Please find attached submission from the Australian Transport Safety Bureau to the Independent Review of the Australian Public Service
Contact: Greg Hood
Independent Review of the APS
Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet
Thank you for providing the opportunity for the Australian Transport Safety Bureau (ATSB) to
participate in the review of the Australian Public Service (APS) through this submission/case
As we discussed at the recent APSC-hosted forum for small agencies, I consider it important that
we, as a small agency serving the Australian Government and people, provide a contemporary
perspective to the review in relation to the manner in which we are evolving our business model
In facilitating this commitment, I would like to suggest that relevant panel members might wish
to participate in the opportunity for an “experiential” visit to a small agency such as ours. In our
case, this would be a timely venture as we are currently undergoing an efficiency audit by the
Australian National Audit Office (ANAO). In preparing for this audit, we have taken the time to
reflect on our past, present and future state in terms of achieving our primary function to
improve transport safety with priority given to delivering the best safety outcomes for the
As a backdrop and potentially an agenda for the visit, during the past two years, the ATSB has
embarked on an “evolution” program that has resulted in fundamental changes to the way in
which we operate.
The ATSB faces an operating environment of continuing growth in, and progressive changes to,
the composition of the aviation, rail and marine transport sectors (e.g. air traffic movement
numbers are predicted to double by 2030, automated rail is already a reality, and the cruise and
cargo ship industries are experiencing unprecedented growth).
In contrast, the ATSB (up until the last financial year) had continued to experience successive
reductions to its base appropriations reflective of the efficiency dividend and other whole of
government savings initiatives. To manage these fiscal circumstances, the ATSB was required to
reduce its core staffing profile, including specialist investigators, by approximately 25 per cent
from when it was established as an independent statutory authority in July 2009.
Through the Government’s 2017–18 Budget measure ‘improving transport safety”, the ATSB has
been able to replenish its workforce and re-profile its capital investment strategies to meet its
projected needs in essential technical equipment, data warehousing requirements and core
enterprise systems. That acknowledged, this scenario has significantly impacted on the agency’s
capability to achieve its prescribed deliverables and key performance indicators. With the steady
reduction in resources, the ATSB was not able to keep pace with demand and at the start of the
2017–18 financial year; the ATSB had a backlog of around 60 complex transport safety
investigations that had exceeded either their scheduled time or their allocated investigation
Given it takes approximately 12-18 months to develop the base competencies for a new
transport safety investigator, it may take a considerable period before the agency has a
sufficient capability base to meet existing and projected demand. To mitigate this scenario from
reoccurring in the future, a more robust funding model for safety focused (or public good)
agencies like the ATSB may be within scope of the review.
Rather than continue a single modal approach to transport safety investigations, in 2017 the
ATSB underwent a major structural change, adopting a multi-modal, teams-based approach to
our work enabling a more efficient use of resources. This approach has also allowed us to reduce
the number of Senior Executive Service employees from four (4) to two (2). The ATSB is also
adopting a more rigorous program managed approach to the quality and timeliness of the
production of our investigation reports, engaging a Program Director and further refinement of
Rather than persevere with the traditional recruitment process, where transport safety
investigators were recruited for their domain skills (i.e. pilots, air traffic controllers, engineers,
ships captains, train drivers etc.), the ATSB mapped the broader competencies of an
investigator, and worked with a specialist recruitment provider on a methodology to test and
validate these competencies. This new approach has yielded positive results with 17 new
transport safety investigators successfully on-boarded over the past six months.
The ATSB has significantly increased its outreach with transport safety messages, through an
enhanced communication strategy. This involves the development of a strategic
communications plan, greater use of social media (Facebook, Linkedin and Twitter), and the
construction of a video and audio studio where releases for the media on investigations-of-
interest are prepared and then dispatched.
Recognizing the ATSB is a small operational agency, and that there were prohibitive overheads
to maintaining its status of being a Registered Training Organisation (RTO), a two-tiered strategy
was adopted to ensure that our staff were afforded the opportunity to continue their training
towards a tertiary qualification. The first tier (interim arrangement) was to partner with an
accredited RTO, and the second component was to release a limited request for tender (RFT) to
market to identify a longer term tertiary partner to accommodate and ensure our specialist
learning and development needs are met, but also to expand our transport safety research
Transport in general, and transport safety in particular, has long been the subject of a gender
imbalance. The ATSB has implemented strategies to increase the ratio of women in the
workforce to almost 40 per cent (from 25 per cent), and concurrently has expanded its diversity
through the engagement of Indigenous Australians and persons that identify as LGBTI.
The ATSB has encouraged innovation through empowerment. Two major achievements have
been the introduction of a fleet of Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs) or drones to assist in
accident site mapping (including authorization from the regulator and the training of seven
drone pilots), and the introduction of Skype for Business enabling better inter-unit
communication and live video back to Canberra of accident sites. The ATSB has come a long way
in terms of embracing technology that will provide greater agility and efficiency in support of
The ATSB is well advanced in the development of a Vision 2025 (anticipated publication in
October 2018). This vision document will serve as a future-oriented declaration of the ATSB’s
purpose and aspirations.
The vision will guide strategy development, help communicate the ATSB’s purpose to all
stakeholders to ensure a common understanding, and inform the goals and objectives set to
determine whether the strategy is on track.
The objective of the ATSB’s vision statement is to ensure that the ATSB works towards
enhancing the contribution it makes to transport safety in the context of the operating
environment expected to exist in 2025. This vision statement will guide our future annual and
corporate plans and may influence the Government’s expectations particularly around our
The primary goals and strategies that align with key themes of the APS review include:
• Evolving our role as Australia’s National Transport Safety Investigator - through expanding
our jurisdiction to cover Domestic Commercial Vessels and potentially the Heavy Vehicle
sector. Reinforcing our jurisdictions in Aviation and Rail. Preparing for increased space
activity and greater collaboration with Defence.
• Remaining a recognised world leader - through marshalling the best expertise, building
capability both in-house and within industry, creating a more agile workforce, greater
engagement with our peers and benchmarking our performance on a global level.
• Identify important safety issues that others don’t - through focussing on transport safety
investigations that will most benefit from the ATSB’s independent and systemic approach,
using data and trend analysis to identify where critical safety issues are likely to exist and
program manage and prioritise resources for investigations where there are the greatest
• Predicting future safety risks – through moving towards predictive safety management
nationally and internationally, facilitate the sharing of safety information and data within
industry and between transport modes, and ensuring the ATSB has the skills to meet the
rapid changes in emerging technologies - particularly the automation of transport vehicles.
• Become a motivating force for safety action that stops accidents – through building stronger
stakeholder networks (advocates), ensuring those who are best placed to take safety action
have the information they need through improvements to our communication platforms and
products, with a focus on digital enhancements (multi-media reports etc).
While the ATSB has work to complete in terms of ensuring the underlying enablers for these
goals and strategies align with relevant government/industry agendas and initiatives, the ATSB is
well placed to make sure it remains a contemporary and world leading transport safety
Consistent with an ethos of continual improvement, the ATSB continues to strive to best meet
the needs of the Australian Government and people.
Thank you again for the opportunity to provide this submission/case study to the review and if
practicable, I look forward to hosting relevant panel representatives in the future.
Chief Commissioner and Chief Executive Officer