SA DPC to double indigenous staff in four months

By David Donaldson

Wednesday February 17, 2016

South Australia’s Department of the Premier and Cabinet has announced an ambitious plan to double its indigenous workforce in just a few months.

It’s hoped a new cultural exchange program for indigenous employees and the offer of cultural leave will help entice more indigenous people into the central agency.

On Wednesday DPC chief executive Kym Winter-Dewhirst stated the department would raise the level of indigenous employment from the current 2% to 4% by the end of this financial year.

“By the end of this financial year, our indigenous workforce within DPC will increase from 24 to at least 54 people,” he said.

The department intends to make this happen through filling upcoming and existing vacancies, rather than by creating new positions. This will mean a significant number of new hires will have to be Aboriginal people — in the 2014-15 financial year, the 1500-strong DPC recruited 190 new staff from outside the department.

South Australia has been making slow progress on indigenous public employment. As at June 2015, only 1.63% of SA public sector employees identified as Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander, a 0.01% increase on five years before (though a reliance on self-reporting means this probably under-represents the total number).

This is despite decent progress in other areas. Between 2010 and 2015, the number of women in executive public sector jobs grew from 44% to 47%.

Aboriginal human rights advocate Major Sumner and his wife Loretta
Aboriginal human rights advocate Major Sumner and his wife Loretta at the launch of DPC’s new respect and reconciliation floor, where rooms have been named after prominent indigenous Australians.

“As a leader in the public sector, and as the chief agency for the Premier, we have a significant role to play in promoting reconciliation,” argued Winter-Dewhirst.

It is hoped a couple of the department’s new initiatives, as well as an effort to get the word out there, will help convince potential indigenous employees DPC is a good place to work.

Many agree government agencies around Australia have not done enough to consider what they can offer Aboriginal public servants and why they would be an employer of choice.

In addition to their existing entitlements, the department will offer five days cultural leave for Aboriginal employees, which will allow those who have to fulfil community, ceremonial, family, funeral and/or cultural obligations to take time off.

Winter-Dewhirst said the department was initiating a professional development program for indigenous employees to help both enhance their skills and broaden the knowledge base within DPC.

“We are initiating a cultural exchange program involving both private and public sector organisations in other jurisdictions that offer progressive indigenous employment programs,” he explained.

“This will offer an exciting opportunity for indigenous staff members to learn from other organisations and gain new skills and new perspectives on business practices.

“It will also give them a chance to see how indigenous employment programs work in other jurisdictions — helping us strengthen our own programs.”

The department’s newly-refurbished level 16 has been named the respect and reconciliation floor ––where rooms have been named after prominent indigenous Australians. This is “not just to reflect our commitment to diversity, but also to ensure that these themes are foremost in our mind — in both our work and employment practices,” said Winter-Dewhirst.

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