Defence chief: ‘we’ve taken flak … but we know it’s the right direction’

By Harley Dennett

Thursday September 29, 2016

Senior Defence leadership are holding firm against criticism in News Corp newspapers over their diversity push.

Rather than pull back, the Australian Defence Force and the department are planning even more deliberate activities to diversify their workforce, including groups left out of whole-of-government efforts such as LGBTI.

It’s the right thing to do, fairer and improves operational capability, says Vice-Admiral Ray Griggs, the Vice-Chief of the Defence Force. He keynoted the second Military Pride Ball on Saturday, where it was announced a new Army LGBTI strategy would be released soon.

“[We’re] a group that has taken a lot of flak recently if you read the editorials in the major dailies,” Griggs said. “We’ve been accused of focusing more on diversity issues than our operational priorities.

“We’re not going to budge on the direction that we’re on because we know it’s the right direction, and we know it’s the right thing to do, and it results in a fairer and at the same time more capable ADF.”

Noting that the voices of intolerance were getting louder in Australia, Griggs said it was appropriate that “this conservative organisation” lead the way on tolerance.

“Every day I look around at what we do, whether it be here — we’ve got Fifth Brigade on its way to up to Forbes tonight to do flood relief, and of course we have people in harm’s way in the Middle East, and I am amazingly proud of what I see every single day and I am amazingly proud of you.”

Griggs told the LGBTI personnel to “stay strong, stay proud, be proud of who you are.”

APS sticking with limited diversity

diversitycouncil

At a time when state governments are looking beyond gender, ethnicity and disability in their whole-of-government inclusion and equality efforts — notably LGBTI, age and religion — the Commonwealth is yet to catch up.

A couple of federal departments and agencies, including Prime Minister and Cabinet and the Tax Office have gone it alone with the creation of employee affinity networks. They’re waiting for the secretaries’ board’s revamped diversity council — that’s the old logo from the defunct earlier effort on the right — to endorse LGBTI inclusion in existing whole-of-government diversity plans.

Beyond complying with Australian law to allow an option for neither male nor female on government forms, there has been little to show in LGBTI inclusion policy. Even the Attorney General’s Department has been gagged from meaningful engagement work with the LGBTI community amid the hyper-political same-sex marriage debate.

Senior officials have told The Mandarin that LGBTI, unlike gender and ethnicity, is seen as “too political” to include in diversity plans at the moment, and criticised what they said was a belief among some chief executives and commissioners that LGBTI is a “choice”.

Trailing the private sector

All tiers of the public sector have consistently trailed behind the private sector as an employer of choice for LGBTI workers. Corporations like PwC and Westpac have dominated the Australian Workplace Equality Index run by Pride in Diversity for their outreach and support for LGBTI employees on par with their work with other minority or disadvantaged groups.

Within the public sector, there’s a wide divide between public service agencies and uniformed entities like police and the Australian Defence Force. Despite many of the latter having significant historical antagonism towards the LGBTI community, they’re now leading the pack with long-established employee networks, and recruitment and engagement activities specifically looking at the LGBTI community and their events.

The Australian Federal Police’s Gay and Lesbian Liaison Officers (GLLO) network is this year celebrating 20 years of continuous operation, and state and territory police forces’ GLLO networks are not far behind.

These efforts aren’t merely token, and have had an impact. When Defence Recruiting first sent a team to canvass the Sydney Mardi Gras’ Fair Day community festival in Victoria Park, it received more than 20 times the number of viable expressions of interest it would typically receive at sporting events. Defence now appears consistently in the top 20 employers in the AWEI rankings, as does the AFP.

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