Improving our business

​Under our new Strategic Stateme​nt, the vision for our department is 'a smart place, with smart people'. In 2011–12 we continued to look for ways to improve the way we do business, both inside the department and working with our portfolio industries and stakeholders.

Marshalling scientific expertise

Our scientists provide us with a professional scientific research and implementation capability, using strong links to key science functions across government and other organisations. Their tasks cover a broad spectrum, from operations and surveillance through to risk assessment and science research. Our science underpins our ability to support the prosperity, health and wellbeing of Australians into the future.

In March 2012, the secretary released a briefing on the importance of science to the department's work and called for a Science Strategic Plan. The strategic plan will strengthen the way we use science to achieve our portfolio objectives and provide a framework and vision for science in the department. The plan will address key issues such as:

  • the role of science in our business, current capability and future needs
  • supporting, attracting, developing and retaining high-quality scientific staff
  • our dialogue and relationship with other key scientific organisations.

Assuring our business

Business assurance is part of our risk and assurance framework and is designed to ensure that systems and processes are effective and efficient. The department is working through the internal audit program to develop a risk and control framework that will provide assurance on key strategic and operational risks. This framework will be implemented in 2012–13.

During the year, 25 biosecurity service delivery programs (covering offshore, at the border and onshore) undertook assurance activities. These helped identify improvement opportunities and provided an appropriate level of confidence that our processes are effective, well documented and being followed by staff. We use the findings of assurance activities to identify any emerging risks across the biosecurity continuum.

Improving import conditions information management

The Biosecurity Import Conditions (BICON) database is replacing the Import Conditions (ICON) suite of applications. The ICON database is used to manage and publish Australian import conditions for plant, animal, mineral and human commodities. It is also used to produce and manage permits relating to the importation of goods into Australia.

The new BICON database will present information in context to make import conditions more accessible and understandable for users and will provide enhanced search functionality through the addition of scientific name and tariff code search features. The key benefits will include improved consistency and transparency of biosecurity decision making; increased industry compliance with biosecurity import requirements; and increased efficiencies in the areas of permit issuing and clearance of goods.

BICON will provide a knowledge and rules base that can be used to improve supply chain integration and support the automation of commercial entry processing. It will also provide a new approach to setting import conditions and ensuring these are efficient and consistent for both internal and external users.

Building a better business model

Throughout 2011–12, we continued to deliver a number of business and process improvement projects to support DAFF programs. In particular, we developed a biosecurity business model to help the department evaluate the degree of change resulting from the new biosecurity legislation and the export and biosecurity business reforms. The new model assists us to plan for investments and effort in key business processes.

Building on the biosecurity business model project, we have started work on a DAFF business model. The model will represent the end-to-end business processes, services and programs that support the delivery of our outcomes. The DAFF business model supports a common language in describing our business and can be used to scope and evaluate the impact resulting from changes to our portfolio, programs and regulatory services.

We have also completed a variety of other business improvement projects across a number of branches, including:

  • livestock industries and agricultural and veterinary chemicals
  • export standards
  • passengers and mail
  • industry arrangements and performance.

We developed formal training programs in process mapping, analysis and improvement, as well as implemented coaching and mentoring programs in the practical application of these skills.

Improving levy compliance

In 2011–12, DAFF completed its first risk-based levies compliance program. The new program has already realised a number of benefits, including increased revenue and commodity coverage; and shorter inspection cycles for high risk and key industry agents selected as part of the annual record inspection program. This change in approach has enabled the levies compliance team to significantly reduce the number of operational record inspections, divert resources to the strategic compliance program and undertake more cost-effective monitoring activities.

Encouraging internal engagement

To support engagement with staff and create a better informed work environment, the department launched two dialogue forums in 2011. The 'Let's talk' forums and 'Leadership Dialogue Sessions' continued through 2011–12.

The 'Let's talk' forums provide a two-way discussion between staff and senior managers on current issues relevant to our work and the wider APS. A total of 11 forums were held across DAFF, looking at how we can embed our desired workplace cultures. Input from these sessions is informing the delivery of our People Strategy, launched in November 2011. Feedback has been extremely positive and shows these forums are highly valued.

The 'Leadership Dialogue Sessions' support a conversation between the executive and senior managers. A total of 11 sessions were held in 2011–12, focusing on preparing staff for changes resulting from biosecurity reform. Around 200 managers and team leaders from across the department participated in sessions in Sydney, Perth, Cairns, Brisbane, Melbourne, Adelaide, Darwin and Canberra, with participation rates increasing with each session.

The development of change communication channels and capability was a focus in 2011–12. In September–October 2011, the department conducted an online employee survey to inform this work. More than 1800 employees from across DAFF participated in the survey. It examined general staff attitudes towards workplace change and their awareness of key change activities in the department. The survey also looked at levels of satisfaction with, and preferences for, change communication activities, messages and channels. The results are being used to build skills and develop support tools for face-to-face communication about change. We also introduced a weekly electronic bulletin, providing key messages for managers.

The department consulted and communicated extensively with staff during the first half of 2011–12 to develop and implement a new enterprise agreement. Communication support for each iteration of the agreement included consultation, the release of internal communiqués and fact sheets and staff information sessions around the country. The final vote achieved a record participation rate of 71.5 per cent of eligible staff, with 90 per cent of respondents voting in favour of the agreement.

Improving information and communication technology

During the year, the department successfully upgraded its desktop standard operating environment to Windows 7, submitted its ICT Second Pass Business Case to government and completed a tender evaluation for the provision of secure internet gateway services. DAFF has been appointed as a lead agency under the Australian Government Internet Gateway Consolidation Program and will supply shared internet gateway services to 11 client agencies.

We successfully released three systems into production—the Manual of Importing Country Requirements (MICoR); the Audit Management System (AMS); and the Tracking Animal Certification for Exports (TRACE)—to support our export certification reform program (see Program 2.1).

The department transferred its primary data centre to Hume in the Australian Capital Territory, utilising the whole-of-government Data Centre Facilities Panel. We also implemented an Apple iPad project and initiated an iPhone trial, providing senior executive officers with an enhanced mobile computing solution. This is increasing productivity through ease of access to email and calendars and significantly reducing paper use through the provision of electronic meeting papers.

DAFF approved the following ICT business cases:

  • Government-to-government electronic certification for Phytosanitary Certificates between Australia and New Zealand. This is a proof-of-concept project that will reduce paper handling and eliminate duplicate screening of certificates.
  • A new Vessel Monitoring System to track international vessels entering Australian waters. This new tracking system will result in time savings for seaport inspectors and incorporate functionality from the Australian Ballast Water Management Information System, to allow streamlined assessment of ballast water management risks.
  • Corporate electronic records management. Electronic recordkeeping will support the department's information and recordkeeping agenda and enable compliance with the whole-of-government Digital Transition Policy.
  • Implementation of an integrated Plant Exports Management System. This new system will facilitate electronic storage, transmission and reporting of inspection data, delivering the following benefits to both DAFF and industry: 
    • reduced dependency on paper-based manual processes
    • increased efficiencies in the authorisation processes for export certificates through potential automation
    • enhanced data monitoring and reporting capabilities
    • reduced cost and duration in data transmission, storage and retrieval activities
    • enhanced end-to-end traceability in the export certification process.

The Self-Assessed Clearances Paperless Initiative project received an Australia Day Innovation Award and was nominated for the Institute of Public Administration Australia's Prime Minister's Awards for Excellence in Public Sector Management. This project delivered a range of benefits to the organisation and its external clients in the air freight industry.


DAFF continues to support a culture of innovation in various ways: through its innovation initiative, I-Gen; the hosting of events that encourage the sharing of ideas; and through collaboration with other organisations.

Examples of ideas generated in the past 12 months and fed through I-Gen include: working with National ICT Australia Ltd (NICTA) to trial new camera software linked with imaging spectroscopy to detect biosecurity risks in grains and plants; and improving and upgrading the biosecurity awareness training material to include e-learning products.

DAFF was joined by many agencies to host Innovation Week 2012 from 2–8 June. Under the theme 'collaboration', this event was a practical example of how the public, private, non-government and academic sectors can work together and share ideas to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of the Australian Public Service. More than 800 people attended the 16 discussions, workshops, seminars, tours and networking sessions hosted by DAFF during this week.

In addition, the department continues to host the increasingly popular DAFF Seminar Series. This provides the opportunity for staff to share, discuss and learn about relevant ideas and practices from within, and external to, DAFF.

Upon request, DAFF has provided 18 public and academic institutions with information about its innovation model. It has also provided information and seminars on its mentoring program to various public sector agencies—an idea that came out of I-Gen.

The department continues to be an active participant in the Public Service Innovation Network.


A lot to Crowe about

How can an entomologist in Brisbane on any one day identify a bee on a shipping container in the Townsville docks; a snail in Gladstone and termites in a yacht in Darwin. By cloning the entomologist? No, it is much simpler than that. 'Just' connect a microscope to the internet so that the entomologist can identify what the microscope sees.

Bill Crowe has worked with the department for 18 years; he is the National Entomology Coordinator, based in Brisbane. Bill was a key player in the roll out of remote diagnostics, implementing a national network of 15 microscopes to provide a consistent approach to diagnostics, advice and training for our biosecurity inspectors across Australia. The online microscopes enable biosecurity officers to upload a specimen for expert identification, significantly reducing the time needed to identify and address potential threats.

Bill's efforts were recognised with the system shortlisted in the 2011 Prime Minister's Innovation Award and his strong team leadership and guidance was recognised through a 2012 DAFF Australia Day Innovation Award.

Bill is continuing his work in remote diagnostics by collaborating with cargo staff on a national surveillance pilot in Brisbane, focusing on targeted pest and disease detection at wharves, break bulk depots and air cargo facilities. Subject to the success of the pilot, a national surveillance strategy is scheduled to be implemented later in 2012.

The use of remote diagnostics is saving time and money for stakeholders and for DAFF by facilitating the timely movement into Australia of goods that do not pose a biosecurity risk. This is achieved through reductions in voluntary fumigations, storage, the cost of keeping goods on the wharf and handling fees at the border.

Mr Bill Crowe sitting at a desk with a relayed image on his computer screen.
DAFF officer Bill Crowe using the remote diagnostics equipment to identify a bee found on a shipping container (Photo: DAFF).

Corporate realignment

The need to reform Australia's biosecurity system has had DAFF looking at every aspect of the way it does business, including its internal corporate functions. In November 2011, we introduced a new structure for those functions, aimed at streamlining our business, building a more integrated department and ensuring we deliver resources to priority areas. The new structure is reflected in our organisation structure in Our department.

By standardising business systems and processes, the corporate realignment provides the opportunity to reduce spending, reduce duplication and work more efficiently. These changes to our corporate functions also offer benefits to our people, providing new opportunities to broaden their career paths and pursue professional development.

The corporate realignment also involved the establishment of our Information Services Division, in recognition of the important part played by ICT in our current and future business.

Managing freedom of information requests

In November 2011, we formed a taskforce to review our freedom of information (FOI) management, to ensure it reflected best practice.

In February 2012, the Executive Management Team endorsed the move to a centralised model for managing FOI requests. The reforms will streamline processes and improve the quality and consistency of decisions relating to FOI access and charges. The reforms are also expected to generate efficiencies and savings, some of which will be invested in training and better systems.

Last reviewed: 4 November 2019
Thanks for your feedback.
Thanks! Your feedback has been submitted.

We aren't able to respond to your individual comments or questions.
To contact us directly phone us or submit an online inquiry

Please verify that you are not a robot.