Chapter 15 Support Services

FaHCSIA’s effectiveness depends not only on our ability to deliver the Government’s priorities but also on having a set of strategies and services in place that support policy and program delivery.

Support services include the need to have high-quality data available to support evidence-based policy development and the necessary corporate services to support the work of staff. These corporate services include information and communications technology, grant administration, communications and media and property services.

Research, evaluation and data

FaHCSIA places a high priority on building a robust evidence base to inform policy and program development. The Department invests in research, evaluation, data collection and large surveys across our range of responsibilities.

During 2010–11, the Research and Analysis Branch assessed a number of projects for the Research and Evaluation Committee (a subcommittee of the Executive Management Group). The committee developed seven evidence priorities to guide future research, data management and evaluation investment until 2012. Table 15.1 shows the number of projects assessed during the year against each evidence priority.

Table 15.1 Projects assessed for the Research and Evaluation Committee, by evidence priority, 2010–11

Evidence priority Number of projects
One: To what extent do children’s life outcomes mirror those of their parents? 2
Two: How do parenting skills influence family functioning and children’s outcomes? 7
Three: How important are aspirations and values to life outcomes? 2
Four: How are assets and debt used across the lifecycle? 5
Five: Who leaves disadvantaged communities and why; who stays; and who moves in? 7
Six: Who are the Australians not accessing needed support when it is available, and why? 14
Seven: Who experiences persistent hardship and deprivation? 8

FaHCSIA’s research publication series continued to support dissemination of findings from research and evaluation projects.
During 2010–11, 10 occasional papers, two social policy research papers and one edition of the Australian Social Policy Journal were published. FaHCSIA research has also been published in Australian and international academic journals.

The Australian Government funds three longitudinal studies which FaHCSIA manages in conjunction with other government and non-government agencies:

The HILDA Survey is a large-scale, nationally representative, longitudinal survey of Australian households. It provides information on labour force status and history, current and financial year income, wealth, family relationships, child care, health status, financial stress, housing, education, retirement intentions and work/family attitudes. To date more than 1,400 users have registered to have access to one or more releases of HILDA. The majority are Australian academics and government researchers.

Since the release of the first wave of data in February 2003, HILDA has matured into a highly respected source of data for research, providing information about key social topics as well as income, employment and family dynamics. The HILDA statistical report is now in its sixth volume, which was released on 23 June 2011. It contains a series of short articles covering issues such as perceptions of general wellbeing, retirement and care of children.

During 2010–11, Growing Up in Australia: the Longitudinal Study of Australian Children continued to address a range of questions about children’s development and wellbeing. The study collects information on children’s physical health; social, cognitive and emotional development; and experiences in key environments, such as family, community and school settings.

The fourth main wave of data collection began in early 2010 and was completed in January 2011. In wave 4, more than 8,400 Australian families from both cohorts were interviewed, when the study children were aged 6 to 7 and 10 to 11 years.

The study continued its involvement in the ABC Life television series, providing data and advice on the third instalment, Life at 5. The program screened in February 2011 and presented the latest research on childhood resilience and the factors that enhance children’s readiness for school.

Footprints in Time: the Longitudinal Study of Indigenous Children is designed to explore how Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children develop resilience, and what helps to improve their wellbeing and future, and to identify links between early childhood experiences and later life outcomes.

Wave 3 data collection started in March 2010. Wave 3 focuses on the school experience for the older cohort and revisits a number of areas covered in waves 1 and 2, including child health, behaviour and development; social and emotional wellbeing; major life events; child vocabulary; language; and housing issues.

FaHCSIA has launched an online searchable repository called FaHCSIA’s Longitudinal Surveys Electronic Research, or FLoSse. The repository can be searched according to keyword, author and date to identify research conducted in any of the three longitudinal studies.

Indigenous grant administration

FaHCSIA collaborates with other agencies in the administration of grants for Indigenous programs. FaHCSIA’s Program Frameworks Branch provides system enhancements, training and help‑desk support to government agencies using the whole‑of‑government Indigenous funding system.

Each year, FaHCSIA manages the common funding round, which provides an avenue for service providers to apply for grant funding under FaHCSIA’s or other agencies’ advertised programs. The common funding round is held between mid-December and mid-February each year. Each agency is responsible for managing its own funding under its programs. The following programs participated in the last funding round:

The programs are advertised nationally, including in local and Indigenous newspapers. Service providers are able to apply for funding offered under each program in one application form, which can be submitted electronically or by mail.

See Appendix G for more information on the grant programs administered by the Department in 2010–11.

Information and communications technology

Information and communications technology (ICT) is a key enabler of FaHCSIA’s business. The Information Management and Technology Group provides and manages the delivery of reliable, efficient and high-quality ICT and information management services to the Department. The group’s key objectives are to provide:

In 2010–11, the Information Management and Technology Group worked on a number of projects to support the Department, individuals and community organisations. Some of these are discussed below.

Software refresh

During 2010–11 most core server (back-end) software was upgraded to the latest versions. Twenty-three back-end technical systems were upgraded to improve the stability and supportability of file storage, printing capability, email, general communications and remote access. Desktop PC software used by all staff has been redesigned for Windows 7 and Office 2010, which will provide a range of new features and efficiencies. The new desktop software is being piloted and will be rolled out nationwide in the second half of 2011. A training program for staff on working in the new systems has also been developed and will be implemented with the rollout of the new software.

Remote site ICT refresh

Over the past 14 months a new ICT platform has been implemented at all remote sites in the Northern Territory. The new platform will give FaHCSIA officers stationed at remote sites access to services that are similar to those available to staff in capital cities. ‘Office in a Box’ technology has been installed at 55 sites around the Northern Territory and laptops have been replaced with more rugged models to improve durability in the harsh conditions. Land telephone lines (replacing satellite phones) and improved network services have been deployed to each site to facilitate simpler communication and more rapid transfer of information. The rollout of the Office in a Box technology to other remote sites has begun and nine sites in Queensland, South Australia and New South Wales are nearing completion. A further six remote sites will be implemented in the second half of 2011. The new Office in a Box provides faster, more secure, more supportable and more stable connectivity than the previous technology.

Management information capability improvements

During 2010–11 significant work was undertaken to strengthen management information capability for the Department. New datasets have been integrated within the Integrated Reporting Solution to enable FaHCSIA programs to more effectively monitor and track progress of grant funding agreement milestones and activities. The development of a Centrelink Basic Data Set has improved the consistency and accuracy of data development and reporting. The spatial management system was upgraded to improve the accuracy of FaHCSIA’s spatial information, and spatial datasets were developed to support a focus on regional reporting requirements.

Telecommunications transition

Following a comprehensive market test, contracts were awarded in March 2011 to Telstra and Australian Satellite Communications Services for a comprehensive range of telecommunications services. The Department will make savings from the new contracts to support its obligations under the Gershon review. In 2011–12 a new telephone system will be commissioned based on state-of-the-art digital telephony technology. Upgraded data services will also enhance videoconferencing capability across the FaHCSIA network.

Property services

FaHCSIA is committed to providing a functional, safe, secure and environmentally sustainable workplace to enable delivery of our key strategic objectives.

During 2010–11 a major refurbishment was undertaken of the Tuggeranong Office Park facility that not only improved the functionality of the workplace, but also improved building accessibility for staff with a disability. A continuing regional works program saw the refurbishment of office facilities in Port Augusta and staff accommodation in the Northern Territory and the development of new government staff accommodation to support remote service delivery outcomes.

As at 30 June 2011, FaHCSIA owned or leased:

In 2010–11 FaHCSIA commenced a project to establish 20 living and office accommodation units for staff in remote service delivery communities. We also initiated a works program, focusing on civil, electrical and plumbing works for NTER staff accommodation sites to extend the useful life of the accommodation and to ensure building standards were maintained.

Communications and media

The Department places great value on the role of effective communications in the delivery of key FaHCSIA outcomes. The Communication and Media Branch provides the critical link between government and people, engaging the community, stakeholders and staff in the policies and programs that FaHCSIA develops and delivers.

During 2010–11, the Department made significant achievements in communications to support FaHCSIA priority business areas. These included:

Ministerial and parliamentary support

FaHCSIA is committed to supporting our ministers by collaboratively developing and implementing excellent social policy.

The Department also provides high-level support for the ministers’ and parliamentary secretaries’ offices on parliamentary business and processes, including:

In 2010–11, FaHCSIA assisted its ministers and parliamentary secretaries with answering approximately 17,000 pieces of ministerial correspondence. FaHCSIA and its portfolio agencies also prepared more than 4,000 briefs for the ministers and parliamentary secretaries. During the year, the Department received 31 parliamentary questions on notice and 942 Senate Estimates questions.

The Department has primary or significant administrative responsibility for supporting ministerial participation in a range of ministerial councils and other forums, including: