrait Prize overwhelmed us with its quality and variety – photographers of all sorts, from all over Australia and working in all photographic mediums entered,” Mr Sayers said.
“The National Photographic Portrait Prize is a slice through Australian photographic portraiture in our own time.”
Mr Sayers said that now in its second year, the National Photographic Portrait Prize 2009 would tour to capital cities and regional centres after its exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery.
12 August, 2008
The Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations has released figures for wage increases showing the public sector has once again outstripped the private sector for payrises.
The Department’s average annualised wage increases for public and private sector agreements has shown that for collective agreements in the APS that came into force between 1 July 2007 and 30 June 2008, the average wage increase was 4.3% for the second year in a row.
The corresponding increase in the private sector was just 3.8%.
According to the Community and Public Sector Union, these good results reflected the high level and popularity of collective agreements in the public sector, the vast majority of which were negotiated by unions.
“All current union collective agreements operating as of March 2008 delivered an average annual increase of 4%, compared to non-union deals which only showed an 3.6% rise,” the Union said.
Upgrade for pension site
The Pensioner Services Online site, run by the Public Sector’s main superannuation schemes, the Commonwealth Superannuation Scheme and the Public Sector Superannuation Scheme has been upgraded.
Users will now be able to manage their superannuation better online and view and update superannuation information.
Many tasks can now be completed online where previously assistance was required from the Customer Service Centre. the website may be accessed at www.pss.gov.au but users would need a secure Access Number, available from 1300 000 377.
Admiralty House repairs
Parts of an outside brick wall at the Governor-General’s Sydney residence, Admiralty House, have begun to break and fall away.
The Governor-General’s staff have called in experts to assess the condition of the 19th century harbour wall and advise on repairs and restitution work.
The wall faces the Harbour and has been damaged by the sea.
Gershon on the ground
The man charged with reviewing the Federal Government’s use and management of information and communications technology, Sir Peter Gershon, is to be in Australia throughout August holding discussions with industry and Government Agencies.
Finance Minister Lindsay Tanner said following Sir Peter’s talks and investigations he would consider his recommendations and report to the Government by the end of September.
“The Government has asked Sir Peter to develop a new model for spending and operating ICT systems in the Australian Government that strikes a balance between whole-of-Government coordination and individual Agency autonomy and flexibility,” Mr Tanner said.
“Sir Peter and the Review Secretariat are in close consultation with Government Agencies and industry in establishing a holistic view of the current state of play in the Australian Government ICT sector.”
Mr Tanner said Sir Peter was considering a vast array of data, views and experiences in line with his evidence-based approach to the Review.
He said the Government was looking forward to hearing his views on the Australian Government’s use and management of ICT, and to his recommendations on how to improve efficiency and effectiveness in this critical area of Government.”
More bans in Tas dispute
A pay dispute between State Public Servants and the Tasmanian Government continues, with staff introducing a further round of work bans.
Unions are fighting for pay parity with their interstate counterparts and have rejected a pay offer from the government.
The new action includes bans on answering phones at certain times in the quarantine service and at smaller libraries, restrictions on processing invoices for some health services and a ban on the Sexual Offenders Program at Risdon Prison.
Investigations symposium on
The 7th National Investigations Symposium is to be held from 5 to 7 November this year in Sydney.
Hosted by the NSW Ombudsman, the Independent Commission Against Corruption and the Institute of Public Administration Australia (NSW), the symposium is an opportunity for public officials to maintain and increase their investigative knowledge, skills and techniques.
It has been recommended as a significant professional development and networking event for public officials who conduct fact-finding exercises.
More details from www.ombo.nsw.gov.au
Market issues defined
ASIC has outlined five key market issues it would be focussing on over the coming months, responding to concerns emerging from the current market conditions.
The key areas to be addressed are managed investment schemes and the disclosure of risk; credit ratings agencies; listed investment vehicles; audit and accounting issues surrounding present valuation methodologies and disclosure for complicated financial assets; and market surveillance for illegal trading activities.
Vos leaves tax
David Vos’s term as Inspector-General of Taxation expired on 6 August 2008 and a replacement is being sought.
Mr Vos held the position since its inception in 2003 and during his term, the Australian Taxation Office accepted the majority of his recommendations from reviews.
The Government expected to finalise the appointment of a new Inspector-General of Taxation in the coming weeks but until then, Mr Vos would act in the position.
Super book updated
The Australian Securities and Investments Commission has published an updated edition of its superannuation booklet aimed at Indigenous people, Super and Us Mob.
The booklet, first published in 2006, uses stories about different people in different work situations and at different life stages to focus on entitlements to superannuation, finding lost superannuation, providing tax file numbers, insurance and death benefits.
Free copies of Super and Us Mob were available through ASIC’s consumer website FIDO at www.fido.gov.au/indigenous/Resources or by calling ASIC's Infoline on 1300 300 630.
The booklet is also available from the ATO at www.ato.gov.au or by calling 1300 720 092.
Rights on film
The Human Rights Commission is calling for entries in the 2008 Human Rights Photography Competition.
The competition, which is being run in association with the Human Rights Medals and Awards, shares this year’s official UN Human Rights Day theme, “Dignity and justice for all of us”.
The three categories for the 2008 Human Rights Photography Competition are: Under 18 (male), Under 18 (female) and 18 and above (age at 30 June 2008).
More details are available from www.humanrights.gov.au/photo_comp
The 14 Australian books reaching the finals of the inaugural Prime Minister’s Literary Awards have been selected from more than 190 entries and following months of reading and deliberation by the judging panels.
The short list for non-fiction is: A History of Queensland, Raymond Evans; Cultural Amnesia: Notes in the Margin of My Time, Clive James; My Life as a Traitor, Zarah Ghahramani with Robert Hillman; Napoleon: The Path to Power, 1769-1799, Philip Dwyer; Ochre and Rust: Artefacts and Encounters on Australian Frontiers, Philip Jones; Shakespeare’s Wife, Germaine Greer and Vietnam: The Australian War, Paul Ham.
For more information visit www.arts.gov.au/pmliteraryawards
5 August, 2008
Commission does business on GTEs
A study of Government-run businesses by the Productivity Commission has found that half of them would struggle to survive in the real world of private enterprise.
The Commission’s latest scorecard on the financial performance of Government Trading Enterprises or GTEs, monitored the activities of 86 publicly-owned businesses across key sectors of the economy including electricity, water, urban transport, railways, ports and forestry.
It found they accounted for about 1.7 per cent of Australia's Gross Domestic Product.
According to Assistant Commissioner Chris Sayers, the results were disappointing.
“Despite some improvement, about half of the monitored GTEs did not achieve commercial rates of return in 2006-07,” the Commission’s report said.
It said the poor returns underscored a “long-term inability to operate these businesses on a fully commercial basis in accordance with competition policy undertakings.”
The Commission believed the efficient operation of GTEs was important to both the wellbeing of the community and to the competitiveness of Australian industry.
“The continuing poor performance of many GTEs was therefore of concern.”
Mr Sayers said financial performance monitoring of GTEs formed part of the Commission's research into the performance of Australian industries and the progress of microeconomic reform.
In 2006-07, the 86 GTEs included in the report controlled about 2.8 per cent of Australia's non-household assets (valued at $192 billion).
The report said the overall profitability of GTEs increased by 36 per cent in 2006-07 but there were mixed results across the sectors.
“Profitability increased in the electricity, urban transport and ports sectors, but declined in the rail, water and forestry sectors,” it said.
For sectors in which profits had improved, the report found it was generally because of the good work of a single GTE in the sector.
Overall it found that in 2006-07:
Despite average to poor returns, the Commission found the GTEs made dividend payments to their owner Governments of almost $4.4 billion.
“In addition, income tax and tax equivalent payments totalled $1.8 billion.”
It said despite the stated policies of Governments, not all had identified all existing Community Service Obligations (CSOs).
“Also, Governments generally report funding for CSOs in a transparent manner (but) almost no information is reported on the costs of meeting CSOs.”
The Commission said inadequate funding to pay for CSOs affected the GTE's financial performance and could result in inadequate or misallocated investment, price increases for non-CSO services, and/or lower quality service provision.
“Poor profitability can lead to inadequate investment and asset maintenance, which can in turn reduce the future profitability of GTEs,” it said.
“Without a return to commercially sustainable operations, this cycle can persist.”
The report, which could be accessed at www.pc.gov.au, also examined reasons for the persistently poor performance of some of the GTEs.
5 August, 2008
ASIC invests in super paper
The Australian Securities and Investments Commission has released a consultation paper on the effectiveness of people’s personal superannuation arrangements.
Consultation paper 101 Superannuation forecasts poses the question: “How can we motivate Australians to take charge of their super sooner rather than later?” and concludes that many people might need a “wake-up call”.
The paper revealed that about 46 per cent of workers relied on the minimum contribution, and as many as 33 per cent of workers putting in extra money were still not on target for an “adequate” retirement.
“Many people don’t know how much they will retire with and what kind of lifestyle they will be able to afford,” said ASIC’s Deputy Chairman, Jeremy Cooper.
“It might shock some people, but we want them to see a ‘super snapshot’ of their projected end-benefit in time for them to do something about it.”
The Consultation Paper looks at ways that superannuation providers could give members a “super snapshot” – an estimate of how much they were likely to retire with based on how much they had saved so far.
Mr Cooper said the paper canvassed issues and options for super providers to do this either on paper or via an online calculator allowing members to generate their own super snapshot.
“ASIC understands that producing useful forecasts raises many issues, such as what assumptions should be taken into account, including the likely impact of fees and costs, future contributions and earnings,” Mr Cooper said.
“The end result of this project must be a simple and easy-to-use way of estimating final retirement savings where consumers understand that it is not a guarantee of what they will actually retire with.”
He said ASIC would be asking super funds, their members and industry experts to explain how this could best be done and which types of forecasts would benefit members the most.
“This is an opportunity to have a direct say in further improving Australia’s retirement income system,” he said.
Based on the feedback ASIC received, it would develop more specific proposals and consult on those at a later stage.
Mr Cooper said any more specific proposals would be facilitative only and not mandatory. He said mandatory requirements would require law reform to amend the Corporations Act.
5 August, 2008
CASA flies in to investigate Qantas
The Civil Aviation Safety Authority is to conduct a review of Qantas operations following a series of safety incidents over the past two weeks.
Spokesman for CASA, Peter Gibson said there was no evidence to suggest safety standards at Qantas had fallen, but the Authority was taking additional precautions.
“I wouldn't say we're concerned about Qantas' safety at all,” Mr Gibson said.
“In fact, we've found no evidence of safety slipping within the airline or safety standards being allowed to drop at all.”
He said there was no reason for the public to lose confidence in Qantas’ safety standards as the review was simply to “double check and make sure that all the standards are being maintained”.
He said a special investigation team would examine issues such as maintenance, safety systems and the way in which Qantas had handled the recent incidents in greater depth.
“We have no evidence to suggest there are problems within Qantas but we think it's prudent and wise to go in with a new special team and take an additional look at a range of operational issues,” Mr Gibson said.
He said CASA had completed an audit in June and had found no evidence of any problems or shortcomings.
Executive General Manager of Qantas Engineering, David Cox, said the airline had a long and respected history of safety and he welcomed the review.
“CASA is just doing their job,” Mr Cox said.
“We would encourage them to do that and we would always want to be transparent and open about what we are doing.”
He said Qantas would fully cooperate with CASA as it carried out the review over the next two weeks.
The review followed three in-flight incidents in recent weeks involving Qantas aircraft, the most recent an hydraulic fluid leak which caused an emergency landing in Sydney.
On 25 July, a Qantas flight was forced to make an emergency landing at Manila after a mid-air explosion tore a hole in the plane's fuselage, while on 29 July, a domestic flight was forced to return to Adelaide after a wheel bay door failed to close.
5 August, 2008
Winner loses out in court cost case
A Canberra Public Servant has launched action in the High Court to recover $350,000 in legal costs incurred defending himself against his wrongful dismissal from the Public Service.
The economist, who was dismissed from the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade in 2006, won his case in the Australian Industrial Relations Commission and was reinstated, but now faced crippling legal bills that threaten him with bankruptcy.
The Community and Public Sector Union has called on Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd to intervene.
The man was stood down by DFAT in 2003 on suspicion of leaking information but was later reinstated following investigation. He was later dismissed from the Service when a second investigation found he had breached the Public Service Code of Conduct by communicating with a staff member of the Labor Opposition without authority.
That action was overturned by the ALRC last year and the Department ordered to reinstate the man with backpay, but by then the exercise had cost the man around $300,000 in legal bills and awarding costs was outside the jurisdiction of the ALRC.
The National Secretary of the CPSU, Stephen Jones, is reported in the Canberra Times as describing the entire case against the man as a “political witch-hunt” and an “appalling legacy” of the previous Government. He said the new Government should fix it.
Mr Jones said if the man was forced into bankruptcy and lost his home after successfully defending himself “then every Public servant will know they have no job security under the Rudd Government.''
The man’s lawyers said the $350,000 he claimed was the same amount DFAT said it had spent on legal fees to defend its position during the 2-week ALRC hearing alone.
5 August, 2008
Defence mental health is front of mind
Moves to improve mental health services for members of the Australian Defence Force have been announced following the results of three separate reviews into the treatment of a deceased serviceman by the ADF and Department of Veterans’ Affairs.
Signaller Geffrey Gregg committed suicide in 2006 after being medically discharged from the Army in 2004.
The Department of Defence and DVA released the three reports which were conducted by former deputy Ombudsman Ron McLeod, former Registrar of the High Court Chris Doogan and the Inspector General of the ADF, Geoff Earley. The three reports make up the “Gregg Review”.
Minister for Veterans’ Affairs, Alan Griffin, and the Minister for Defence Science and Personnel, Warren Snowdon, said the Review confirmed the Government’s concerns regarding mental health support services for serving and former Defence personnel.
“Prior to the election we were aware of significant problems with servicemen and women and veterans accessing relevant ADF and DVA mental health support services,” Mr Griffin said.
He said the Government’s new Plan for Defence and Veterans detailed a number of initiatives that addressed those issues.
Mr Snowdon said improvements were underway in the handling of mental health issues and the quality of mental health support for serving and former ADF members.
“A review of mental health services in the ADF was announced in May and will examine the spectrum of mental health policies across Defence and transitioning into the care of DVA,” Mr Snowdon said.
“A report to Government is expected before the end of this year.”
Mr Griffin said the findings from the reports also found a number of problems with transition out of the services.
“The Gregg Review showed that the legislation is complex, and there is heavy reliance on volunteer pension officers and advocates to provide advice to veterans,” Mr Griffin said.
“Amongst a wide range of new transition and support initiatives, the Interdepartmental Working Group, chaired by the Secretary of DVA, has been established to help solve the problems encountered by discharging members when dealing with multiple agencies.”
He said work had started to simplify claims forms, streamline applications, minimise proof of identity requirements for new claimants, and enable the sharing of medical records, including assessments, between Departments.
“Any suicide is a tragedy,” he said, “however this review provides us with specific strategies to better support discharging members and those suffering from the effects of their service.”
5 August, 2008
Watchdog gives DIAC a tap on the risk
The Commonwealth and Immigration Ombudsman has recommended that the risk factors used to identify undesirable immigrants be made public.
The Ombudsman, Professor John McMillan, made the recommendation in his report on the Department of Immigration and Citizenship’s Safeguards System, accepting that releasing the information could hold security implications.
He said the Safeguards System included a Risk Factor List which DIAC used to identify visa applicants with a statistically higher chance of overstaying their time in Australia.
“This own motion investigation was conducted to determine whether DIAC had sufficient checks and balances in place to ensure the Safeguards System is being used appropriately and that it is a reasonably accountable and transparent system,” Professor McMillan said.
To improve transparency, the Ombudsman recommended that DIAC consider whether some Safeguards information could reasonably be made public.
“We recognise DIAC’s concern that the release of certain information could assist non-genuine applicants to frame a visa application in such a way as to circumvent immigration controls.
“However, there is a public interest in knowing the basis on which DIAC makes its decisions, including decisions to scrutinise some applications more closely.”
Professor McMillan said the Risk Factor List, which was published in a Gazette notice, was the only publicly available information contained within the Safeguards System. He said the remaining Safeguard profiles contained an array of information, drawn from a range of sources and with varying sensitivity such as information relating to national security checking procedures.
His investigation also found gaps in DIAC’s accountability framework that needed to be addressed. He said his recommendations were aimed at improvements to Safeguards content, currency and recordkeeping.
“Implementing the improvements recommended in this report will assist all areas of DIAC to maximise the use of Safeguards in upholding the integrity of Australia’s visa system,” Professor McMillan said.
The Secretary of DIAC, Andrew Metcalfe, accepted all of the Ombudsman’s recommendations and a copy of his response was included in the report.
5 August, 2008
Workplace agreements made into DVD
The Workplace Authority has released a DVD-ROM containing 1,000 sample Australian Workplace Agreements that were lodged for evaluation under the fairness test.
The AWAs were being made available for research purposes.
The fairness test applied to applicable agreements made between 7 May 2007 and 27 March 2008 and led to approximately 328,000 agreements being lodged during that period.
The Authority has segmented the sample by industry and employer size and said it was proportionally representative of the lodgements made during the period of the fairness test.
It said that to abide with the personal privacy laws each agreement had been manually cleansed to ensure all personal information was removed.
The sample agreements are available as a DVD-ROM and can be ordered online from http://www.workplaceauthority.gov.au/ or by calling the Workplace Infoline on 1300 363 264 between 8am and 7pm, Monday to Friday.
5 August, 2008
Festival State plays musical chairs
A major shake-up of the South Australian Public Service has seen six Departments assigned new Chief Executives to stimulate ideas and bring a fresh approach to key management positions.
South Australian Premier, Mike ran said the moves provided a chance for skilled and experienced executives to bring a fresh perspective in their new portfolio areas.
“These changes, along with the Cabinet reshuffle announced last week, will mark a regeneration in Government, while maintaining a high level of experience and expertise across portfolios for the benefit of all South Australians,” Mr Rann said.
He said he had the highest expectations of the SA Public Service executives to deliver on key performance indicators, and importantly, on targets in South Australia’s strategic plan.
He said the Government had also appointed a new chief executives group with three senior executives to monitor Agency performance and to enhance collaboration between Departments.
Under the changes, Warren McCann, who has been head of the Premier’s Department since John Olsen was in power, will replace Jeff Walsh as the Commissioner for Public Employment.
The Chief Executive of the Families and Communities Department, Sue Vardon, will retire and Scott Ashby will become the Chief Executive of Water, Land and Biodiversity Conservation.
Brian Cunningham, who was chief of Further Education, Employment, Science and Technology is to swap jobs with Ray Gerrard and take on the Trade and Economic Development portfolio and the chief of Thoroughbred Racing SA, Greg Bentley, will become the chairman of the WorkCover Board, replacing Bruce Carter.
5 August, 2008
Stamp of approval for postage increase
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has decided not to object to a bid from Australia Post to increase the basic postage stamp rate from 50 cents to 55c.
ACCC Chairman, Graeme Samuel said the Commission would also not oppose increases in the postage for other letters, including large ordinary letters and small and large PreSort Bulk Mail.
Australia Post must now give written notice of its proposed change to the basic postage rate to the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Senator Stephen Conroy. The Minister has the power under the Australian Postal Corporation Act 1989 to disapprove proposals to vary the basic postage rate within 30 days after receiving written notice.
“The ACCC has decided not to object to Australia Post’s proposal because the proposed price increases do not involve Australia Post over-recovering the costs of providing these letter services,” Mr Samuel said.
“The ACCC did identify a concern that Australia Post’s current proposal did not provide sufficient certainty for some customers. Therefore, in its decision, the ACCC has established a framework for future price notifications that will encourage Australia Post to continue to reduce costs, improve productivity, and provide more certainty for Australia Post's customers.”
Australia Post proposes to increase postal prices with effect from 15 September 2008. It said the previous price increase was in 2003.
5 August, 2008
Copying book is original work
The history of copying in offices is the subject of a book by a conservator at the National Archives of Australia, Ian Batterham,.
The book traces the copying of documents from the use of carbon paper to laser printers.
Mr Batterham said his book, The Office Copying Revolution would be of interest to anyone who ever worked in an office, as well as professional conservators, archivists, librarians and forensic document examiners.
“Copying machines first appeared in the wake of the industrial revolution but more recently have even found a use in the area of fine art,” Mr Batterham said.
“For almost three centuries, Government and business offices across the world have rushed to adopt new copying techniques as they became available.”
The Office Copying Revolution is illustrated with quaint advertisements and colourful images of machines such as the 1870 “Malling Hansen writing ball” from Denmark, the world’s first commercial typewriter.
Mr Batterham describes the story of office copying as “diverse and inventive”. It involves well known inventors such as Thomas Edison who developed the Mimeograph machine and James Watt who invented the first copy press. It also tells the story of the demise of the typing pool (and the drudgery that involved) when word processors came on the scene.
While generations of copying machines have become obsolete, their legacy resides in the historical collections of archives, libraries, personal collections and galleries across the world.
Mr Batterham said it was the challenge for conservators in such institutions to preserve the copies that resulted from varying processes over the centuries.
He became interested in the history of office copying techniques 10 years ago when researching for his Master’s thesis on “Thermographic Office Copying”.
“I realised a single reference work on office copying didn’t exist and it became my crusade to create such a book,” Mr Batterham said.
“I see it as a resource for people entrusted with the care of the millions of copies still in existence which were made on these machines.”
The book was aimed at a wide audience and an appendix provided an 11-step process to identify an unknown copy.
The Office Copying Revolution was launched by Senator Kate Lundy at a symposium of the Australian Institute for the Conservation of Cultural Material in Canberra.
5 August, 2008
Sports Commission quick out of blocks
Even before the Beijing Olympics begin, the Australian Sports Commission has launched a search for the next crop of gold-medalists for the 2012 London games.
With competition from other nations increasing, Australia is embarking on a world-first initiative to uncover talented hopefuls from every corner of the nation.
In its lead up to the Beijing Games, the ASC has launched an online electronic talent identification program (better known as eTID).
The Director for Sport Performance and Development at the ASC, Greg Nance said that for Australia to compete successfully on the world stage, it needed to think differently.
“eTID is Australia’s solution to finding talent in a way that is smarter and more efficient,” Mr Nance said.
“Being a relatively small country we don’t have the resources to invest in sport like the UK or China, so we need to continuously develop innovative tools that enable us to keep up with the rest of the world.”
He said eTID could be the start of an athlete’s journey towards elite sport and could potentially include support and funding to fully nurture and develop the athlete into Australia’s next top sporting talent.
The system was the brainchild of the ASC’s National Talent Identification and Development program which sought to identify and develop Australia’s future sporting talent.
Mr Nance said eTID was a simple to use, free, online program that allowed anyone (aged 12-29) to assess their sporting potential.
He said it provided opportunities for aspiring or current athletes and even former elite athletes looking to start a new sport.
The athletes’ information was processed and if identified as “above average,” encouraged to visit a Talent Assessment Centre (TAC) to have the results verified.
The TAC system was a collaboration between the ASC and more than 20 universities throughout Australia.
“Such a collaboration to seek out talent has never occurred before and through this method the capability to hunt for talented athletes has been greatly expanded.”
Once the TAC identified that the athlete had real talent they could enter the elite sporting system where they could be supported with coaching, equipment and travel.
Mr Nance said the ASC encouraged all aspiring athletes to log onto eTID and find out if they had the potential to be Australia’s next sporting champion.
5 August, 2008
Criminal database breaks out at ACC
The Australian Crime Commission has upgraded its criminal information database, releasing its new version to police officers and law enforcement Agencies across the country.
According to the ACC, the substantial upgrade and new tools would enable crime fighters to improve sharing of criminal information and intelligence between Commonwealth, State and Territory law enforcement agencies, and improve national criminal intelligence production.
Chief Executive of the ACC, Alastair Milroy said the upgrade to the Australian Criminal Intelligence Database (ACID) would encourage law enforcement agencies across Australia to contribute a greater diversity of information and intelligence, making the database a highly valuable intelligence tool in fighting organised crime.
He said the new capabilities included text analysis and socio network analysis tools to enable law enforcement to better understand the criminal environment by analysing patterns within unstructured text, and to detect and map criminal networks.
He said it also included a centralised clandestine laboratory information repository and a standardised national approach for recording information collected at seizures, making it easier for police to contribute information from the field.
The latest release of ACID also provided a more user-friendly interface, enhanced search capability and a greater capacity to hold more criminal intelligence data.
“ACID has evolved into a capability-rich analytical environment and we have been able to refine and integrate technologies to improve collection, analysis and dissemination of criminal intelligence,” Mr Milroy said.
“It will also build effective information and intelligence sharing relationships across the Australian law enforcement community, providing an analytical space for tactical and strategic criminal intelligence for both basic and advanced users.”
5 August, 2008
Students test numbers limit
The number of university students in Australia has exceeded a million for the first time according to figures released by the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations.
The 2007 Higher Education Students Statistics Collection showed that in 2007 the total number of students at tertiary institutions reached 1,029,846 which was an increase of 4.7 per cent on 2006.
DEEWR said the increase was partly due to the introduction of new reporting requirements for private universities, but student numbers at public universities continued to grow, with a 2.1 per cent increase recorded between 2006 and 2007.
The number of overseas higher education students also grew in 2007, with 254,414 enrolled in public universities in that year, an increase of 3.2 per cent on 2006.
The data also revealed that more Indigenous students were enrolling in higher education with the number at public universities increasing by 5.4 per cent between 2006 and 2007.
During the same period public university enrolments increased significantly in courses leading to provisional registration in medicine (up 23.0 per cent) and initial registration in nursing (11.2 per cent) and teaching (3.9 per cent) due to extra Commonwealth supported places.
New enrolments at public universities increased in most broad fields, including health (up 9.9 per cent) and in engineering and related technologies (up 8.7 per cent), a positive change from the modest 1.4 per cent increase between 2005 and 2006, and the decline between 2003 and 2005.
The rise in engineering and related technologies enrolments at public universities reflected an increase of 510 Commonwealth supported places in 2007. An extra 560 places have been offered in 2008.
5 August, 2008
Weather Bureau settled on deal
The Australian Bureau of Meteorology has entered a technical partnership with Indonesia to detect and monitor tsunamis in the Indian Ocean.
The agreement, with Indonesia’s Agency for Assessment and Application of Technology (Bagdan Pengkajian dan Penerapan Teknologi or BPPT), was expected to boost the tsunami detection capabilities of each country and improve observation monitoring and assessment.
Minister for the Environment, Peter Garrett said working closely with Indonesia had the potential to improve the system and save lives.
“The Indonesian Government plans a string of 22 buoys crossing the fault line in the Indian Ocean,” Mr Garrett said.
“These, together with the planned extension to the Bureau of Meteorology’s network of deep ocean tsunami detection buoys, will provide wider tsunami detection capability.”
He said the agreement had two major advantages. Firstly, Indonesia would assist the Bureau in the maintenance of the Bureau’s two standard deep ocean tsunami detection buoys due to be deployed to the north of Western Australia later this year.
“Secondly, the Bureau will procure an easy-to-deploy, deep ocean tsunami detection buoy that will complement Australia’s and Indonesia’s tsunami warning systems.
“This new buoy will be jointly operated and evaluated by the two countries,” Mr Garrett said.
He said data captured from the tsunami detection buoys would be made available worldwide for the use of other Agencies in detecting tsunami events.
5 August, 2008
Women’s Treaty reaches middle-age
The 25th anniversary of Australia’s ratification of the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women has been welcomed by the Attorney-General, Robert McClelland and Minister for the Status of Women, Tanya Plibersek.
The pair said the anniversary was a reminder of the need to make every effort to ensure the equal participation of women in all aspects of Australian society.
According to the UN, nearly 200 countries had ratified the CEDAW and were using it as the basis for realising gender equality by working towards women's equal access to, and equal opportunities in, education, health and employment.
“CEDAW is based on the principle that true equality between women and men is a basic human right,” Mr McClelland said.
He said the Government was committed to maximising opportunities for women and to building a more inclusive, safe, fair and unified Australia.
He said in the past 25 years, CEDAW had directly benefited Australian women.
In particular, it provided the authority and momentum required to introduce legislation, such as the Sex Discrimination Act 1984, which made discrimination against women illegal.
He said in addition to the work accomplished under the Convention, the Government had also announced it had commenced the process towards accession to the Optional Protocol to CEDAW. This Protocol would enable Australian women to complain to the United Nations if Australia violated its obligations under CEDAW and they had exhausted domestic remedies.
Ms Plibersek said the Government is committed to Australia being, once again, a leader in women’s rights locally and internationally.
“At the upcoming Commission on the Status of Women (the Government) will highlight initiatives it has taken to strengthen women’s rights in Australia since being elected earlier this year,” Ms Plibersek said.
She said as a clear signal of its commitment to women’s rights internationally, the Government would fund the participation of an Indigenous woman and an expert from the community sector to participate on the Government delegation to the UN Commission on the Status of Women, next year.
5 August, 2008
Study cleans up on internet filters
A study by the Australian Communications and Media Authority has found that advances have been made in the effectiveness of content filters on the internet.
The ACMA report was welcomed by the Minister for Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy, Senator Stephen Conroy, who said the improvements would help the Government deliver on its election promise - to create a safer online environment.
“The internet is a wonderful tool that is delivering benefits to increasing numbers of Australian families but the Government wants to find ways to make it safer, particularly for children,” Senator Conroy said.
He released the findings of the report, Closed Environment Testing of ISP-Level Internet Content Filtering,that contained the results of extensive laboratory tests into the current effectiveness of commercial Internet Service Provider filtering products.
He said ISP filtering was one element of the Government’s Plan for Cyber-Safety which also included education, international cooperation, research and law enforcement.
“The next step is to test filter technologies in a real world environment with a number of ISPs and internet users,” Senator Conroy said.
He said the Government was committed to ensuring all Australian families could utilise ISP filters that blocked prohibited content as identified by ACMA. Families should also be able to access filters that could be customised to block more material if they chose.
Senator Conroy said tests undertaken during the laboratory investigation found that the quality of ISP-level filtering technology had significantly improved compared with that used in a previous trial conducted in 2005.
“It is very encouraging to see that the industry has made significant progress with ISP filtering products and we are heartened that many of the products tested are commercially available, with many of them already deployed overseas,” Senator Conroy said.
He said the results of the ACMA trial were based on illegal and inappropriate content. The tests included filtering over and above simple black-list filtering, and the trial did not specifically test the impact of black-list filtering on its own.
“Filtering specifically against a black-list of illegal content as well as the ability to filter additional material will be one part of the upcoming pilot trial,” Senator Conroy said.
“We are interested to see the results of filtering in real-world conditions and I encourage ISPs to participate.
“This will enable the implementation of ISP filtering in Australia to be undertaken in an informed and effective way,” he said.
5 August, 2008
Secretary moves on
The Official Secretary to the Governor-General, Malcolm Hazell, is to leave the position.
Mr Hazell served two Governors-General since May 2003, and has had a Public Service career spanning 36 years.
He wished the newly-appointed Governor-General, Quentin Bryce and her husband every good wish for the future, as well as his successor.
Tokyo show a winner
An exhibition from the National Museum of Australia, Utopia: the Genius of Emily Kame Kngwarreye, attracted more than 100,000 visitors during its season at the National Arts Center in Tokyo, Japan.
The exhibition told the story of Aboriginal artist, Emily Kame Kngwarreye, who lived and worked in the desert in central Australia.
Separately, a painting that depicts Ms Kngwarreye’s hometown of Utopia in the Northern Territory set a new record by selling for $1.1 million.
CSA hosts debt squad
A summit of experts from the Child Support Agency is looking for new ways of tackling child support debt owed by international clients.
The $235 million debt was the fastest growing proportion of the $1 billion total owed for child support.
The CSA was working with the Australian Taxation Office and the Department of Immigration and Citizenship to collect the debt.
Medal is rights offer
The Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission is calling for nominations for the 2008 Human Rights Medals and Awards.
The Medals and Awards have been presented for 21 years recognising the efforts and commitment of selfless and often uncelebrated people protecting human rights in their day-to-day lives.
The theme for this year’s awards is “Dignity and justice for all of us”, in celebration of the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
For nomination forms, visit www.humanrights.gov.au/hr_awards
Climate fund to pay out
The Government is calling for applications for funding under its $75 million Climate Ready program.
The program supports Australian businesses developing new products, processes and services to tackle climate change and offers dollar-for-dollar support.
Applicants can apply for grants ranging from $50,000 to $5 million and more information is available from AusIndustry’s website or hotline on 13 28 46.
AQIS stamped out
Australia Post has released a stamp to mark the centenary of quarantine legislation in Australia.
The 50-cent stamp features an AQIS detector dog at an Australian airport with his handler holding a pineapple and the words “Quarantine Matters”.
The pineapple is an example of Australian primary industries that are still vulnerable to the introduction of overseas pests and diseases.
Petrol watchdog runs out
The newly-appointed Petrol Commissioner, Pat Walker has resigned for personal reasons. He will leave the post in two months.
The Government is expected to make an announcement about a new Petrol Commissioner in coming weeks, after consulting with the States and Territories.
Trafficking red light
A report from the Australian Institute of Criminology has confirmed that the Government was clamping down on people trafficking.
According to the Institute, since the Support for Victims of People Trafficking Program started in 2004, 107 people had received support and the new research showed that increased numbers of cases relating to the trafficking of women for sexual purposes had come to official attention.