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1. Scope

1.1. This policy describes the overarching governance framework designed to ensure that Open Arms – Veterans & Families Counselling (Open Arms) achieves its mission and reliably complies with legislative, regulatory, financial, ethical and social expectations.

2. Context

2.1. Open Arms is accountable to the Department of Veterans’ Affairs (DVA), the Minister and the Parliament to achieve its vision to improve the quality of life of all veterans, peacekeepers, and their families through services that promote and maintain health, wellbeing, independence and community integration, and to provide safe, high-quality services in line with all government policy, legislation and regulations. 

2.2. Open Arms must maintain systems to ensure that its activities are consistent with Australian Government policy, relevant Commonwealth and state/territory legislation, its mission and strategic direction, and the needs of clients.

2.3. Open Arms services are delivered in each region by a workforce comprising clinicians, lived experience peers, clinical support staff and a regional leadership team. 

2.4. Regional service delivery is supported by the Mental Health and Wellbeing Services Division.

3. Purpose

3.1. Open Arms is a mental health, counselling and wellbeing support service provider within DVA, which itself is part of the Australian Government’s Defence Portfolio.

3.2. Open Arms’ governance is aligned with the Australian Public Service (APS) Governance Framework:

3.2.1. Accountability – being answerable for decisions and having meaningful mechanisms in place to ensure the agency adheres to all applicable standards.

3.2.2. Transparency/openness – having clear roles and responsibilities and clear procedures for making decisions and exercising power.

3.2.3. Integrity – acting impartially, ethically and in the interests of the agency, and not misusing information acquired through a position of trust.

3.2.4. Stewardship – using every opportunity to enhance the value of the public assets and institutions that have been entrusted to care.

3.2.5. Efficiency – ensuring the best use of resources to further the aims of the organisation, with a commitment to evidence-based strategies for improvement.

3.2.6. Leadership – achieving an agency-wide commitment to good governance through leadership and example.

4. Principles

4.1. Open Arms strives to achieve the highest standards of professional practice, service and continuous improvement.

4.2. The Open Arms business model is based on accountability – to the veteran community, the broader community, DVA, the Minister and the government of the day.

4.3. Open Arms strives to achieve both conformance with government and legislative requirements, and national consistency in service delivery through service, administrative and financial processes, and measurement and review of activity.

4.4. Open Arms seeks to create a work culture that recognises employee contributions and encourages innovation while providing clear roles and expectations to guide employee actions.

4.5. Open Arms promotes and pursues stakeholder participation, including consumer participation in governance processes, and partnerships that benefit its clients.

5. Governance Structure

5.1. As part of DVA, Open Arms is governed by the department’s policies and procedures, which align with accepted governance structures within the broader APS. Open Arms does, however, maintain a separation from the department in terms of its provision of counselling and support services to clients and by its discrete management of client information and privacy.

5.2. The relationship between each of these structures is reflected in Figure 1, in association with the DVA organisational chart and the DVA committee framework.

Minister for Veterans’ Affairs

5.3. The department is administered by, and accountable to, the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs and Minister for Defence Personnel, whose high-level expectations are set out in election policy platforms and supplemented by ongoing policy decisions and policy announcements. The Minister sets the broad objectives for the department and is accountable to Parliament for the activities of the department.


5.4. The day-to-day activities of the department are directed by two commissions responsible for providing support to veterans under legislation, including powers to grant pensions and to delineate benefits, treatments and services to eligible clients.

The Secretary

5.5. The Secretary of DVA is the president of each commission and is supported in this role by the Deputy President and other commissioners as appointed by the Parliament, in accordance with the relevant legislation. The commissions meet regularly to assess and set the forward agenda for the department, including for Open Arms, within the policy mandate of the government of the day.

5.6. All significant policy considerations relating to the direction and service delivery of Open Arms are referred via the First Assistant Secretary Mental Health and Wellbeing Services Division to the commissions and/or Minister for decision. Outcomes of commission meetings impacting Open Arms are disseminated to relevant staff, through the National Manager.

Executive Management Board

5.7. The Executive Management Board (EMB) presides as the highest governance committee in DVA. It monitors DVA activity and sets departmental strategies. Open Arms’s input into EMB activities occurs though the Chief Health Officer. 

DVA Research Board

5.8. Departmental oversight of research activities is undertaken through the DVA Research Board and Research Working Group, which include representation from the Department of Defence. Open Arms input into DVA research activities occurs though the Chief Health Officer.

Defence Links Steering Committee

5.9. The Defence Links Steering Committee (DLSC) provides a high-level forum for the Department of Defence and DVA to consider and coordinate matters of shared strategic and policy concern in the best interests of serving and ex-service Australian Defence Force members. The role of the committee is to provide endorsements of proposals, to establish the strategic objectives and guiding business principles of shared initiatives, policies or projects, and to define and review project milestones and progress. The committee is co-chaired by the Deputy President of the Repatriation Commission and the Deputy Secretary, Defence People. Open Arms reports to the DLSC on collaborative projects with Defence and DVA via the National Manager. 

Minister’s Independent National Advisory Committee

5.10. The Minister’s Independent National Advisory Committee (NAC) was established to monitor the operations and programs of Open Arms and provide independent advice to the Minister and senior departmental officials on how Open Arms is meeting its vision, purpose and mission.

5.11. The Open Arms National Manager is an ex officio member of the NAC and meets regularly with the Chair of the NAC. Other ex officio members include the Repatriation Commissioner and representatives from the Australian Defence Force, the Defence Community Organisation and Phoenix Australia.

5.12. Committee membership represents a diverse cross-section of the veteran community, including veterans, partners of veterans, and sons and daughters of veterans, as well as clinical subject matter experts. Membership is by ministerial appointment for a fixed term (two to three years).

5.13. The NAC rotates the location of its three meetings per year to different Open Arms locations or meets using remote communication tools. Open Arms staff, ex-service organisations, veterans and Open Arms clients are invited to consult with the NAC and raise issues of concern. NAC members are also invited by Open Arms to participate in other stakeholder consultation processes, such as Regional Advisory Forums (RAFs) (see below), and in some Open Arms reviews and steering committees, enabling them to provide a complete overview of Open Arms activities to the Minister.

Regional Advisory Forums

5.14. Open Arms centres conduct regular RAFs with local veteran community leaders to guide the establishment and ongoing development of strategic relationships and partnerships between Open Arms and other key stakeholders in the region. The outcomes of these forums are reported to the NAC and underpin Open Arms’s national planning processes and policy initiatives.

5.15. The RAF meet twice per year in each region.

National Executive Team

5.16. The National Executive Team comprises the National Manager and the Assistant National Manager National Operations.

National Manager

5.17. Open Arms is led by the National Manager, who reports directly to the First Assistant Secretary Mental Health and Wellbeing Services Division.

Assistant National Manager

5.18. The Assistant National Manager reports directly to the National Manager and provides support to the National Manager in relation to Open Arms regional operations.

Assistant National Manager National Operations (role now within the Mental Health and Wellbeing Services Division)

5.19. The Assistant National Manager National Operations reports directly to the National Manager and provides support to the National Manager in relation to Open Arms’s national clinical operations including continuous improvement, policy and development of clinical initiatives. 

National Management Team (roles now within the Mental Health and Wellbeing Services Division)

5.20. The National Management Team (NMT) comprises Regional Open Arms Directors, National Directors and the National Executive Team, chaired by the National Manager. NMT ensures both regional and national considerations  are taken into account when developing policies and procedures and provides leadership in planning, monitoring, evaluation, service delivery and development of the Open Arms Business Plan.

5.21. NMT meets regularly, with frequency subject to change based on operational requirements, via video and/or telephone conferences and at face-to-face meetings a number of times per year. Meeting outcomes are disseminated to staff through national updates and local team meetings.

Open Arms Directors

5.22. Open Arms regions are each led by a Regional Director, who has delegation for local operations and service delivery. Regional Directors are supported by a regional leadership team comprising:

  • Assistant Directors Clinical Operations, who have direct oversight of clinical staff and clinical operations
  • Assistant Directors Clinical Coordination, who have oversight of clinical care coordination, community engagement and peer support services
  • Assistant Directors Clinical Outreach and Groups, who have oversight of groups and outreach programs
  • Regional Clinical Practice Managers, who assist with regional business and the direction of clinical support staff.

The generic organisational structure for regions is shown in Figure 2.

6. Implementation

6.1. The National Manager will:

  • Ensure systems are in place so that all staff are aware of and comply with the requirements of the Governance Policy and all subordinate policies, procedures and instructions.
  • Be accountable for the Open Arms Business Plan and planning cycle.

6.2. The Assistant National Manager will:

  • Support the National Manager to ensure that national systems to support regional clinical service delivery systems are established, maintained and improved.
  • Ensure national management systems are maintained for personnel throughout Open Arms’ regions to be aware of policies and procedures, particularly those that are relevant to their role and function.

6.3. The Assistant National Manager National Operations (role now within the Mental Health and Wellbeing Services Division) will:

  • Support the National Manager to ensure that policy, quality assurance and continuous improvement systems to support clinical service delivery are established, maintained and improved.
  • Ensure systems are maintained for personnel throughout Open Arms’ national office to be aware of policy and procedures, particularly those that are relevant to their role and function.

6.4. Open Arms Directors will:

  • Manage resources and provide leadership to regional teams.
  • Ensure policies and procedures relevant to their area of operation are followed.
  • Ensure systems are in place to support their staff to be aware of and comply with approved policy and procedures.
  • Manage a process to translate Open Arms policies and procedures into effective local operation.
  • Be responsible for the development and maintenance of Open Arms Business Plans.

6.5. All staff will:

  • Ensure they are aware of and comply with policies and procedures.
  • Escalate to their immediate supervisor or manager any policy related issues.
  • Use formal feedback mechanisms to input into policy revisions.

7. Subordinate Policies

7.1. 200 Clinical Governance Policy

7.2. 300 Organisational Risk Management Policy

7.3. 400 Mental Health Workforce Policy

7.4. 500 Administration Policy

8. Directly Subordinate Procedures

8.1. 100 - 01 Governance Procedure

8.2. 100 - 02 Reporting Procedure

8.3. 100 - 03 Media Procedure

8.4. 100 - 04 Social Media Procedure

8.5. 100 - 05 Service Promotion Procedure

Figure 1 – Open Arms Line of Accountability

Figure 2 – Open Arms Regional Team Organisational Chart

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