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Indigenous employment in Australian Government entities

Aboriginal Australians Torres Strait Islanders Employment Public sector Auditing Australia

This audit assessed whether Australian Government entities were implementing effective strategies to support increased Indigenous employment.

Audit objective, scope and criteria

The audit objective was to determine whether Australian Government entities were implementing effective strategies to support increased Indigenous employment.

In addition to considering trends across the Australian Government public sector, the ANAO gave specific attention to the following entities:

  • Former Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations;
  • Department of Human Services;
  • Department of Agriculture;
  • Australian Public Service Commission; and
  • Australian Federal Police.

The Administrative Arrangements Order of September 2013, transferred responsibility for Indigenous matters to the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (PM&C). This included reporting against the public sector employment target of the NPA‑IEP. In its general role of supporting the Australian Government’s engagement with COAG, and more particularly in relation to reporting on the NPA‑IEP, PM&C has been consulted during the audit.

To form a conclusion against this objective, the ANAO adopted the following high level criteria:

  • strategies are in place that encourage Indigenous applicants, support their career development and contribute to the Australian Government target of 2.7 per cent Indigenous representation by 2015;
  • human resource systems operate to collect meaningful, accurate and relevant Indigenous employment data which is used to inform practices and refine strategies; and
  • progress toward the target of 2.7 per cent representation is periodically reviewed and reported.

Overall conclusion

To promote increased Indigenous employment, Australian Government entities currently implement a range of strategies to support the recruitment and retention of Indigenous employees. These include: APS Special Measures and Identified Positions, and similar recruitment arrangements in non‑APS bodies, to attract and recruit Indigenous employees; Indigenous employee representative bodies, mentoring arrangements, and specialised training programs to enhance career development and increase retention; and cultural awareness training for non‑Indigenous employees to support an inclusive work environment. The development and implementation of these strategies reflects a commitment to increase Indigenous employment and retention. However, achieving the Australian Government’s overall target of 2.7 per cent Indigenous representation in the Australian Government public sector by 2015 is unlikely, based on current data and trends.

The target of 2.7 per cent included both APS agencies and other Australian Government bodies. In June 2013, Indigenous representation in the APS was reported by the APSC to be at 2.3 per cent, a decline from 2.9 per cent in 2001, to 2.7 per cent in 2004, and 2.5 per cent in 2010. While there are significant differences in the level of representation achieved by entities in the public sector, in general, most APS agencies (79 per cent) recorded less than 2 per cent Indigenous representation in their workforces. Overall, based on a total APS population of 167 257, Indigenous employees would need to number 4515, nearly 700 (669) more than are currently employed in the APS, to achieve 2.7 per cent representation in the APS.

The overall performance of non‑APS bodies is more difficult to assess as a coordinated reporting approach does not exist for these bodies as it does for APS agencies. However some individual entity reporting does exist, which shows, similar to APS agencies, there is considerable variability amongst individual non‑APS bodies. The ANAO reviewed a sample of reports from non‑APS bodies for the financial year 2012 –13 which indicated that Indigenous representation in these organisations varied from 0.11 per cent to 68 per cent. In particular, non‑APS bodies with an Indigenous‑specific service focus recorded higher representation. Based on available data for individual non‑APS bodies, it is likely that non‑APS bodies, in general, face similar challenges in recruiting Indigenous employees and contributing to the Australian Government target of 2.7 percent.

Achieving and sustaining employment targets rests on effective recruitment and retention approaches. There have been 1521 engagements of ongoing Indigenous employees since 2009–10. Against this trend however, a larger number of ongoing Indigenous employees (1592) have left the APS over the same period (2009–2013). As a result, despite the resources put into recruitment and retention initiatives, for the four years 2009–10 to 2012–13, there was a net loss of 71 ongoing Indigenous APS employees. A portion of the employees departing each year may be doing so for career development reasons, however, the high number of separations indicates that the selection of suitable candidates and their retention remain an issue for the APS and that, collectively, agencies are not gaining employment outcomes commensurate with their efforts.

Entities examined in detail by the ANAO, with some exception, had in place current, Indigenous‑specific plans which provided a variety of strategies and initiatives for the recruitment and retention of employees. The ability to monitor and report against these plans was however, limited. This was due, again with some exceptions, to the development of plans in isolation of broader workforce planning or business imperatives and resources required; initiatives implemented with few qualitative or quantitative performance measures linked to the intent of the initiative; and a lack of relevant coding in human resource (HR) systems to generate reports. At the broadest level however, there remains no comprehensive and coordinated reporting mechanism for the Australian Government public sector, nor current avenue, for collecting data from non‑APS bodies, to provide reports against the target.

The ANAO has made two recommendations. These are for the APSC, in consultation with other relevant bodies, to review the current broad based approach taken to achieving the Government’s policy of 2.7 per cent Indigenous representation; and also to modify the operation of the Pathways Program to provide a recruitment service that is more tailored to potential Indigenous applicants and agency demand.

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