An important focus for Defence is the provision of timely and quality support to the Ministers and the Parliamentary Secretary.
To ensure that the advice provided by Defence to the Ministers and Parliamentary Secretary meets their requirements, Defence continued to provide:
- dedicated staff information sessions that provide an overview of Defence's responsibilities to the Ministers, Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet and Parliament and how these should be fulfilled;
- monthly three-day, ministerial correspondence writing courses, primarily for staff who regularly deal with ministerial or parliamentary matters; and
- ad hoc sessions to small groups across Defence covering similar areas to the information sessions and writing courses.
An innovation this year was a number of seminars dealing with the responsibilities of Ministerial Support and Defence Governance Branch. The branch covers the areas of ministerial and parliamentary liaison, statutory reporting and accountability (through parliamentary committees and published reports), Defence governance and the senior committees. The seminars were aimed at informing staff of the roles and responsibilities of the areas involved and the processes that are in place to undertake them. Feedback was positive, with staff reporting that they were extremely useful in increasing their understanding of the issues, the processes and where to seek advice.
The Defence Committee continues to receive a monthly report on Defence's performance in meeting the requirements of the Ministers and Parliamentary Secretary in terms of timeliness and quality. In addition, processes were further refined to ensure that any feedback and comments were passed both to the appropriate senior executive/star-ranked officer and to the Secretary for any necessary follow-up.
During 2002-03, Defence provided its Ministers and Parliamentary Secretary with 4,366 submissions. Defence also provided the Minister and Parliamentary Secretary with 75 briefs relating to visits to various Defence facilities across Australia and 117 meeting briefs, and responded to 66 speech requests.
Defence also received 12,820 items of correspondence during the year for the attention of the Ministers and the Parliamentary Secretary. Some 40 per cent of correspondence related to three issues: the sale of Defence-managed Commonwealth property at Point Nepean in Victoria and the former Artillery Barracks in Fremantle, Western Australia, and the possible exposure of ADF personnel to depleted uranium in weapons. The remainder covered a wide range of issues that included Defence's property disposal program, honours and awards and a number of matters relating to the war in Iraq (see the next section on the Defence Service Charter for more information on ministerial correspondence).
Defence received 267 parliamentary questions on notice, of which 106 were from the House of Representatives and 161 from the Senate. During 2002-03, 200 responses were published in Hansard - 74 for the House of Representatives and 126 for the Senate. In addition, ten questions - five each from the House of Representatives and the Senate - were transferred to other portfolios.
The average time taken to lodge responses to parliamentary questions on notice was 42 days for the House of Representatives and 33 days for the Senate.