Building an efficient and capable department

​​​​​​​​​​Focus on performance, deliver our objectives, meet our statutory obligations and parliamentary requirements, and continuously build organisational capacity.

This strategic objective recognises the importance of our corporate capability in delivering the ​government’s programs and achieving the department’s objectives.

Our People Strategy fosters a positive culture, strengthens our client focus, provides safe workplaces and promotes high performance in a changing business environment.

Through our Finance Strategy, we undertake prudent financial management, make investments to maintain and improve our services to the government and our clients, and ensure our cost-recovered services are efficient, transparent and sustainably funded.

The Information and Communication Technology (ICT) Strategic Plan supports staff productivity and capability and underpins our commitment to modernising service delivery.

Our scientific and economic research through ABARES provides evidence-based research and data to support policy and decision-making across our strategic objectives.

Our broader corporate functions support our ministers and the executive in delivering their remits, which include appointments to portfolio agency boards and cross-portfolio engagement and collaboration.

Our activities in 2015–16 under this strategic objective included investing in a taskforce to rapidly improve our workplace health and safety system, addressing gaps identified by Comcare’s and our own internal audit. We implemented a new rehabilitation management system, including a focus on early intervention for injured or ill employees, and developed the department’s second strategic workforce plan. We also updated our graduate program to better target the qualifications we need in our graduates, and to modernise the recruitment process.

We continued negotiations on new enterprise agreements for employees, implementing a new agreement for the department’s meat inspectors.

We upgraded a number of systems to improve our financial management and reporting. We also launched an internal helpdesk service to help business areas better manage their finances, contributing to our financial compliance.

With a mature ICT infrastructure now in place, we continued a focus on re-engineering our existing services and building capability to support our service delivery modernisation program. This included implementing an online payments system for clients, completing our rollout of Windows 8 devices across the department, and improving services to remote area staff, including improved internet access and Wi Fi capability for staff in Torres Strait, on Christmas Island and in the Cocos (Keeling) Islands.

ABARES continued to provide research, market analysis and forecasts through the major quarterly publications Agricultural Commodities and Australian Crop Report. Our annual Outlook Conference in March 2016 brought together more than 750 delegates to hear from 71 speakers on the theme Investing in agriculture—growing our future.

We continued our program of ABARES Regional Outlook Conferences, an essential part of delivering commodity forecasts and research results directly to regional communities. In 2015–16, conferences were held in Darwin, Hobart, Rockhampton in Queensland, Geraldton in Western Australia, Hamilton in Victoria, Coffs Harbour in New South Wales and Port Lincoln in South Australia.

Annual performance statement

Table 10 Annual performance statement—Strategic objective 7: Building an efficient and capable department, 2015–16
Performance measureSourceResult against performance measure
A positive, professional and engaged workforce is maintained or improvedCorporate Plan 2015–16

The Australian Public Service Employee Census measures the engagement of employees across four key areas.

In 2016, the census results for engagement were: 6.8 (Job); 6.5 (Team); 7.1 (Supervisor); and 5.8 (Agency). a b

These are equal to or slightly higher than the 2015 results, which were: 6.7 (Job); 6.5 (Team); 7.0 (Supervisor); 5.7 (Agency).

The Australian Public Service Commission has changed the unscheduled absence metric that agencies will be measured against in the State of the Service Report.

This metric—Personal Leave—excludes the impact of Compensation and Unauthorised leave types. The department’s Personal Leave for 2015–16 was 14.9 days per FTE compared to 14.2 days per FTE in 2014–15.

78.9% of Personal Leave absences were attributable to
employee sick leave.

The department maintains safe and healthy workplacesCorporate Plan 2015–16

In 2015–16, the rate of notifiable workplace injuries was 2.82 per thousand employees, compared with 3.98 in 2014–15.

The department’s Comcare premium for 2016–17 was set at $12.51 million, a reduction of $1.58 million from 2015–16 ($14.09 million).

A balanced and financially sustainable budget is delivered for the departmentCorporate Plan 2015–16

The department operated within its approved loss for 2015–16.

The department managed its cash in 2015–16 in accordance with its capital management plan and with regard to its forward year commitments.

The 2015–16 deficit of $19.6 million reflects unfunded depreciation of $14.8 million and the impact of an unbudgeted expense of $8.3 million for government bond rate adjustments, some of which was absorbed by the

Information and communication
technologies meet the department’s business needs
Corporate Plan 2015–16

In 2015–16 fewer than 5% of users were affected by an
unplanned outage of the department’s managed ICT infrastructure or business applications. c d

In 2015–16, 95% of ICT development projects were
delivered on time and within budget. e

Business processes
and client services are improved through the better use of modern technology and improved work practices
Corporate Plan 2015–16

Around 41 000 payments have been made online following the implementation of a new online payment service in November 2015.

During the year 231 461 calls were made to the department through the national client service number, with 93% of those calls answered.

The delivery of departmental services meets agreed service standardsCorporate Plan 2015–16

Of the calls made to the national client service number, 78% were answered within the service level of 120 seconds.

Changes to the skill groups across all states are expected to increase calls answered within the service level to our target of 80% in 2016–17.

During the year, 71% of official complaints were responded
to within 10 business days.

A new system and process introduced from April 2016
yielded a compliance rate of 94% within 10 days, indicating
this target will see improvement in the future.

A risk-based and
proportionate approach to
compliance obligations and
engagement is maintained
or improved
Corporate Plan 2015–16We adopted a risk-based approach to compliance in relation to illegal logging and the new Biosecurity Act. We are evaluating our overall performance in meeting compliance obligations and engagement with clients through the Regulator Performance Framework.
Stakeholders and clients
assess advice and analysis
as high-quality, evidencebased,
accurate and
meeting their needs
Corporate Plan 2015–16

In 2014–15, 96% of respondents reported they were satisfied with ABARES’ performance in delivering projects, an improvement of 8% from 2013–14.

91% of respondents reported a high to very high level of satisfaction with the quality of advice and other products and no clients were dissatisfied with ABARES’ timeliness. f

Around 90% of respondents reported they were satisfied that the National Outlook 2016 conference met or exceeded their expectations. g

a Australian Public Service Employee Census 2016 results.
Does not include Water Division staff transferred from the Department of the Environment through the machinery of government changes in September 2015.
Excludes failures of infrastructure or equipment hosted by external vendors or on public networks that are outside the department’s control.
Does not include minor outages for short periods of time that are remedied promptly.
e Development project performance is based on the IT project management framework, which allows project modifications (scope, budget, timing) in response to changing business needs and priorities.
f Client satisfaction as measured by an annual survey of ABARES clients.
g Satisfaction as measured by a survey of conference delegates.

Analysis of performance against the strategic objective

Managing our people

At 30 June 2016, the department employed 4396 full-time equivalent staff (FTE), 164 of whom were casual.1 In September 2015, machinery of government changes transferred water policy functions from the Department of the Environment, resulting in an increase of 149 FTE to the department.

Our workforce included accountants, biosecurity officers, economists, information and communication technology specialists, meat inspectors, policy officers, program administrators, scientists, survey staff and veterinary officers. We operated in more than 200 locations in cities, regional centres and rural communities. We worked at major airports, mail centres, ports, laboratories and abattoirs across Australia. More than 55 per cent of our Australian-based staff worked outside Canberra, mainly in biosecurity services and levies collection.

Staff also worked in Bangkok, Beijing, Brussels, Dubai, New Delhi, Rome, Seoul, Tokyo, Washington, Jakarta, Hanoi, Kuala Lumpur and Riyadh to build and maintain relationships with trading partners and international organisations.

More information about our staffing statistics is provided in Appendix 3.

Maintaining a positive, professional and engaged workforce

We participate in the Australian Public Service Commission’s annual Employee Census to measure employee engagement and our performance against our People Strategy and Action Plan. The census highlights areas in which the department performs well, identifies improvement opportunities and benchmarks Australian Public Service achievement levels.

The most recently available results are from the 2016 census, in which 68 per cent of our staff took part. Our department performed well in the areas of Engagement, Mental Health/Wellbeing, My Job, and Change Management.

The majority of staff (80 per cent) said they enjoy the work they currently do, and 71 per cent said they were proud to work for our department. The results showed 85 per cent of staff understood how their work contributes to our strategic objectives, a substantial increase from 78 per cent in 2013.

The census measures the engagement of employees across the key areas of Job, Team, Supervisor and Agency. Since 2012, the levels of engagement in the department have increased. When compared against the 2016 census results across the Australian Public Service, our department has slightly lower Team and Supervisor engagement.

Table 11 Department of Agriculture and Water Resources census results—Engagement
Engagement type20122013201420152016APS 2016

This indicates a high level of staff engagement and is comparable to results at larger operational agencies and across the Australian Public Service (Figure 19).

This is a column graph comparing the department’s results on employee engagement in the Australian Public Service Commission Employee Census. There are four elements measured, namely Job, Team, Supervisor, and Agency. Each element shows the department’s result in 2016 compared to its previous result in 2015, the result for larger operational agencies, and the overall result for the Australian Public Service.  On Job engagement, the department’s 2016 result was 6.8, compared to 6.7 in 2015, 6.5 for larger operational agencies, and 6.8 for the Australian Public Service.  On Team engagement, the department’s 2016 result was 6.5, compared to 6.4 in 2015, 6.4 for larger operational agencies, and 6.6 for the Australian Public Service.  On Supervisor engagement, the department’s 2016 result was 7.1, compared to 7 in 2015, 7.1 for larger operational agencies, and 7.3 for the Australian Public Service.  On Agency engagement, the department’s 2016 result was 5.8, compared to 5.7 in 2015, 5.5 for larger operational agencies, and 5.8 for the Australian Public Service. 

Source: Australian Public Service Commission Employee Census 2016

The 2015 census was the first survey to include questions about psychological wellbeing. Our 2015 results highlighted the importance of improving the way we deal with mental illness in the workplace, and ensuring the morale and wellbeing of our staff.

During 2015–16, we worked with the Black Dog Institute to provide workshops for all staff, managers and the executive to build awareness of mental health issues. The workshops were followed up with resources available through our intranet to help staff improve their own mental health, or to provide support to their colleagues.

Through this program, and others, the department demonstrated that mental health is a priority for the organisation, by raising staff awareness of psychological health issues that affect employees, and the support programs in place to assist employees.

This is evidenced by the results of the 2016 employee census, which indicated significant improvements in the treatment of psychological issues and mental wellbeing of employees in the workplace. There is, however, room for improvement, with the department still falling short of the average Australian Public Service results in this area.

We continue to take a zero tolerance attitude to bullying and harassment. In April 2016, we released a new framework to help staff address unacceptable behaviour. Tools for staff include an e-Learning module on addressing unacceptable behaviour or workplace conflict, resources on holding better conversations at work, and a work instruction for staff to follow if they need to report unacceptable behaviour.

The 2016 census results showed there has been an overall reduction in the proportion of employees who said they experienced bullying or harassment in the workplace, coupled with an increase in the proportion of these employees who then reported it.

Managing our workforce resources

The department’s natural attrition rate decreased slightly in 2015–16 to 6.5 per cent, from 6.6 per cent in 2014–15. This was below the average for the Australian Public Service in 2014–15. Data is not yet available to compare the department’s 2015–16 separation rate against the average.

Table 12 Ongoing separations 2014–15 to 2015–16
Number of ongoing employees4 4394 142
Total ongoing separations288275
% separating (the department)6.56.6
% separating (APS average) aNo data7.5

a Figures for 2014–15 taken from State of the Service report 2014–15.

Unscheduled absence continues to be a challenge. The Australian Public Service Commission has changed the metric which agencies will be measured against in the State of the Service report. This metric—Personal leave—excludes the impact of Compensation and Unauthorised leave types.

The department’s Personal Leave rate for 2015–16 was 14.9 days per FTE, compared to 14.2 days per FTE in 2014–15. Approximately 79 per cent of Personal Leave absences were attributable to employee sick leave.

We continue to work to understand the drivers behind the unscheduled absence rate and to reduce it.

Promoting workplace diversity

We continued the department’s strong commitment to building and maintaining an inclusive and productive workplace environment, with a range of actions during the year. We worked to grow our new Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex Pride employee diversity network by participating in the Australian Workplace Equality Index and extending the network into regional offices.

We took part as one of eight agencies involved in a University of Canberra research project into barriers experienced by employees with disability in the Australian Public Service. We also held a Diversity Network planning session for network members and the department’s Diversity Champions, to share information, ideas and to discuss cross-network issues.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employment remains a key focus for the department. In 2015–16, we conducted face-to-face indigenous cultural awareness training in Canberra as part of Reconciliation Week, and began consulting staff across the department on our new Reconciliation Action Plan. We took part for the first time in the Department of Human Services Indigenous Apprenticeship Program, to engage new entry-level Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employees for positions in our offices in Canberra, Adelaide, Perth and Sydney.

We also used funding made available through the White Paper on Developing Northern Australia, to fill a number of Indigenous ranger positions under the Northern Australia Quarantine Strategy (see Mana​ging biosecurity and imported food risk).

Table 13 Representation of diversity groups (headcount) at 30 June 2015 and 30 June 2016
FemaleAboriginal and Torres Strait IslanderPeople with a disability
Employment Type30 June 201630 June 201530 June 201630 June 201530 June 201630 June 2015
Ongoing2 2162 00588938976
Total 2 478 2 188 99 99 99 84


49.2 47.3 2 2.1 2 1.8

Note: Headcount includes staff on leave without pay and excludes the secretary. These figures are based on all female employees and employees who identify themselves as members of one or more diversity groups.

Maintaining safe and healthy workplaces

During the year, we invested in a taskforce to advance a compliant, nationally consistent work health and safety (WHS) system. The taskforce delivered six overarching objectives:

  • providing a new integrated and automated system for registering and managing WHS risks
  • providing measures to minimise WHS risks to workers attending third party premises
  • completing assessments of previously identified high and medium WHS risks
  • updating or developing priority WHS policies, procedures and guidelines
  • developing new training packages
  • promoting a stronger safety culture across the department through change and communication activities.

The work of the taskforce is complete, but work will continue to fully implement the new components of the system and maintain a cycle of continuous improvement.

We also made good progress in maintaining and improving the department’s work health and safety, with work to upgrade our Rehabilitation Management System. We worked to ensure the system is compliant across five elements: commitment and corporate governance; planning; implementation; measurement and evaluation; and review and improvement.

This included developing a new rehabilitation commitment statement, implementing an operations manual for our national rehabilitation team and developing a system risk register. We also launched face-to-face training and an e-Learning module to better inform staff and supervisors about using early intervention to support injured or ill employees.

We launched the new system in 2016 and were able to report an improvement in our rehabilitation performance. This is reflected by a consistent decrease over time in the number of claims being lodged and accepted annually (Figure 20).

This is a line graph showing the trend in the number of compensation claims submitted by the department from 2013–14 to 2015–16.  The graph shows the department submitted 106 claims in 2013–14, 92 claims in 2014–15, and 82 claims in 2015–16. 

We are working closely with Comcare, incorporating its knowledge and expertise into our service delivery model. This has helped us work to the broader strategic goals of the organisation and the effective support for our employees through illness and injury.

The positive results of our work health and safety reforms have been realised with a reduction of $1.58 million in our workers’ compensation premium for 2016–17 and a positive 2016 Comcare audit result.

Table 14 Reported serious personal injuries, prescribed incapacities and dangerous occurrences to employees, at 30 June 2015 and 30 June 2016
Serious personal injuries a73
Dangerous occurrences b514

a Serious personal injury means that a person needs emergency treatment by a doctor; treatment in a hospital as a casualty, with or without being admitted to the hospital; or admission to hospital.
b Dangerous occurrences are ‘near misses’ that could have, but did not, result in death, serious personal injury or incapacity.

In 2015–16, we continued to develop nationally consistent training modules released on Due Diligence, Incident Investigation and Fatigue Management. We are working with staff and managers to identify the early warning signs and acting to reduce the occurrence of workplace injury and illness.

Table 15 Investigations, directions and notices under work health and safety legislation

Category2015-16 a2014-15
Provisional improvement notices--
Directions or notices-3

a Comcare data only available in 2015–16 for 1 July – 31 December 2015.

Managing our finances

The department’s 2015–16 internal budget aligned to the Portfolio Budget Statements with an expected budget deficit of $10.5 million for unfunded depreciation.

The department ended the year with a $19.6 million approved operating deficit. This included $14.8 million relating to unfunded depreciation, and $8.3 million related to movements in the government bond rate, some of which was absorbed by the department.


In 2015–16, departmental revenue increased by $42 million from 2014–15 to $749.3 million. The increase was primarily due to additional revenue from government, totalling $37.7 million for new measures from the Agricultural Competitiveness White Paper and for the transfer of water resources functions from the Environment portfolio. Own source income increased by $4.3 million, primarily because of resources received free-of-charge for the Mickleham Post-Entry Quarantine Facility.

Figure 21 shows the own source income received by the department over the past six years and estimated own source income from 2016–17 as per the Portfolio Budget Statements 2016–17.

This is a column graph showing the amount of own-source revenue received by the department from 2011 to 2016, and estimated revenue for the forward years through to 2020. All figures are rounded.  In 2011, revenue was 321 million dollars.  In 2012, revenue was 356 million dollars.  In 2013, revenue was 361 million dollars.  In 2014, revenue was 376 million dollars.  In 2015, revenue was 406 million dollars.  In 2016, revenue was 411 million dollars.  In 2017, revenue is estimated to be 413 million dollars.  In 2018, revenue is estimated to be 419 million dollars.  In 2019, revenue is estimated to be 413 million dollars.  In 2020, revenue is estimated to be 412 million dollars. 

Total sales of goods and services (including cost-recovery) collected in 2015–16 was $380.7 million, as shown in Figure 22.

This is a bar graph showing the revenue from the sale of goods and services broken down by the department’s cost-recovery activities in 2015–16:  Revenue from the Water Efficiency Labelling and Standards Scheme was 755 000 dollars.  Revenue from the National Residue Survey was 911 000 dollars.  Revenue from Agricultural Levies collection and administration was 4.8 million dollars.  Revenue from the Live Animal Export Arrangement was 8.8 million dollars.  Revenue from other arrangements, including ABARES revenue and receipts under section 74 of the PGPA Act, was 14 million dollars.  Revenue from the Plan Export Arrangement was 23.4 million dollars.  Revenue from the Food Export Arrangement was 97.3 million dollars.  Revenue from the Biosecurity Arrangement was 230.7 million. 

Note: Other includes ABARES revenue and PGPA s. 74 receipts for plant and animal health and sustainable agriculture projects.

Departmental expenses

The department’s expenses totalled $768.9 million in 2015–16, against an estimated budget of $708.6 million (Portfolio Budget Statements 2015–16). The increase in expenditure results from water policy and resources activities assumed through the machinery of government changes, as well as new government measures first introduced in the Portfolio Additional Estimates Statements. The increase in expenses due to these initiatives is estimated to continue into 2016–17.

Our five-year Finance Strategy has the long-term objective of ensuring the department remains a financially sustainable Department of State and service delivery organisation. In particular, the strategy aims to ensure our cost-recovered services, which represent more than half of departmental expenditure, are efficient, transparent and sustainably funded.

Figure 23 shows the trend of departmental operating expenses over the past six years, and budgeted expenditure figures from 2016–17 as per the Portfolio Budget Statements 2016–17.

This graph shows the amount of departmental expenses from 2011 to 2015, and estimated expenses for the forward years through to 2019. All figures are rounded.  In 2011, departmental expenses totalled 664 million dollars.  In 2012, departmental expenses totalled 726 million dollars.  In 2013, departmental expenses totalled 712 million dollars.  In 2014, departmental expenses totalled 710 million dollars.  In 2015, departmental expenses totalled 688 million dollars.  In 2016, departmental expenses totalled 769 million dollars.  In 2017, departmental expenses are estimated to be 801 million dollars.  In 2018, departmental expenses are estimated to be 795 million dollars.  In 2019, departmental expenses are estimated to be 780 million dollars.  In 2020, departmental expenses are estimated to be 740 million dollars 

Cost-recovery reserves

The department manages four Cost-Recovery Implementation Statements, comprising eight costrecovery arrangements and the National Residue Survey arrangement. These are supported by costrecovery reserves. Figure 24 outlines the cost-recovery reserve balances at the end of the year.

This graph outlines the cost-recovery balances and accumulated deficits at 30 June 2016:  National Residue Survey Arrangement balance was 16.3 million dollars.   Meat Export Arrangement balance was 6.4 million dollars.  Biosecurity Arrangement balance was 2.6 million dollars.  Non-prescribed Goods Arrangement balance was 1.6 million dollars.  Seaports balance was 4.3 million dollars.   Seafood and Eggs Arrangement balance was 1.3 million dollars.  Dairy Export Arrangement balance was 1 million dollars.   Grains and Seed Exports Arrangement balance was 0.2 million dollars.  Horticultural Exports Arrange deficit was 3.8 million dollars.  Live Animal Exports Arrangement deficit was 8.9 million dollars. 

Note: The Biosecurity arrangement was previously reported as the Import Clearance, Seaports and Post-Entry Quarantine arrangements. Only surplus reserves are recorded in the department’s financial statements.

Administered program performance

Our 2015–16 administered programs included:

  • A Competitive Agriculture Sector—boosting farm profits through rural research and development
  • Drought Concessional Loans Scheme
  • Drought Recovery Concessional Loans Scheme
  • National Landcare Program
  • Rural Financial Counselling Service
  • Farm Household Allowance
  • Sustainable Rural Water Use and Infrastructure Program (SRWUIP).

The department managed administered assets of $1662.5 million on behalf of the government. This largely comprised loans of $552.2 million and investments in six portfolio entities of $333.7 million.

Administered revenue received for 2015–16 was $555.1 million, an increase of $30.5 million on the 2014–15 revenue figure of $524.6 million. This result was mainly because of increased levy revenue of $12.8 million and other revenue of $14.4 million. Additionally, a gain is recognised in 2015–16 of $99.3 million, relating to the recognition of water entitlement assets received free-of-charge under the SRWUIP grants program.

Expenditure for 2015–16 was $1180.3 million, an increase of $203 million on the 2014–15 expenditure figure of $977.3 million. This increase was primarily the result of new appropriation for the SRWUIP and transfers of water entitlement assets valued at $78.5 million to the Department of the Environment.

Managing our assets

A significant portion of the department’s expenditure is related to property leases and property maintenance costs. We maintain around 110 sites across Australia ranging from office accommodation to post-entry quarantine facilities, laboratories, data facilities and residences in remote locations. At 30 June 2016, our asset base was valued at $157.6 million. Our major investments are in land, buildings and ICT hardware and software.

The department invests in new assets to improve our systems and processes. We manage capital investment through an annual capital plan which reflects both government priorities and ongoing business needs. We use a balanced scorecard framework to evaluate capital proposals and ensure investments are made effectively.

Managing our information and communication technology

We continued work to improve the reliability and capability of ICT systems for staff and departmental clients.

We monitor our ICT performance using an industry-standard impact and urgency matrix, where widespread impacts are rated ‘critical’ and more localised impacts to sites or systems are rated ‘high’.

In 2015–16, less than 5 per cent of departmental users were affected by an unplanned outage of the department’s managed ICT infrastructure or business applications. The longest duration for a critical incident was 35 hours for an intermittent fault on an externally managed 1800 contact number.

The majority of high-severity incidents were localised impacts on individual business systems and reflected a reliance on old systems scheduled for redevelopment and unexpected disruptions arising from the introduction of new capability integrated with these systems.

We continued an active program of ICT projects according to the objectives of our strategic plan, with 95 per cent of projects for the year delivered on time and within budget. All of our ICT project work is managed through a Project Management Office to ensure continued good governance across agreed scope, budget and delivery dates.

Improving our service delivery

Our Service Delivery Modernisation program works to find new ways to improve our service delivery by moving business processes from paper-based and manual functions to an online environment.

Online service applications save clients time and money, improve processing times and free up face-to-face staff to help us focus our resources on areas needing attention.

In 2015–16, we introduced a new capability to issue invoices and accept payments online. The online payments service enables clients to keep track of their payments and receive invoices, statements of accounts and notices electronically. We also enhanced our systems to automatically receipt invoices and allocate payments when clients pay by credit card.

The online payment service can be found at

Snapshot: Refreshing our technology

Through our ICT Strategic Plan, we are making it easier for our staff to deliver services to clients, by moving away from paper and manual processes to using technology and automation. In 2015–16, we built upon the success of our Windows 8 Mobility Pilot and replaced our ageing desktop computer fleet.

Staff are now working on a mix of Windows 8 PCs and tablets, supported by wireless communication at our major sites and improved mobile data services in remote locations such as the Torres Strait Islands.

The flexible approach to our staff’s computing needs is paying dividends to clients, who have enjoyed significant improvements in service delivery.

The transition to digital technologies has also improved capability to respond to biosecurity risk events. In one case, an officer carrying out a post-quarantine cargo inspection used their tablet to photograph beetles found in a cargo consignment. The photographs were emailed to department scientists and, within minutes, we had issued a biosecurity pest notification for the Exotic Powder Post Beetle. The consignment was recalled immediately to prevent further biosecurity risk.

Our biosecurity officer was able to use the tablet to interview the consignment’s owner at the scene, submit an incident report online and explain the procedure to the owner. The owner of the consignment appreciated that their concerns were being lodged professionally and in person.

Cases like this show how our customers are benefiting from more responsive, on-the-spot service delivery and timely outcomes.

Photo of Scientists performing tests in a laboratory 

Meeting service standards

Our Client Service Charter outlines our service responsibilities and supports the Service Delivery Modernisation program. The charter establishes benchmarks for service delivery to the community and other stakeholders.

We encourage feedback. In 2015–16, we received 56 compliments, 312 complaints and 23 suggestions through the department’s client feedback channels. Client feedback is reported quarterly to the Executive Management Committee, which considers trend data for planning and improving client interactions.

During the year, 231 461 calls were made to the department through our national client service number, 1800 900 090, and 93 per cent were answered. Of those calls, 78 per cent were answered within the service level standard of 120 seconds. Changes to the skill groups across all states are expected to increase calls answered within the service level to our target of 80 per cent in 2016–17.

We met our benchmark of responding to official complaints within ten business days in 71 per cent of cases. A new system and process introduced from April 2016 yielded a compliance rate of 94 per cent within ten days, indicating this target will see improvement in the future.

Providing high-quality research services

ABARES conducts an annual survey of its clients to determine their level of satisfaction with our products and services. The 2014–15 survey included internal department clients irrespective of funding source.

In 2014–15, 96 per cent of respondents reported they were satisfied with ABARES’ performance in delivering projects, an improvement of 8 per cent from 2013–14.

The survey found 91 per cent of respondents reported a high to very high level of satisfaction with the quality of advice and other products.

For the first time in the three years, no client surveyed reported dissatisfaction with ABARES’ timeliness (Figure 25).

This is a column graph comparing ABARES client satisfaction on timeliness in surveys from 2012–13 to 2014–15. It shows the percentage of clients surveyed who gave the ratings Strongly agree, Agree, Disagree, Strongly disagree, or not applicable.   The percentage of clients who gave the rating Strongly agree was  27 per cent in 2012–13  33 per cent in 2014–15  34 per cent in 2015–16.  The percentage of clients who gave the rating Agree was  50 per cent in 2012–13  61 per cent in 2014–15  57 per cent in 2015–16.  The percentage of clients who gave the rating Disagree was  18 per cent in 2012–13  3 per cent in 2014–15  zero in 2015–16.  The percentage of clients who gave the rating Strongly disagree was  5 per cent in 2012–13  zero in 2014–15  zero in 2015–16.  The percentage of clients who stated Not applicable was  zero in 2012–13  3 per cent in 2014–15  9 per cent in 2015–16. 

Source: Final report: ABARES client satisfaction survey 2014–15 (unpublished).

We also conducted a satisfaction survey among delegates at the National Outlook 2016 conference. Around 90 per cent of respondents reported they were satisfied that the conference met or exceeded their expectations.

Snapshot: BICON a big hit with importers

The release of our new online Biosecurity Import Conditions (BICON) system marked a big step forward in how we work with importers to get their goods into the country while protecting Australia’s biosecurity.

Importers play a vital role in maintaining Australia’s favourable pest and disease status. BICON helps importers by clearly outlining the import conditions they need to meet.

BICON contains more than 40 000 unique scenarios for importing commodities through different pathways. After answering a small number of questions, importers are presented with the most relevant scenarios, with specific advice and guidance on what they need to do to get their goods into Australia. The new system also allows importers to submit and self-manage their import permits entirely online.

BICON’s implementation marks a successful end to a multi-year project, working with the importing community to design and develop the new system. We undertook extensive stakeholder engagement to inform, educate and support importers throughout BICON’s implementation and ongoing usage. This included taking an industry road show to eight major cities, giving around 3000 importers the opportunity to see the new system and to discuss questions face-to-face.

The importing community has expressed high levels of satisfaction with BICON. Importers say they expect to realise substantial financial and other benefits from the system.

As well as providing clear and consistent information to importers, BICON provides our staff with better decision-making support to help manage goods onshore, supported by a new client support model that resolves most matters at the first point of contact.

The transition to this new system is another way in which we are modernising our service delivery, making it easier for our clients to do business with us.

Photo of a man checking out his notepad 

Maintaining a risk-based and proportionate approach to compliance

The Biosecurity Act 2015 introduced a range of new compliance and enforcement tools, with options available to reward compliance with our biosecurity laws and to pursue those who choose not comply. To facilitate a smooth transition to the new legal framework, we are adopting a specific compliance posture to guide the implementation and operation of the new legislation in its early phase. While many of the requirements under the new Act are equivalent to the previous system, significant effort is being made to ensure everyone understands and is aware of their new obligations.

Our compliance approach is based on phased implementation. In the first six months from the commencement of the Act in June 2016, we are focusing on educating stakeholders and clients about their obligations. During this time we will continue to work towards improving our capacity to detect and respond to non-compliance, through monitoring and surveillance, intelligence gathering and data analysis, targeted campaigns and routine and random inspections and audits.

We are also implementing the Australian Government Regulator Performance Framework, which encourages regulators to undertake their functions with the minimum impact necessary to achieve regulatory objectives.

Effective risk management

We participate in Comcover’s annual Risk Management Benchmarking Survey to provide an independent assessment of our risk management performance. The 2016 survey was the second to rate an entity’s maturity against the Commonwealth Risk Management Policy.

In 2016, we maintained our overall maturity rating of Advanced, which is the second-highest rating in the six-level maturity model. This was higher than the average maturity level of Integrated for all survey participants and the same average rating given to our comparable agencies in the Regulatory Entities Community of Practice.

As well as maintaining our overall maturity rating from 2014–15, we improved our performance on eight of the nine Commonwealth Risk Management Policy elements. The survey found our strongest elements were embedding systematic risk management into business processes, establishing a risk management policy and establishing a risk management framework.

The areas where we can improve the most were assessed as defining responsibility for managing risk, developing a positive risk culture and maintaining risk management capability. We will continue to build our risk capability, including through our appointed Chief Risk Officer, one of the recommendations arising from the independent review of government processes for the development and implementation of large public programs and projects.

Snapshot: Understanding the irrigation sector in the Murray–Darling Basin

ABARES has been surveying irrigation farms in selected industries and regions in the Murray–Darling Basin since 2006–07. The most recent survey in 2016 included responses from 550 irrigators across the Basin, including horticulture, rice, cotton and dairy farms, to collect information on areas cropped, crop types, water use, and irrigation methods, as well as farm physical and financial characteristics.

As part of a study for the department and the Murray–Darling Basin Authority, an ABARES team analysed the survey data to better understand the effects of water policy reforms on Basin industries and communities. Researchers from ABARES and the authority also held workshops with irrigators in Tatura, Mildura, Dareton, Barham, Narrabri and Finley to gain further insights into how they are dealing with water policy reforms.

Researcher Dale Ashton said ABARES had used the results to prepare reports for the cotton, dairy, citrus, apple and pears, stone fruit, rice and dairy industries.

“Governments and industry need to consider the impacts or unintended consequences of reforms, as part of the policy-making process,” Dale said. “A major concern in water policy is the ongoing viability of irrigated farm businesses and the flow-on effects to irrigation-reliant communities.

“The farm-level information we derive from the surveys, combined with talking to irrigators, helps us better understand the impacts of policy decisions.”

The authority has been using the results of this study as part of its social and economic evaluation of the Basin Plan, by considering changes in farm financial performance, water trading and use, and irrigation technologies.

Photo of a landscape of a large dam and mountains 

1 In previous annual reports, the full-time equivalent for casuals has not been included in the 30 June staffing figure. On average, the department uses approximately 140 casual FTE.

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Last reviewed: 4 November 2019
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