SearchArchives for June 200824 June, 2008
Auditor insecure on security clearances
The Auditor-General has found “considerable scope” for improving the processes of granting and maintaining security clearances for APS staff and other authorised personnel across the Public Service.
In his third (and the fourth overall) investigation into the security clearance system since 2002, the Auditor found that some Agencies still did not have effective personnel security arrangements in place and had not paid sufficient attention to the requirements of the Government’s Protective Security Manual, the PSM.
In his report Management of Personnel Security – Follow-up Audit, the Auditor said 14 recommendations had come out of the three studies of the past six years but none of the Agencies he audited this time round had implemented them all.
“Two of the selected organisations had fully implemented almost all the recommendations from the previous reports,” he said. “Two organisations had not fully implemented most of the recommendations.”
He said his audit identified two major weaknesses: “the management of personnel security risks, including processes to regularly assess security clearance requirements; and the timely identification and assessment of issues impacting on an individual’s continued suitability to hold a security clearance (security aftercare).
“While there has been a general improvement in the administration of personnel security since the previous reports, there remains considerable scope for some organisations to improve many key personnel security processes.”
He said as far as managing the personnel security function was concerned, none of the Agencies had fully implemented the requirements of the PSM and consequently did not have effective risk management measures in place.
He found however that the Agencies had conducted their security clearances in accordance with PSM requirements and were maintaining them according to the book, but were not providing adequate after care.
He also found that significant backlogs in processing security clearances evident in past reviews had been cleared but remained high for Ministerial staff. It put that down to the change of Government.
The Auditor made two recommendations: that Agencies regularly review their personnel security risk assessments and that they adopt after care arrangements.
24 June, 2008
Employment scheme on job in UN awards
The Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations’ JobAccess service has won a United Nations Public Service Award.
The JobAccess service, which supports the employment of people with a mental illness and disability, took out the award which was billed as the world’s most prestigious international recognition of excellence in public service.
The service won the Asia and Pacific category for Improving the Delivery of Public Services.
Minister for Employment Participation, Brendan O’Connor said JobAccess was launched in July 2006 following recommendations from a Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission inquiry into the barriers to employment for people with a disability.
Mr O’Connor said the service currently received more than 1200 enquiries a month.
“Services like JobAccess help employers who are happy to consider employing someone with a disability but don’t know where to start,” he said.
Mr O’Connor said the Government wanted to continue to encourage more people with a disability or mental illness to participate in the workforce.
“This is why the Government is currently developing a National Mental Health and Disability Employment Strategy to look at how we can help more people with a disability find and retain a job.”
He said the strategy would also aim to encourage more employers to employ people with a disability or mental illness by addressing myths about increased risks and costs, and increasing awareness of the benefits.
“People with a disability and/or a mental illness have an enormous contribution to make to Australian society and one of the best ways that they can do that is by having a job.”
The awards are decided by the United Nations Department of Economic and Social Affairs which honoured 12 programs this year on United Nations Public Service Day, 23 June. As wll as the JobAccess program, winners included public organisations from Brazil,
India, Jordan, Rwanda, Saudi Arabia, Singapore, South Africa, Spain, Sweden, Tunisia and the United States of America
For more information about the UN Public Service Awards can be obtained from the Department of Economic and Social Affairs website www.unpan.org/dpepa_psaward.asp
24 June, 2008
Ombudsman assesses job assessment scheme
An increase in complaints to the Ombudsman’s Office has prompted an investigation into the job capacities of people with disabilities under the Welfare to Work initiatives.
Commonwealth Ombudsman, Professor John McMillan said his office had received 140 complaints relating to cases involving aspects of the job capacity assessment (JCA) process.
He recently released his report into the assessments and made 10 recommendations.
Under the Welfare to Work scheme which was introduced on 1 July 2006, people with and illness, disability and/or barrier to work were required be assessed for their capacity to enter the workforce. The assessments were used by Centrelink to make decisions on income support decisions and to identify the most appropriate employment-related assistance for the individuals concerned.
Professor McMillan said although the complaints he received covered a number of issues, “we identified some common themes.”
“This report highlights problems identified through case studies of complaints investigated by my Office, and discusses current JCA practice and procedures and their impact.”
He said his report discovered the following issues with the assessment process:
Professor McMillan encouraged the Agencies to work together to address all his recommendations and improve the JCA process and the quality of JCA reports.
His report can be found at www.ombudsman.gov.au
24 June, 2008
PS no heaven with work hours from hell
Members of the Australian Public Service putting in long hours to advance the Government’s policy agenda have been warned by the Catholic Church that their long hours may be morally unjustifiable.
Jesuit theologian Father Andrew Hamilton said as leader of the Government, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd had a duty to ensure long hours of work by Public Servants were not encouraged.
"In old fashioned Catholic terms it may be a sin," Fr Hamilton wrote in the magazine Eureka Street.
Defining overwork as investing disproportionate time and concentration on what a worker considered ‘work,’ Fr Hamilton said it was the ‘disproportion’ that created the problem.
“What makes overwork morally unjustifiable is that the time and attention we give to it is disproportionate,” he said.
“Our way of working should be measured by the conditions we need in order to flourish as human beings.”
He said working long hours did not give people the space they needed to nurture significant relationships, explore other talents, contribute to the community or reflect on the meaning and direction of life.
“Overwork crimps our space in a way that becomes habitual and self-destructive,” he said.
Fr Hamilton said overwork could not be justified because it made “instrumental goals” central and failed to respect deeper human values.
“The culture of many workplaces encourages workers to internalise and idealise the neglect of their human dignity involved in overwork.
“They find it hard, a sign of failure, to leave the abusive environment.”
Fr Hamilton said overwork in the PS was especially dangerous because many Public Servants needed to remain in touch with human dignity as it was often affected by Government decisions.”
“Mr Rudd won some sympathy for demanding heroic work practices,” he said, “since in popular myth, the Public Service is often seen as a sheltered workshop for bludgers.
“The sympathy was misplaced.
“A culture of overwork is a public disservice.”
Fr Hamilton said that if, as he suggested, overwork was a sin: “Mr Rudd has no business promoting it.”
24 June, 2008
Photocopy review to keep original
The Attorney-General’s Department has reviewed the laws governing private copying of films and photographs and has recommended they not be changed for the time being.
Attorney-General, Robert McClelland, said the Department’s suggestion that the matter be kept under notice to ensure industry expectations were realised had been agreed to.
“The Government is aware that there are very divergent views on how copyright law should adapt to changes in digital technology and consumer expectations,” Mr McClelland said.
“I support the report's assessments, which note that the current provisions have only been in operation for 18 months and more time is needed to assess their impact.”
Mr McClelland said keeping the laws as they were provided much needed certainty to those adapting to the new copyright regime.
“I have asked my Department to follow market developments closely in consultation with copyright owners and consumer organisations,” he said.
Mr McClelland said the report, which covered sections 47J and 110AA of the Copyright Act 1968, was available on the Attorney-General's Department’s website at www.ag.gov.au/copyrightexceptions
He said more information could be obtained by contacting the Copyright Law Branch of the Attorney-General's Department on (02) 6250 6313 or email@example.com
24 June, 2008
Debt control pays in Centrelink audit
A follow-up audit report on Centrelink’s management of customer debt has found the Agency had adopted all but one of the recommendations made in 2004/05.
Acting Auditor-General, Steve Chapman said Centrelink’s management of client for debt had improved despite the debt base increasing further.
Mr Chapman said customers owed Centrelink $967 million in 2003, and approximately $1.3 billion in June 2007, but his Office noted the increase had occurred “at a time when the level of consumer debt in Australia is rising”.
He said between 1 July 2003 and 31 December 2007, nominal household debt levels within Australia had risen from 126.4 per cent of disposable income to 160.4 per cent.
In the 2004/05 Management of Consumer Debt audit, the Audit Office made nine recommendations, while an inquiry by the Joint Committee of Public Accounts and Audit (JCPAA) made a further six.
The follow-up audit found all recommendations had been taken on board except for a recommendation made by JCPAA relating to the value of the automatic debt waiver, which Centrelink said was the responsibility of its purchaser Departments.
The follow-up audit focused on debt management operations including prevention, identification, raising and recovery.
Mr Chapman said the audit scope took into account the changes made to the Commonwealth’s program structure since the previous audit and examined Centrelink’s debt management arrangements with its then main purchaser Departments: The Department of Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs (FaCSIA), the Department of Employment and Workplace Relations (DEWR) and the Department of Education, Science and Training (DEST).
Mr Chapman said Centrelink and its purchaser Departments needed to focus on gaining a better understanding of the factors driving the increase in the debt base
“Undertaking an analysis of the debt base would usefully inform the framing of a nationally integrated program-based approach to debt management,” he said.
The follow-up audit made two further recommendations.
It recommended that Centrelink and its purchaser Departments undertake an analysis of the debt base’s increase in value and the increased number of customers experiencing debt, and that Centrelink review existing governance arrangements to improve the data concerning debt prevention strategy decision making.
A full copy of the audit could be accessed from www.anao.gov.au
24 June, 2008
Campaigner campaigns against campaign
The Minister for Human Services has taken aim at a misinformation campaign making false claims about the entitlements paid to Australian refugees.
The Minister, Senator Joe Ludwig, said the internet-based campaign was creating confusion and discontent in the community, alleging refugees were receiving significantly more financial support than other social security recipients.
He urged people not to be sucked in by the campaign.
“These claims are completely false and deliberately try to divide our community by gutter wedge politics,” Senator Ludwig said.
The campaign, which operates through the internet, emails, blogs and chat rooms, claimed that refugees received $2500 in welfare payments each month and suggested senior Australians would be better off as refugees.
“The claims have been repeated in numerous media stories over the past year and the urban legend even has its own Wikipedia page outlining the campaign’s origins in Canada and the United States.
“I’m very disappointed people are continuing to perpetuate these myths – it’s only causing unnecessary concern and angst among both refugee groups and age pensioners.”
Senator Ludwig said refugees to Australia did not receive higher rates of payment than age pensioners and there were no separate rates of payment for refugees and they were not eligible for more assistance from Centrelink than any of its other clients.
“As with any Centrelink customer, the rate of payments available to a refugee depends upon individual circumstances.
“As an example, a refugee who qualifies for Age Pension, would receive exactly the same rate as an Australian citizen whose income, assets and relationship circumstances were the same.”
Senator Ludwig urged anyone receiving the campaign messages to reply and tell the sender they have been the victim of a hoax.
He said the false allegations detracted from the spirit of National Refugee Week, which ran from 15 to 21 June which had as its theme this year “A Place to Call Home”.
He said since the end of World War II Australia has provided a safe haven to more than 700,000 refugees
“It’s never easy to pack up and start a new life in a country where you don’t know the language or culture, even more so if you’ve suffered torture and trauma,” Senator Ludwig said.
“Centrelink and its teams of specialists such as the Refugee Servicing Team and Multicultural Service Officers understand the challenges faced by refugees.
“Many of these officers have themselves arrived in Australia as refugees from war-torn countries,” he said.
24 June, 2008
Lawyers weave tangled web
A new internet portal that would allow lawyers to keep track of trials, documents filed and Court orders has been launched by Attorney-General Robert McClelland.
The Federal Court, the Family Court, and the Federal Magistrates Court have joined forces to provide the internet-based gateway.
“This portal is an impressive example of cooperation between the Commonwealth Courts, which will certainly enhance access to justice and reduce costs,” Mr McClelland said.
The Portal would also allow users to undertake electronic transactions such as lodging documents, submitting draft orders, requesting hearing dates and accessing future listings.
“Those who work in the law know that an effective justice system requires the continual development of more efficient ways to progress litigation – from filing to finalisation,” Mr McClelland said.
“By embracing online technology the Courts are showing they’re willing to move with the times to improve the flow of information.”
He said the Government strongly supported the initiative and he was sure it would be embraced by legal practitioners.
More information on the portal is available from www.comcourts.gov.au
24 June, 2008
ACCC puts house on new mortgage website
The Australian Competition and Consumer Commission has added a new page to its website to help homeowners suffering problems meeting their mortgage repayments.
ACCC Chairman, Graeme Samuel, said the Commission was aware of the increased pressure on families resulting from higher mortgage commitments.
Mr Samuel said he was concerned about reports that some businesses were employing unscrupulous practices to take advantage of vulnerable home owners.
“The ACCC has received reports that some businesses are targeting home owners struggling to meet mortgage repayments with the promise of a quick sale at prices below market value,” he said.
Mr Samuel said the Managing Your Mortgage web page aimed to provide some practical steps home owners experiencing financial difficulties could take before considering selling.
He said key tips included seeking independent financial advice; talking to the lender to discuss options; checking the terms and conditions of new loans before deciding to refinance; and arranging a number of house valuations if a sale was necessary.
“The information contained on the Managing Your Mortgage page is general guidance only and recommends that home owners seek independent advice as soon as possible if they are experiencing financial difficulties,” Mr Samuel said.
He acknowledged the assistance provided by consumer groups including Kildonan Uniting Care, Consumer Action Law Centre, the Australian Financial Counselling and Credit Reform Association and the Consumer's Federation of Australia in the preparation of the material.
Mr Samuel said the page was located on the For Consumers pages of the ACCC website, www.accc.gov.au
He said the page provided links to the Australian Securities and Investments Commission consumer website FIDO where home owners could find in-depth guidance on managing loans and mortgages and protecting wealth in the family home.
24 June, 2008
Super savings for superannuation funds
The Australian Securities and Investments Commission has eased its disclosure requirements on superannuation funds when communicating with their members.
ASIC has unveiled two projects that would provide cost-relief to funds and allow them to make much greater use of the internet for reporting purposes.
The first project was a proposal to allow super funds to place annual fund information online rather than mailing it to members.
After receiving positive feedback about the proposal, ASIC said they would allow annual reports to be placed online provided certain conditions were satisfied.
ASIC’s Deputy Chairman, Jeremy Cooper, said nearly everyone who responded to their electronic disclosure consultation thought “less paper in super” was a good idea.
“Now that super returns are likely to be down this year on past years, we think it is a good time to roll this out and any cost savings will be welcomed by members,” Mr Cooper said.
The conditions required by ASIC are that the annual report must be readily accessible on line, members must be given the choice to receive a copy in the mail free of charge and members must be supplied with information about medium and long-term returns with their periodic statement (Member Benefit Statement).
The second proposal was a regulatory guide aimed at improving investor engagement with the long-term nature of superannuation investments.
ASIC said it thought many super funds would wish to provide a longer-term picture of super returns to members who may not understand that super returns fluctuated over time and a seemingly negative year of returns did not necessarily mean their superannuation was a bad investment.
It said the findings of the Government’s Super Advisory Group showed that reporting long-term super fund performance helped members and alerted them to the potentially negative long-term consequences of switching their investment due to short-term negative returns.
ASIC said this information should be conveyed to members with their periodic statement, which contained information specific to individual members.
It said the Regulatory Guide: Superannuation: helping investors look at longer-term returns—ASIC’s best practice guide provided practical information on how super funds could give members a picture of historical super fund returns.
ASIC has encouraged super funds to work towards providing members with personalised historical returns for five and 10-year periods with their periodic statements in the future.
For the 2008 reporting season, super funds that wanted annual report relief had been given the option of including an ASIC leaflet or an electronic link containing information about long-term performance for typical super fund investment options, with periodic statements sent to members.
For further information visit www.asic.gov.au
24 June, 2008
Tax take is trap for audit firms
An academic researcher has found that audit firms which offered traditional tax services to their audit clients could be casting doubt on their reputation for independence.
Deakin University’s Associate Professor Graeme Wines, from the university’s Faculty of Business and Law, has discovered that the concerns were particularly felt by investors and those using annual reports.
“Up until now tax services were not considered to represent a concern to an audit firm’s independence,” Associate Professor Wines said.
“Yet my research shows there is definitely cause for concern.”
As a part of his PhD, Associate Professor Wines explored the issue of auditor independence.
He said auditor independence had been raised in public following the HIH and Enron cases.
“There was considerable regulatory change as a result of HIH in Australia,” he said.
“It was acknowledged that it was important that the auditor who audits a company’s accounts is, and is seen to be, independent of the company.”
Professor Wines said firms had separated their audit and non-audit services to ensure their independence, and until now, tax services had been thought to be okay.
“My research suggests that accounting firms need to be careful about the level of tax services they do provide to listed public companies,” he said, “even if they are provided by a separate division within the firm.”
He said PhD research participants had indicated the concerns kicked in when the taxation services fees amounted to 50 per cent of the audit fee charged.
He said the situation required careful balancing as the accounting firm conducting the audit was also most likely to be in the best position to supply additional tax services on a cost-effective basis.
Professor Wines’ research supported regulatory changes requiring the rotation of audit partners to ensure independence and examined the issue of audit partners leaving to become directors of audited clients.
“Often in the past audit partners left the audit firm they worked for and joined the board of a company they previously audited,” he said.
“New regulations have required a two year cooling off period before a partner previously involved in the audit of a company could become a director of that company.”
Associate Professor Wines said his research supported the cooling off period and found it should apply to all the audit firm’s partners, even if they didn’t work on the audit of the company they planned to move to.
At the same time ASIC released the latest results of its audit inspection program, concluding that Australia had a skilled audit profession committed to independence and audit quality.
The report summarised the results of ASIC’s audit regulation activities from 1 July 2006 to 31 December 2007, which included audit inspections of 19 firms, an increased number compared to prior periods, reflecting the evolving focus of the audit inspection program.
ASIC’s Chief Accountant, Lee White said most firms inspected more than once by ASIC had committed resources and further enhanced quality control systems and processes to ensure compliance with the legislative requirements for auditor independence and audit quality.
In contrast he said some firms visited for the first time had not taken a proactive approach to planning and implementing effective policies, systems and processes.
“The future focus of ASIC’s inspections will include those firms who audit significant public interest entities, and how firms are complying with the legally enforceable auditing standards,” Mr White said.
24 June, 2008
Legal aid expands to bush lawyers
Improved access to legal aid services for communities in regional, rural and remote Australia is expected following an injection of funds for the purpose.
Attorney-General, Robert McClelland said the Government would allocate $5.8 million for to extend access under a Regional Innovations Program for Legal Services.
He said the Government understood that people living in regional, rural and remote Australia were among the most disadvantaged in the community when it came to receiving assistance with their legal problems.
“That is why, in implementing the Regional Innovations Program for Legal Services, we have taken the opportunity to expand its scope to allow funding for a broader range of services,” Mr McClelland said
He said experience showed that if legal problems were not resolved early, they could compound and result in a range of adverse consequences, including the loss of health, job, home and relationships, which could lead to social exclusion.
The funding would be provided through legal aid commissions in NSW, Queensland, Western Australia and Tasmania who had all sought additional funds for a range of capacity-building initiatives to enhance legal aid services for disadvantaged Australians in regional, rural and remote areas, especially those facing a family breakdown.
“Helping country firms to employ lawyers and build their capacity to provide local legal services will ensure people can get early help with their legal problems and prevent these problems from escalating,” Mr McClelland said.
Funding was also being made available through the National Association of Community Legal Centres to support country law graduates to complete their practical legal training in regional Australia.
“This will help encourage those graduates to consider long-term employment opportunities in regional Australia and increase the number of law graduates who choose to remain in their local communities to work as legal practitioners,” Mr McClelland said.
He said the funding came on top of a $10 million one-off injection for the Commonwealth Community Legal Services Program – the largest ever injection in the program’s history - and a $7 million one-off injection for legal aid.
24 June, 2008
Pilots’ training kit cleared for take-off
A new Aviation Training Package has been launched to deliver an Australia-wide system of standards and qualifications for pilots and other aviation workers for the first time.
Minister for Transport, Anthony Albanese said the Package had three distinct features.
He said it cut through myriad of state qualifications to provide nationally consistent qualifications; allowed aviation workers to move more freely between civilian and defence workforces; and would enhance the nation’s reputation as a leader in the industry by making it easier for overseas students to train in Australia.
“Previously to become a pilot, there were a variety of State and Territory qualifications,” he said, “and the experience of Defence personnel was not properly recognised by civilian authorities and civilian experience wasn't formally recognised by Defence.”
“For the first time the two regulators of Australia's aviation industry - the Civil Aviation Safety Authority (CASA) and the Defence Department - have agreed on standards and requirements for pilot qualifications”.
Mr Albanese said the Council had worked closely with CASA and Defence to ensure skilled pilots could move around freely to help overcome pilot shortages.
“The development of this Package is particularly timely given that commercial plane and helicopter pilots were recently added to the Government's official national skills shortage list,” he said.
“Industry predicts a pilot shortage of up to 1,800 over the next two to three years.”
Mr Albanese said the Package would be an important resource for all trainers and those in the aviation industry.
“The Aviation Training Package is now the official guide for training pilots and other aviation workers,” he said.
Mr Albanese said the Package brought together two of Labor’s key priorities - building a world class aviation industry and delivering an 'education revolution'.
He said the Government’s Aviation White Paper, due to be finalised by mid 2009, would address skills shortages and industry growth.
Mr Albanese said $1.9 billion of funding over five years to fill up to 630,000 training places through the Productivity Places Program would help the Transport and Logistics Skills Council to support skills development in sectors such as the aviation industry.
24 June, 2008
Talks clear air over open skies agreement
Negotiations have begun with the European Union to create an “Open Skies” aviation agreement between the EU and Australia.
Minister for Transport, Anthony Albanese said European Transport Ministers had given approval for the European Commission to enter the negotiations which could lead to a much more flexible air service between the two destinations.
“An ‘Open Skies’ agreement could remove many - if not all - of the existing regulatory limitations on Australian and European airlines operating between our two continents,” Mr Albanese said, “allowing them to offer more flights and a wider range of services at the most competitive prices.
“Such an outcome would benefit Australian businesses and travellers.”
He said flights from Australia to Europe were currently limited by bilateral agreements which were “outdated”.
“For example, our carriers are only allowed to offer three flights per week to Paris,” Mr Albanese said.
He said the Government was committed to negotiating a genuinely comprehensive agreement with the EU.
“The agreement will be broader than market access issues, and is likely to address competition, safety and security and environmental protection issues.”
He said the EU was Australia’s largest aviation market and in 2007, 4.5 million passengers travelled between Australia and the EU - an average of 43,780 passengers each way per week.
Mr Albanese said negotiations for an Open Skies agreement would build on Australia’s “Horizontal” air services agreement with the EU.
The Horizontal agreement, signed in April 2008, recognised the existence of a single European market for air transport links to and from Australia.
24 June, 2008
Pharmacy network is the right medicine
A national network that uses chemist shops to make it easier for people to join community groups has been welcomed by the Minister for Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs, Jenny Macklin.
Ms Macklin said the new scheme would harness the resources of up to 5000 of the nation’s pharmacies and would soon be in operation across the country.
“With Australian Government support, the Pharmacy Guild of Australia and the Our Community group are rolling out the national Join In Join Up network which will use an extensive data base and trained pharmacy staff to link people with local community groups,” Ms Macklin said.
Telstra has also announced it would join the partnership and be a key player in the marketing and communications campaign.
“All the research shows that participation in community groups gives people a sense of belonging and inclusion,” Ms Macklin said.
“It’s a positive for health and wellbeing. And at a time when people can feel overwhelmed by external pressures, the companionship and security is even more important.”
She said trained pharmacy staff would be able to access a comprehensive, national data base, profiling the 55,000 community groups that already subscribed to Our Community.
“Using this information and their training to recognise people at risk or in need, staff will provide advice on local community organisations that best suit the needs, interests and life circumstances of their customers,” Ms Macklin said.
“For example, new parents can be linked with playgroups, people with chronic illnesses put in touch with health support groups, young people on methadone programs connected to rehabilitation and the elderly with senior’s clubs.”
Ms Macklin said while pharmacies already offered professional advice and assistance through Join In Join Up they would have an expanded capacity to link up the people coming through their doors with relevant community groups.
“It is an innovative, practical way to connect people, especially those at risk of social isolation, to the groups which can give them the support and help they need.”
24 June, 2008
Defence labs to make right stuff
The establishment of a Defence Materials Technology Centre (DMTC) was expected to lead to futuristic materials being developed for the Defence Force’s ships, aircraft and combat vehicles.
A three-way joint statement from the Ministers for Defence Science and Personnel, Warren Snowdon; Innovation, Industry, Science and Research, Senator Kim Carr; and the Parliamentary Secretary for Defence Procurement, Greg Combet announced that the DMTC was incorporated and ready to start.
“The DMTC is the first centre of its kind, and will bring together some of Australia’s brightest talents in the field of materials technology research,” Mr Snowdon said.
“Participants such as Bluescope Steel, BAE Systems, Thales Australia, GKN Aerospace, Surface Technology Coatings, ANSTO, Wollongong University and Queensland University have been unstinting in their commitment and co-operation.”
He said a board of directors had been elected, and Dr Mark Hodge appointed as Chief Executive Officer, with effect 30 June.
The DMTC officially commenced operations on 10 June on the signing of the Commonwealth Agreement, and would open its doors at the beginning of July.
Mr Combet said the Centre would play a crucial role in the protection of Australian troops deployed around the world.
“The DMTC will be headquartered at Swinburne University (in Victoria) and will receive Australian Government funding of $30 million and a further $52 million from the collaborative partners,” Mr Combet said.
“Its program is designed to develop specific future defence capabilities not currently addressed by Australian defence industry.
“I look forward to it delivering improved armour protection for military vehicles and high-tech materials for use in major Defence acquisitions such as the Joint Strike Fighter.”
The Ministers said the DMTC was the first to be established under the Defence Future Capability Technology Centre Program, modelled on the successful Cooperative Research Centres (CRC) Program.
“The decision to emulate the CRC Program – which is now in its 17th year – in the delivery of this new initiative is testament to the value of the program,” Senator Carr said.
“It is absolutely essential that we have innovation programs and infrastructure that can solve the widest range of problems – social and environmental, as well as economic,” he said.
Senator Carr said the DMTC would be managed within the Innovation portfolio.
He said with 13 partners from Government, industry and the research sector, the Centre’s establishment was on schedule, making it the shortest timeframe for an organisation of its nature to be established.
24 June, 2008
DIAC Guide for settlers
The Department of Immigration and Citizenship has released a good practice guide to assist refuges settle in Australia.
The Guide Empowering Refugees: A Good Practice Guide to Humanitarian Settlement, was launched on World Refugee Day and includes 29 successful projects from Government and non-Government sectors aimed at boosting community interest and initiatives in assisting refugees adjust to their new home.
The Guide can be downloaded from www.immi.gov.au
Regulation office moved
Climate graduates wanted
Broadcasting rules updated
Veterans’ art competition
New Guinea mapped
Cutback campaign pays dividends
The Community and Public Sector Union has taken the credit for last week’s announcement that Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee is to investigate the impact of across-the-board expenditure cuts on small Agencies.
The Union said the PAC decision came as a “direct result” of the Union’s public campaign against the cutbacks, including the increased efficiency dividend.
The Union said both Opposition and Government MPs had expressed concern that Agencies such as the High Court of Australia, the Australian National Audit Office, the Commonwealth Ombudsman and the Parliamentary Departments were being affected “unreasonably” by the one-off, 3.25 per cent efficiency return.
National Secretary of the Union, Stephen Jones said the Inquiry was a victory for the community's growing concern about the effects of the Public Service cuts.
"The efficiency dividend is a blunt, one size fits all instrument,” Mr Jones said, “that is hampering Government Agencies’ ability to deliver critical nation building architecture and services for the public.
"We welcome the Inquiry as an opportunity to throw the spotlight on the damage being caused by these on-going budget cuts.”
He said the Inquiry was announced in the same week that the War Memorial announced it would be cutting its travelling exhibitions in half to meet the demands of the efficiency dividend.
"We need to be building a better Public Service able to assist the Government in tackling the nation's long term challenges, not continually cutting and axing its operations,” Mr Jones said.
He said the CPSU would be making a submission to the Inquiry and would use the opportunity to argue strongly for a more sustainable model for all public sector funding.
17 June, 2008
Information on file for FOI review
A review of the Commonwealth’s Freedom of Information laws are to take into account newly-released sweeping changes proposed for FOI in Queensland.
Special Minister of State and Cabinet Secretary, Senator John Faulkner said an extensive 400-page, 140-recommendation report for the Queensland Government by former journalist David Solomon which proposes significantly overhauling the State’s current system, would be looked at as part of the Commonwealth review process.
Senator Faulkner said the Queensland report was a "valuable contribution to FOI reform.”
Among the many changes recommended by Dr Solomon was that the entire emphasis on Government information be reversed so that instead of information being “pulled out” by FOI requests, it should be “pushed out” by Government.
Under the law proposed for Queensland – renamed the Right To Information Act - the Government would lodge all but the most sensitive documents, including Cabinet agendas and non-confidential information, on a publicly accessible database. Cabinet documents would also be released after 10 years instead of 30.
The Queensland Government has committed itself to responding to the Solomon report within eight weeks and at this stage, was adopting a supportive stance. If accepted, legislation redesigning the State’s FOI scheme could be introduced into Parliament early next year.
Senator Faulkner said the Commonwealth would carefully examine the Solomon recommendations as part of the Federal FOI reform process.
"The Commonwealth FOI legislation is currently being reviewed,” Senator Faulkner said. “The Government remains committed to its election promise to introduce significant reforms in FOI to enhance transparency.
"These matters are being considered carefully because we want to get our FOI laws right."
Author of the Queensland report, Dr Solomon also advises the Australian Law Reform Commission which is also looking at FOI. In that capacity he could be expected to support a national roll-out of the Queensland changes.
A spokesman for the media’s Right to Know campaign, Greg Baxter was quoted in The Australian newspaper as saying the Solomon report was "the most significant steps towards reform we've witnessed to date".
"The report will almost certainly help the federal Government's current plans for large scale reform, overcoming the need for a lot of ground being revisited yet again,” Mr Baxter said.
17 June, 2008
Horse report an each way winner
The creation of a new position of Inspector General of Horse Importation to oversee quarantine facilities for horses was the main recommendation to come from an Inquiry into last year’s outbreak of the horse flu virus, equine influenza.
The Inquiry, by retired High Court Judge, Ian Callinan was sparked by a health scare which affected 76,000 horses on 10,000 properties in NSW and Queensland and cost the horse industry hundreds of millions of dollars.
Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, Tony Burke released the report, along with the Government’s response, which was to agree to all 38 of Commissioner Callinan’s recommendations.
“This comprehensive report is a disturbing commentary on Australia’s quarantine and biosecurity arrangements for horse imports before August last year,” Mr Burke said.
“While changes have been made to horse import systems since the outbreak, the Commissioner has highlighted serious and systemic failures in the system and the Government is acting urgently to fix these failures.
“Our most important action was to establish a comprehensive review of our quarantine and biosecurity systems – led by (former Environment Secretary) Roger Beale – which is well underway.”
Commissioner Callinan concluded that the virus “probably” came into Australia in August 2007, via horses from Japan.
He was unable to make a precise finding as to how the virus entered the general horse population, or of direct liability or culpability, but found the virus was most likely carried on a contaminated person or equipment leaving Eastern Creek Quarantine Station.
The Commission made no findings on legal liability. The Commissioner’s report identified a number of matters involving the Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service and the horse industry which may have contributed to the outbreak.
Commissioner Callinan accepted that private vets, grooms, farriers and their employers must take some responsibility for the failure in quarantine.
He also raised questions about the operations of AQIS and Australia’s broader biosecurity arrangements.
Mr Burke has asked Mr Beale to address these issues as part of his review.
According to preliminary estimates, it would cost around $1.3 million to implement the recommendations requiring immediate action and the Government has undertaken to consult with industry sectors in implementing them.
The full report is available at www.equineinfluenzainquiry.gov.au and the Government’s response is available at www.daff.gov.au
17 June, 2008
Charter audit plain sailing for ATO
An audit of how well the Australian Taxation Office was implementing the Taxpayers’ Charter has found it progressing well in adopting the nine recommendations of an earlier audit in 2004-05.
In this follow-up audit, Auditor-General Ian McPhee, said the ATO had implemented all the original recommendations in full or in part and had reviewed the Taxpayers’ Charter twice since its implementation in 1997.
Mr McPhee said the ATO’s commitment to the Charter was demonstrated through explicit references to it in strategic planning processes.
“New and updated practice statements provide staff with practical guidelines on how to meet Charter commitments,” the Auditor-General said.
“In addition, processes are planned which will assist information and guidance products, as well as advice, issued by the Tax Office to comply with Charter principles.”
Mr McPhee said he examined the systems and processes the ATO used to develop, maintain and update the Charter; the implementation and integration of the Charter’s principles with ATO business processes; its dispute resolution mechanisms; and how it monitored and reported its performance against Charter commitments.
He said his examination resulted in four recommendations to improve the ATO’s management of its responsibilities under the Charter.
These recommendations included the ATO using future reviews of the Charter to target feedback from specific taxpayers; the implementation of procedures to align future training programs with Charter principles; and expanding and improving the current complaints reporting function to benchmark current performance.
The Auditor-General suggested the ATO consider its three communication ‘pillars’ - Taxpayers’ Charter, Brand and Compliance Model - and work towards creating a fully integrated system to shape its relationship with taxpayers.
He said the ATO had indicated it would continue to review and refine the Charter and its operation and would work on an integrated approach to bring together its communication pillars.
The ATO agreed with all of Mr McPhee’s recommendations, although it registered qualifications on three.
A full copy of the Taxpayers’ Charter – Follow-up Audit could be accessed from the Australian National Audit Office website www.anao.gov.au
17 June, 2008
Retirement saluted in Navy/Uni project
The University of Wollongong and the Royal Australian Navy have joined forces in a project to determine how to retain specialist knowledge in organisations when long-standing employees retire.
Professor Lee Astheimer of the University and Commodore Steve Gilmore of Navy Systems Command have signed up to the $240,000 study.
Commodore Gilmore said the outcomes of the knowledge management project undertaken by the University would be directly applied to Navy’s maritime engineering community.
“Like many Australian organisations, Navy’s maritime engineering community has long-standing personnel approaching retirement age who have specialised corporate knowledge amassed over many years,” Commodore Gilmore said.
“This project will provide the methodology to ensure effective transfer of this valuable corporate knowledge.
“It will contribute to maintaining the Nation’s security through the sustainment of Navy’s military and naval engineering capability.”
He said another benefit would be the accelerated knowledge growth and enhanced future career prospects of Navy’s newer civilian and military maritime engineering personnel.
Professor Astheimer, who was Acting Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) at the University of Wollongong, said the research had major implications for all Australian organisations.
“Managing specialised corporate knowledge is critical to an organisation’s operational effectiveness,” Professor Astheimer said.
“Knowledge loss represents the most significant business risk in the 21st century.
“Organisations face the very real threat of substantial knowledge resources walking out the door en masse, due to increasing retirements and employee turnover.”
He said the new joint project would maximise retention of irreplaceable knowledge by capturing and sharing valuable corporate knowledge before it left the organisation.
Chief Executive Officer of the Australian Research Council, Professor Margaret Sheil congratulated the Navy for recognising the importance of collaborative research to Australia’s ongoing prosperity.
“The outcomes achieved and the relationships developed through ARC Linkage schemes help to strengthen our national innovation system and solve real world problems,” Professor Sheil said.
“The results of this project will benefit the Navy, but they will also benefit the wider community because the knowledge gained by the University of Wollongong researchers will have wider applications,” she said.
“In addition, the project will provide expert training to a talented postgraduate research student.”
She said the ARC would provide $180,000 to the project over three years.
17 June, 2008
Enrol to Vote week on AEC’s books
The Australian Electoral Commission has announced that national Enrol to Vote Week would be held in secondary schools across Australia from 28 July to 3 August this year.
Electoral Commissioner Ian Campbell said last year’s Enrol to Vote Week was successful in contributing to young Australians being correctly enrolled at the close of rolls for the 2007 Federal election.
“Enrol to Vote Week received strong support from secondary schools last year and we are looking forward to their assistance again this year,” Mr Campbell said.
“This year we are reminding students that being enrolled to vote is an ongoing right and responsibility.
“Between Federal elections there are State and Local Government elections and young people who delay enrolling may miss out on having their say.”
Mr Campbell said one in four 18 year olds were not enrolled to vote, and many 17 year olds were not aware that they could enroll early so they were able to vote as soon as they turned 18.
More than 1750 secondary schools and colleges from around the country participated last year and the Electoral Commission was hoping to register all the schools who held an Enrol to Vote Week last year, plus others.
“Schools will soon be receiving invitations to participate in Enrol to Vote Week and we encourage them to register to be involved as soon as possible,” Mr Campbell said.
A search could be made see if a local school was participating, or schools could register on the Enrol to Vote Week website, http://enroltovoteweek.aec.gov.au
17 June, 2008
Police not kidding in child protection
The Australian Federal Police have hosted an international meeting to discuss and develop strategy on combating crimes against children.
The 26th Annual Interpol Specialist Meeting on Crimes Against Children, attracted participants from 47 countries and was held just one week after the AFP’s success in Operation Centurion which led to more than 100 Australians being charged with accessing child pornography images online.
AFP Commissioner Mick Keelty said Operation Centurion was a good example of why a global law enforcement approach was needed to combat crimes against children.
Commissioner Keelty said the images of abused children from a website in Europe were accessed by people in 170 countries.
“The knowledge, experience and expertise shared by law enforcement agencies this week will assist in the development of better practices to combat these crimes proactively rather than reactively," he said.
Commissioner Keelty said the three-day meeting had been very productive and informative.
“Member countries of Interpol attend these conferences to keep up to date with new trends and developments in child protection issues,” he said.
“By hosting the meeting the AFP has placed itself in a better position to remain vigilant and stay ahead of those who wish to perpetrate such crimes.”
Commissioner Keelty said the meeting covered topics such as serious violent crimes against children, commercial exploitation and trafficking of children, sex offenders and internet-facilitated crimes against children.
He said the AFP sponsored 20 partner agencies within the Asia Pacific Region to attend the meeting, which has had limited attendance from Asia-Pacific countries in the past.
The sponsored countries included Thailand, Vietnam, China, Indonesia, Timor Leste, PNG, Samoa, Tonga, Fiji, Laos, Malaysia, Cambodia, Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.
17 June, 2008
Degree of discussion on higher education
Public comment is being sought on a discussion paper setting the future direction of higher education in Australia.
Minister for Education, Julia Gillard urged all interested parties to submit their comments on the paper, which was produced by Emeritus Professor Denise Bradley, Chair of the expert panel leading the review.
Entitled Review of Australian Higher Education, the discussion paper offers stakeholders from all sectors - business, industry, community groups, education and individuals – the opportunity to comment on the role of higher education and how it could best meet the future needs of the Australian community and economy.
Ms Gillard said higher education was fundamental to the Government’s Education Revolution and it was working to ensure Australia’s higher education system was world class and contributing to meeting the nation’s long-term skills needs.”
The Review would be undertaken by Professor Bradley, Peter Noonan, Dr Helen Nugent and Bill Scales and will be the first major review of higher education since 2002.
Ms Gillard said the Bradley Review would ensure that higher education was a key part of an innovative and productive Australia over the coming decade.
In particular, she said the Review Panel would examine the current state of the Australian higher education system against international best practice and assess whether it was capable of:
Submissions close 31 July 2008.
Further information and the discussion paper were available at www.dest.gov.au\HEreview and all submissions would be posted on the Review’s web site.
17 June, 2008
Remote laboratory caught up in web
An Engineering Remote Laboratory has been launched at the University of Technology Sydney to allow students to conduct experiments from anywhere in Australia via the internet.
According to the Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research, Senator Kim Carr, this web-based laboratory was an excellent example of how emerging technologies could be used to bolster research efforts and potential.
“Accessing laboratory facilities via the internet represents yet another step forward in applying new technologies in our universities,” Senator Carr said.
He said the redeveloped laboratory had been assisted by seed funding from the Motorola Foundation and currently catered for more than 400 students per semester.
He said the highly advanced facility had the capacity to offer services to more than 1000 students in fields as diverse as mechanical, mechatronics, software, computer systems, telecommunications and civil engineering.
A demonstration of the laboratory’s remote experiments and capabilities was conducted involving the Curtin University of Technology (Australia), Massachusetts Institute of Technology (United States) and the University of Hertfordshire, (United Kingdom).
“The UTS Engineering Remote Laboratory is a fantastic example of how we can make the most of Australia’s innovation capacity and facilitate effective and efficient collaboration between individuals, institutions and sectors,” Senator Carr said.
“This initiative is building a culture of collaboration, networking and clustering. It will help maximise our capabilities and encourage us to realise our potential in a highly competitive world.”
Senator Carr said Australia needed to focus on its research strengths and encourage greater collaboration between universities, other research institutions and industry.
17 June, 2008
Pay scales needed to balance awards
The Workplace Ombudsman has argued that modern industrial awards must have accurate and up-to-date pay scales in order to reduce the number of workers who were under-paid.
The Ombudsman, Nicholas Wilson, put his case in a submission to the Australian Industrial Relations Commission which is conducting a detailed investigation of the Australian industrial awards system.
Mr Wilson is urging the AIRC to safeguard “genuine agreement” between employers and employees and to ensure award flexibility clauses allowed his office to initiate court action if duress occurred.
In his 14-page submission Mr Wilson warned the Commission there was a possibility of duress if this issue was not addressed.
His submission highlighted the importance of ensuring pay scales formed part of modern awards, saying the lack of published pay scales for all awards had caused confusion for both employees and employers about their rights and obligations.
“Only a small proportion of employers deliberately underpay their employees,” Mr Wilson said.
“Many of the non-compliance cases we have dealt with are the result of honest mistakes, in many cases because the employer has relied on out-of-date or incomplete information.”
The submission said the public interest demanded that employers were able to access timely, accurate and unambiguous information about their obligations and it was time to close the information gap.
If not, he suggested a “shadow” would remain over the capacity of the Workplace Ombudsman to properly and fairly enforce workplace entitlements.
Mr Wilson’s submission also called for modern awards to be clearly drafted using plain language.
“Loosely-worded flexibility clauses in awards (and agreements) will not only hinder compliance, but will also render prosecution for breaches more difficult,” it said.
He provided figures that showed that retail trade had accounted for the most claims to the Workplace Ombudsman over the past two years, followed by property and business services and accommodation and hospitality.
The top three most frequently breached awards were the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association (Victorian Shops Interim Award 2000), the Clerical Employees Award - State 2002 and the Retail Industry Award – State 2004.
Mr Wilson said that so far this financial year, the Workplace Ombudsman had received 18,242 workplace claims, started 4,598 targeted investigations and recovered more than $25 million for 21,721 employees.
17 June, 2008
Ombudsman delivers his taxation return
The Commonwealth and Taxation Ombudsman, Professor John McMillan, has released his taxation activities report for 2007.
The Ombudsman found there were 1,248 complaints made against the Australian Taxation Office in the year compared to 1,415 in 2006, the decline continuing a downward trend of recent years.
The Ombudsman found that the main causes of complaint were the ATO’s methods of debt collection, the non-payment of superannuation guarantee obligations, taxpayer information, the imposition of penalties and lodgment and processing issues.
“Complaints provide valuable information about the impact of Government program changes on members of the public, and the unanticipated problems that can arise,” the Ombudsman said.
He said around 25 per cent of complaints were about the processing of tax forms and 16 per cent were about superannuation payments.
His office judged the ATO at fault in just six complaints which involved audit activities, the lodgment and processing of forms, freedom of information and three complaints about superannuation.
Professor McMillan said the Ombudsman’s Tax Team continued to monitor complaints to identify any trends that warranted active intervention by his Office.
He said given the relatively high number of debt collection and superannuation complaints received, the Team’s work program included a focus on aspects of administration of the superannuation guarantee.
He said the report highlighted the practical assistance his office provided to taxpayers in resolving their difficulties with the ATO.
“The work of the Ombudsman’s office promotes the development and maintenance of integrity, responsibility and fair judgement in tax administration and decision making,” Professor McMillan said.
“This supports the work of the ATO in reviewing its own administration processes and building on the principles of the ‘Taxpayers’ Charter’.”
He said a special theme of the report was the 30-year anniversary of the appointment of the first Commonwealth Ombudsman in 2007.
Commissioner of Taxation, Michael D'Ascenzo, responded to the report by noting his work with the Ombudsman to develop the best practice in areas such as dispute and complaints resolution, good governance and a general framework of administrative rights to provide protection for tax payers.
A full copy of the report can be obtained from www.ombudsman.gov.au
17 June, 2008
Carillon sponsorship a bell ringer
The National Capital Authority has entered a sponsorship arrangement for the National Carillon on Lake Burley Griffin’s Aspen Island.
The sponsorship, with Colliers International and the Molonglo Group, will begin in July and continue for the next two years.
Chairman of the NCA, Michael Ball welcomed the new sponsorship.
“The NCA is delighted that Colliers International and the Molonglo Group have come on board with sponsorship of the National Carillon,” Mr Ball said.
Musical Director of the National Carillon, Timothy Hurd said the sponsorship would enhance the offerings of the carillon.
“This generous sponsorship will directly supplement the National Carillon recital program, including continuation of the popular Christmas Eve concert and the Stillness and the Night evening concert series over Summer 08-09,” Mr Hurd said.
Colliers International’s Chief Executive for the ACT, Paul Powderly said the company was committed to supporting local communities as part of its corporate social responsibility program.
“We are heavily committed to giving back to the communities in which we live and work,” Mr Powderly said.
“We believe the National Carillon and National Capital Authority are an important part of the Canberra community and it deserves our support.”
Director of The Molonglo Group, Nectar Efkarpidis was delighted to be linked with the musical landmark.
“The National Carillon music program is a huge part of Canberra’s very unique cultural landscape,” Mr Efkarpidis said.
“We are very honoured to be involved and along with so many Canberrans, very much look forward to hearing the stunning sounds of familiar bells across our great city.
Recitals at the National Carillon are conducted every Wednesday and Sunday from 12.30 to 1.20pm and special concerts are promoted throughout the year.
17 June, 2008
Customer report delivers the goods
A report into how Governments can improve their customer service performance has found that catering to the ‘customer experience’ can not only significantly reduce costs but also improve effectiveness.
Conducted by accounting firm Deloitte, the report One Size Fits Few: Using Customer Insight to Transform Government includes case studies, methods and tools that could be used to convert an idea on customer experience into actual service enhancement while reducing operational costs at the same time.
The report demonstrated how public managers could utilise leading customer management practices to increase decision-making capabilities and enhance the Government’s ability to execute major program and policy initiatives.
Author of the report, Bill Eggers said making effective use of the approaches meant public managers had to understand the full range of tools and techniques available to them.
“The study illustrates how leading Governments are examining the challenges they face from the user’s perspective, drawing from a robust customer experience toolkit as warranted, to improve the delivery and effectiveness of public services,” Mr Eggers said.
Deloitte Government Services Consulting Partner, Simon Cook, said the global research demonstrated that leading businesses had trained people to expect high quality, personalised service standards which people were now applying to Government.
Managing Director, Global Public Sector with the company, Greg Pellegrino, said customer strategy was at the heart of the next wave of government transformation.
“A more customer-focused approach actually reduces costs,” Mr Pellegrino said, “and improves the level of service they offer to their clients simply by adapting some of the reforms pioneered by leading commercial companies.
“Fuelled by the success of consumer-oriented companies, more public sector leaders are revolutionising their approach to service delivery,” he said.
The report could be accessed at www.deloitte.com.au
17 June, 2008
Pacfic partners land land grants
Australia is to give $54 million in overseas aid to Pacific countries to help deal with land policy reform.
Parliamentary Secretary for International Development Assistance, Bob McMullan announced the plan saying it would support Governments in the region that wanted to strengthen or improve their land systems.
Mr McMullan said Australian assistance would be guided by two fundamental principles: first, only supporting reforms that recognised the continuing importance of customary tenure and second, land policy reform driven by Pacific island Governments and communities, not by donors.
Mr McMullan said Pacific Governments were under pressure to reconcile new interests in land ownership and its use with the customary systems that had offered their people a form of safety net for countless generations.
“These pressures include new technologies, rapid population growth and social change,” Mr McMullan said.
“Our program is designed to provide support to Governments undertaking reforms to strengthen and improve their land systems and deal with these pressures.”
He said the Pacific Land Program planned to increase the skills and knowledge of people working in land Departments and non-Government organizations and would include assistance for dispute resolution and helping customary owners negotiate on a more even basis with investors and developers.
He said the program would initially provide support to Papua New Guinea, Vanuatu, Solomon Islands and Timor-Leste. Assistance would be provided at a regional level for education and training and to help countries respond to problems associated with growing urbanisation such as squatter settlements.
“Uncertainty over land ownership and land use constrains social and economic development and reduces the prospects of greater investment and higher living standards,” Mr McMullan said.
“It can be a trigger for wider conflict, and conflict tends to exacerbate poverty.”
Mr McMullan also launched a two-volume publication Making Land Work which was prepared by AusAID and gave an overview of issues that countries were likely to face if they chose to reform their land policies and institutions.
“This is an excellent resource for policy-makers,” Mr McMullan said. “It draws lessons from international experience around the Pacific and will stimulate ideas on policy options.”
17 June, 2008
Treasuring trash at souvenir exhibition
The Australian National Maritime Museum at Sydney’s Darling Harbour is to mount an exhibition of travellers’ souvenirs, some dating back 1000 years.
According to exhibition curators, there is an extraordinary range of more than 200 travel souvenirs and the exhibition asks the question of all of them: trash or treasure?
Entitled Trash or Treasure? Souvenirs of travel, dating from the 10th-11th century, the exhibition includes souvenirs that are hand-made, quaint, cheap, compact, expensive, stylish, mass-produced, kitsch, unique or beautiful … what they have in common is their ability to carry memories of a distinctive place somewhere else in the world.
The earliest souvenir on show is a miniature of the temple at Bodhgaya, India, where it is said Buddha attained enlightenment. The model, finely carved in stone with scenes from the life of Buddha, may have ended up on a pilgrim’s home altar.
Several Christian pilgrim souvenirs from the 14-16th centuries including badges, dress pins and an ampulla (tiny vessel to carry holy water) are also included, along with contemporary equivalents produced for national and international pilgrims coming to Sydney this year for World Youth Day and Pope Benedict XVI’s visit.
In other areas of the exhibition there is a collection of items that a well-to-do Australian family brought home from Europe in the 19th century – including an intricate model of the Leaning Tower of Pisa and a boxed set of Italian teaspoons; a cross-section of sea travel souvenirs including the familiar cruise company branded keyrings, ashtrays and sailor dolls; and an assortment of items representing Indigenous Australia and the Pacific Islands.
Souvenirs brought home by Australian servicemen and women are well represented with a collection of items ranging from a Chinese silk robe to a belt made from butterfly wings and a picture frame made from ammunition rounds.
According to the museum, souvenir-hunting is nothing new.
Pilgrims voyaging to sacred or holy sites were among the world’s first tourists and not surprisingly they often had a desire to bring home a holy relic or a physical part of the sacred site such as oil, earth, dust or water.
The exhibition will continue to the end of January 2009.
17 June, 2008
Constitution docks in Queensland
The National Archives of Australia teamed up with the Supreme Court of Queensland Library to conduct an event marking the importance of the Constitution to today’s Australians.
The two-day program last week included lectures by eminent Queensland legal figures and the public display of Sir Samuel Griffith’s personal 1891 draft of the Australian Constitution.
The lectures were by Queensland judges Paul de Jersey and Patrick Keane and an exhibition which included Sir Samuel’s draft of the Constitution, complete with handwritten notations. The National Archives transported the rare document from Canberra to Brisbane for the event.
“We usually hold Sir Samuel’s draft in our Canberra repository but we recognised it was appropriate to have it on display in Brisbane because of its importance to all Queenslanders,” said the Director-General of the National Archives, Ross Gibbs.
“Sir Samuel Griffith was Queensland’s major representative in the colonial negotiations to draft the Constitution and, as such, has left an important legacy, not only to Queenslanders but to all Australians.”
Mr Gibbs said the Australian colonies had spent a decade in negotiations before coming up with the final document for the new federation. It was this draft which they sent to the British Parliament and to which Queen Victoria gave assent on 9 July 1900.
The National Archives and the Supreme Court Library hosted the Brisbane events as a prelude to Constitution Day celebrations in July.
Justice de Jersey, the Chief Justice of Queensland discussed Sir Samuel’s contribution and Justice Keane, from the Queensland Court of Appeal explored the Australian people’s responsibility for their own destiny, defending the decision of the Constitution framers not to include a bill of rights in the document.
A curator from the National Archives was on hand to answer questions about Sir Samuel’s copy of the Constitution and Supreme Court Library staff curated an accompanying exhibition on the key events that led to the drafting of Australia’s Constitution.
17 June, 2008
UN’s PS day next week
Next Monday, 23 June, has been designated Public Service Day by the United Nations.
The UN encourages all countries to mark the day by recognising the contribution made by public services in all parts of the world to improve the lives of citizens.
In many countries the Day is marked by the appearance of promotional materials such as posters, stickers and leaflets and is often used to announce new PS policies and initiatives.
Union fees up
Membership fees for the Community and Public Sector Union have increased by 3 per cent to keep pace with inflation.
The fees are adjusted automatically every July, based on movement in the Consumer Price Index for the preceding calendar year and apply to all members, based on salary level up to $65,000 a year.
From 1 July, members earning less than $20,000pa will pay $5.95 per fortnight in union dues while those at the highest levels will pay $22.05. The union says the increase will be less than 35 cents a week for most members.
Skills crisis warning
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Union fears for women in PS
The Community and Public Sector Union has warned that the increasing workload pressure on the Australian Public Service could adversely affect its female members.
The union said the push to make staff work harder risked undermining the Government’s gender equality policies.
National Secretary of the CPSU, Stephen Jones said the level of female participation in the APS made the problem increasingly important, especially as the average Commonwealth Public Servant was now a woman in her early 40s.
"Many women are attracted to public sector work because they have the perception that in Commonwealth Government employment there is the option of more flexible working arrangements," Mr Jones said.
"With decreasing staffing, increased workloads, a lot of women may start to review that situation."
He said the matter was made worse due to the staff cutbacks announced in the Budget and the across-the-board application of the increased efficiency dividend.
He said the cuts came at a time when the Public Service was already working well beyond normal working hours with some staff starting at 7am and staying to 10pm and weekend work was "more common than not."
"People are working long hours, and the talk or the rhetoric of balancing work and family responsibilities is not being matched by their daily working reality," Mr Jones said.
In the meantime, the CPSU has criticised implied proposals to cap PS salaries at 2.3 per cent per year, saying they were “unsustainable” while inflation was running at 4 per cent.
Mr Jones said projections in the Federal Budget that put APS wage rises at $15 billion amounted to an average wage growth of 2.3 per cent, with anything more achieved by productivity gains.
A PS pay cap has already been introduced in NSW
Mr Jones said wage negotiations about to start in Agencies such as the Australian Taxation Office, Centrelink and CSIRO would kick off with claims for 5 per cent increases.
"The only way for the Government to find savings would be to start cutting staff or programs," Mr Jones said.
10 June, 2008
Accounts Committee pays out on dividend
The Parliament’s Public Accounts Committee is to inquire into the impact of the Federal Government’s across-the-board efficiency dividend on the smaller public sector agencies.
Chair of the Committee, Sharon Grierson has announced the inquiry saying the Committee was concerned that the dividend may be having a greater effect on small agencies than larger ones.
Ms Grierson said the first efficiency dividend was introduced in 1987-88 and since then Agency budgets had been trimmed each year by the indicated amount, usually in the order of about 1.25 per cent.
She said as a result of an election commitment, the current Federal Government had added 2 per cent to the dividend to take it to 3.25 per cent for the coming financial year.
“The Committee is concerned that the efficiency dividend may have had a greater effect on small agencies than the larger ones,” Ms Grierson said.
“Small Agencies often don’t implement new policy, so they don’t receive extra funding on a regular basis.
“It appears that for some Agencies the only funding experience may be a constant shaving of their budget.”
Ms Grierson said although they were given only small budgets, those Agencies played a vital part in the Australian system of government.
“They include the High Court, the Australian National Audit Office, the Ombudsman and the Parliamentary Departments,” she said.
She said preliminary statistics of Agencies’ budgets between 2000-01 and 2008-09 showed a noticeable difference in growth between types of Agencies.
She said for small Agencies with budgets less than $150 million per annum, their expenditure grew by 27 per cent on average.
For non-security large agencies, the budget growth was 57 per cent and in the large security Agencies, budget growth was 185 per cent on average.
Over this period, the Consumer Price Index increased by 30 per cent.
Ms Grierson said the statistics suggested that the budgets of small agencies were barely keeping up with inflation, and had lagged behind the budgets of larger agencies.
“The Committee will examine the impact on smaller agencies’ functions, performance and staffing arrangements,” she said.
10 June, 2008
Services recognised in honours list
The hard work and commitment of many Public Servants are once again highlighted in the Queen’s Birthday Honours list.
A summary of those who were rewarded for their public (and sometimes private) service, including officers to receive the Public Service Medal, are listed below.
PS News congratulates each one on their award:
COMPANION IN THE GENERAL DIVISION
BENNETT, Dr David Michael AO QC
Awarded for service to the law, particularly as Commonwealth Solicitor-General, through the provision of advice on matters of national interest and the international promotion of Australian legal services and education.
Dr Bennett has been Commonwealth Solicitor-General, since 1998.
OFFICER IN THE GENERAL DIVISION
GARRETT, Dr Geoffrey Graham
Awarded for service to scientific research and administration through leadership of the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, and the development
and implementation of innovative research initiatives.
Dr Garrett has been Chief Executive of CSIRO since 2001;
HEWITT, Joanna Miriam
Awarded for service to the community, particularly through signifi cant contributions to Australia’s agricultural, forestry and fishing sectors, to cross departmental policy formulation and delivery, and to international relations through fostering diplomatic, trade and cultural interests.
Ms Hewitt was Secretary, Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries from 2004 to 2007.
WATT, Dr Ian James
Awarded for service to the community through the development of public policy and administration in the areas of finance and governance, budget and expenditure policy,
taxation reform, and through contributions to international professional finance organisations.
Dr Watt has been Secretary, Department of Finance and Administration, since 2002.
WHALAN, Mr Jeffrey Robert
Awarded for service to the community through the implementation and administration of government policies and initiatives in the area of social services and welfare
programs, and to the development of corporate accountability and stakeholder management processes.
Mr Whalan has been Chief Executive Officer of Centrelink since 2004
MEMBER IN THE GENERAL DIVISION
DE GRUCHY, Ms Rayne PSM
For continued service to public administration, particularly through specialist legal services and to corporate governance.
Ms De Gruchy has been Chief Executive Officer of the Australian Government Solicitor since 1999
PUBLIC SERVICE MEDAL
BOERSIG, John Forrest
Awarded for outstanding public service in the delivery of law and justice services to Indigenous Australians.
Mr Boersig has been Assistant Secretary of the Indigenous Law and Justice Branch in the Attorney-General’s Department since 2004.
BYRNE, Adele Michelle
Awarded for outstanding public service in the establishment and administration of the Federal Magistrates Court of Australia.
Ms Byrne was inaugural Registrar of the Federal Magistrates Court of Australia in 2000 and has made a major contribution to the establishment of the court, its systems, practices and procedures.
CHING, Dr Teresa Yuk
Awarded for outstanding public service in the field of audiology as a researcher, clinician, innovator and professional.
Dr Ching is a Senior Research Scientist at Australian Hearing’s research arm, the National Acoustics Laboratories, and her work has had a worldwide impact on our understanding of, and approach to, hearing loss, particularly among children.
deWEERD, Mark John
Awarded for outstanding public service in implementing the Council of Australian Governments’ Whole of Government Indigenous Trial in the Murdi Paaki region.
Mr deWeerd has been the representative face of the Australian Government in the Murdi Paaki Council of Australian Governments’ Whole of Government Indigenous Trial since 2003 and his service has been characterised by excellence in policy and program implementation at the community level.
DURKIN, Mary Frances
Awarded for outstanding public service in developing the Immigration Ombudsman function and improving the integrity of the immigration detention program.
Ms Durkin is currently the ACT Health Services Commissioner but her award is primarily focused on her previous employment with the Office of the Commonwealth Ombudsman as Senior Assistant Ombudsman and Acting Deputy Ombudsman.
FLANAGAN, Andrea Louise
Awarded for outstanding public service in the provision of advice and assistance to veterans and their families, particularly in instances of death or major injury to members of the Australian Defence Force.
Ms Flanagan is a Team Leader in the Military Rehabilitation and Compensation Section of the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (DVA) in Queensland and she has provided exceptional service to veterans and their families.
FOSTER, Stephanie Claire
Awarded for outstanding public service in the provision of high level policy advice to government in relation to the deployment of Australian military personnel on overseas operations.
Ms Foster is the First Assistant Secretary in the International Policy Division in the Department of Defence and has made a significant personal contribution to the successful deployment of Australian military personnel on overseas operations.
HENNESSY, Merrie Elizabeth
Awarded for outstanding public service in the development and implementation of superannuation regulation and legislation.
Ms Hennessy currently works as a policy adviser in the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority (APRA) and her key focus is the regulation of superannuation in Australia. She has made a significant contribution to the establishment and operation of the current prudential framework, particularly in the context of reforms over the last decade.
LESBIREL, Andrew Ronald
Awarded for outstanding public service in the development of new technical solutions to improve online service delivery in Centrelink.
Over the past five years, Mr Lesbirel has led the development of the successful IT Refresh Program which has delivered a modernised and open technological infrastructure that will allow Centrelink to continue to provide essential services and support to millions of Australians well into the future.
MILEY, Damian Francis
Awarded for outstanding public service in managing projects under the Land and Sea Management Strategy for Torres Strait.
Since June 2006, Mr Miley has been the Manager of the Land and Sea Management Unit at the Torres Strait Regional Authority (TSRA) and, under his leadership, the unit has evolved into a team that represents best practice in project management, community engagement, whole-of-government policy development and delivery of both outputs and outcomes.
Awarded for outstanding public service to the Australian business community, particularly through his leadership of AusIndustry.
Mr Peel is the Executive General Manager of AusIndustry in the Department of Innovation, Industry, Science and Research and he has made an outstanding contribution to AusIndustry’s success in delivering quality programs and services to the Australian business community.
RILEY, Sally Michelle
Awarded for outstanding public service in the development of initiatives that have increased the participation of Indigenous Australians in the film and television industries.
Ms Riley has been the Manager of the Australian Film Commission’s Indigenous Branch since 2000 and, during this time, she has excelled in a range of areas including policy development, film production support, professional development and international relations.
SUTTON, Trevor Michael
Awarded for outstanding public service in managing the Child Support Agency’s reform agenda, ‘Building a Better CSA’.
As Deputy General Manager, Change Program, in the Child Support Agency (CSA), Mr Sutton has been responsible for the largest and most significant reform program in the CSA’s history known as ‘Building a Better CSA’.
SWIFT, Steven John
Awarded for outstanding public service in the regulation and promotion of aircraft structural safety.
Mr Swift is a Principal Engineer with the Civil Aviation Safety Authority and for the past 20 years has played a leading role in promoting safety in both the Australian and international aviation industries, and has progressed Australia’s aviation agenda through his personal drive and incisive advice on unique damage tolerance for aircraft fatigue.
WILLIAMS, John Leslie
Awarded for outstanding public service in the successful settlement and participation of both established and emerging migrant communities in Australia.
Mr Williams is currently the State Director of the Victorian Office of the Department of Immigration and Citizenship, and his commitment to supporting successful settlement and participation of both established and emerging migrant communities in Australia has been outstanding.
10 June, 2008
Annual Awards for Annual PS Reports
The Institute of Public Administration Australia has announced the winners of its Annual Reports Awards for 2006-07.
The Awards aim to test the accountability, transparency and quality of Commonwealth and ACT Government Departments and Agencies’ annual reports and were divided between Agencies governed by the Financial Management and Accountability Act (FMA) and Commonwealth Authorities and Companies (CAC).
Gold awards for the best annual reports were awarded to the Department of Families, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs in the FMA category and the Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation in CAC.
FaCSIA also took out the Online Award for excellent accessibility to its Annual report online.
In the FMA category, The National Archives of Australia and the Australian Electoral Commission won Silver Awards and the Department of Transport and Regional Services took out the Bronze award.
The National Museum of Australia won the silver award in the CAC category and a Bronze Award was presented to ACT Policing in the ACT Government category.
The FMA, CAC and ACT Government categories each offered Gold, Silver and Bronze awards although not all categories were awarded.
According to the IPAA, gold winners needed to meet a high standard of reporting against all criteria; silver winners a high standard of reporting against most criteria; and bronze winners a generally good standard overall, or notable reporting against some criteria.
The Institute said it received entries from a diverse range of Agencies, and that the assessors and judges were impressed with the general quality of the reports.
The judges said FaCSIA’s gold winning report was comprehensive, provided a clear picture of purpose, made reference to past performance and tied together the diverse aspects of the Department.
They said the National Archives had stepped up from its Bronze winning performance last year with a report that “deeply impressed”. They said the NAA report was clear, logical and easy to understand.
Judges praised the Australian Electoral Commission for providing a clear and logical account of its activities and for ensuring the information was widely available in audio, large print, Braille and a series of other languages.
They said the Department of Transport and Regional Services provided them with a clear report, but that it could improve in future by refining sections.
The Judges awarded RIRDC a Gold Award for its logical, well written and coherent report which they said was easy and interesting to read as a whole or to use as a reference for particular topics.
They praised the National Museum of Australia for delivering a well structured report with a clear outline of the Museum’s functions, operations and achievements.
They said ACT Policing’s report was the best of the reports submitted from the ACT as it was well-edited and placed a strong emphasis on performance.
The judges said they were disappointed in the small number of ACT reports entered in the Award, and that the overall standard of the reports was not as high as was hoped.
They said Agencies needed to make sure they did not duplicate the shortcomings of previous years by including undisciplined language, poor editing, poor presentation and a lack of appropriate graphs and tables.
The Judges were Dr Richard Agnew, Bill Blick, Paddy Gourley, Associate Professor Michael Moore, Jim Nockels and Meryl Stanton and they were supported by over 30 assessors.
A full copy of the judges’ report could be obtained by following the links from www.act.ipaa.org.au
10 June, 2008
Power report pulls plug on coercion
A report into the powers of Government Agencies to demand information from individuals and organisations has recommended that non-coercive means be tried before resorting to the full force of the law.
The Administrative Review Council’s Coercive Information-gathering Powers of Agencies report has been tabled in Parliament and focused on the powers of Agencies to compel the provision of information, the production of documents, and the answering of questions.
It particularly considered the powers and practices of Centrelink, Medicare Australia, the Australian Securities and Investments Commission, the Australian Prudential Regulation Authority, the Australian Taxation Office and the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.
Commenting on the report, Attorney-General, Robert McClelland said it did not seek to achieve uniformity across the board, but had identified 20 basic ‘best practice’ principles that were generally applicable to Commonwealth Agencies.
“This new report highlights the significance of coercive powers as administrative and regulatory tools for government,” Mr McClelland said.
He said the best practices recommended Agencies use alternative means of coercive information-gathering first; that only senior and experienced officers be allowed to use coercive information-gathering; and that notices employing coercive means should comply with privacy legislation and inform recipients of their rights.
Mr McClelland said matters covered by the principles included what the ‘trigger’ threshold for the use of the powers should be; which Agency officers should exercise the powers; the conduct of hearings; training privileges; and the exchange of information between Agencies.
The report was available at www.ag.gov.au or by contacting the Administrative Review Council Secretariat at firstname.lastname@example.org
10 June, 2008
Credit card charges made by auditor
An audit of credit card use in four Commonwealth Agencies has revealed that controls needed to be strengthened to minimise the risk of misuse or wastage.
The Auditor-General’s report Management of Credit Cards found no evidence of fraud or inappropriate expenditure among the four Agencies but did find evidence of poor control and inadequate administration.
According to the Auditor-General, the Agencies provided “generally sound controls” over the issue and cancellation of credit cards and gave users specific guidance on their responsibilities.
It found however that the effectiveness of controlling credit card use varied between the four organisations.
“These controls were generally effective in two Agencies and moderately effective in another,” The Auditor-General’s report said. “However one Agency specifically required improvement.”
It said the common failings in managing credit card use were failure of the cardholder to obtain proper approval for expenditure; failure to retain sufficient supporting documentation; and inadequate credit card reconciliation statements.
The Auditor-General said while he didn’t find any instances of fraud, all the Agencies could do better to protect against it.
“The ANAO considers that all audited Agencies need to strengthen key controls over credit cards to further reduce the risk of misuse.
“More broadly, it is important that all Agencies ensure that cardholders and other relevant staff comply with controls over the use of Commonwealth credit cards.”
The auditor also found that while two of the Agencies had entered arrangements with their credit card provider that offered value for money in using the service, two of the audited Agencies had not.
“It would be timely for these two Agencies to review whether it was appropriate to continue with their current provider under the current terms.”
The Auditor said the total level of expenditure chalked up to credit cards by Agencies was not publicly reported but some Agencies racked up expenditures in the tens of millions of dollars.
He said the Agencies audited were the Department of Human Services, the Department of Agriculture, Fisheries and Forestry, the Department of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy and the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.
10 June, 2008
Rights watchdog backs super share
The Government’s decision to remove discrimination against same-sex couples in Commonwealth superannuation schemes has been applauded by Australian Human Rights Commissioner, Graeme Innes.
Commissioner Innes said the Same-Sex Relationships (Equal Treatment in Commonwealth Laws - Superannuation) Bill 2008 would finally provide equal access to superannuation benefits for all same-sex couples and their children.
“Superannuation is one of the main ways of saving for retirement,” he said.
“Most people expect that their superannuation entitlements will be inherited by their partner, children or other dependants, but Commonwealth employees in same-sex relationships have never had this right.”
He said if the Bill was passed it would allow this right to same-sex couples from 1 July.
Commissioner Innessaid discrimination in access to superannuation benefits was one of the main issues discussed in the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission’s Same-Sex: Same Entitlements report.
He said the report dealt with financial and work-related entitlements and benefits for same-sex couples.
He said many Commonwealth employees told the Inquiry they felt insulted by the discrimination and the impact it had on their retirement plans.
One couple told the inquiry they had a loving, committed and supportive relationship.“It’s simply unfair and discriminatory that we don’t have equality with my straight retired colleagues,” they said.
A different couple also said they system was unfair.
“The law says I must pay into the [public sector] scheme and also says – ‘your same sex partner will not be getting any of it’ - how unfair is that?” they said.
Commissioner Innes said the Bill would mean all Commonwealth employees would be treated equally in their access to superannuation benefits.
“It is an important step on the path to full equality for same-sex couples and their children,” he said.
“We look forward to seeing the rest of the law changes that will remove discrimination against same-sex couples in other areas.”
Commissioner Innes said the Government expected these and other changes to be made by the middle of 2009.
10 June, 2008
Pat on the back for maternity leave
The Equal Opportunity for Women in the Workplace Agency has joined calls for a national paid maternity scheme to encourage women’s participation in the workforce and remove disparities between jobs and industries.
The Agency pointed to higher return-to-work rates in organisations that provided paid maternity leave as a condition of service such as the ANZ bank, Macquarie University and Overnewton Anglican Community College, compared to those organisations that didn’t.
EOWA’s submission to the Paid Maternity, Paternity and Parental Leave Inquiry recommended that once the initial period of maternity leave had been provided for women to recover from childbirth, all other kinds of leave should be referred to as Parental Leave and be accessible to either parent.
The submission recommended significant weight should be placed on ‘workplace attachment’ as improved attachment would improve gender equity by increasing women’s workforce participation.
The Agency’s submission acknowledged the role of fathers in the shared caring of children, with particular regard to gender equity and workforce participation.
It highlighted the rate of increase in the provision of paid paternity leave was less than that for paid maternity leave with 61.5 per cent of organisations failing to provide paid leave to fathers in their employment.
“The overwhelming employer bias is that men belong at work and women caring for their children,” the submission said.
EOWA has encouraged the adoption of a leave model that would allow either parent to take paid time off after the leave given to women to physically recover from childbirth.
The Agency released figures showing the provision of paid maternity leave had increased from 23.7 per cent in 2001 to 48.9 per cent in 2007 among medium to large organisations.
The figures, based on information collected in an EOWA survey, showed there were significant disparities across industry sector occupations and organisational size.
Conducted 2007, the survey was sponsored by Alcoa of Australia and examined paid maternity and paternity leave, flexible workplace practices and part time work in Australia.
The full survey results and detailed analysis are to be published and released in August but the EOWA submission is available at the EOWA website www.eowa.gov.au
10 June, 2008
Appeal review finds DEWR less appealing
A major reduction in the number of Government appeals to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal in social security cases is likely, following a review of the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations’ appeals policies.
Minister for Employment Participation, Brendan O’Connor, has accepted a report into the Department’s handling of social security appeals and has accepted its recommendations.
Mr O’Connor ordered the review of the former Department of Employment and Workplace Relation’s (DEWR) administration in light of claims it was pursuing litigation against welfare recipients for minor errors in social security payments.
The review is expected to help the Government avoid unnecessary and costly social security litigation and ensure greater transparency in decisions when considering whether to appeal against cases.
Secretary of the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations (DEEWR), Lisa Paul, chaired the steering committee that undertook the review and said it made six recommendations.
Among the recommendations were the need to establish an on-going dialogue between DEEWR, Centrelink, National Legal Aid and the National Welfare Rights Network about litigation cases; the possible introduction of new Principles to apply when determining whether to appeal against decisions made under social security law; and making the Principles publicly available.
The report found the former DEWR withdrew 62 per cent of the cases it appealed against to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal in 2006-07 and that 80 per cent were related to the Disability Support Pension.
Minister for Human Services, Joe Ludwig, has been undertaking a review of the Job Capacity Assessment processes to assess how services could better meet the needs of people with barriers to work.
The review committee included representatives from the National Welfare Rights Network, National Legal Aid, the Attorney General’s Department and Centrelink.
It examined the most effective way to guide future decisions about appeals to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal and Federal Court, while preserving incentives for participation in education and employment activities.
The review is available at www.workplace.gov.au/workplace/Publications/PolicyReviews
10 June, 2008
Review intervenes in NT intervention
The head of the emergency taskforce that intervened in the Northern Territory's remote Aboriginal communities has called for the intervention to continue on the eve of a review into its effectiveness.
Perth Magistrate, Sue Gordon, whose term expires this month, said the intervention had made progress in dealing with the problems but uncertainty surrounded the future.
When the former Government announced the emergency response to tackle child abuse in the communities almost a year ago, it said it would last five years but the new Government said it would review the program at the 12 month mark.
Ms Gordon said the intervention had delivered some positive results.
“The awareness of the situation that Aboriginal people found themselves in in the Northern Territory has been the main thing,” Ms Gordon said.
She said there had been breaches of human rights including the rights of children to access basic services and rights to law and order in the Northern Territory for a long time.
She said Aboriginal people in the NT had been asking the intervention taskforce what would happen after 12 months and the “main question on the ground” was whether t he taskforce would be finishing up.
Ms Gordon said she had previously assured them that it was a five year program, but since the change of Government, had told communities a decision on the duration of the intervention would be based on the evidence obtained from the review.
Minister for Federal Indigenous Affairs, Jenny Macklin, named the review team as Peter Yu (chairman) with former Chair of the NSW Aboriginal Child Sexual Assault Taskforce, Marcia Ella Duncan and former Australian Electoral Commissioner, Bill Gray.
Ms Macklin said the Board would conduct a transparent review of the NTER to assess what was working, whether the measures were effective and their impact to date on individuals and communities. She said it would consult widely and seek public submissions.
She said an independent expert group of 11 would support the Review Board with members drawn from the public policy, health, child welfare, legal and economic development fields.
She said the Board would examine evidence and assess the progress of the NTER in improving the safety and wellbeing of children and laying the basis for a sustainable and better future for residents of remote communities in the Northern Territory as well as consider whether the current suite of NTER measures would deliver the intended results and recommend any required changes.
Ms Macklin said the NTER Review Board and the Expert Group would be supported by a secretariat which would provide project management support.
It would be required to report by 30 September.
Ms Macklin said the expert group would meet two or three times over the course of the Review and would include Donna Ah Chee, Vicki Gillick and David Ross from Alice Springs, Michael Berto from Katherine, Ronald Lami Lami from Warruwi, NT Australian of the Year nominee, Mavis Malbunka, Dr John Taylor and Neil Westbury from the Australian National University, medical officer at Cape York, Dr Mark Wenitong, and Ann Rebgetz and Tobias Nganbe from Wadeye.
Ms Gordon said the intervention was one of the biggest mobilisations of police and Government services in Australia and as a result, almost 9,000 health checks had been carried out.
10 June, 2008
Institutions find no art in cost cuts
Cost-cutting in the Australian Public Service has led the nation’s cultural institutions to make decisions on cost instead of cultural importance according to Liberal Senator for the ACT, Gary Humphries.
Senator Humphries said evidence given at Senate estimates hearings revealed that the across-the-board cuts were forcing job losses and program cutbacks at a time institutions were enjoying record high visitor numbers.
“Senate Estimates hearings have revealed that the National Gallery of Australia, National Library of Australia and National Museum of Australia are currently experiencing some of the highest visitor numbers in their collective history,” Senator Humphries said.
“But while visitor numbers skyrocket, the institutions are being forced to lay off staff and cut back on other works to meet the new efficiency dividend.”
Senator Humphries said the National Library had already lost six staff, with three more set to go while the National Museum had offered six staff voluntary redundancies.
He said the National Library had curtailed its work on digitising its collection and the
National Gallery had been making major decisions about the exhibitions it hosted by considering factors such as the cost of producing a catalogue.
According to Senator Humphries, the Director of the NGA, Ron Radford said that when choosing between three new exhibitions for next year the Gallery had opted for The Story of Australian Print Making because it was the cheapest option.
“If we chose one of the other two or three exhibitions, we would have to produce a catalogue at considerable expense, so we have chosen one for which a catalogue already exists,” Mr Radford said in Estimates.
Senator Humphries said he was “appalled” national institutions were making decisions about what they would show based on cost considerations.
“The National Gallery of Australia is Australia's premier institution for the visual arts, not some local Council-run gallery,” he said.
“It should not have to make decisions about its exhibitions based entirely on what is cheapest.”
Senator Humphries said making great art available and accessible to the public should be seen as more valuable than any small saving to the Government.
Senator Humphries called on Arts Minister Peter Garrett to take steps to ensure national institutions had the funding they needed to put on world-class exhibitions.
“Whether that means reversing the efficiency dividend or making direct grants of specific funding available, I don't care,” Senator Humphries said.
“But don't let the quality of this country's cultural life slip for the sake of a few dollars.”
Senator Humphries said the National Museum was expected to reach a million visitors for the first time this year, while over 170,000 people had visited the National Gallery for the Turner to Monet exhibition.
10 June, 2008
Honour offer in PM’s PS Awards
Nominations are being called for the seventh Prime Minister’s Awards for Excellence in Public Sector Management.
The aim of the Awards is to encourage and recognise better practice and innovation in all levels of Government in Australia with the Awards designed to honour the achievements of public sector work groups, units and teams rather than individuals.
The Awards also place a particular focus on specific projects, initiatives or change processes.
The Awards are an initiative of the Institute of Public Administration Australia (ACT Division) and are supported by the Australian Public Service Commission, the Australian National Audit Office, SAI Global Professional Services and the ACT Government.
In urging PS organisations to nominate for the Awards, the IPAA said there were many benefits to be gained. It said these included helping to maintain a focus on outcomes and results; using the preparation of the nomination as an opportunity to review a major project; receiving comprehensive feedback on a project; and identifying areas for improvement.
It said Agencies that achieved recognition also enjoyed the added benefit of public recognition of the work their teams performed and a raised profile for the organisation.
“However, given the considerable amount of effort required in preparing a nomination, Agencies should have a clear idea of their primary motivation for applying,” the Institute said.
“This will help them get the most out of the nomination process and also from the feedback report that they will receive at the end of the assessment process.”
It said nominations were evaluated by teams of assessors with the highest scoring entries submitted to a panel of judges.
“Any work unit, group or team within the Commonwealth, State or Territory and Local Government Public Sectors may nominate for the 2008 Prime Minister’s Awards for Excellence in Public Sector Management.
“Whilst the nominating organisation must be the leading organisation, initiatives that involve other organisations, private sector and community based organisations are also eligible.” It said cross-Agency initiatives were also eligible to be nominated.
“Initiatives can be large in scale and impact across the entire organisation (or multiple organisations), or they can be small in scale and impact at a more local level,” the IPAA said.
“The Secretary/Chief Executive Officer of the Department, Agency, Authority or Office must endorse each Award nomination (and) this endorsement signifies agreement to the conditions of the Awards.”
A nomination kit containing the necessary instructions to enter the Awards could be obtained from www.act.ipaa.org.au
10 June, 2008
Security review all cleared for take-off
The body set up to review security arrangements at Australian airports has swung into action with plans to include the public in its deliberations.
The Minister for Infrastructure and Transport, Anthony Albanese, said the External Advisory Group would assist the Federal Government evaluate security screening at the nation’s airports.
Mr Albanese said the Government had committed itself to reviewing aviation security arrangements in partnership with industry to create a snapshot of current practices and their impacts.
He said the review would look at the design of screening points, national consistency, new technologies, improving passenger experiences and training, retention and recruitment of airport security staff.
“Our goal is to ensure that security measures keep pace with growing passenger numbers, the training needs of screening staff, recent regulatory changes and the expectations of the travelling public,” Mr Albanese said.
He said members of the Advisory Group included Grant Woods, John Nahyna, Jeff Askew, Tom Roche, David Blackwell and Mark Everitt.
He said the group would meet this month to discuss passenger feedback of existing airport screening.
Mr Albanese said the discussion would be based on the findings of face-to-face interviews and phone surveys conducted in May.
He said engaging and consulting with experts and key stakeholders was an essential part of the Review process.
“The Group will provide strategic input and advice to help deliver practical outcomes for government, industry and the travelling public,” Mr Albanese said.
He said Australia’s aviation security regime was among the best in the world.
“To make sure this continues we are taking stock of our security screening processes and systems.”
He said the Review was expected to be finalised by December.
10 June, 2008
Privacy Awards not kept secret
Government Departments and Agencies have been urged to enter the inaugural Australian Privacy Awards 2008 before the nomination period closes on 9 July.
Australian Privacy Commissioner, Karen Curtis, has invited public and private organisations to show off their privacy initiatives and possibly be honoured with recognition, acclamation and reward.
“No-matter what size your organisation is or the scale of your privacy initiative, we encourage you to enter the Australian Privacy Awards,” Commissioner Curtis said.
She said the Awards offered organisations the opportunity to be publicly recognised for their good privacy practices and enhance their reputation and raise their profile.
“You never know - you may be chosen as a finalist or a winner and you could well become a privacy role model for thousands of other organisations in the years ahead!” she said.
Commissioner Curtis said the awards would be presented in four categories.
There would be a Large Business Award for businesses with over 100 employees, an award for businesses with less than 100 employees, a community and Non-Governmental Organisation award for not-for-profit organisations and a Symantec Government Award for Government Agencies at a local, State or national level.
Commissioner Curtis said an overall Grand Award would be presented to the most outstanding entrant.
The awards, which were sponsored by Symantec, Microsoft, Clayton Utz and Australian Finance Conference, would be presented at a gala dinner on 27 August.
More information could be found at www.privacy.gov.au/about/awards
10 June, 2008
Hands-on Questacon handed experiment
The National Science and Technology Centre, Questacon, has joined science centres, museums and schools from 21 countries in an international experiment to measure the Earth’s reflectivity of the sun’s light and heat energy.
Questacon Director, Professor Graham Durant said the Albedo Experiment was a great way to help young people understand the science of climate change and to make a collective contribution to research the effects.
Professor Durant said the polar ice caps played an important role in regulating the earth’s temperature by reflecting the Sun’s rays, which was known as the Albedo effect.
He said to understand the phenomenon, students, staff and visitors to Questacon created an area to mimic the ice caps, using 225 square metres of white material.
Two satellites, Landsat7 and The Terra, travelled over Canberra at the time of the experiment and photographed the Questacon “ice cap” created by the students.
This data is to be used by scientists to measure the change in reflectivity at the Questacon site, and at the other participating sites around the world.
The Albedo Experiment was developed in partnership with Project International action on Global warming (IGLO) and NASA.
During 15 to 24 May, science centres and museums in many countries around the world took part in the experiment.
Project IGLO was an international collaboration of science centres and museums aimed at raising awareness of climate change, its impacts and the steps individuals could take to help.
“As one of the world’s leading science centres, Questacon has played a coordinating role across the Asia-Pacific region in encouraging participation in Project IGLO events and activities,” Professor Durant said.
10 June, 2008
Stats Bureau to lie with ACT Government
The Australian Bureau of Statistics and the Government of the Australian Capital Territory have signed an Information Development Plan to assist the Government in its decision making and policy development.
Australian Statistician, Brian Pink, and the Chief Executive of the Act Chief Minister’s Department, Andrew Cappie-Wood signed the IDP which would recognise the role statistics played in informed decision making within Governments, businesses and communities.
The IDP would help ACT Government Departments between now and 2011 develop policies and programs by providing a strategic framework to improve the quality and availability of statistical information for the ACT in the long term, while protecting confidential information.
Government administrative and private transaction record databases have been seen as a key source of statistics, with survey-based collections used to supplement, calibrate and bridge gaps in these data.
The ABS and ACT Government now recognise each other as partners in developing and improving statistical information, and will continue work together.
An Information Development Steering Committee chaired by the ACT Chief Minister’s Department has been established to implement and monitor the IDP.
More information on the ACT Information Development Plan 2008 – 2011 can be accessed from the National Statistical Service website, www.nss.gov.au or the ACT Chief Ministers Department website, www.cmd.act.gov.au
10 June, 2008
PS praise from Faulkner
Special Minister of State and Minister for the Public Service, Senator John Faulkner has congratulated the APS on rising to the challenges thrown down by Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd.
“The PM is correct that the Public Service is working hard,” Senator Faulkner said.
"The public service has risen to this challenge."
He said the new Government had a big and exciting reform agenda and this meant the Public Service has been asked to work harder and more efficiently.
Senator Faulkner said the Government was aware of the need for a work-life balance and had added questions to the Public Service Commissions State of the Service survey to find out more.
"I will be giving careful consideration to the survey's findings," he said.
Defence in dock
Comcare has taken the Australian Defence Force to the Federal Court seeking a judgement that the ADF breached the Occupational Health and Safety Act 1991 which resulted in the death of an Army Cadet.
Comcare intends to claim that the 19-year-old died on 30 March 2007 from an allergy to peanuts and that the ADF failed to take all reasonably practicable steps to protect the health and safety at work of its cadets.
Acting Chief Executive of Comcare, Martin Dolan, said the Agency would seek the imposition of a civil pecuniary penalty.
In the meantime, the Minister for Defence, Joel Fitzgibbon has announced that the Cadet Scheme would be reviewed.
Court takes mediator line
The Federal Court of Australia has adopted the Australian National Mediator Accreditation System and is now a Recognised Mediator Accreditation Body.
The Court now ensures that its registrar mediators have the skills, knowledge and ethical understandings required for accreditation under the Australian Mediator Standards and unless there are exceptional circumstances, will only use accredited registrar mediators when a matter has been referred to a registrar for mediation.
Award request rephrased
The Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations, Julia Gillard has amended her request to the Australian Industrial Relations Commission to modernise Australia’s industrial award system.
Ms Gillard wrote to the President of the AIRC, Justice Giudice, saying there had been a typing mistake in her original request which stated that “modern awards along operational lines” be established rather than “modern awards along occupational lines’.
Following her advice, the Commission issued a Statement clarifying the matter.
AIS rejects claim
The Australian Institute of Sport has rejected claims it was involved in a consortium to send an Australian-based road cycling team to the Tour de France by 2010.
AIS Director, Professor Peter Fricker, said the AIS was not a party to any discussions involving a consortium to send a team to the race as reported in a regional newspaper.
“It is not the role of the AIS to discuss or identify with any consortium regarding this matter,” he said.
Disabled treaty steps up
The Federal Government has taken a step towards ratifying the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.
The Attorney-General, Robert McClelland, has tabled in Parliament a National Interest Analysis which supports the ratification.
Mr McClelland said the Convention recognised people with disabilities were entitled to enjoy all human rights on an equal basis with others and the National Interest Analysis examined the impacts ratification would have on Australia and Australians living with disabilities.
The proposal to ratify the Convention would now be considered by Parliament's Joint Standing Committee on Treaties.
NCA pushes lake
The National Capital Authority has published a free brochure and online resource promoting recreational activities around Lake Burley Griffin.
NCA Director of Exhibitions and Outreach, Peter Byron said the resources offered valuable information for tourists and locals.
Mr Byron said the guide was available from the National Capital Exhibition, several commercial operators on Lake Burley Griffin and as an interactive online version from www.nationalcapital.gov.au/enjoythelake
Kyoto follow up
The Department of Climate Change has called for tenders to set up and manage an Australian national registry under the Kyoto Protocol.
Countries who have signed the Kyoto Protocol are required implement a national registry to hold and manage their Kyoto Protocol units.
The registry is also expected to underpin Australia’s emissions trading scheme.
Details are available from the AusTender website www.tenders.gov.au and close on 15 July
3 June, 2008
PS whipped up by whip-cracking PM
The Australian Public Service has been put on notice by the Prime Minister that heavy workloads and limited resources were to continue while the Government introduced its agenda for change.
Saying he understood that some PS officers were “finding the hours a bit much,” Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd said the Public Service should prepare for matters to get worse.
“I used to work in the Public Service myself,” Mr Rudd said.
“I understand that there has been some criticism around the edges. I’ve simply got news for the Public Service – there’ll be more.”
He said the new Government was elected with a clear mandate to introduce its policies and it would do so.
“We intend to proceed with that,” he said.
“The work ethic of this Government will not decrease, it will increase.”
The Prime Minister’s comments drew criticism from the Community and Public Sector Union, with National Secretary, Stephen Jones saying PS staff were not afraid of hard work but “like all Australians they need time with their families and a chance to relax.”
“There is plenty of goodwill in the APS towards the new Government and what it wants to achieve,” Mr Jones said.
“But this goodwill is not limitless and it is being sorely tested by Mr Rudd's unfortunate remarks about workloads and ongoing Budget cuts.”
He said if the APS was to help the Government build a better Australia and deliver on its long-term agenda, it needed to “move past the short-sightedness of arbitrary Budget cuts and the so-called efficiency dividend, which has cut 3200 jobs from the service this year.”
"People are under enormous pressure, subject to massive workloads and ridiculous deadlines.”
He said the Government needed to accept that the Public Service was not a magic pudding that could do 'more with less' indefinitely.
Mr Jones said he had raised his concerns with several ministers, including Finance Minister Lindsay Tanner, Special Minister of State, Senator John Faulkner and Human Services Minister, Senator Joe Ludwig.
Separately, Mr Rudd defended a decision by the Government not to ‘purge’ senior executives from the APS when it assumed office.
He said maintaining Public Service continuity was the “right thing to do in order to restore something which resembled the Westminster system in Australia.”
“The Government took a view before the election that there would be no ‘night of the long knives’,” Mr Rudd said.
“We accept the consequences of that decision”
3 June, 2008
Efficiency watch pays dividends for Briggs
Public Service Commissioner, Lynelle Briggs has told a Senate Estimates Committee that she was keeping a keeping an eye on the levels of workplace stress in the Australian Public Service and the ability of some parts of the organisation to perform their functions in the face of the increased efficiency dividend
Responding to questions from Australian Democrats Senator Andrew Murray, Commissioner Briggs said she had received a lot of feedback and comment on the current working arrangements in the APS and was concerned about some of them.
“There is no doubt that most people in most Departments located in Canberra are under a lot of stress at the moment,” Commissioner Briggs said.
“You would expect that, because this is a period of a new Government with a very large agenda which it is seeking to grow.”
But asked by Senator Murray if the demands of the increased efficiency dividend had led to complaints, affected morale or impacted on the effectiveness of the Service, Commissioner Briggs said although nothing had been received in writing, comments had been made.
“As I move around the country, Public Servants frequently raise these issues with me. Secretaries have raised them with me, too, as being of concern.”
She said in the lead-up to her annual ‘State of the Service’ report she would be seeking the usual comments on mechanisms to improve PS efficiency but in the meantime was “keeping an eye” on them.
“I am concerned that we should not have a situation where Agencies are so reduced by compounding efficiencies that they cannot perform their baseline functions,” she said.
Senator Murray said imposing the efficiency dividend across the board “frankly produces stress and inefficiencies of its own.”
“It has been my long experience … that when you put organisations under pressure, you can get astonishingly good results from some and very bad consequences from others.”
Commissioner Briggs told the Committee that although the Budget predicted a drop of 3,300 in APS personnel, she did not expect that many redundancies
“We would imagine that there would be many fewer redundancies than that, given the current labour market environment,” she said.
3 June, 2008
Second cut could be the deepest
The Department of Finance and Deregulation is gearing up for second round of razor gang cuts with diplomatic posts and industry subsidy programs identified as early likely targets.
Head of Finance’s Budget Group, Paul Grimes is to lead a 10-person team which will service the Expenditure Review Committee comprising Finance Minister Lindsay Tanner as well as the Prime Minister, Deputy Prime Minister, Treasurer, Assistant Treasurer Chris Bowen, Trade Minister and the Minister for Families.
Departments and Agencies have already been provided with guidelines setting out the criteria that will decide whether a program continued or was cut.
It is believed the second round of cuts will examine programs in more detail than the first and make its findings known at the end of the year.
"The purpose is to have a more thorough and wide-ranging examination of Government spending," Mr Tanner told The Australian newspaper.
"In a shortened Budget process, where the emphasis is on getting substantial savings quickly, it is difficult to be completely systematic."
He said the second razor gang would be looking at how effective programs were in meeting their objectives and would look at as many individual programs as it could with a particular eye to outdated or less effective programs that could no longer be justified.
He said a new set of principles had been developed to inform the process which would include assessing programs on their success in serving social objectives, delivering value for the taxpayers' dollar and whether they were being run efficiently.
"The aim is to ensure that less efficient mechanisms and lower priority programs are consistently weeded out, rather than allowed to continue indefinitely as a result of inertia," Mr Tanner said.
He said the second review would look again at some of the cuts not made in the first round because they were too difficult.
He said some programs that appeared to offer simple decisions were often complicated by contractual arrangements or links with other programs but this time would be examined in detail.
“Until we've done the work we don't know exactly what we'll find."
Mr Tanner said Departments and Agencies would also be invited to make suggestions for cuts.
"We won't know how fruitful these will be until we've done the work," he said.
3 June, 2008
Super sex change is good for retirees
Discrimination against same-sex relationships in Commonwealth superannuation schemes is to be abolished.
Attorney-General Robert McClelland has announced that the Acts governing the schemes would be amended and that from 1 July same-sex couples and their children would be treated equally in the operation of Commonwealth superannuation schemes.
He described the changes as “long overdue.”
Mr McClelland said the Same-Sex Relationships (Equal Treatment in Commonwealth Laws – Superannuation) Bill 2008 would ensure that same-sex couples were no longer denied the payment of death benefits from superannuation schemes or the tax concessions on death benefits currently available to opposite-sex couples.
He said the changes would also be followed by other reforms that would end same-sex discrimination in a wide range of Commonwealth laws.
“In areas such as social security, tax and veterans’ affairs, the reforms will be phased-in,” Mr McClelland said, “to allow time for couples to adjust their finances, and for administrative arrangements to be implemented.”
He said the changes did not alter marriage laws.
“They will make a practical difference to the everyday lives of a group of our fellow Australians who have suffered discrimination under Commonwealth laws for far too long.”
Mr McClelland welcomed the Opposition’s support for the reforms saying its cooperation was needed to pass the legislation so that it could commence on 1 July.
He said all changes were expected to be implemented by mid-2009.
Superannuation schemes covered by the new rules would include the Commonwealth Superannuation Scheme; the Defence Force Retirement and Death Benefits Scheme; the scheme under the Superannuation Act 1922; the Defence Forces Retirement Benefits Scheme; the Judges’ Pensions Scheme; the Federal Magistrates Disability and Death Benefits Scheme; the Governor-General Pension Scheme, and the Parliamentary Contributory Superannuation Scheme.
Mr McClelland said the Public Sector Superannuation Scheme, and the Military Superannuation and Benefits Scheme would be amended by delegated legislation
3 June, 2008
Ministerials get write treatment
The Australian National Audit Office has published a Better Practice Guide on the management of Ministerial workflow.
Auditor-General, Ian McPhee published the Guide entitled Agency Management of Parliamentary Workflow, saying it dealt with important and complex matters that needed to be handled in a timely and efficient manner.
“Managing Parliamentary workflow is an essential responsibility of Australian Government agencies,” Mr McPhee said.
“Ministers and the Parliament expect, and are entitled to, a high level of service in this work.”
He said among the tasks performed for Parliament were Ministerial briefings and correspondence, working with Cabinet and developing legislation.
“Generally, Parliamentary services units within Agencies have responsibility for managing the interactions and the flow of material between Agencies, Ministers’ offices and the Parliament,” he said.
“Systems set up to manage this work must be efficient and effective.”
He said the 98-page Guide had been produced is to assist Agency officers manage their Parliamentary workflow activities and updated a previous Guide released in 2003.
Mr McPhee said the new Guide included new material on developments in information and communications technology, the legislation development process and relationship management.
“The ANAO consulted with several Members of Parliament as well as a wide cross-section of Australian Government agencies in developing this Guide,” he said.
“The ANAO especially appreciates input from the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet, the Department of Families, Community Services, Housing
and Indigenous Affairs and the Office of Parliamentary Counsel.”
The Guide was divided into seven sections and contained handy checklists at the end of each one.
It can be downloaded from the Auditor-General’s website www.anao.gov..au
3 June, 2008
Website upgrade opens up for EDS
A $25 million contract to improve the www.australia.gov.au website has been awarded to international computing consultant EDS.
The Minister for Finance and Deregulation Lindsay Tanner announced the contract saying it would provide systems integration services to support the evolution of the website over four years.
“Successive eGovernment satisfaction surveys have indicated that the existing Government information and online service arrangements are too rigid, too hard to find and often use complex language that’s difficult to understand,” Mr Tanner said, “People are also frustrated by the need to visit multiple websites to get the information and services they need and have repeatedly requested simple access to Government information and services.”
He said australia.gov.au was funded under the Australian Government Online Service Point Program and managed by the Department of Finance and Deregulation and when it was upgraded would provide users of Australian Government services with an improved ability to find information and online services, and carry out transactions with multiple Agencies from one location.
He said new services to be delivered as part of the EDS contract included developing an australia.gov.au online account and allowing individuals to “log on” and interact with Government from a central point.
He said the enhanced australia.gov.au would meet tight security standards, and would be strictly opt-in in the interest of safeguarding individual privacy.
Mr Tanner said the 2020 Summit highlighted the public interest in having more immediate and practical access to Government services, expressed in the form of an “ourgov.com” suggestion that consolidated online service delivery to the public.
“The new australia.gov.au site will provide a more personalised way for people to interact with Government and will provide a great deal of the desired functionality outlined in the 2020 Summit,” he said.
“It will provide a platform for Government to develop a more citizen-centric approach to its service delivery to citizens, and encourage Agencies to work together toward this end.”
The first release of the technology infrastructure supporting the new australia.gov.au website is to be delivered in the first quarter of 2009, with a second release scheduled for late 2010.
3 June, 2008
Funds and games at official residence
The Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, has thrown open the doors of his official residence in Sydney, Kirribilli House, for use by registered charities for fundraising events.
Mr Rudd said charities with a national focus, such as St Vincent de Paul and The Salvation Army, would be invited to furnish proposals to the Government to use the official residence for their fundraising events.
He said up to 10 charities would be granted the right to hold a fundraiser at Kirribilli House each year.
Mr Rudd said he thought charity organisations might wish to use the House for open days, receptions, dinners or garden tours to raise funds for the important work they undertook for disadvantaged Australians.
“We must provide a strong support network for the Australian charities that provide such critical services through their national community work,” Mr Rudd said.
He said both he and his wife hoped Australian charities would take up the offer.
He said the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet would call for expressions of interest to gauge which and how many Australian National Charities wished to use Kirribilli.
PM&C would then examine the strength of proposals for specific events and work with charities to coordinate them.
He said the charities would not be required to pay a fee to use Kirribilli but would be required to pay for the cost of holding the event, such as for catering and staff.
3 June, 2008
Native title tax leaves black mark
A research project undertaken by the Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Studies has found that the economic development of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people was being hampered by Australia’s taxation laws.
The report labelled some of the laws as “complex and inappropriate”.
The result of a research project led by Dr Lisa Strelein, Director of Research at the AIATSIS Native Title Research Unit, the report tackled the complex interaction of native title and taxation.
At the online release of the report, Dr Strelein said Australia needed to rethink how benefit packages from native title agreements were taxed.
“The appropriate tax interpretation of native title benefits has eluded policy makers for a decade,” Dr Strelein said.
“The question is whether native title payments to traditional owners are compensation or income.”
She said there was an urgent need to clarify the tax treatment of native title to ensure that the economic benefits that flowed to the traditional owners could be maximised.
The report said that the economic potential of native title and the economic agency of traditional owners were undermined by the interpretation of native title by the legislature and the Courts, yet Indigenous people were entering agreements with industry who wanted access to their lands.
“Native title is a unique legal concept that seeks to bridge the rights held by Indigenous peoples under their own law and accommodation and protection of those rights within Australian law,” Dr Strelein said.
“The current tax treatment of benefits from native title agreements has not come to terms with the uniqueness of native title.”
3 June, 2008
Super paper to keep it simple
A consultation paper designed to increase access to simple superannuation advice has been welcomed by the Ministers for Superannuation and Finance, Senator Nick Sherry and Lindsay Tanner.
Produced by the joint Financial Services Working Group made up of officers from Treasury, Finance and the Australian Securities and Investments Commission, the paper seeks comment on regulatory and other steps that could be taken to improve Australians’ access to low-cost financial advice within their superannuation fund.
Senator Sherry said the intention was to “pave the way for millions of Australians to access simple advice about their superannuation.
“Superannuation is compulsory,” he said. “It is the largest area of unmet need for financial advice and there are many unsophisticated investors.
“Access to basic advice is critical when people need help making retirement savings choices.”
Mr Tanner said the Government was committed to removing unnecessary regulatory barriers to obtaining cheaper financial advice about superannuation and the Financial Services Working Group was consulting across Government and industry to suggest practical solutions without reducing consumer protections.
The Ministers said the consultation paper invited submissions from the financial services industry and the public and could be downloaded from the websites of the Department of Finance and Deregulation, Treasury and ASIC, or requested by emailing the Financial Services Working Group (email@example.com). The closing date for public submissions is 15 July 2008.
3 June, 2008
ACCC vies for more competition powers
Plans to strengthen the powers of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission so it can protect competition more vigorously have been defended by the Chairman of the ACCC, Graeme Samuel
Mr Samuel said proposed changes to section 46 of the Trade Practices Act would give the Commission the extra powers it needed but would not “trample” on the basic rights of those affected in the process.
“With these proposed changes in place, the ACCC considers that the balance has been adequately struck between ensuring that businesses are exposed to the rigours of competition – with all the associated economic benefits – while being protected from the possible anti-competitive consequences associated with firms gaining power from that competitive process,” Mr Samuel said.
“This will not put an end to ongoing calls for greater action by the ACCC to protect firms that are struggling to compete with more efficient rivals – whether those rivals’ greater efficiency comes from economies of scale or the ability to be nimble and innovate quicker.”
Mr Samuel said the changes would mean the ACCC would be well placed to act when firms that had market power were using that power for an anti-competitive purpose.
He welcomed the decision to allow the ACCC to undertake interlocutory proceedings to stop alleged misconduct whilst still retaining the use of its information gathering powers until it commenced substantive proceedings in a matter.
Mr Samuel said that in a tightening economic situation, businesses were likely to feel increased pressure and would increasingly look to the TPA to ensure they were adequately protected from unfair trading practices.
“Having long expressed their frustration at the inability of the predatory pricing provisions of the Trade Practices Act, and the lack of successful cases, small businesses are having some of those concerns now addressed,” he said.
“By identifying the real impediments that have prevented the law from functioning properly, the Government is promising to clear aside the last remaining major blockages that have prevented more successful cases from flowing.”
He said the ACCC had not changed its stance.
“It stands ready to take appropriate cases as soon as our legal advice tells us we have reasonable grounds to do so.
“The result of more cases now being able to proceed will be a win for all those who look to the Trade Practices Act 1974 to protect the competitive process,” Mr Samuel said.
3 June, 2008
Defence opens window on purchasing portal
A new ePortal for Defence and Industry is to come into operation at the beginning of July.
Announced by the Parliamentary Secretary for Defence Procurement, Greg Combet, the new ePortal would allow Defence contractors to locate Australian suppliers and obtain information on the goods, services and facilities they offered.
Mr Combet said the ePortal would incorporate a number of facilities including an Industry Capability Information System that would be publicly searchable to reveal data on the capabilities offered by Australian and New Zealand Defence companies.
“This will allow Defence contractors to find Australian suppliers,” Mr Combet said.
“It will also allow companies seeking partners with complementary capabilities to find each other.”
He said finding easily accessible, accurate and current information on the capabilities of companies in the Defence industry sector had been a longstanding problem.
“When the Defence and Industry ePortal is launched in early July, it will be preloaded with data on about 400 Australian companies,” Mr Combet said.
“New companies will be able to register as users, and then add their company capabilities to the database.
“Contractors looking for Australian partners will be able to search the database to find the capabilities they require.”
Mr Combet said the ePortal would greatly increase the opportunities for Australian Defence companies, particularly small- to medium-sized enterprises, to participate in Defence’s acquisition and sustainment activities and also to compete in the global Defence market.
“The Defence and Industry ePortal will also provide links to forthcoming Defence business opportunities and to other relevant Defence and Government sites,” he said.
“It will also have a secure feedback tool to allow companies to provide feedback to Defence either on procurement matters or about the ePortal facility itself.”
Mr Combet said the ePortal would provide online access at all hours.
3 June, 2008
2.3 million hang up on telemarketers
Australia’s anti-telemarketing tool, the Do Not Call Register, ended its first year of operation with 2.3 million phone numbers on its books.
Run by the Australian Communications and Media Authority, the register makes it illegal for most telemarketers to call telephone numbers on the list without consent.
Chairman of ACMA, Chris Chapman said a recent ACMA-commissioned survey showed the register was being well received by consumers and was delivering results.
“Nearly 90 per cent of those surveyed who had listed their numbers on the register reported a drop in the number of telemarketing calls they received,” Mr Chapman said.>
He said the survey also revealed overwhelming community support with more than 90 per cent of respondents agreeing it was a useful initiative.
Mr Chapman said industry had also responded well to the register and an accompanying national industry standard which directed when and how telemarketers and researchers could contact individuals, was also well-received.
“ACMA is committed to holding businesses accountable for the actions of call centres they engage to make calls on their behalf,” he said.
“Where a business or contracted call centre has illegally called numbers on the register, ACMA will take appropriate enforcement action.”
Mr Chapman said ACMA had commenced 18 formal investigations in the past 12 months.
He said two had been finalised with both finding the businesses involved had not complied with the Do Not Call Register Act. He said it found that offshore call centres engaged by the businesses had made telemarketing calls to consumers on the register.
“This low number of investigations in one year shows the industry has done a great job in amending their business practices and doing it responsibly,” Mr Chapman said.
He said under the Do Not Call Register Act, telemarketers were able to submit their calling lists to the register operator for checking against the register. This process of “washing” lists assisted telemarketers to comply with the Act.
Mr Chapman said in the past year, industry had ‘washed’ more than 770 million telephone numbers against the register.
Registering a telephone number on the Do Not Call Register is easy, quick and free, he said.
Individuals can register their personal home or mobile telephone number by completing a short form online at www.donotcall.gov.au, calling 1300 792 958 or filling out a postal form.
Anyone who had registered their telephone numbers but continued to receive telemarketing calls more than a month after listing could lodge a complaint online at www.donotcall.gov.au or with the register operator by calling 1300 792 958.
3 June, 2008
Army upgrade gets shot in the arm
The Department of Defence is continuing to expand the Australian Army, with funds in the Budget allocated to establish two new Army battalions.
The Enhanced Land Force initiative received $650 million to increase the size of the Defence Force by 3000 personnel.
According to Defence Minister, Joel Fitzgibbon, the Army will be stronger, more modern, versatile and adaptable as a result of the increased funding and extra members.
He said it would have 11 battle groups capable of acting independently.
Mr Fitzgibbon said included in the ELF was the re-establishment of a second mechanised battalion and its transfer from Darwin to Adelaide; conversion of 3RAR from parachute to light infantry and relocation from Sydney to Townsville; re-raising a motorised infantry in south-east Queensland; additional combat support services and; expanding Air Force and Navy capabilities to support the bigger Army.
He said Australian troops would also receive the best in equipment and technology through additional funding to the Defence Science and Technology Organisation, DSTO.
Minister for Defence Science and Personnel, Warren Snowdon said the Government’s strong commitment would ensure the ADF continued to be equipped and protected with leading edge technology and systems.
The Ministers said other improvements included upgrades of three Army bases.
3 June, 2008
APRA charter charts the way ahead
The Australian Prudential Regulation Authority has a new Service Charter, explaining its role and how it planned to deal with clients and stakeholders.
APRA Chairman, John Laker said the APRA Service Charter explained how APRA carried out its role and what those who dealt with the prudential regulator could expect.
“APRA deals mostly with the financial institutions that we supervise, but we do handle enquiries from members of the public and we approve early release of superannuation benefits on compassionate grounds,” Dr Laker said.
“The Charter explains what our stakeholders can expect from us and clarifies the key rights and responsibilities of APRA and our regulated institutions.”
Dr Laker said according to the Charter, the core mission of APRA was to establish and enforce prudential standards and practices designed to ensure that under all reasonable circumstances, financial promises made by the institutions it supervised were met within a stable, efficient and competitive financial system.
The Charter outlined APRA’s main supervision activities in respect of financial institutions:
Dr Laker said that while the Authority could not give legal or financial advice and had no role to intervene in a dispute, it could direct a member of the public to a relevant body which could help.
He said the APRA Service Charter was finalised following consultation with industry, consumer groups and the Government.
The Charter was a recommendation of the Report of the Taskforce on Reducing Regulatory Burden on Business (the Banks Report), which was endorsed by the Government in its Statement of Expectations for APRA.
The Service Charter is available from APRA’s website at www.apra.gov.au/aboutApra
3 June, 2008
Money watchdog folds three into one
The Australian Securities and Investments Commission has welcomed a new Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS) which is taking over complaint handling duties from the three biggest schemes operating in the financial services industry.
FOS is to replace the Financial Industry Complaints Service (FICS), the Banking and Financial Ombudsman Service (BFSO) and the Insurance Ombudsman Service (IOS).
Together, FICS, BFSO and IOS dealt with most consumer complaints about financial services and covered the vast majority of retail financial services providers, including banks, life and general insurance companies, stockbrokers, investment managers and financial planners.
Between them, the schemes handled about 10,000 consumer disputes in the last reporting period and more than 100,000 telephone enquiries.
Deputy Chairman of ASIC, Jeremy Cooper, said the Commission welcomed the move to consolidate operations into a single service.
“Complaints schemes play a vital role in the broader consumer protection framework for financial services,” Mr Cooper said.
“They provide a forum for consumers to resolve complaints against industry that is quicker and cheaper than the formal legal system and an opportunity to improve industry standards of conduct and to improve relations between industry participants and consumers.”
He said the development would promote better outcomes both for the industry, as members of the scheme, and for consumers and investors with an unresolved dispute against their financial services provider.
“These outcomes included greater accessibility, consistency and efficiency, and the potential for economies of scale.”
FOS would start operating on 1 July 2008.
In the first instance it would continue to operate under the rules and procedures of the three existing schemes but with a view to adopting a single set of rules by 2010.
“We strongly encourage all financial services licensees who are members of one of the existing schemes to transfer to FOS as soon as practicable.” Mr Cooper said.
“ASIC will be looking at ways of facilitating the transfer where possible.”
Consumers and investors who wanted to refer a complaint to FOS could contact the scheme by calling 1300 780 808, the single telephone number for all complaints schemes in the financial services industry.
3 June, 2008
Arts partnership MAPS out future
A partnership between the Australia Council for the Arts and a number of State arts funding Agencies has led to the creation of a new service to subsidise the production, management, touring and marketing of independent Australian theatre and dance artists.
Management and Production Services (MAPS) has been formed by the Australia Council and the funding Agencies from Queensland, Victoria and Western Australia.
Australia Council chief executive Kathy Keele said MAPS would serve to incubate new creative work.
“Some of the most exciting new work in the country is being produced by independent artists and small companies working on a shoestring,” Ms Keele said.
“MAPS provides a flexible support structure that frees these artists from administration so they can focus on what they do best – creating work.”
She said MAPS would be able to tap into the skills, networks and infrastructure normally only available to artists working for established arts organisations.
She said MAPS would be delivered by Performing Lines in Western Australia, Strut & Fret in Victoria and a partnership between Metro Arts and Brisbane Powerhouse in Queensland.
3 June, 2008
Milestone for news
The readership of PS News set a new milestone in May with readers clocking up over two million hits for the month.
Editor, Frank Cassidy welcomed the result saying it took two years to reach the first million-a-month traffic figure last November and then just another six months to double it.
In addition, independent net management company Rotapix reported that PS News now ranked No. 1 on the world’s three largest search engines for Public Service news.
Whalan to retire
The Chief Executive of Centrelink, Jeff Whalan, has announced his retirement.
Minister for Human Services, Senator Joe Ludwig paid tribute to Mr Whalan saying he had built a distinguished career through the Royal Australian Navy and the Australian Public Service over many years.
“Our efforts will now turn to finding a new CEO,” Senator Ludwig said.
He said a transparent and merit-based selection would be used to find a replacement with the Secretary of Human Services and the Public Service Commissioner overseeing the process.
Mr Whalan will retire later in the year.
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