Chapter 5 Other issues
In addition to the examination of Outcomes 1, 2 and 3, the Committee
also inquired into a range of other issues arising from the DFAT Annual
Report 2009–10. These included:
- gender equality; and
- funding and the
implications on staffing.
The DFAT Annual Report 2009–10 notes that at June 2010 there were
2064 female employees and 1907 male employees within DFAT.
However, the Australian National Committee for UN women (UN Women
Australia) was concerned by the disproportionate representation of women at the
Senior Executive Service (SES) level. The DFAT Annual Report 2009–10 advises
that 58 of the 220 SES positions were held by women.
Additionally, UN Women Australia noted DFAT does not have a system of
accountability, or a merit based process behind women’s participation in senior
In response, DFAT told the Committee that the percentage of women in the
SES had increased dramatically in the last 25 years from one percent to 26 percent.
DFAT acknowledged that it did not have programs specifically designed to
increase the numbers of females employed within the department. Nevertheless,
the department continues to maintain gender equality within the workplace. DFAT
drew attention to a proportional increase of females entering DFAT at the
graduate level which reflects the community-wide increase of tertiary educated
women and not deliberate gender policy.
DFAT told the Committee that it employed on the basis of merit. It has
an obligation to:
... provide an environment which is conducive and free to
everyone ... Where different parts of the organisation do not feel
disadvantaged by virtue of their gender.
In maintaining a gender equality environment, DFAT said that it will
continue to address family issues that have an impact on women through the
implementation of relevant policy. This includes the provision of day-care
arrangements and leave without pay for family related reasons.
Dr Monk noted in his submission that DFAT’s operating budget has
seriously suffered. DFAT’s resourcing has shrunk over the past decade from 0.43
to 0.25 of federal government spending.
Ms Oliver made a similar observation and notes DFAT has:
suffered at least a decade of eroding resources, becoming
overstretched and increasingly ill-equipped to deal with foreign policy agenda.
In addition, Ms Oliver indicated that the overemphasis on security by
the Australian Government is contributing to a disproportionate allocation of
funding. She informed the Committee that $26 billion in funding was allocated
to the Department of Defence while only $2 billion was provided for DFAT.
DFAT acknowledged that it has not done well in budgetary allocations
over the past 15 years. However, since 2007 there has been a net increase of
$88 billion from the budget which has enabled DFAT to slowly recover from the
trough experienced in 2003.
DFAT’s current budget is not as constrained as those of other sectors of
the public service and reflects the framework of a tight fiscal environment.
DFAT told the Committee that the challenge over the course of next year will be
absorbing the cost of any enterprise agreement and the efficiency dividend.
DFAT added that it has laid down a broad framework in adapting to the
budgetary environment. It includes:
- maintaining the
- not reducing any
training or staff development dollars; and
- maintaining the
graduate intake program.
It was noted during the hearing that the budget for language training
had been stagnant at an amount of $2 million per annum.
DFAT informed the Committee that language training had in fact increased from
$3.8 million in 2009–10 to $4.7 million in 2010–11.
As mentioned in Chapter 2, DFAT’s staffing has not reflected the general
increases within the wider public service. The total number of personnel has
decreased by five per cent despite the general expansion of the public service
as a whole by 15 per cent.
Between 1996 and 2003, DFAT lost approximately 400 Australian-based staff.
While there has been a relative increase of 200 Australian-based staff in 2003,
DFAT is still behind the staffing levels of 1996.
In light of these figures, DFAT’s level of staffing remained stagnant at
3971 personnel in 2009–10.
Ms Oliver noted that DFAT Australian-based staff posted overseas has
plummeted to 25 per cent in 2009 while locally employed staff have hovered
around 40 per cent of total DFAT staff for more than a decade. 
Dr Monk told the Committee that the replacement of Australian based
officers with locally engaged staff is not a comparable substitution.
In addition to his comments made to the Committee, Dr Monk noted in his
submission that the number of Australian-based staff fluent in any Asian
language remains comparatively low.
DFAT responded by saying that:
We currently have 18 officers who have a minimum of S3R3 in
Indonesian, 44 with a minimum of S3R3 in Japanese and 75 with a minimum of S3R3
in Chinese. But we have some officers whose proficiency has lapsed.
Dr Monk mentioned that 18 of 19 government departments have developed
their own international division. This coincides with greater budget allocations
to departments such as the Prime Minster and Cabinet who are increasing their
oversight of foreign policy.
In response to these developments, DFAT did not express concern, but
... there are now departments with an international component
to what they do, but that simply reflects globalisation, connectedness and the
fact that there are very few areas of government that can now afford to ignore
the international dimensions.
The Committee accepts DFAT's comments regarding gender equity issues. The
Committee also welcomes the recent increase in funding for DFAT, but believes
that increases in funding should be maintained if Australia is to be adequately
Mr Michael Danby MP