Public sector needs shock on Aboriginal workers, procurement: Twiggy


Mining magnate Andrew Forrest has pointed the finger at the public sector in his review of Aboriginal employment, calling for at least 4% of the workforce to be indigenous by 2018.

The wide-ranging inquiry for the federal government, released today, argues efforts to increase first Australians’ public sector employment share have been “sluggish” and require “a shock to the system”. Commonwealth, state and territory governments should:

“… each set and enforce public sector first Australian employment targets of 4% within four years for each portfolio with a minimum of 4% within five years, but with no individual portfolio with less than 3%.”

Currently, just 2.2% of the Commonwealth public sector are indigenous Australians.

Forrest argues departments and agency heads should be “accountable for meeting the target and milestones”, with progress published in annual reports and on a new website, CreatingParity, that would serve as a central depository for data. Governments should also increase the number of cadetship places for indigenous students.

The report also recommends adopting procurement policies — developed in the United States and Canada — that set targets for procuring a 4% of goods and services from Aboriginal-owned businesses, noting that “to date, government procurement has not been effective in driving first Australian employment” and that “penalties or other ramifications for non-delivery are rare”:

“Indigenous Business Australia estimated that in 2012–13, only a handful of first Australian businesses secured 0.02% of the overall Australian Government spend (around $6.2 million of the $39 billion spent).”

The report continues:

“There will be claims of insufficient qualified first Australians to meet merit-based recruitment in the public sector. Frankly this just doesn’t cut it … There are a couple of key private sector practices that the public sector could adopt to enhance its capacity. These include chief executives having personal accountability to deliver on contractual requirements and better capacity to deal effectively with non-performing staff. There is also a need to set an annual target to ensure the overall four-year target is met …

“Real accountability must be driven by having transparent reporting and key performance indicators to employ first Australians written into the employment contracts of every agency and department head.”

The paper emphasises the importance of “co-ordinated and synchronised” action across and between government bodies to ensure such policies are effective.

Other recommendations include consolidating and integrating service delivery, and giving communities, via “local responsibilities boards”, more input into job seeker compliance and service delivery practices.

It argues that education will be the most important aspect of closing the gap:

“Given the undeniable fact that there is no employment gap, or disparity, for first Australians who are educated at the same level as other Australians, the full force of our community leaders and governments must pack behind the achievement of parity in educational outcomes as the national priority.”

In 2009, governments across Australia (except Tasmania) made a commitment to increase the proportion of first Australians in their workforces to 2.6% by 2015. Forrest argues this number needs to be updated to reflect the growth of the indigenous population, which now comprises 3% of the total.

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