Engaging with stakeholders
DAFF continued to engage formally and informally with stakeholders to consult on issues and to progress initiatives. We worked closely with a wide range of industry consultative committees, peak bodies and community groups. This engagement is reported in Part 3: Report on performance.
We also communicated policies, programs and information to stakeholders, clients and the community through a variety of channels. For the first time, we used social media to reach our stakeholders, complementing publications, reports, communiqués, conferences and media releases.
Facebook and Twitter increased the audience able to participate in the annual ABARES Outlook conference, which provides industry stakeholders with access to valuable economic data and to internationally and nationally recognised speakers. We also used social media to deliver timely and accurate messages about locust plagues in September 2010. Through the Australian Plague Locust Commission, we sent regular Twitter updates to reporters from a range of media outlets across Australia and posted pre-recorded digital audio grabs daily on our website.
ABARES provided professionally independent, world-class research, analysis, advice and reports for government and private sector decision makers on significant issues affecting Australia’s primary industries. In 2010–11, ABARES produced 218 publications resulting from this work (see Appendix 9).
We prepared 273 media releases for distribution and responded to 1536 media inquiries on topics including the live animal trade, biosecurity, and policy and program developments. As well, we prepared more than 70 speeches for delivery by the minister, parliamentary secretary and departmental officers.
'DAFFnews', our weekly email newsletter, continued to provide a snapshot of news, publications and events from across the portfolio. To communicate biosecurity news, milestones and reforms, three editions of the 'Biosecurity Bulletin' were produced and distributed in 2010–11. About 5000 subscribers received a hard copy edition and about 3000 subscribed online.
We also made it easier for stakeholders to communicate with us and receive speedy replies through a group inbox. The centrally-managed inbox received 16 315 inquiries during 2010–11.
Twitter keeps one jump ahead of locusts
A new and innovative tool has been enlisted in the fight to combat locust plagues.
With time of the essence when locusts are on the move, the Australian Plague Locust Commission (APLC), state agencies and industry groups devised a strategy to ensure that critical information reached landholders quickly.
A successful locust control campaign depends heavily on the rural and general community being aware of the latest information.
During the plague-level outbreak in 2011, journalists could access extensive and current information through the instant messaging system Twitter, online media postings and pre-recorded digital audio grabs. They no longer needed to contact a third party APLC spokesperson for information.
Updates could then be distributed to a wide audience, including landholders, to keep them informed of locust movements, actions being taken, and actions they could implement themselves to manage the plague.
The 2011 plague was triggered by increased rainfall in many parts of inland eastern Australia between October 2009 and early 2010. This provided ideal conditions for locusts to breed—soft soil in which to lay eggs, and plenty of vegetation to eat. As a result three successive generations of the native insect bred across a very large area of Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia.
A fourth generation then aggregated and embarked on a long distance migration in April 2010, moving southwards into southern New South Wales, northern Victoria and eastern South Australia. Here they laid eggs which remained dormant over winter, setting up the conditions for a major hatching and plague-level outbreak in spring 2010.
The forward planning of the APLC, state agencies and industry meant that communications for this plague were not only innovative, but also highly effective.
The Australian Bureau of Agricultural and Resource Economics and Sciences (ABARES) conducted a benefit-cost assessment of the locust control campaigns for the 2010–11 outbreak which showed a benefit-cost ratio of 19:2. There was a gross benefit in avoided crop loss and pasture damage of $963 million, based on an overall investment of $50 million by all parties.
Above: The Australian Plague Locust Commission used a range of update methods during the 2011 plague
Service charters and complaints
The DAFF Client Service Charter sets out our commitment to deliver a high level of service in a way that reflects the Australian Public Service (APS) Values and Code of Conduct, and our own complementary values of integrity, respect, fairness, openness and professionalism. The charter identifies our service responsibilities and standards, and provides clients with information about how they can give feedback or make complaints. It is accompanied by an explanatory document for staff. Guidelines published on our intranet provide staff with advice on working with clients from specific groups (such as women, young people and Indigenous Australians).
The Australian Quarantine and Inspection Service (AQIS) has a separate client service charter. In October 2010, a single national register was launched to improve the capture and management of compliments and complaints about AQIS services and operations. The new system, developed on the principles set out in the 'Ombudsman’s guide to better complaint handling', provides improved accountability, tracking and reporting capabilities.
In 2010–11, AQIS received a total of 198 compliments and 780 complaints. There were no complaints received by the rest of the department through the client service charter mechanism. Other feedback is received through the department’s public inquiries inbox and is referred to the divisions. Program areas analyse and use trend data from this valuable feedback for planning.
Social justice and equity
DAFF is not one of the government agencies with a specific role in implementing the Social Inclusion Framework, but in working towards our planned outcomes, we contribute to the goal of ‘a stronger, fairer Australia’ by supporting individuals, industries and communities.
Our focus is Australia’s farmers, fishers, foresters, and the rural and regional communities and industries that depend on them. In 2010–11, there were 351 000 people employed in agriculture, fisheries and forestry.
DAFF’s programs to enhance the sustainability, profitability and competitiveness of Australia’s agriculture, food, fisheries and forestry industries underpin social inclusion by promoting the prosperity of primary producers and their communities. These programs include immediate help for those suffering financial hardship, and strategic activities that will build economic resilience and support social inclusion into the future. Community engagement, including Indigenous participation, is a feature of major initiatives such as Australia’s Farming Future, and Caring for our Country.
The pilot of drought reform measures in Western Australia that began in 2010–11 exemplifies the way in which we are seeking to build individual self-reliance, social support networks and community resilience, while assisting those in need. We are working closely with the departments of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs; Human Services; Health and Ageing; and Education, Employment and Workplace Relations, and other agencies.
Other examples include:
- Exceptional Circumstances assistance to farmers, small business and communities affected by severe drought. This assistance includes income support payments, interest rate subsidies, business planning grants, re-establishment assistance to farmers and social support measures
- funding to Rural Financial Counselling Services to provide free financial counselling to primary producers, fishers and small rural businesses in financial hardship
- the Tasmanian Forest Contractors Exit Assistance Program Financial Support Program, which is helping marginal operators to leave the native forest industry
- the Community Networks and Capacity Building component of Australia’s Farming Future, which aims to build leadership and representation skills. It targets youth, women, Indigenous Australians and people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds
- funding through Caring for our Country for Landcare, a national network of more than 6000 locally–based community groups; 56 community–based national resource management groups; Community Action Grants; and Indigenous participation, which is enriching natural resource management with traditional ecological practices, while increasing Indigenous employment and enterprise opportunities.
As an employer, we support social inclusion through our Workplace Diversity Strategy 2010–11 and by supporting employment plans.
Changes to disability reporting in annual reports
Since 1994, Commonwealth departments and agencies have reported on their performance as policy adviser, purchaser, employer, regulator and provider under the Commonwealth Disability Strategy. In 2007–08, reporting on the employer role was transferred to the Australian Public Service Commission’s State of the Service Report and the APS Statistical Bulletin. These reports are available on the APSC website. From 2010–11, departments and agencies are no longer required to report on these functions.
The Commonwealth Disability Strategy has been overtaken by a new National Disability Strategy which sets out a ten-year national policy framework for improving life for Australians with disability, their families and carers. A high-level report to track progress for people with disability at a national level will be produced by the Standing Council on Community, Housing and Disability Services to the Council of Australian Governments and will be available on the FAHCSIA website. The Social Inclusion Measurement and Reporting Strategy agreed by the government in December 2009 will also include some reporting on disability matters in its regular How Australia is Faring report and, if appropriate, in strategic change indicators in agency annual reports. More detail on social inclusion matters can be found on the Social Inclusion website.
Ministerial and parliamentary support
DAFF supports the minister and parliamentary secretary through policy advice; managing, coordinating and advising on portfolio parliamentary business; providing administrative, budgetary and operational support; and communicating policies and programs to stakeholders.
All areas of the department contributed to policy advice presented to the minister and parliamentary secretary during the year. This is reported in Part 3: Report on performance.
There were 43 356 items of ministerial correspondence registered in 2010–11, 30 per cent less than last year (see Figure 12). Most of the correspondence registered this year was campaign-related. To 30 June 2011, more than 100 000 items of campaign correspondence relating to live animal exports were received following the 'Four Corners' report on 30 May. Due to the large amount of correspondence received and ongoing, it could not all be processed this year and will be included in next year’s figures. We prepared 6958 responses to ministerial correspondence of which 1801 were for signature by the minister or parliamentary secretary.
* To 30 June 2011, more than 100 000 items relating to live animal exports were received. Due to the large amount of correspondence, it could not all be processed in this financial year and will be included in next year’s figures.
To support the minister and parliamentary secretary effectively, we maintained our ambitious targets for quality and turnaround. We aim to have less than 5 per cent of ministerial correspondence returned to us for redrafting for quality-related reasons. This year, 16 per cent of items for the minister’s or parliamentary secretary’s signature were returned, although only some of these were sent back for quality-related reasons. We also aim to have no overdue responses to ministerial correspondence at the close of business each Thursday. This year, 4 per cent of responses sent to the minister were reported as overdue. We continue to give a high priority to improving quality and timeliness through developing staff and improving systems.
Questions on notice
The number of questions on notice tabled decreased substantially in 2010–11 (down by about 40 per cent). We tabled 544 responses to Senate Estimates questions (see Figure 13), and 18 responses to other questions on notice (see Figure 14). The decrease was mainly the result of fewer written questions being provided to DAFF following the Portfolio Budget, Supplementary Budget and Additional Estimates hearings.
Following the 2010 election, we quickly established offices for the new minister and parliamentary secretary, and amended guidelines and processes to reflect their preferences. We received positive feedback on the smooth transition for the portfolio to the new government. The incoming government brief we provided was published on our website on 9 February 2011.
We continued to underpin effective coordination of portfolio business with regular meetings with the minister and parliamentary secretary, their advisers and our departmental liaison officers. The minister and his staff provided regular formal and informal feedback for the department, including at portfolio business meetings with the department’s executive.
NAIDOC Committee recognises our unsung hero
DAFF community liaison officer, Vernon Patullo, is based in Nhulunbuy–North East Arnhem Land in the Northern Territory.
Vernon was recently recognised by the National Aboriginal and Islander Day Observance Committee (NAIDOC), the theme being ‘Unsung Heroes’, for his important contribution to the local community.
The award recognised Vernon’s 22-year involvement with the region, including his role in the installation of the sewage treatment plant at Bickerton Island with the Australian Defence Force, and his work with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission.
Vernon says his most significant achievement was the Yilpera homeland project, which saw the region become the first homeland to get electricity.
Vernon says getting electricity to the homelands made other benefits possible. ‘No more generators and long fuel hauls to Nhulunbuy,’ said Vernon. ‘Yilpera now has a big school, additional government housing, a store and a ranger shed. This was all made possible by having a mini power station built in that homeland region.’
Vernon was also recognised for his contribution to the Gove Australian Football League as coach, player and umpire, as well as to rugby, soccer and darts.
Above: DAFF community liaison officer, Vernon Patullo, with his ‘Unsung hero’ award presented during NAIDOC Week celebrations in July 2010 (Photo: DAFF)