Public servants looking for ‘vibrant’, rewarding career encouraged to join NIAA

By Shannon Jenkins

Wednesday August 25, 2021

NIAA acting CEO Blair Exell and deputy CEO Letitia Hope.

The National Indigenous Australians Agency (NIAA) is on the hunt for a number of senior executive staff to join the team, as the agency works to deliver on a range of priority reforms and Closing the Gap targets.

NIAA acting CEO Blair Exell has encouraged Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians to consider applying for the Senior Executive Service Band 1 positions, noting that they would be joining the agency during an exciting time.

“So, front and centre, you’re part of an organisation that is dealing with an increasing part of the national story,” Exell told The Mandarin.

“You’re getting a chance to make a difference to people’s lives. That’s a tremendous opportunity.”

NIAA’s priorities for the coming year include administering the recently announced Territories Stolen Generations Redress Scheme, playing a lead coordination role in the government’s Closing the Gap agenda, and delivering a comprehensive jobs and skills reform program, Exell noted.

“The work for Closing the Gap sits alongside much of our sector work — our education, our health and wellbeing program, our skills programs — so we extend that work, and then use the Closing the Gap targets to set the parameters for how we work with other government departments,” he said.

“So we’re doing a bit of walking and chewing gum; delivering the new stuff while making sure the existing work is still occurring.”

Read more: Commonwealth to deliver $379 million redress scheme for Stolen Generations survivors

One major element of the work that NIAA undertakes is the co-design process — having Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people lead the design of policy initiatives that affect them, according to Letitia Hope, NIAA’s deputy CEO for operations and delivery.

“Working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in all different ways permeates the entire agency, including the formal structures like Closing the Gap, but also including how we do community-led grant processes on the ground with local models,” she said.

Hope was recently one of the co-chairs in the co-design process for Local and Regional Indigenous Voices. The process to co-design the Local, Regional and National Voices brought together 52 Australians, who were predominantly Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

Hope said seeing the way that government enabled Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders to come together and facilitate a conversation was ‘pretty special’.

“You think about those significant moments in your career, and I appreciate that that is one of them,” she said.

“It had an incredibly vast consultation process that went through multi-mediums. Not only online, through discussion papers and surveys, but out to the community as well. So it was Aboriginal and Torres Strait leaders talking with Aboriginal and Torres Strait community about what elements of the design should be in the Voice, and how it should be constructed.”

Read more: One year of NIAA: Ray Griggs and Letitia Hope reflect on the COVID-19 threat to Indigenous communities and Black Lives Matter

NIAA has some 1200 staff, more than 400 of which work in 70 regional locations across the country. This has allowed the agency to take a ‘place-based approach’ to its work, according to Exell.

“We have a footprint that reaches right across the country, and we draw up from that footprint advice, evidence, and information that we then use to feed into broader mainstream policies or programs,” he said.

“Alongside that, we have about 2000 activities that we deliver. Some of that is about services where there’s gaps, and some of that is about trialling, innovating and responding to place-based requests or placed-based ideas about how we can do things better to make Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander lives better in the places where they are. All of that stems from that connection with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and organisations.”

Hope noted that staff members both work with and live in the communities they serve. The agency’s links to local, state and federal levels of government have been crucial to its COVID-19 response.

“We play a really key role in making sure that local intelligence is connected, that we are seeing where there are gaps emerging on the ground and leaning into agencies of responsibility to fill those gaps, and making sure that communities’ voices are being heard around the town within the pandemic response,” Hope explained.

“We work as an ecosystem in the agency.”

Some of the tasks NIAA has performed during the pandemic include working with communities to ensure they know where to go when vaccination infrastructure arrives in their area, dispelling COVID-related myths, monitoring food security, ensuring communities understand current COVID-19 restrictions, and connecting people in need to the relevant service providers.

Read more: SES to have 3% Indigenous employee representation by 2024 under new APS workforce strategy

Hope has encouraged anyone who is interested in having a ‘vibrant public sector career’ to apply for the available Band 1 positions.

“Whether you’re Indigenous or non-Indigenous, one of the things that we really care about in the agency is our values and behaviours, which include things like respecting multiple perspectives, acting with integrity, investing in each other’s success, being authentic in the way that we do stuff, and delivering with purpose,” she said.

She said working at NIAA gives public servants the opportunity to work on a range of interesting, complex, important and diverse issues, in partnership with other levels of government and across community.

“It is a unique agency where you can see policy, program delivery and service delivery playing out within the one agency,” Hope said.

“You see the fruits of your efforts playing out on the ground in some really practical ways, which is also very rewarding as a public servant.”

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