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Agencies struggle on indigenous quota, PM&C can’t get rid of theirs

As agencies from all jurisdictions around the country scramble to diversity their workforce with indigenous employees and expertise, the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet has struggled to get rid of theirs.

Three months after it was revealed 200 additional full-time equivalent jobs would be targeted for cuts at PM&C — primarily from the Indigenous Affairs portfolio — only 39% have been achieved through voluntary redundancies.

The details, tabled with the Senate Finance and Administration Committee, show the redundancy payout bill came to a little over $4.5 million for the 79 accepted offers.

The 200 redundancies were to come on top of 276 offers already accepted in 2014. The majority of the cuts have come from the Indigenous Affairs portfolio’s regional network — by a wide margin. Of the 79 accepting offers in the latest round, 13 were Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander employees.

There are a few reasons for the reduction, including duplicated functions after 10 separate agencies were brought into PM&C, and a need to resize the department to “affordable levels”.

Ben Neal, PM&C’s first assistant secretary for corporate services, said the department’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employment rate was currently at 15.1%, rising significantly in just the Indigenous Affairs portfolio where it is currently 34%. From those figures it’s clear nearly all of PM&C’s indigenous representation in the department comes from the Indigenous Affairs portfolio.

Rising targets across the nation

Most central and policy agencies, at federal and state level, are targeting between 2% and 3% rate of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employment, with few actually meeting that target. The Australian Public Service Commission in particular has pushed strategies to help agencies reach those modest targets, including:

  • “Expand the range of Indigenous employment opportunities”
  • “Invest in developing the capability of Indigenous employees”
  • “Increase the representation of Indigenous employees in senior roles”
  • “Improve awareness of Indigenous culture in the workplace”

But in recent weeks, some much-higher targets have been announced.

South Australia’s Department of Premier and Cabinet seeks to double its indigenous staff from 2% to 4% in four months.

In the Northern Territory, Chief Minister Adam Giles has set a longer timeframe to double his indigenous public servants, aiming to achieve this by 2020. He is also working with a significantly larger target. Indigenous representation in the NT public service is currently 9.5%. Giles said in a statement earlier this month:

“We’ve set a number of ambitious employment targets and policies including doubling public sector indigenous employment from 1800 to 3600 employees by 2020, and initiating Aboriginal employment requirements for all government infrastructure contracts above $500,000.”

The Mandarin revealed disquiet among some indigenous public servants last week when the race for numbers becomes a mere box ticking exercise.

“Bums on seats — have they thought beyond that to ‘once we’ve got them what do they want to do? Why are they going to come and work for us?’,” said one who did not wish to be named.

He said not enough organisations ask themselves “who are we benefiting: the Aboriginal people who come and work for us, or ourselves because we can say we’ve got blackfellas working for us?”

‘Didn’t do enough for indigenous affairs’

Broadcaster and journalist Stan Grant raised the dearth of indigenous public service outcomes while delivering an address to the National Press Club yesterday:

“This is why we have a sorry legacy of government failure to this day. How many prime ministers are going to leave office and say that their biggest regret would be that they didn’t do enough for indigenous affairs?

“We’ve heard that from Bob Hawke, from Paul Keating, Kevin Rudd and Tony Abbott. Is Malcolm Turnbull going to leave office and say the same thing?”

Author Bio

Harley Dennett

Harley Dennett is editor at The Mandarin based in Canberra. He's held communications roles in the New South Wales public sector and Defence, and been a staff reporter for newspapers in Sydney and Washington DC.