Back to All News

Estimates: Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade Legislation Committee (DFAT training)

Lee asks the Deputy Secretary of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to give details on project management training which DFAT staff are required to complete prior to managing large aid projects.

Senator RHIANNON: ...What formal project management training are DFAT staff required to complete-including monitoring and evaluation, financial management, and anticorruption measures-prior to managing large aid projects?

Mr McDonald: We have quite an extensive program of training and we have quite a substantial set of guidelines for staff to follow. We also have quite comprehensive fraud and corruption guidelines. We also have particular provisions built within contracts around that. So we have quite an extensive array of support for staff-

Senator RHIANNON: Who provides the training when they start, please?

Mr McDonald: I will have to get some assistance here from Mr Dawson. He will be able to inform you on the training.

Senator RHIANNON: I was also interested in details. Does training mean that somebody is given a manual to read when they have time? Or are they actually given time-three days when they start or some substantial period of time-to undertake training? If you could describe what training means, please.

Mr Dawson: All staff working on the development program have the opportunity to undertake a range of training and personal development work to benefit them for the jobs that they do. That suite of training, which covers all the sorts of things that you have identified, from design through to implementation, monitoring and evaluation, procurement, et cetera, is delivered by a combination of officers from the department and contracted service providers. There is no set amount of training time which is identified, but out of my division, which runs much of the training and capacity building work within the department, we do something like over 220 training courses face-to-face-workshops, coaching sessions, et cetera-each year. It is a very extensive program. It is a rolling, ongoing one.

Senator RHIANNON: When you started the response, Mr Dawson, you used the term 'opportunity' to take training, which sounds as though it is not required. Does that mean that there would be people who could even be senior in terms of some of the projects, or at any level, who may not be given any training?

Mr Dawson: We expect that officers will undertake the training that is necessary to do their jobs effectively. There are only a small number of things that we specifically mandate. For example, we have mandated that everyone in the department undertake fraud awareness training. We have an online course to enable that to happen, and people have been doing about progressively. On the development side, for officers in Canberra we particularly take the view that they know what they are doing. They join communities of practice, they undertake the sort of training opportunities which are necessary for them to do their job. We are a little bit more directive when it comes to staff going on postings overseas. So we identify positions that require particular skills and we make sure that the relevant training is built into the pre-posting preparation for those positions.

Senator RHIANNON: Could you take on notice what is mandatory in terms of training and what can be chosen by your staff.

Mr McDonald: I would just like to add a couple things that are important. We have governance arrangements in place in the agency to look at high-risk and high-value programs that are coming forward. So there is actually a very senior governance arrangement that I chair that looks at those particular proposals coming forward. Also, in relation to the fraud and corruption that you talked about, I think it is important to let you know some of the key things that we are doing. It think it does provide some assurance around that. We have a fraud control plan that meets the Commonwealth Fraud Control Guidelines. All of our aid investment designs are prepared for individual aid investments. We have risk management plans, we have due diligence checks, we also have publicly available information on revenue allocation and public complaints processes. So where people are seeing particular fraud they can report that to us. We also have, as we said, a comprehensive training program on fraud. We also offer training to contractors and non-government organisations to increase their awareness and understanding of fraud. In the year 2014-15, we had nearly 1,000 people trained on that. We also pursue recovery of all fraud and we have recovered significant amounts of funding over the last year. We also monitor our projects on the ground through inspections and the like. So we have a very comprehensive fraud and corruption approach that has been built up over a number of years, and that provides the assurance that that money is being used in an accountable way.

Senator RHIANNON: Thanks, Mr McDonald. So is the comprehensive training program on fraud and corruption mandatory?

Mr McDonald: We have it continuing through the organisation, so it would not be mandatory-

Senator RHIANNON: No, I am talking about people who are employed by you who come into DFAT for the first time or who change jobs. Is it mandatory that they undergo comprehensive training on fraud and corruption?

Mr McDonald: I will check that with Mr Dawson.

Mr Dawson: As I said, it is mandatory that staff undertake an online fraud awareness training program. With staff who are dealing with significant financial responsibilities, we work to make sure they are properly trained on fraud issues, and that includes visits by fraud experts to our posts to make sure that staff at posts have that necessary training. It includes working with geographic divisions and activity managers in Canberra as well.

Mr McDonald: And our level of fraud is very low and it continues to be low. It is .026 per cent at the moment. It is consistent with what it has been throughout, so if we see any change in that we would look at our approach to it.

Senator Gallacher interjecting-

Senator RHIANNON: That might be more interesting!

Mr McDonald: I thought you might ask that, Senator.

Senator Gallacher interjecting-

Mr McDonald: Look, I am not in any way reducing the importance of that and, as I said earlier, we actively pursue the recovery of those. We take that extremely seriously, and I think, Senator Gallacher, you and I have had discussions on that before. That is why I mentioned some of the money that we have recovered this year, and I am happy to provide that on notice to you as well. But, yes, any fraud is unacceptable.

Senator RHIANNON: Has DFAT retained AusAID's quality at entry and peer review systems prior to projects being approved?

Mr Dawson: Yes, the fundamental structure of our quality systems in DFAT has built on, but remains fundamentally the same as under, the previous AusAID.

Senator RHIANNON: Are independent experts required to participate in these?

Mr Dawson: There is no requirement for independent experts. If you mean independent outside the department to participate in these processes, there is no requirement for that. But, where sensible, independent sources of advice are used.

Senator RHIANNON: Has DFAT retained the aid work system used previously by AusAID by monitoring and reporting on aid activities?

Mr Dawson: Yes.

Senator RHIANNON: The government has determined how it will fund the multiyear $1 billion commitment for climate change assistance announced by the Prime Minister at the Paris conference. My question is: has the government determined how it will fund it?

Mr McDonald: Yes, the funding will come from the aid program.

Senator RHIANNON: What I meant to ask is: have you determined it within the aid program?

Mr McDonald: Last year, I think, through the aid program we provided over $200 million-$229 million, I think-and that included our contribution to the Green Climate Fund, but I might ask Mr Tooth to elaborate on my answer.

CHAIR: Briefly, if you would, Mr Tooth.

Mr Tooth: Deputy Secretary McDonald is quite correct. It was $229 million in 2014-15 and we are currently working out how to spend the $200 million this year.


Back to All News