Chapter 3 Departmental overview

Our purpose

FaHCSIA’s purpose is to improve the lives of Australians by creating opportunities for economic and social participation by individuals, families and communities.

Our role and functions

FaHCSIA has a key role in the delivery of the Australian Government’s social policy agenda.

Our seven outcomes reflect the core areas in which the Department seeks to assist people. Figure 3.1 outlines the Department’s outcomes and objectives.

Figure 3.1 FaHCSIA’s outcomes and objectives

Outcome 1—Families and Children
Improved child development, safety and family functioning through support services for all Australians, payments for low and medium income families with children and child support policy.
Outcome 2—Housing
Access to affordable, safe housing through: payments and support services; and rental subsidies to low and moderate income households.
Outcome 3—Community Capability and the Vulnerable
Improved capacity for vulnerable people and communities to participate economically and socially and to manage life-transitions through payments, targeted support services and community capability building initiatives.
Outcome 4—Seniors
An adequate standard of living and improved capacity to productively manage resources and life-transitions for senior Australians through the delivery of payments, concessions and information services.
Outcome 5—Disability and Carers
An adequate standard of living, improved capacity to participate economically and socially and manage life-transitions for people with disability and/or mental illness and carers through payments, concessions, support and care services.
Outcome 6—Women
Improved gender equality through coordinated whole of government advice and support for women’s economic security, safety and status.
Outcome 7—Indigenous
Closing the gap in Indigenous disadvantage with improved wellbeing, capacity to participate economically and socially and to manage life-transitions for Indigenous Australians through Indigenous engagement, coordinated whole of government policy advice and targeted support services.

We work to achieve these outcomes in four main ways:

Our 2008–2011 Strategic Framework

During 2010–11 our key objectives, corporate and governance priorities, leadership principles and values were guided by the FaHCSIA 2008–10 Strategic Framework.

Our key objectives

Our key objectives provide strategic direction so that we can deliver on government commitments and achieve our purpose for the Australian public:

Chapters 4 to 11 of this report provide information on our key objectives for 2010–11 and our outlook for 2011–12.

Our corporate and governance priorities

Our corporate and governance priorities describe the key enabling activities that FaHCSIA staff contribute to and support in their day‑to‑day work. They are all equally important and address areas we must focus on to achieve our key objectives. There are five such priorities:

Our leadership principles

Our leadership principles describe the capabilities and behaviours that leaders in FaHCSIA must focus on. They are assessed in our individual performance management system.

FaHCSIA leaders at all levels will:

Our values

As public servants we uphold the APS Values, which include impartiality, accountability and responsiveness to government. As a department, we choose to complement these with a small set of guiding principles that are meaningful to our staff:

Our operating environment

Who we are

FaHCSIA is a dynamic and diverse department. Our work touches the lives of almost every Australian at some time. We have around 3,400 staff based in many locations across the whole of Australia, including in a number of remote Indigenous communities. We have a national office in Canberra, offices in each of the other capital cities and a range of regional locations. Figure 3.2 shows our organisational structure.

We aspire to be a leader in the Australian Government and continue in our efforts in the employment of Indigenous people and people with disability. On 30 June 2011, we had 296 Indigenous staff (8.73 per cent) and 171 staff with a disability (5.04 per cent). We have a strong gender balance at all levels of the organisation.

FaHCSIA’s staff provide policy advice to the Government, coordinate whole-of-government policy for Indigenous and women’s issues, conduct research, analyse ongoing and emerging issues, and work in partnership with other government and non-government organisations to manage a diverse range of programs and services designed to support and improve the lives of Australians.

The Department works with the states and territories to achieve outcomes in a number of shared policy areas. Through the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) reforms, FaHCSIA has the lead policy advisory role for three national agreements (on disability, affordable housing and Indigenous reform). FaHCSIA also has primary responsibility for setting the policy and reform directions for several COAG national partnerships, including those on social housing, homelessness, remote Indigenous housing and remote service delivery.

Figure 3.2 Organisational structure on 30 June 2011

Figure 3.2 Organisational structure on 30 June 2011

Our network

Approximately 27 per cent of our staff work in operational areas outside Canberra in our network of state and territory offices, Indigenous coordination centres and regional operations centres. Government business managers and Indigenous engagement officers are also part of our network.

Network staff manage funding agreements across most programs. In 2010–11, network staff managed over 5,000 funding contracts, ranging from contracts worth several million dollars to very small community-based grants. In total, this represented administered funding in excess of $1.2 billion. Network staff also provide critical support to portfolio ministers, parliamentary secretaries and the Department by contributing to the design of government programs through environmental scanning, identifying areas of need and reporting on implementation progress and issues.

Network staff also play a key role in building and maintaining effective relationships with partners and stakeholders; anticipating, analysing and responding to important and emerging issues; and ensuring that the Department’s work contributes effectively to whole-of-government initiatives.

During 2010–11, network staff had a critical role in implementing many of the COAG national partnership agreements, especially those on remote Indigenous housing and remote service delivery. Implementing the housing agreement required close engagement with state and territory governments to ensure the construction and refurbishment of houses in remote Indigenous towns and communities. Network staff focused on developing local implementation plans in partnership with 29 priority remote Indigenous communities under the National Partnership Agreement on Remote Service Delivery. As each plan was developed and agreed, attention then turned towards implementation of the plan’s actions and commitments.

Capital city presence

FaHCSIA has an office in each capital city except the Australian Capital Territory. The ACT office is administered by the New South Wales office. The state offices represent FaHCSIA at the state, regional and local level and work to improve the impact of relevant Australian Government policies, programs and initiatives.

Regional footprint

The network includes 28 Indigenous coordination centres across Australia that engage with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and act as the coordination point for many government programs to assist Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. The centres combine coordination, planning and service functions and—in some cases—house staff from several departments. A number of the centres, particularly those in regional and remote areas, also operate as regional FaHCSIA offices.

Six regional operations centres have been established by the Australian Government and the relevant state or territory government to serve as a single face of government for designated remote service delivery communities. Within each centre, Australian Government staff and state or territory government staff work together to support government business managers and Indigenous engagement officers and work with government agencies to ensure effective and timely service delivery.

Remote footprint

FaHCSIA has more than 65 government business managers* across the Northern Territory, Western Australia, Queensland and New South Wales. They work closely with staff in regional operations centres and Indigenous coordination centres and focus on specific communities or groups of communities. They are responsible for leadership, strategic oversight, and coordination of Australian Government services provided in Indigenous communities and several town camp regions. They work with relevant agencies to maximise benefits to the community.

FaHCSIA employs 37 Indigenous engagement officers in many of the communities with government business managers. They have strong links to the community in which they work. Their role is to support government business managers, their communities and government; promote the community’s role in defining needs, setting goals and formulating policies and plans; and work with community groups to bring greater community input into government decision making. They have received training in personal leadership, as well as specialised training in community engagement tools, techniques and theory to ensure that they are best placed to represent the needs of their communities.

Program and policy groups

Table 3.1 summarises the functions of the Department’s business groups.

Table 3.1 Business groups—summary of functions

Group Functions
Business and Financial Services

The Business and Financial Services Group is responsible for the overall financial management of the Department and coordinates the Department’s input into the Commonwealth Budget. The group is also responsible for managing the Department’s business planning arrangements as an integral part of the Department’s work.

Business Strategy and Change

The Business Strategy and Change Group works across the Department in a range of areas including portfolio governance and network support. The group led the development and implementation of the 2011–14 FaHCSIA Strategic Framework.

The group supports the Minister and the Executive by providing advice on strategic governance and performance issues associated with portfolio bodies. It also manages the Department’s complaints and enquiry functions.

Community Engagement and Development

The Community Engagement and Development Group delivers programs that build resilient communities and reduce vulnerability to social exclusion for people facing challenging life circumstances. Individuals and families are assisted through financial and community support including early intervention and mental health services.

The group also has responsibility for reducing red tape for service providers, providing strategic direction, guidance and support for FaHCSIA’s programs as well as leading reforms aimed at improving program management and delivery of FaHCSIA’s national office, state office network, other government agencies and service providers.

Corporate Support

The Corporate Support Group provides a wide range of services to the Department, the Executive and ministers. These encompass ministerial and parliamentary services; secretariat and administrative support for the Executive; communication, public relations, media strategies and campaigns, and online content publishing; protective security services; accommodation and property services, including policies and advice on the Department’s sustainability and environmental performance; procurement; and the Department’s human resource strategy, policy and services.

Disability and Carers

The Disability and Carers Group is responsible for strategies, policies and programs to support and recognise people with disability, their families and carers and encourage their full participation in Australian life through the delivery of payments, services and programs.

The group works closely with state and territory governments on the National Disability Strategy and the National Disability Agreement.


The Families Group develops policy and implements and monitors the performance of a range of budget measures relating to family policy, child support policy and family payments; designs welfare payments reforms, including income management; and implements the Government’s commitment in relation to the Paid Parental Leave scheme.

The programs and payments administered by the group help strengthen the capacity and wellbeing of families by promoting healthy family relationships, helping families adapt to changing economic and social circumstances, and working with local communities to identify solutions to their local issues.

Housing and Homelessness

The Housing and Homelessness Group plays a key role in helping low-income households, including Indigenous Australians and their communities, to access affordable and appropriate housing and to support people to move out of homelessness.

The group is responsible for coordination of housing policy and programs aimed at increasing access to social housing and programs to reduce homelessness.

The group collaborates with states and territories in the delivery of the National Affordable Housing Agreement, the Social Housing Initiative and the National Partnership Agreements on Homelessness and Social Housing.

The group is responsible for policy, research and analysis relating to social housing and homelessness. The group gathers and analyses evidence to inform planning and policy development relating to social housing and homelessness.

Indigenous Community and Economic Development

The Indigenous Community and Economic Development Group has a diverse range of responsibilities, including administering the National Partnership Agreement on Remote Service Delivery with four states and the Northern Territory and the Community Development Employment Projects program, both of which are focused on development for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people living in remote communities.

The group also has responsibility for elements of the Indigenous Economic Development Strategy.

It also coordinates an integrated community development approach to support the Government’s capacity to design and implement Indigenous policy and programs.

Indigenous Leadership and Engagement

The Indigenous Leadership and Engagement Group develops strategic policy that contributes to outcomes in governance and leadership, one of the seven building blocks that support closing the gap on Indigenous disadvantage.

Key focuses for the group include the development of Indigenous leadership capability, stronger partnerships, and reconciliation with Indigenous people.

This is achieved through the Indigenous Leadership Program, the Indigenous Women’s Program, leadership and governance activities in targeted regions and communities, and reconciliation-related activities, including constitutional recognition of Indigenous Australians.

The group also works to support stronger engagement with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, including the Stolen Generations, and the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Healing Foundation.

Information Management and Technology

The Information Management and Technology Group provides information and communications technology (ICT) and information management services and support to the Department. The group hosts a range of ICT and library services for external organisations such as the Social Security Appeals Tribunal, the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations, the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet and the Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities.

Legal and Compliance

The Legal and Compliance Group helps clients within FaHCSIA by providing a range of services in legal, audit, risk and investigation matters. The group provides the full range of legal services, focuses on risk management and business improvement through internal audits and minimises fraud through compliance and investigation activities. The group also oversees the Department’s activities under the Freedom of Information Act 1982 and the Privacy Act 1988.

Office of Indigenous Policy Coordination

The Office of Indigenous Policy Coordination (OIPC) is responsible for supporting the Minister in leading and coordinating whole-of-government policy development and evaluations to drive progress on the Closing the Gap framework agreed to by COAG.

OIPC works closely with other Commonwealth, state and territory agencies to develop and implement strategic reforms that contribute to Closing the Gap. This includes development of new budget proposals through the annual whole-of-government Indigenous budget process, and the monitoring and evaluation of key whole-of-government initiatives, including progress on the Closing the Gap targets.

OIPC also manages other major government initiatives such as the Northern Territory Emergency Response, which the Government is now reviewing with Indigenous Territorians and others before deciding on its future. OIPC also leads and coordinates the development of new budget proposals through the annual whole-of-government Indigenous budget process, and monitors and evaluates key whole of government initiatives. It also plays a key role in assessing achievements against the Closing the Gap targets agreed by COAG. OIPC also contributes to Indigenous economic development through management of programs such as the Indigenous Communities Strategic Investment and several national Indigenous programs including funding for native title representative bodies.

Office of Remote Indigenous Housing

The Office of Remote Indigenous Housing is responsible for driving the delivery of reforms under the National Partnership Agreement on Remote Indigenous Housing, which focuses on improving housing, housing management and reforming land tenure arrangements in remote Indigenous communities. The office works in partnership with our state network, state and territory governments, the private sector and contracted service providers.

Problem Gambling Taskforce

The Problem Gambling Taskforce was established in October 2010. The taskforce provides policy advice to the Australian Government on implementing its commitment to reduce problem gambling.

Social Policy

The Social Policy Group works to enhance the Department’s policy capacity by providing research, evaluation, strategic analysis and coordination services; managing key programs, including seniors’ issues (Age Pension), international social security agreements and compliance strategies; and effectively managing the Department’s business relationship with Centrelink and social policy agencies.

Women and Children Policy

The Women and Children Policy group, including the Office for Women, monitors and reports on Australia’s obligations under the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

The group is responsible for policy and implementation of reforms for women and children. The group works in partnership with state and territory governments and the non-government sector to implement the National Framework for Protecting Australia’s Children. It provides leadership in Australian Government policy and program management on issues affecting women and gender equality; National Women’s Alliances; Indigenous family and community safety; and the delivery of women’s safety initiatives. It also provides support to victims of people trafficking. It is implementing the National Plan to Reduce Violence against Women and their Children.