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People and performance - Annual Report 2009-2010: Australian Human Rights Commission

People and performance

Working at the commission

The Commission has long been an advocate of family and lifestyle friendly workplace initiatives, both for our own staff and the public that we serve.

We see our organisation as being a positive role model for other employers and a leader in the public sector. We were the first public sector agency to offer Paid Maternity Leave of 18 weeks to our staff and six weeks paid parental leave. We have a range of flexible working arrangements in place that enable our staff to make choices that create harmony and balance in their lives. We offer employment benefits that include options to purchase additional leave, a healthy lifestyle allowance, a broad definition of ‘family’ for leave purposes, part-time work and supporting parent leave. We acknowledge that employees juggle many roles in their personal lives and support staff with access to an independent, confidential staff counselling service and a family support service. The Commission is committed to modelling a work environment which is inclusive, supportive and respectful at all times.

Providing flexible work options for our staff

To demonstrate our commitment to genuine workplace flexibility, we embedded new Workplace Flexibility Principles into our Certified Agreement. Our staff can access a broad range of flexible working arrangements based on a mutually beneficial flexibility agreement that merges operational and service delivery requirements with personal and family needs. Flexibility arrangements can include working from home, working part-time, flexible start and finish times and a range of variable work patterns.

Delivering staff training and development

During 2009–10 we delivered an in-house ‘Foundation cases seminar series’ to our staff. The series of 12 seminars combined the skills and experiences of both our Legal Services and Complaint Handling units to cover topics such as ‘Vicarious liability – where does the workplace end?’, ‘Indirect discrimination fundamentals’ and ‘Part-time work and family responsibilities under the SDA’.

We also sponsored staff attendance at relevant seminars, conferences and courses as part of their ongoing professional development. We supported the attendance of two staff members at the Garma festival in Gulkula, North East Arnhem Land during the year under review.

Offering performance feedback

The Commission reviews staff performance annually through its Performance Management Scheme. The Scheme provides an opportunity to set goals and priorities in line with our Strategic Plan and to assess the level of individual performance and contribution to Unit outcomes. The Scheme also provides an opportunity to identify and address learning and development needs and to plan effectively for the acquisition of identified skill requirements. In 2009–10 we moved to a whole-of-Commission planning process, aligning planning cycles and involving all units in cross-Commission project planning.

Encouraging a diverse workplace

Measures we have taken to achieve a diverse workforce under our Workplace Diversity Program included supporting a range of diversity events (including International Women’s Day, NAIDOC Week, Harmony Day and International Day of People with a Disability), developing supportive workplace policies such as our Reasonable Adjustment policy and engaging an Indigenous graduate and cadet through the Australian Public Service Commission’s Indigenous Pathways program. All employment opportunities at the Commission in 2009–10 were advertised on the Indigenous Job Board.

Working in a way that supports Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and cultures

Our Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP), was developed with Reconciliation Australia in 2008, and helps to achieve our vision by committing the whole organisation to doing its work in a way that respects, values, engages and supports Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and cultures.

Our RAP seeks to focus on how we do our business, rather than what we do. It therefore identifies ways that the Commission can do its core work to better promote reconciliation. It includes specific targets as performance indicators for actions. It also seeks to establish a process for identifying future targets for RAP actions. All actions, including those ‘ongoing’, are subject to the reporting and monitoring framework.

A significant achievement this financial year has been the finalisation of an Indigenous Engagement Toolkit and the establishment of Unit-specific reporting against RAP criteria.

The RAP has also been the basis for a range of ongoing activities, including the commemoration of, and participation in, significant Indigenous events and Indigenous cultural awareness training for all staff.

Our RAP is available online at:

Ensuring our policies, programs and services are accessible

Through the Commonwealth Disability Strategy (CDS) the government seeks to ensure its policies, programs and services are as accessible to people with disabilities as they are to all other Australians. This, of course, is integral to the work of the Commission and evident in the work we do. The CDS identifies four core roles that may be relevant to the agency. The Commission’s primary roles are that of policy adviser, service provider and employer.

We are committed to implementing best practice in relation to the provision and improvement of access to our services for people with disabilities and are in the process of reviewing our Disability Action Plan. Examples of best practice include our Complaint Handling processes, online access to our services, website, education material, and consultations with disability groups.

Along with all other Commonwealth agencies, we report annually against the CDS performance framework. Our employer role is now dealt with through the State of the Service report which is compiled by the Australian Public Service Commission. Full details on the CDS can be found on the Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs website at:

For our performance reporting against the Commonwealth disability strategy see Appendix 5.

Working to make our workplace environmentally sustainable

Human rights principles are fundamentally embedded within the principles of ecologically sustainable development. However, our activities do not explicitly contribute to ecologically sustainable development, nor impact directly on the environment, other than through the consumption of resources required to maintain our business operations.

We use energy-saving methods in our operations and endeavour to make the best use of resources. We encourage purchase and/or leasing of ‘Energy Star’ rated office machines and equipment with ‘power save’ features. When purchasing our office supplies, preference is given to environmentally sound products.

Throughout our organisation, we have implemented a number of environmentally friendly initiatives to reduce environmental impact. Waste paper, cardboard, printer cartridges and other materials are recycled, subject to the availability of appropriate recycling schemes. We also use new generation low mercury triphosphor fluorescent tubes.

During the year under review, we participated in the Earth Hour initiative which was held on 27 March 2010.

Ensuring health and safety at work

In 2009–10 we reviewed our Health and Safety Management Arrangements and participated in a Comcare desktop audit on our progress against the policy requirements. The audit was successful and confirmed that the we had a high commitment to staff health and wellbeing, and a participatory approach to consultation on health and safety issues.

We continue to focus our attention and resources on proactive and preventative health and well being strategies, encouraging staff to take positive action to improve their own health and lifestyles.

This year we conducted a health and safety staff survey, promoted heart health, hosted self-funded yogalates classes and sponsored lunchtime seminars on diet/nutrition and stress management techniques.

The Occupational Health and Safety Committee reviews any Occupational Health and Safety issues promptly. A scheduled annual workplace inspection ensures that any issues are identified and followed up.

Our workplace relations and employment arrangements

Our Certified Agreement expired in December 2008. A variation and extension to this Agreement was negotiated with staff and certified by the Australian Industrial Relations Commission on 5 January 2009 for a further three years. The new Agreement featured 18 weeks paid maternity leave, six weeks paid parental leave, community volunteering leave and access to extended leave following maternity or parental leave.

In order to manage our resources more effectively, and achieve the goals set in the Strategic Plan, we reviewed our staffing structure in 2009 to provide a coordinated human rights policy agenda and enable greater cross-Commission collaboration on project management and policy work.

During the year under review, we created our first employee survey to gather information about our performance as an employer directly from staff. Staff participation in the survey was 75% and the Commission performed very positively in the areas of diversity, OHS, work life balance and satisfaction with management and supervision.

Salary progression within classification levels is subject to performance assessment. Salary ranges are reflected in Table 42. Structurally the Commission has three SES employees with a recruitment process underway for the filling of two of the positions. One SES employee is covered by a section 24 (1) Determination. We have four non-SES employees covered by Australian Workplace Agreements and two on section 24 (1) Determinations.

Our recruitment processes

We undertake merit-based selection processes in accordance with the Public Service Act requirements, Australian Public Service Commission guidelines and Commission recruitment and selection policies.

Promoting staff ethics

During the year in review, we appointed an Ethics Contact Officer. This officer is responsible for ethics-related issues in the workplace and is committed to fostering a high performing ethical culture. No such issues were raised for investigation or resolution in the 2009–10 year.

Our staff

Our average staffing level for the year was 109.34 staff, with a turnover of 16% for ongoing staff. We have a diverse representation of staff which includes:

  • 77% women
  • 4.2% Indigenous staff
  • 5% people with a disability
  • 8.5% NESB staff

An overview of the Commission’s staffing profile, as at 30 June 2010, is summarised in the table in Appendix 3

Management accountability

Our main corporate governance practices

The Commission, as a legal entity, is constituted by the President and the Commissioners. The President is the senior member of the Commission. The Commission meets every 6–8 weeks to make its decisions. All meetings are minuted.

The responsibilities of the Commission include preparing and implementing the Commission’s strategic plan, ensuring compliance with the APS Code of Conduct, ensuring transparency and accountability for our work and fostering high ethical standards in its execution. The President has specific responsibility for financial management but has delegated some of those functions to the Executive Director.

The Commission has developed a Governance Handbook which sets out the responsibilities of the Commission and, where relevant, the individual responsibilities of the President and specific Commissioners.

Identifying financial and operational risk

We annually review and identify changes to business and operational risks through our business risk assessment. Risks are categorised according to whether they are strategic or corporate in nature. Controls and risk-mitigating strategies are also identified along with an assessment of the residual risk.

Protecting against fraud

We have undertaken a Fraud Risk Assessment, developed a Fraud Control Plan and have procedures and processes in place to assist in fraud prevention, detection, investigation and reporting in line with the Commonwealth Fraud Control Guidelines. The Fraud Control Plan is available electronically to all Commission staff.

Audit committee

Consistent with the Australian Stock Exchange principles of good corporate governance and the requirements of the Financial Management and Accountability Act 1997 (Cth), we maintain an audit committee. The audit committee advises the President on compliance with external reporting requirements and the effectiveness and efficiency of internal control and risk management mechanisms. The audit committee met four times during the reporting period.

Report on performance

Our complaint service charter

Our Charter of Service to Customers provides an avenue through which complainants and respondents can understand the nature and standard of service they can expect, as well as contribute to continual improvement of our service.

All complainants are provided with a copy of the Charter when their complaint is accepted by the Commission. Respondents receive a copy when notified of a complaint. The Charter of Service can also be downloaded from the Commission website at:

In 2009–10 the Commission received three complaints about its service under the formal complaint process provided in the Charter.

Key performance indicators and standards we work to in handling complaints

We have developed key performance indicators and standards which form the basis for ongoing assessment of the complaint service. These indicators, and our 2009–10 performance in relation to these indicators, are summarised below.

  • Timeliness. Our stated performance standard is for 80% of complaints to be finalised within 12 months of receipt. In 2009–10, we finalised 96% of matters within 12 months. A detailed breakdown of timeliness statistics by Act is provided in Table 12 on page 88.
  • Conciliation rate. Our stated performance standard is for 30% of finalised complaints to be conciliated. In 2009–10, we achieved a 50% conciliation rate.
  • Service satisfaction. Our stated performance standard is for 80% of surveyed parties to complaints to be satisfied with the service they receive. In 2009–10, 95% of surveyed parties reported that they were satisfied with the service and 58% rated the service as ‘very good’ or ‘excellent’. Further details of survey results for this reporting year are provided below.

Measuring service satisfaction in handling complaints

We seek feedback on aspects of the service from people lodging complaints (complainants) and people responding to complaints (respondents). This feedback is obtained by means of a service satisfaction survey which is usually conducted by telephone interview.

In 2009–10, 43% of those who could be contacted (164 complainants and 190 respondents) agreed to participate in the survey. Survey results for this reporting year are summarised below:

  • 90% of complainants and 97% of respondents felt that staff explained things in a way that was easy for them to understand;
  • 94% of complainants and 97% of respondents felt that forms and correspondence from the Commission were easy to understand;
  • 76% of complainants and 79% of respondents felt that the Commission dealt with the complaint in a timely manner; and
  • 93% of complainants and 94% of respondents did not consider staff to be biased.

Ensuring accountability for our administrative decisions

People affected by administrative decisions we have made may be entitled to seek a review of those decisions before a court or tribunal.

Judicial review: Judicial review of Commission decisions can be sought by application to the Federal Court or the Federal Magistrates Court under the Administrative Decisions (Judicial Review) Act 1977 (Cth).

In accordance with established legal principle, the Commission (as decision maker) usually does not play an active role in those proceedings. This is to avoid a perception of bias in the event that a matter is remitted to the Commission for further determination. Instead, the Commission agrees to be bound by the decision of the Court and leaves the substantive parties (usually the complainant and respondent to a complaint that was before the Commission) to argue the matter.

The Commission was a respondent to one application brought under the Administrative Decisions (Judicial Review) Act in 2009–10. The matter was ongoing at the end of the reporting period.

Merits review: Some decisions of the Commission or its staff (acting under instruments of delegation) are subject to merits review by the Administrative Appeals Tribunal. These include decisions made under the Freedom of Information Act 1982 (Cth), and decisions on applications for temporary exemptions under section 44 of the Sex Discrimination Act, section 55 of the Disability Discrimination Act and section 44 of the Age Discrimination Act.

There was one application for merits review of a Commission decision during the reporting period. The Appeals Tribunal also handed down a decision in relation to a matter from the previous reporting year. In both cases, the Commission’s decision was upheld.

Facilitating Freedom of information

The Freedom of Information Act 1982 (Cth) gives the general public legal access to government documents.

Documents held by the Commission relate to:

  • administration matters, including personnel, recruitment, accounts, purchasing, registers, registry, library records and indices
  • complaint handling matters, including the investigation, clarification and resolution of complaints
  • legal matters, including legal documents, opinion, advice and representations
  • research matters, including research papers in relation to complaints, existing or proposed legislative practices, public education, national inquiries and other relevant issues
  • policy matters, including minutes of Commission meetings, administrative and operational guidelines
  • operational matters, including files on formal inquiries
  • reference materials, including press clippings, survey and research materials, documents relating to conferences, seminars and those contained in the library.

During 2009–10 we received nine initial requests for access to documents under the Freedom of Information Act. We were also asked to conduct one internal review of one of those decisions.

Of the nine initial requests for information, eight were brought by individuals or organisations seeking access to documents relating to themselves.

A total of nine applications and one internal review were processed in this financial year.

All initial inquiries about access to Commission documents are directed to our Freedom of Information Officer who can be contacted by either telephoning (02) 9284 9600 or by writing to:

Freedom of Information Officer
Australian Human Rights Commission
GPO Box 5218
Sydney, NSW 2001

We follow procedures for dealing with Freedom of Information requests detailed in section 15 of the Freedom of Information Act. A valid request must:

  • be in writing
  • be accompanied by a $30 application fee
  • include the name and address of the person requesting the information
  • specify the documents to which access is sought.

Consultancy services

We uses consultants where there is a need to access skills, expertise or independence that is not available within the organisation.

During 2009–10 three new consultancy arrangements were entered into, involving total actual expenditure, including GST, of $56 545 (see Appendix 4

). There were seven active part-performed consultancy contracts from prior years. As the prior year contracts were fully expensed and accrued in the year of commitment, payments made in the current reporting period did not give rise to any new expenditure. Annual reports contain information about actual expenditure on contracts for consultancies. Information on the value of contracts and consultancies is available on the Austender website:

Advertising and market research

During the reporting period, the commission entered into no market research contracts. The Commission paid $1 980 (including GST) on non-campaign advertising (recruitment).