Shergold gets NSW public sector to walk the talk on refugees

By Stephen Easton

Friday June 10, 2016

The New South Wales government has committed to finding at least 100 public sector jobs for refugees, through the same rule that allows government jobs to be designated for people with disability and indigenous Australians.

In his role as NSW coordinator-general for refugees, University of Western Sydney chancellor Peter Shergold is working with the secretaries of all departments to open up 100 initial positions for any refugees who arrived in Australia after last December.

The modification to the government sector employment rules limits the eligibility of refugees for the designated roles to a period of five years after their arrival. Rule 26 exists to assist people who would otherwise be disadvantaged in competing for government jobs.

The Public Service Commission explains its extension to refugees recognises they could be disadvantaged “due to a range of factors including potential language and cultural barriers and trauma they have experienced”.

The decision is part of a set arrangements Shergold has been putting in place to help settle refugees in NSW through his newly created role, by making agreements with universities and other education providers, registered clubs and the business community.

Given the government is by far the state’s largest employer, the respected public sector veteran told The Mandarin its involvement gave his efforts more credibility.

“So we’re working with the private sector to provide those sort of opportunities — we have a memorandum of understanding with Clubs NSW, who are going to provide work experience and employment opportunities, for example,” he said.

“And we thought that if we were going to do that, if we’re working with the private sector to provide job opportunities, then it was important we also participated ourselves. That’s why we decided on this approach.”

The commitment to employ “at least 100 refugees” was confirmed by the Department of Premier and Cabinet via email but it seems the government was not very keen to claim credit with voters. In terms of the way it was communicated, the contrast with a superficially similar NSW project to find public sector jobs for 200 military veterans is substantial.

The rule change to enable the jobs for refugees was quietly posted to the NSW Public Service Commission website on June 1, and came to public attention through the Sydney Morning Herald five days later. Shergold happily explained the project and the decision to set aside 100 jobs, as did the premier’s department, but only when asked.

The Veterans Employment Program, on the other hand, was announced by Premier Mike Baird and Minister for Veterans Affairs David Elliot with great fanfare, by comparison. An injured veteran and published author was chosen as its public face and there is a dedicated website replete with video, testimonials, messages from the key officials and tools for potential candidates, which tells of an “internal education program” across the public service.

A DPC spokesperson told The Mandarin the government believed that assisting with the resettlement of refugees for humanitarian reasons would also benefit the state in the long term:

“Refugees and humanitarian entrants settled in NSW bring with them the potential to significantly contribute to our community socially and economically. Research has shown that humanitarian entrants have made important contributions to Australia’s economy through their participation in the labour market and their role as entrepreneurs, over many generations.

“Finding stable, adequately remunerated and fulfilling employment has been identified as a key determinant of refugees’ ability to successfully engage in other aspects of society.

“There is a clear need for more to be done to assist refugees to enter the labour market, and to support their upward mobility through increased employment and business opportunities.”

Shergold said the jobs might only be for six months in some cases, but would fill genuine needs in the agencies and provide crucial early support to refugees, and would in no way undermine the merit principle.

“For refugees, it is often difficult to get the first job, because people ask ‘where’s your work experience in Australia?’ So to be able to have even that six months is nevertheless a big step up,” he said.

“I don’t think it undermines the merit principle any more than it does to say there may be certain positions specified for indigenous people which is quite normal or people with a disability.

“And we’re talking about 100 people in a workforce of over 300,000.”

Shergold said the push to find refugees jobs in NSW, including the 100 public sector jobs, would have to work in concert with other assistance and resettlement measures he has been organising and linking together. Anyone who wants to help out newly arrived refugees can volunteer through his “I can help” website.

“It may well be that if we can get someone who’s got overseas qualifications or trade skills and be able to let them start to work in a job in that area — not necessarily to the [level of the] professional or trade skills they’ve got — we can also work to make sure that they can undertake the level of English training they may require,” he explained.

“We can also work with universities and TAFEs in New South Wales to make sure they undertake the education they need to get their skills recognised in Australia.”

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