The Russell Taylor Oration is an annual event that celebrates the achievements and contributions of prominent Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the public service and aims to inspire the next generation of First Nations talent in the public sector.
Guest speaker: Jody Broun, CEO National Indigenous Australians Agency
This event has now concluded.
Well, welcome everybody to this year’s Russell Taylor oration.
Dhanggu nyuwayi Craig Ritchie, ngaya guri Dhanggati. Dhanggatigutun barri Gimbisiya watayiya, banduunggakayi mulumun gu.
My name’s Craig Ritchie, the CEO of AIATSIS but I’m a Dhunghutti – well, not ‘but’ – and I’m a Dhunghutti man. Our Country, Dhunghutti Country is around Kempsey on the mid-north coast of New South Wales. Our Country stretches from Walcha in the New England Ranges down to the Pacific Coast at Crescent Head. I also have connection to the Biripi people in Taree and the Guringay people up around Gloucester. And I’m really honoured to be here and to welcome you and to be part of this year's Russell Taylor Oration.
Can I begin by inviting Aunty Jude Barlow to the stage to give us a welcome to Country. Thanks, Jude.
Yuma – which is ‘hello’ in Ngunnawal, and is the Ngunnawal people’s gift to you all, so please use it when you’re on Ngunnawal Country to say ‘hi’, ‘g’day’, or ‘hello’.
Gulangga, Jude Barlow, and I am a Ngunnawal woman. My family are Wallabalooa people, a family group within the Ngunnawal nation. And it is an enormous privilege to welcome you all today to the land of my ancestors, in a place that I love. Now I’ve been an Australian public servant off and on now for 20 years. I’ve witnessed true excellence in the service and I feel proud to have served the people of this country and, in particular, mob in my own small way. I have also worked with some of the most diverse groups of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander APS employees across this country, and all of them contributors to something bigger than themselves. All valuable, and all of them truly capable people. I also had the privilege to work with Russell Taylor and delivered the welcome to Country at the Inaugural Russell Taylor Oration. So I feel truly honoured once again to deliver today's welcome.
And at that welcome, I spoke about how Russell had rescued me and how he did not see a tired and, at that stage, worn out person. What he did see was my value. And he valued me every day. He would stand up at events after I’d delivered a welcome and tell the audience that I was an important part of this team. And his words buoyed me. So, for me, Russell demonstrated excellence in the APS. He demonstrated good leadership by leading from the front. And as we all know, leadership – good leadership – is so important in why we stay in a workplace. What did ‘they’ say – ‘people don't leave a workplace, they leave a poor manager’? Or something like that. And as John Quincey Adams said: ‘If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, and do more and become more, you are a leader.’
And today, I acknowledge not only Russ, and of course Jody, but I acknowledge all my Indigenous brothers and sisters, elders and very special guests also present. I especially acknowledge Craig Ritchie and Len Hill, CEO and Deputy CEO of AIATSIS respectively, and I thank them for their inspired leadership and kindness to me.
Now we, Ngunnawal people, we have lived, hunted and raised our families on this beautiful country for over 30,000 years. And our story is one of struggle but eventual redemption, because our hearts and our voices still sing our values, our culture and the spirits that lead us. For we know who we are, and we celebrate that. Now I would like to welcome you to the land of my ancestors in the language of my ancestors. A language once thought dead, but we know it was only sleeping. And with the help of AIATSIS we, the Ngunnawal people, have awoken it.
Yanggu ngalamanyin dhunimanyin
Mara bidji mulanggari djinyila
Gulambununyi yarabininyin naraganawalininyin
Nguna Yarabi yanggu
Yumalundi Ngunnwalwari dhawuarwari
And this means:
Today we’re all gathering together on Ngunnawal Country and this Country is my ancestor’s spiritual homeland. And we are keeping the pathways of our ancestors alive by walking together as one. Welcome to Ngunnawal Country.
Thank you, Jude, for that wonderful, as always, welcome to Country. I did note that particular inflection on the word ‘kindness’ as she looked at me. I didn’t know whether that was an expression of gratitude or an instruction to be kind. I’ll take it as both.
Thank you Jude, I also would like to acknowledge that we are on Ngunnawal Country and pay my respects to Jude, you, your elders, your community past, present and emerging, and acknowledge your continuing connection and custodianship of this Country that we get to live and work on.
Can I also extend that respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples here with us today, and non-Indigenous friends and colleagues who are here. I would just like to take the opportunity to acknowledge a few people in the room. Anne Stewart from Comcare. Dr James Johnson from Geoscience. Annette Blyton on behalf of the head of the Murray Darling Basin Authority. Andy Smith, I think I saw you, Andrew, great to be here, representing Sally and National Capital Authority. Brian Dawson, I saw you representing Matt Anderson from the War Memorial. Emerson Radisich from M16 Artspace. Dr Matt Trinca, a good friend and neighbour – we share a car park, and then we share many other things as well – from the National Museum of Australia. And Sam Reinhardt from Treasury on behalf of Steven Kennedy.
Russ Taylor, my predecessor, sadly is unwell and unable to be with us today. But he did contact me and ask me to pass on his best wishes for today’s oration and commending me on the choice of our orator, this year, in Jody, who I'll say some more about in a moment.
So we're pleased to host a hybrid event – so guests here, of course, in the Stanner Room at Maraga, the home of AIATSIS, as well as a large audience online. I think, at last count we were between five and six hundred registrants for online. And my, how the world has changed. And so we're glad that you’re able to join us. So, I would also like to extend my acknowledgement and respect of Country to First Nations people wherever people from, who are joining us online, are joining from.
A particular welcome to Jody Broun, CEO of the National Indigenous Australians Agency, who’s going to share her thoughts on how the public sector can increase retention of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. A major challenge for us all. And we heard Minister Gallagher speak yesterday about a target of 5 per cent for First Nations participation in the APS. And so, an exciting time and a challenging period ahead for us. And while the APS has improved the recruitment of First Nations staff, we do have ongoing challenges with retention. Jody will unpack these challenges and offer ideas to improve First Nations peoples’ experience of the public service.
After Jody’s presentation we will, there will be an opportunity for questions both online and in the room. And you know you’re old when you say: ‘So we're going to do that sort of Parkinson-style?’ and people just look at you blankly, and wonder what, what you’re talking about, when actually there are some of us in the room will know who we’re talking about when you say that.
So, there’ll be opportunity for you to ask some questions. We aim to conclude proceedings by about 2pm.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with AIATSIS, we’re the only national institution with an exclusive remit around the history, stories, cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. In 2024, we’ll be 60 years old. And so, we’ve been around for a little while, and we have a very simple mission.
It’s to tell our stories, and uniquely as First Nations people curating our own stories to the nation and to the world. To create opportunities for people to experience a transformative engagement with that story – those stories and cultures. To provide support and to facilitate cultural resurgence in our communities around the country. And the fourth element of our mission is to speak to our national story. To own our place as one of the national cultural institutions speaking to how we understand ourselves.
What’s the story that Australia tells itself about itself and tells the world? And to do that in a way that brings the story of First Nations people to the centre rather than being on the periphery. And in so doing open up to the whole nation access to that story of Australia, that we know stretches back way beyond 1788, way beyond 1770, back for 65,000 years. And what a joy it is to be part of an institution that’s doing that work.
The Russ Taylor Oration is part of our storytelling endeavour. Because we want to speak to the achievements of First Nations Australians – First Nations Australians, not just in terms of history, not just in terms of looking back, but in terms of how we embody our indigeneity, how we embody our identity as First Nations people in Australia in the 21st century.
And part of that is exemplified in the life of Russell Taylor AM. Russell/s a Kamilaroi man and was the longest serving principal/CEO of AIATSIS. And at the time that he retired from the role in, at the end of 2016 was, I think – without a, without doubt actually – the most senior Aboriginal public servant in the Commonwealth. His career spanned more than 30 years in various senior executive positions. Russell, for those of you that know him – it says was a leader – Russell IS a leader, he continues to lead, albeit from a very odd kind of retirement, where you’re just flat out busy. A leader, a mentor, an inspiration, and a friend to Indigenous people and staff across the public sector.
In 2015 he was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia for his service to the community as a cultural leader and a leader in the public sector. The first Russell Taylor Oration, in 2017, featured Russell. He urged the public sector to find, rather presciently, find better ways to engage with Indigenous Australians, particularly those already in the workforce. He emphasised having visible, accessible Indigenous role models in senior public sector positions and the difference that that would make.
So keeping with that theme, Jody Broun was an obvious choice to present today. Jody is a Yindjibarndi woman from Western Australia who has maintained strong connections to Pilbara Country, community and culture throughout her life. Jody is passionate about social justice, community-led co-design, and changing the way that government works with First Nations communities and stakeholders.
Over the past 30 years, Jody’s held various senior positions in the government and the not-for-profit sectors – including Executive Director of Aboriginal Housing and infrastructure in WA; Director of Equal Opportunity in Public Employment, Western Australia; Director-General of the Department of Aboriginal Affairs in New South Wales. Jody was co-chair of the National Congress of Australia’s First Peoples, and Director of New South Wales and ACT for the Red Cross. And I think immediately before you came to the warm embrace of Canberra, Chief Executive of the Aboriginal Housing Office in New South Wales, I think a job that Russell had held as well.
In February of this year, Jody was appointed as Chief Executive Officer at National Indigenous Australians Agency. Over the course of her career, she has been responsible for delivering community and state-wide policy and programs, developed and contributed to national policy reforms. The breadth of her experience across a number of portfolio areas is remarkable.
Also an artist. We may have had some of her work in the collection.
She was awarded the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Art Award in 1988 and the Canberra Art Award in 2005. But even if that’s not enough to keep her busy, she has also completed a Master’s degree in Philosophy at the University of Western Australia, specialising in Aboriginal literature. And I venture to suggest that if there’s a dearth of anything in the academy it’s good Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander philosophers and thinkers.
Jody has clearly much that she can teach us and it’s my great pleasure, distinguished guests, to invite you to join me in welcoming Jody Broun to deliver the Russell Taylor Oration for 2022.
Thank you. Thank you, Craig. I always hate listening to my own bio read out, but anyway.
Look, can I start off by thanking Aunty Jude for her welcome to Country, that was really special and a great reminder of, I suppose, the importance of the revitalisation of First Nations languages and how important that it is around Australia. And it’s happening everywhere, but really great to see that being used and Yuma.
But also in my own language: wanthiwa. I was going to say a few words in Ngunnawal as well, but now I feel embarrassed because Aunty Jude did so well, so I won’t do that. But I will acknowledge the Ngunnawal people and their custodianship of this land for millennia and acknowledge elders, past, present and emerging. But I’ll also acknowledge the other Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in this room and obviously in the meeting, and I'm assuming you've got some people online as well, yeah? And I’ll pay respects to the elders and ancestors of all of those First Nations peoples.
So, as Russell said, I’ve been in the role now for about eight months, I think it is this week. In fact, it’s eight months today, it’s the 14th, I started on the 14th of, 14th of February as CEO of the National Indigenous Australians Agency.
And that's going to – that's my phone, I’m going to have to, sorry everyone.
Yes, so, I’ve been there eight months and it’s been a very big eight months as you can imagine. Coming in with one government, then having a caretaker period, and then a new government, which has a, which has a very ambitious agenda for First Nations people.
But very exciting times for all of us. And you’ve probably heard that there is going to be a referendum in the first term of parliament for the enshrinement of a Voice to Parliament for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. That’s a huge thing. That’s a huge thing for the nation, it’s a huge thing for us as an agency, to get that underway. But I think it really will go a long way to the healing and rightful place of First Nations people in this country.
And, if successful, a Voice will provide that permanent means of a Voice to Parliament, advising parliament and government on the views of First Nations people on those matters that affect them. And I sort of – I sort of see that, they, they do say that often, ‘matters that affect them’. And I think: ‘how do you contain that?’ Everything is going to affect First Nations people. So, I’m not sure it will be as simple to say: ‘well you only get to talk about this bit of legislation, or this bit of policy’ because I think it's actually much more broad than that.
And to that end I do want to explore how as a public service, not only can we support the Voice and support the process to leading up to the referendum, but also how can we transform our organisations, our departments, our agencies, in terms of heightening and elevating the Aboriginal voice within those departments and agencies. And that includes bringing in and retaining more Indigenous public servants, having that lived experience, having their expertise, and valuing that expertise that people bring to the public service. And making sure that that is part of government decision-making processes.
I mean, I’ve been pretty, I suppose since I’ve started in February, pretty impressed by the way departments and agencies are willing to embrace that voice within their own departments, within their reference groups, within their advisory groups, within all the other mechanisms that we have in play. But you still having to remind people to do that on occasion as well. So, I think it would be really important that we actually explore how that might look in the future, what the expectations are, and also how we, as a public service, as I said, can support the process to get us to that referendum and the Voice to Parliament.
And it’s a real honour to do that in the context of the Russell Taylor Oration and I do want to thank AIATSIS for inviting me to speak on this occasion. And as you have that association with Russell, as we all know, Russell delivered that inaugural oration in his name. When he did that, he was one of the most senior Indigenous people in the Australian public service. And, in fact, probably in any public service, state or federal at that point. And he had a very illustrious career across SES roles, including CEO of AIATSIS. And I think his leadership, you know, still has set that sort of benchmark as a tireless campaigner – not just for the public sector but for this institute as well. And I think, you know, really well-regarded right across the sector.
And I know, I knew Russell even before I started in New South Wales. When I moved over from WA, we already were associated because of the various things we were doing that overlapped, including in Aboriginal housing. So, I did know about Russell and admired the work he was doing at that point. In fact, I think I even applied for this job at one point when it was vacant, not recently, but quite some time ago. Because I think he did actually really engender that respect, but also really had such a passion around the work that he was doing, both in AIATSIS but in his other roles as well. So really, really honoured to be delivering this oration today and what's now regarded as the most senior public servant – Aboriginal public service, servant in the APS. So, thank you for that invitation.
As Craig said, Russell and I were both at different times, not at the same time, but at different times, we were both CEO of the Aboriginal Housing Office and as I said, we had crossed paths earlier. And like Russell I’ve sort of moved into the Commonwealth government and heading up a Commonwealth government agency. So, we’ve sort of followed each other, I suppose in lots of ways, in our careers as well. And I hope to be as successful and inspiring as Russell was and sort of leave that mark and inspire some younger Indigenous leaders to come behind us as well.
We know there’s lots of young, really talented Indigenous people out there, who really will come along and blaze their own trails, but hopefully we've laid some groundwork for them. Hopefully, in the work that I’m leading in the NIAA, but of course the sector as well, we can actually make their run a bit easier as well. And make sure that they are well respected for the difference they bring, not because they’re going to be great public servants, but what’s the difference they bring to those roles. So, I mentioned the referendum, but there is a whole range of other reform going on around Indigenous affairs. And so, it is a really exciting time to be leading the NIAA at this point.
And it’s also what I found when I came into NIAA – huge amount of really talented, strong, inspiring people, both Indigenous and non-Indigenous. Really committed to making that difference for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Making sure people are recognised, heard and respected and empowered. And we do that within NIAA, but wouldn't it be fantastic if it was done right across the sector in a similar way as well, so that we’re getting those results right across the sector. And I’ll come back to that point, because that’s really the difference we need to see. So, with NIAA, our purpose is a really simple one. It probably doesn’t sound that way, but it is, and it’s to work in genuine partnership to enable the self-determination and aspirations of First Nations communities. And to lead and influence change across government to ensure Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have a say in the decisions that affect them.
So, as you say, as I said, it’s simple. And we do have a new government with ambitious agenda, which gives us a lot of, I suppose, a lot of excitement. But also, we’re in a mild panic in terms of how much we’ve got to do. One of the, I think, really strong points about NIAA is that we have a very large national footprint. We’ve got about 70 offices right around Australia. You know, that goes to that point we need to work with community on the ground. You know, try and realise as I said, their ambitions and aspirations for their communities. Try and make sure that we can package up that from across government, not just NIAA.
And over the past eight months that I’ve been in the role, I’ve actually tried to get to a lot of those, a lot of those communities and offices. It's not as easy as you think. It’s a big country as you can appreciate, I’m sure. So, I have been to Katherine and Alice Springs and Cairns, even this week I've been to Cairns and Yarrabah, and up to Port Douglas and out to Mossman Gorge. That was just this week. And then the week before, I was in the Torres Strait on a few islands and on obviously meeting with the Torres Strait Regional Authority. You know, just lots and lots of work. And the week before that I was in Broome and then I was up on the, on the Cape as well – Lombadina – and out to Derby and out to Fitzroy Crossing.
So, lots and lots to do and I haven’t got there yet. I sort of challenge myself to get to as many of my offices and stakeholders as I could in this year. I’ve still got a few to get to. I have, you know, the list is already long, but there’s still a few I haven’t got to. And particularly we have a lot of single small offices with one person in them. In places like Yuendumu, we’ve got an office, I haven’t got there yet. But, you know, it’s really important that our staff are part of those communities and they work to those communities. And many of them are actually from those communities. And our employment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in those communities is actually really high. And in some locations, in fact when I went to Derby, the Derby office there was one non-Indigenous person out of the whole office, all the rest were Derby people born and bred. And it was fantastic to see not only their passion for what the work they’re doing, but that strong connection back into community as well.
So, you know, it’s really important that we continue to employ people from those communities. They know what the issues are, they know what their local politics are, they know the mood and the sentiment, and they sort of, keep us in touch with community as well. And it's what we need to be as an agency, I think, is that visibility on the ground.
And we can also – we use that network right across Australia to really mobilise quickly and support communities. As you can imagine, things like the floods, the fires – whole range of other things that have been going on, we’re there on the ground and can listen to what communities want and get on with business and help them and support them through any of those, any of those sorts of extremes. But things like we supported the Warlpiri Youth Development Aboriginal Corporation to deliver culturally-sensitive mental health support to the Yuendumu community following the death in custody last year. And that’s then on ongoing process. Okay, it’s not a point in time, it’s someone on the ground – in fact I think I’ve got to cut two staff at Yuendumu – supporting that community through what’s been a very traumatic period in their, in their time as well. And that’s ongoing as I said.
And then also working with community representatives and organisations to expedite the uptake of COVID-19 vaccinations in those vulnerable communities at the height of the pandemic as well. And that included doing things like carnival days, vaccine drives and that was, that was driving people to appointment. And also getting local respected leaders and elders to actually do that door-to-door engagement as well. And those are ideas that came from the community, okay, not from us. They were the – the ideas came from the community themselves and our people would work with them and make sure that that happened.
That community ownership of the policies and programs is becoming much more common – not just for NIAA, but for all agencies to work with First Nations peoples to let them do the driving, let them do the decision-making about what their community needs are. And as Craig was saying, I’m really very committed to that community decision-making and empowerment. I think one of the failures of government and also an impact of the intervention in the Northern Territory has been NOT to invest in community governance and leadership over that whole period. But we haven’t done it well anywhere else, as well.
So, in the first Closing the Gap, there was some – there’s a number of streams with targets, one of which was governance and it was sadly neglected through that whole period of Closing the Gap. So, while there was a lot of effort and focus, I think, on things like getting kids to pre-schools and things like that, there was very little on the community governance. And I think we’ve got to do a lot more investing in that.
So, I have made that a really backbone. A lot of the work I’ve done over the last sort of 30 years in the public sector and the not-for-profit sector, is giving that voice and that decision making to the community. Sharing that power is really important and it’s not – it’s not easy for a lot of bureaucrats, can I say, actually handing over the power and saying: ‘well, you guys do this and here's the, here’s the money to do it’. But we need to also make sure that people have the tools they need to lead their communities, and that they, you know, that they can, they’re supported in that process.
And even when I was recently up in Torres Strait, you know, you go and meet with the Torres Strait Regional Authority and the CEO, Vonda Malone, you know – they do need support, they’ve got the ideas, but they do need the support to make, to make those, to make that work for them. And we’ve got to sort of get out of the way, but at the same time stand alongside them or behind them to make sure that they can take that lead.
The other thing I’ve learnt – and I’ve, because I’ve worked in Indigenous affairs a lot and you’re often the smallest agency in government and even in NIAA, we’re pretty small compared to a lot of the big departments – so you’ve got to actually use your influence, you’ve got to punch above your weight. But you’ve also got to work and collaborate with those other departments to get things done. And so, we do that a lot as well.
We've got this really big agenda and it isn’t just up to NIAA to deliver on that, it will be up to every government agency to deliver, and so collaboration is that key. So, for all of those agencies out there, we’re looking all the time for how do we partner with agencies, how do we work together, to make those achievements, become a reality. And, as I said, not only is there the Voice to Parliament and a referendum that needs to be managed, and we’re working really strongly with Attorney-General’s Department on that, but we’ve got Closing the Gap as a huge ambitious agenda as well, with only seven and a half years before we have to you know, report against those targets.
There’s a lot of ongoing reporting, but we’re supposed to meet those targets in seven and a half years. We’ve got a lot of work to do. In fact, I was, you know, you look at some of the figures, and some of them aren't on track at all. And we’re going to have to put extra energy, we’re going to have to accelerate effort on those targets if we’re going to meet them.
But we know we can do that, we know we can mobilise as a public sector, we did that through COVID. I think if anything it taught us that when there was a real challenge we can get together, we can share data all of a sudden, and we can actually resolve issues but also pull some levers and do things really quickly. And I think one of the things it taught us is you can’t, you can’t get everything perfectly right every time you need to do something. You might make mistakes. When you’re rolling things out quite quickly to respond to things, you might well make mistakes.
In fact, I was up at Brisbane yesterday and having a meeting with the Family Responsibilities Commission which includes – Noel Pearson’s on that board as well. And just talking about education, particularly in those Cape York communities and what I’d say is a real failure of government to actually respond to those communities and do things differently and look for solutions. And we need to accelerate the effort in this if we're ever going to meet the Closing the Gap targets. And, sadly, we've got a long way to go.
And I did want to talk about Closing the Gap just a little bit because it is a context of the rest of what I was going to talk about in terms of Aboriginal engagement and recruitment and retainment. But as you know, we’ve all signed up – all governments including local government have signed up with the Coalition of Peaks to a national agreement on Closing the Gap. We’ve got 17 targets and hopefully soon to be 18 with the inclusion of an inland water target, that’s yet to be signed off by first ministers. The 17 targets are fine, you know, these are the things that are going to tell us whether we’re on track and we’re doing the right thing, and it’s really important to focus our energy on those 17 targets. But the real work happens around the priority reform areas, and there’s four priority reforms.
One is around partnership and shared decision-making with First Nations people. And that’s really critical. It goes to the points that I was making earlier about, you know, the community know what they want and let them make the decisions. The second is building that community-controlled sector, and how do we actually make sure that they have the capacity capability and we’re supporting them. As I said, with the Torres Strait Regional Authority, for instance, to get on and do their business as well. And then there’s lots of actions among both of those. There’s another one around data and sharing access to data particularly at the regional level, so that communities can make informed decisions on what their priorities are, and also to hold us all to account.
The third one, and I’m leaving it until last, is about transforming government agencies, government organisations. And it says: ‘governments, their organisations and institutions are culturally safe and responsive to the needs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, including the services they fund’. So, that's the priority of reform, but the target is to decrease the proportion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who have experience of racism – as part of being either in the department or serviced by those departments. So, that’s what will get measured, but it’s a much broader priority reform than that and goes to the way that we work as a public sector.
So, if I go back to when Russell first delivered his oration in 2017, and the sort of challenge that he threw out then. But at that point Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander representation in the APS was just 2.4 per cent. And the, I suppose, the ambition at that point was to get parity with population. So that was 3 per cent. The government has come in with a target of 5 per cent across the public sector. So even more ambitious and a lot more work to do because we’re not there yet. We’re sitting at the moment about three and a half per cent, and have been for a while.
And while we’ve made some of that progress, we’ve got to do a lot more work, in order to get more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people into the public sector. And I will link that back to the priority of reform, because it changes the culture of organisations and departments when you have a greater representation as well. You’ll have Aboriginal people’s lived experience, their cultural values in the public sector as well. So there’s lots of work we need to do to reach not only 3 per cent more universally, because some of us are doing the heavy lifting – for instance, NIAA are sitting at about 23 per cent. And, as I said, and some of our regional offices even higher than that.
But we can't leave it to a few to do the heavy lifting for the others and I do challenge all of the secretaries around that very regularly as well. So there has been that increase, but I think you’ve also got to look at where people sit. And unfortunately, a lot of people are in the lower-level classifications as well. And we need to see more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people throughout departments and agencies, throughout the levels, in senior roles and we haven’t done enough at bringing in more executive and senior executive Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. And again, it’s an area I think, we really need to focus attention on.
I know from the work that I’ve done, that there’s really no shortage of Indigenous talent out there. People are there, so why aren’t they coming in droves to work in the public sector? I think we've got a, we’ve got probably a bit of a message to get out there about what we stand for, what we stand for as values, and what’s the exciting work we as a public sector do to encourage people to come. So are we doing enough in that? Is our brand attractive enough? I'm not sure we understand enough about why Indigenous candidates might come to the public sector and what would attract them. And I’m not even sure that we’ve done enough to ask them what would attract them as well.
So, we’re facing lots of challenges. I think, you know, I think we’re all sort of poaching off each other. We don’t have enough already and then we sort of quickly going in and getting secondment from someone else or getting someone else. We actually have to bring in some more people into the public sector. We will never meet the targets without that, and the targets are pretty high already, and you add that 5 per cent, it’s going to make it even harder to reach those targets.
We also face some challenges around retaining Indigenous staff. So the figures are that most Indigenous public sector employees last around four years in the public service and that’s compared to a 13-year average for non-Indigenous employees.
So, really I’d want to look, think about what are some of the reasons behind that and how we can collectively take that action, to improve, not only those numbers but the experience people are having. And we all do those census reports once a year and people can say what experience they’re having in the public sector. And unfortunately, even in NIAA, people’s experience of bullying, harassment and discrimination is quite high. And you’ve got to make sure people are feeling culturally safe in their workplace as well. And that means changing cultures more broadly, but it’s sort of like the chicken and egg, because you actually need the people in – in particularly those senior roles to help change that culture.
When I was working at my last job, I was not only head of Aboriginal Housing in New South Wales – again a very small agency, maybe 150 people, very high levels of Aboriginal employment. But I was also leading work across the whole Department of Planning Industry and Environment on an Aboriginal strategy, which we called Our place on Country.
Because all of the agencies in that department were doing things on Country. So, it might have been national parks, planning, water, other parts of government bundled together, and it was a real opportunity to do something different. And not only did we attract more senior people into roles, because of the exciting work that we were doing, but also we challenged every single group within that department to do better. To have Indigenous people leading their – particularly their Closing the Gap, but their other work, like an Indigenous water strategy. You need a senior Aboriginal person to lead that work. ‘You can’t’ – you know, that was the sort of messaging.
And so, within the two years I was doing that work, we went from six Indigenous employees, largely working in Aboriginal housing with me, to 15. And that meant we had senior leaders almost through every part of the department and plans to increase that as well. So then it changes the sort of culture, the conversations, and the leadership of the organisation.
So, that’s why I think it’s so important that we do that work at the senior level. And then you can attract, I mean it’s not that you won’t also bring in people at other levels but I think, the senior leadership is where we really need to make up some more difference.
So, I do want to sort of talk about that a bit, but also, what is that First Nations value proposition for the public sector. And I know the people I talk to in NIAA and myself, we’re in the public sector because we want to make a difference. We want to see change for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in this country and we feel that these are good roles to do that and the public sector is a good place to start. But I think we have to make sure that that value proposition is there for people we want to encourage to come into the public sector. So I think we’ve got to ask some questions around why people are leaving, but also have we got the right sort of attraction for people to come into the public sector, and particularly around how healthy is our cultural environment, so that people will actually join us. So, all of those, all agencies are responsible for Closing the Gap and especially around that workforce participation.
So, there are some departments who have got a few targets they’ve got to meet in terms of the socio-economic targets, but all of us are signed up for the four priority reforms. We’ve all got to do better in that space. And we’re currently working with a number of departments around a maturity model, around how do we measure that across the sector, and how do we improve that right across the sector. And I will be reporting twice a year to the Secretary’s Board around how well they’re doing – against the priority reforms themselves, and the targets within the priority reforms.
One of the big ones, and then there might be a proxy for a whole range of things, is going to be employment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people – both for retention, advancement and all of those things. So, as I said, Russell, I think, said that right back in 2017, that Indigenous employment was everyone’s business and needed to be everyone’s business. And shouldn’t be just left up to a few of us to do that heavy lifting. And in fact, I sat on a plane last night sitting next to, I think, the Deputy Commissioner from the ATO and that was quite interesting. We were having a bit of a chat about the Aboriginal employment within the ATO. So that was a good chat. The flight back from Brisbane was very quick, having a great chat about Aboriginal employment and issues related to that.
But also challenging, like have to go to every single agency.
We can’t say to some agencies, well you don’t have to, you don’t have to do it because you’re actually not having that connection with Aboriginal people so much. Every single part of government has to take this seriously. So … and you probably have seen the Commonwealth Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander workforce strategy that goes from 2020 to ’24. And it provides us a really good framework for achieving those targets. And one of its key aims is to improve the employee experience for all First Nations people across the Commonwealth. And it also acknowledges that each Commonwealth public sector workplace has varying levels of maturity and cultural integrity, but that we've all got to do better.
And that we've all got different representation levels as well, but we’ve got to, as I said, all departments and agencies might do this slightly differently, but we need to measure the outcomes at the end of the day. And if we’re going to meet the targets that are in the workforce strategy, we’ve got a long way to go. I think it’s something like 900 people we need to bring in at the APS 4 to 6 level. There’s about 1500 for EL1, EL2 if we’re going to meet the target there. And there’s about 106 for SES if we’re going to meet that target.
So, the first target is due this year, okay, for APS 4 to 6. We’re not going to meet it. At all. Not unless people are going to run around in the next two months and employ a lot of people. And the others aren’t due until ’24. But it’s, you know, I still think we’ve got a long way to go if we’re going to meet those targets that are in that workforce strategy that we all signed up to. So, if you haven’t read it, you should actually pay some attention to it. But, as I said, the government has come in with a more ambitious agenda, and that will mean that we need to do more.
So, what do we know, I suppose, about why people come into the public sector and why they might leave? I did talk a little bit about the sort of competition that we have, and I think there’s Aboriginal and Torres Islander people out there with any talent at all – and I shouldn’t say it, I don’t mean it like that, don’t take offence – have got their choice of jobs at the moment. There are jobs going begging in the private sector, in the not-for-profit sector, in the public sector – we’re all competing for the same people and we’ve got to make it a really attractive workforce. We’ve got to have that value proposition for employees that makes them want to come and work for us. Because the competition is there and it’s pretty sharp.
And I know people, we’ve looked across people who have left NIAA – they usually go into another job in another department, usually with a promotion. And so we know where we’re sort of, I don’t mind being the nurturing department that helps, you know, grow people and then they go and work at other departments, but we’ve got to do more as a whole of APS to make sure we get enough talent – talented Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
We know people want a diverse range of career choices and pathways, and some of our careers focus on delivering outcomes for their communities and what does that look like? I’ve talked to you about some of the, some of my team who are out in communities and from those communities very committed to the outcomes for their communities. But others, and we know there’s … that there’s lots of numbers of people coming through, through universities with really, you know, great degrees in law, economics, education. And how do we actually tap that group as well? Because they all bring unique talents to the public sector.
We can’t assume that people all want to work in the community. Some of them want to do fantastic policy work and I’ve got some amazing team members in NIAA who – that’s their focus and passion. They might want to be in IT, they might be in the data area, they might want to be in the grants area, it doesn’t really matter. I think it’s about actually bringing people in and make sure that they’re recognised and valued, but also, they can make some decisions about their career.
One of the other points I think is worth making is we tend to advertise a lot of our roles in the ACT, or in Canberra, and we actually need to do more to have people out in regions. And I think if anything, we’ve now, we know that people can work online, people can work anywhere and still get the job done, and I think COVID taught us that but we’re still expecting people to come into Canberra for roles and I think we've got to, you know, swap that a little bit as well. It’s like when I looked at, look at my profile of my staff, about 70 per cent are in Canberra, and about 30 per cent are out in the regions, and I actually think we need to, you know, get that balance a lot better than it is now. And there is a report out called The Regionalisation Ambition. It’s about rebalancing the nation. And that is about making sure people can work wherever they like and might be in other parts of Australia, not all in Canberra.
So, I think we’ve got to do a bit more of that. And just look at every single job and say: ‘does that really need to be in Canberra? How do we attract the right people if they don't want to move to Canberra?’ And I’d be looking at every job and saying: ‘Why would that job be here? Why couldn’t someone be doing from Dubbo? Why couldn’t someone be doing it from Cairns, or anywhere else in Australia?’ Really question our assumptions on that basis. Because I think if people have a choice of being away from Country, away from family, or being in Canberra, often they’ll stay where they are. And so we’re not attracting the best talent out there.
I just think we know that we can make that work, and I just think not just for NIAA but all agencies need to be making those decisions. And we need that flexibility right across all of our sector.
So, an APSC-commissioned report, that was undertaken by ANU recently, examined the enablers and barriers to support or impede career progression of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employees in the APS. And it included a few interesting observations and findings, including that informal relationships with mentors and managers form the key enabler for career advancement, and generally play a more important role than other institutional measures – such as formal mentoring, and study and development programs, affirmative measures, and family friendly provisions. That, I don’t find that surprising. I think it’s really, it’s an interesting finding, but I’m not that surprised by it.
It also found that operational constraints, limited regional opportunities, poor management practices and a lack of institutional valuing of Indigenous skills and leadership styles are barriers to advancement. And I think that’s all supported by the review of the last Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander workforce strategy, which found those key enablers of greater representation at all classification levels included: strong commitment and leadership at senior levels, which is why we need to focus on the senior people; Indigenous employee networks are important; reconciliation action plan commitments are important; the manager's commitment and cultural competence; human resource support; and connections to agency priorities.
And I think that last one is really important, is that people – I do find with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff they want to feel really strongly connected to the values and the work and mission of your department. And I think you've got to sell that as ‘what's the employee value proposition that we as an agency have?’ And we've been doing some work internally on that in NIAA.
We’ve got to have pathways that invest in people. Not only support people to grow and develop in the organisation, but also make you an attractive employer and establish that reputation as an employer that provides opportunities for career progression, and recruitment and retention will become easier. And as I said, we sort of in my DPIE role started at the top, started bringing in more senior people, telling the story of what we were standing for as a department. And it was about the leadership in that department, and Jim Betts who is now the secretary in that really long-named department that includes regional development – a few other things I can never remember, the whole title, Infrastructure's in there – he was instrumental and pretty much led the department in such a way that really valued people coming into that department.
And I’m hoping he can do the same thing here in the APS as well as the secretary of that department. It doesn’t even have a catchy … it doesn’t even have a catchy acronym. But he also challenged all his team and he let me lead across the whole department on Aboriginal strategy. But backed it in the whole way. So that leadership is so important to setting the culture of the department and he did that really well.
So, there is a range of things we’re all doing that – we’ve already got the Indigenous graduate pathway; we've got Services Australia’s Indigenous apprenticeships program; we’ve got … DEWR have an Indigenous government development program; we’ve got the ATO’s Evergreen Program, which I found out more about last night on the plane. And we’ve got Defence’s Indigenous ADF pathways.
And so there is lots of pathways supporting Indigenous employees through tailored mentoring, peer support and leadership. So, it does help at that level and it has helped with bringing more people in. But it’s at, as I said, those lower-level classifications and entry level. And we need to build on those, and we need to design quality programs that create that new pipeline of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander talent for promotion into the more senior roles.
Offering those meaningful careers – keeping people longer than the four years – I think, means you’ve got to, people might need to move. I think in the roles I’ve been, I’m usually bored about four years in, and then I’m looking for something else. So, if my job doesn’t change substantially or something else doesn’t come up, I’m looking for something else. And that’s been fairly consistent throughout my career, but we’ve got to make sure people have those paths and they might have some opportunities to go to other parts of the sector as well if we’re going to really open up those opportunities and attract and retain that Indigenous talent.
So, I can’t really stress strongly enough the importance of the cultural safety integrity in our workplaces. And that’s not the responsibility for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who are in your workplace, it’s the responsibility of the whole department and agency.
One of the things we did that was quite unique – and I was a little bit sceptical about in the department in New South Wales – was they started a what was almost a reverse mentoring. So it was a cultural mentoring where we matched an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander person with cultural integrity and they had to meet certain criteria with one of the senior leaders. So everyone in our senior team – all the group dep secs and secretary – all were matched to a First Nations person who was there to do cultural mentoring.
Now that meant different things for each of them, but it built really strong relationships. And both the mentor and the mentee in that relationship got a lot out of that, out of that – out of that mentoring relationship. Including, you know, people starting inviting them to their family home for lunches and dinners and things like that. It really built a strong relationship, but it meant that those non-Indigenous senior people within the department started to understand that the work they did had a huge impact culturally within the department, and they could ring up their mentor and say ‘well I’ve got this issue how could I, how could I resolve this, or what would you suggest?’ So they were taking that advice from that, generally, a junior Aboriginal person within the department.
So, I think there’s – we know we’ve got that, the principles in the public sector around having flexible and safe and rewarding workplaces. We know we’ve got responsibility for that, but we do have to do a lot more in the space of making a cultural safe work environment for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. And it’s not something you just do at NAIDOC week, it’s not just something you do with a bit of a message on Sorry Day or something like that, it’s actually something that is ongoing every single day of the year within your departments.
And it needs to also be developed with the Aboriginal staff. What do they need to see, what would they like to see, and how are they part of that process as well? We have something called the Footprints program in NIAA, it’s embedded. It’s about strengthening cultural competency of all staff, and it has minimum standards, but also it’s up to those individuals to build their confidence and competence and confidence, by working and looking for those opportunities in and outside of the organisation and department. They might go to events, they might, you know, watch a movie, they might read a book, but it’s about growing their own cultural competency.
And it requires all of the staff to take a real interest in that. And they have to do 100 professional development points throughout each year. And each thing they do adds up to that. So, it’s not about us you know, people having to do another course and quickly do something online, or come along to an NAIDOC Day event or something like that. They have to be more in control of that and take responsibility for that learning. So I do think we’ve got a lot of work to do to make sure that the APS is culturally responsive, culturally safe for Aboriginal people, but also we’ve got to sell more in our messaging so that people might be more attracted to the public service.
And I think one of the things that happens, and it happens to all of us, is that if you’re the senior Aboriginal person or even if you’re not the senior, you might be more junior in a department, you get called on to have the Aboriginal perspective on a whole range of things, when actually that might not be your role. In fact, you might just want to keep your head down and do a whole range of other things.
So, we’ve got to be really careful that we’re not expecting that Aboriginal person in, whether it’s a branch or a department, to be the expert – subject matter expert on everything to do with Indigenous people. You’ve got to actually buy that expertise in. You’ve got to actually appoint people for their expertise. So that assumption can often be something I think, that really is quite damaging for the individual, but doesn’t get you anywhere as a department either.
Sorry, I'm just going to have a quick drink of water. My throat’s a bit dry. I did do a RAT this morning, and it was negative.
So I think, to me there is a real call to action across all of the department and agencies. I’m making sure I’m doing that with the secretaries at the Secretary’s Board. And, in fact, I’ve been co-opted onto the Secretary's Board now, even though I’m not actually a secretary. But it really is about holding all of those secretaries accountable for their outcomes under Closing the Gap and particularly around Priority Reform 3.
I have made that the challenge to all of them. I have challenged them all around Aboriginal employment and that’s the one that I’ll be focusing on a lot, even though we’ve all got lots to do, and the cultural safety within their departments. So we won’t deliver on the ambitious agenda for government unless we do more in this space. That’s pure and simple.
And so what do we need to do in order to bring in that new group of senior people? We can’t wait for people to come through all the layers and then finally come up to EL 1 or EL 2 and then become an SES in the sector. We’ve got a lot more to do, to actually bring people in at level. And that’s something we’re going to have to put some real effort in. We’ve started a reference group to look at some opportunities to do that.
One of which is being a bit creative. So when we were at Garma we were sitting around a table – sorry, it wasn’t a table, it was a fire, it was a fireside chat at a fire – and we were talking about how do we get more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people into the public sector, and what those challenges were, and what was some of the, you know, how can we do this differently? And we have to actually shake this up, we can’t just keep doing the same thing.
We can’t just bring one more senior person in next year and ever think that we’re going to get to the 106 SES that we need to meet that target. So we’ve got to do something different, so let’s shake it up a little bit.
Some of it’s around how we recruit, some of it’s around how we advertise. Some of it’s around – I mean, now I nearly did quit when I had to do the negative vetting 2 thing. Like as though, you know, like that’s going to scare people off straight away I think. But we’ve got to do things differently, we’ve got to advertise differently, and we’ve got to bring people in and support them differently.
And so one of the ideas is that we looked to bring in a pool of SES at once. Rather than just doing one here, one there, and expect them to get onto it, on with it. Particularly if they’re from outside of the sector, learning all the systems and the culture of the APS is quite challenging, even for me coming from New South Wales into the Australian public sector, very different. Okay, so it is different and it – probably people need a bit more support when they come in.
So one of the ideas is to actually bring in a group of people and treat them like your graduates. Treat them like one group and cohort where they get not only extra support, training as a group, but also they might be – they might test a few different … you might have them on a rotation, they might test a few different departments to see where, where’s the fit for them best. But we actually bring in a bulk recruitment of SES.
There are people as I said right at the beginning – there’s talented Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people out there. We’ve got to make sure that we are an attractive proposition for them. Value what they bring, both as individuals and also as professionals and recognise their diversity as well, where you can’t treat them all as one.
But I think if people are coming in new to the public sector they need that additional support. Because I think we can’t just expect – and this again is one of those things we all expect – is that people know how the system works. Well, we don’t.
We’re coming from another part of employment, we might have been running a government – we might, sorry, we might have been running a non, not-for-profit organisation. They’re not going to know all the rules. They’re not going to know how things work. They’re not going to know the way the culture works. It’s actually about supporting people through that process. And so I do think we’ve got to shake it up a bit. We’ve got to start recruiting people into SES and recognising all that talent that's out there, and valuing for what they bring.
So, thank you very much, happy to take some questions.
Thank you, Jody. So, there’s no fire but we can imagine there’s a fire …
Okay, we’ll have one.
… without the smoky smell that inevitably follows you home from Garma for about three weeks.
So we have some questions that have come in online, we have roving mics in the room, for people who wish to ask a question in the room. Can I ask you in the room – if you wait until you have the microphone so that people online can hear the question.
And we – well, there’s a giant clock up the back that tells me we’ve got about 20-25 minutes for questions if I’m … if I am right.
So we’ve had some questions that have come in online. I want to begin with a question, this comes from Tom in Awabakal country. And he asks, 'Would you mind telling us of some specific issues you faced as an Aboriginal person and as an Aboriginal woman working in the public sector? What were those problems and how you overcome them?' It's about personal resilience I think, your response.
Well, my experience of public sector goes back many, many decades. So and obviously over that sort of 35 years, there's probably been many issues. And I suppose in terms of overcoming – one of the first things when I went into a senior role, it was my first SES role, and it was in, it was in housing. And you can imagine, state housing has a bad reputation and really had a bad reputation in WA at that point. And I was the first woman and the first Aboriginal person on the leadership team.
And, so there’s a bunch of blokes, very blokey, 7.30 meetings on a Monday morning starting off the week. And I had small children and all those sorts of things. But one of the things that really annoyed me is and when I discovered this was that all the files and this was the old days with a paper file for each tenant and things like that. The files for Aboriginal tenants had ‘Abo’ written across the front of it. And I mean, this is … I suppose it's ... I suppose it’s several decades ago, but you still see examples of those sort of things and that blatant racism. And when I talk about Priority Reform 3, that is about racism within departments.
Now, a lot of us will say ‘oh no, there's no racism in my department’ but people are reporting that there is. Okay, so confronting racism and challenging people on their assumptions, I think, is one of the best things that you need to do.
It’s hard but it’s – it is a challenge. I suppose one of the other things I will just mention though is that moving from WA … so in WA I used to get, I worked in Perth and it was like ‘you’re not from Perth, you’re from up north, so how can you be doing the job in Perth?’ And it was actually a state role so, you know, so what is the problem? When I came to New South Wales of course, I got a lot of criticism for not being from New South Wales. But I suppose, what I – my challenge there, and that was from community and Aboriginal people across New South Wales – and that the challenge for me and the way I resolved that is just being really responsive to community, you know, building that trust, building those relationships. You know, going to community events, making sure I was actually part of those things. But I think one of the good things …
I don't know why that's echoing all of a sudden?
One of the good things, if you’re not from the Country is people can’t criticise you of nepotism, at least, and being fair and consistent in your approach right across all of the communities and all of the staff, I think, is part of that.
Mm-mm. Terrific. ‘Abo’ on files, geez.
‘Abos’ – ‘Abo’ written on files, yep.
On files, yeah, it didn't last very long.
Quite confronting. I’m pleased to hear it.
Just scrolling through the questions, you mentioned that there's no shortage of talented First Nations people.
Both inside the service but outside of it as well. The question – this is a question from RG – asks ‘What draws them, those talented people, to work for a government rather than deploying those skills in the private sector where they can get more money?’
Oh, look I think, I think it’s about the alignment of values more than anything.
And that’s what I mean about having a really strong narrative for your agency or department and what that, what you stand for …
… for Aboriginal people. And so we’ve been refining our narrative in NIAA and doing some work on employee value proposition because people need to know what you stand for. And I think that was a big part of the people that were applying for and coming into DPIE was because we were very strong on what we stood for as a department working for Aboriginal people. You know, our vision was that the aspirations of Aboriginal communities are enhanced by the work that we do, or advanced by the work that we do. Not the other way around, that we work … it’s actually that the visions and aspirations of communities is what we’re there to facilitate.
And so when we were advertising a role we’d have – I don't know – I think one of the jobs I put out there had a 120 applicants, a third of which were Aboriginal people. And all very talented. So, you were getting this great level of … the calibre of candidates coming through was really good but the attraction, I think, was what’s important as well.
You’ve got to be able to tell the story about what you’re there for. And why they should come and work for you. You’ve got to sound excited. When I read some of these adverts, I say ‘no, we can make it sound much more exciting than that’. Because they just sound very dull otherwise.
I had heard of the reverse mentoring scheme that you spoke about in New South Wales, I wonder if you can talk a bit about the process of setting that up and whether that encountered a mindset, a problem amongst the non-Indigenous executives, where the assumption is often that the capability deficit is on the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander side of the equation, the idea that those senior people needed to have mentoring from perhaps presumably junior staff?
They mostly were much more junior. And no, they all embraced it, because they saw that the deficit was on their side, on their cultural integrity and their cultural knowledge and competency. And they really embraced it strongly. And again, I think that goes to the leadership of the department.
We started off by taking them on cultural immersions and … So Jim admits that he had nothing to do with Aboriginal people in his whole career, and that this was a new experience, and he’d just embrace it. And … but we, you know, we’d spend a couple of days out at La Perouse with the mob there, who were very strong and powerful. Then we did a couple of days up at Darkinjung Country. We took them out to, the whole group out to Wilcannia and Bourke and just really making sure that they not only took this seriously but they learnt a lot.
And they actually, I think, realised how little they knew. I mean, a lot of these senior people have never been beyond Dubbo. They’ve been to Dubbo for a meeting, maybe, but they’ve not gone beyond Dubbo and so to get them out to places like Wilcannia or something like that and meet with people on Country and listen to community.
We had a, you know, what do you call it, a community hall meeting, with anyone who wanted to come, basically, from Wilcannia. And that put them all on the spot in terms of answering questions from their area of expertise. Water, as you can imagine was a big issue at that point, it was before we had lots of rain. Water was a big issue, so that there was a lot of conversation about water, but also a lack of other services out there, but also they got to experience ‘oh okay, my internet's not working that well out here, I can’t actually watch that video’. Because we were out there and they were doing the public sector awards on that day, and we had to watch it because a number of us were up for, were finalists, including AHO at that point. And we won.
I just had to drop that in. But like we were trying to watch it on a screen, and it just kept freezing and you’d miss whole sections of that presentation. And like you actually didn’t know whether you’d won, I don’t know. It was all … but it was good for them as secretaries to realise ‘oh, this is what people have got challenges with just technology out in the bush’, you know, because they actually don’t know that. But really making them think about what do they take away from that back to their workplace, how do they make change within the work that they have control over, so that they can respond much more appropriately with Aboriginal communities across New South Wales and make sure that they make a difference on the ground as well.
Terrific, thank you for that. I’m going to come to the room in just a moment, I’ve got one more question to ask you, so I’m just giving you heads up. I can see itchy hands all ready to go.
And so you’ve touched on that and that's this issue of cultural safety. It’s a big issue and so there’s a question here about what’s happening. What do you see that’s happening in the public service to improve the cultural safety? In that, I’ll give a big plug for the AIATSIS CORE foundation program. If you haven’t done it, you’re missing out. Please do it, available to all of the APS. I think for the moment it’s for free, but that’s coming to an end.
And a question that relates to that and that’s about 'Do you see much evidence that non-Indigenous staff really can understand and support First Nations values, the values that mob bring into organisations?'
I suppose I’m in a bit of a privileged position where I do see that, Craig. Because you know, like in NIAA specifically, but even in the circles that I work. I mean just things like – and some of it is symbolically, is symbolic but it actually does make a difference to how people feel. And it might be about naming some of the rooms, that is doing Welcomes to Country and then, where you can, acknowledging Country in language, which I would’ve done today. I’ve had my tutoring and I can, I can say it …
But I know a lot of the secretaries are doing that as well. They’re actually, actually taking that on and it is a challenge. Doing the acknowledgement, naming rooms, bringing in elders, doing all the special days. But that’s not the end of it, it is the training courses, that sort of competency, taking that really seriously. Making sure your managers, particularly if they’re managing Aboriginal staff, really have to be very competent in doing that.
So there is, there is a lot that I’m seeing that is demonstrating that. And it’s not to say it’s all perfect though. I mean as I said, we’ve still got a long way to go, because we're still seeing those reports of harassment, discrimination, racism within our departments coming through in the census just as well.
Terrific. I thank you for that, that’s a great answer. Are there any questions in the room? Gave you fair warning? Microphone, Dr Matt Trinca, Director of the National Museum.
DR MATHEW TRINCA
Jody, thanks for that, that was a fantastic and inspiring oration. So it’s a great exhortation for us all to do better. I was really struck by that discussion about, you know, how we’ve all through COVID learnt to work online and we impress with that idea of, you know, why do people have to come to Canberra for work. I wonder if you could just expand on that a little bit about the potentiality around that? Particular about bringing in people of talent? And also, you know, the counterpoint too, which is this worry of you know, that people get too atomised, like removed …
DR MATHEW TRINCA
Do people get too atomised, in a working culture online, do they need to come …
DR MATHEW TRINCA
… you know, and be part and feel part of the team? You know, do they need that, that cross-support you get from office which is …
DR MATHEW TRINCA
… the other thing I think we’ve discovered a bit this time.
Well, I think you need both. I think you need some flexibility that people can be based in other parts of the country, and that doesn’t mean they’re all by themselves, it just means that if you’ve got a senior role, could it not be in your … you might have an office in Mildura for instance, rather than in Canberra. So, that’s one thing.
But also as a, as a … so I agree people do need support and you don’t want people just hanging out there by themselves and being isolated. But at the same time you want to have that flexibility about where people can be located and they will have to come into Canberra for certain meetings at certain times. So you’d probably need a bit more of a budget for doing that as well. But I think, a lot of people, a lot of us have got individual offices sitting out there, and why couldn’t we combine some of those things and in fact I’ve had a meeting with Rebecca Skinner at Services Australia.
So, some of those little one-person offices I’ve got around, Services Australia’s the only other Commonwealth government agency in that community, and why aren't we sharing space rather than having different offices? So, I went to, I went to Port Augusta and my staff were in the old ATSIC office, and they’ve got four or five staff there in an office built for 40, you know. I fixed that and they moved. But I said ‘well why couldn't you share with another Commonwealth government agency?’ And Services Australia is, I suppose, one of the first options people look at, they go ‘oh no, we can’t do that because of this and this’. So they were saying they couldn’t do that, and then I went over to Ceduna to my office there and we share an office with Services Australia!
So I think we could be more proactive about sharing offices and people could actually operate as a bit more of a team, both in sharing the work, sharing some of the challenges, but supporting each other as well. And I think we’d get better outcomes for community if we did that and had a bit more of a joined-up approach as well.
So a question down the front?
Thank you very much. My question is …
Who are you?
Oh yeah. I’m Michael, I work at AIATSIS as the Chief Information Officer. My question sort of goes to the 100 and so applicants you said you got for the role. And I was just wondering whether in the spirit of sort of collaboration in things, whether the departments end up then sharing directly those merit lists and calls and things?
Yeah, my understanding is that has changed and the merit list will be shared, which I think will go a long way to sort of making sure that if there is, that there is some strong talent out there, that we actually can draw on that together. I’m not saying everyone’s going to be suited for every job, but at least you could, you should look at that list first. And we shouldn’t be making people go through lots of hoops, but put them on those merit lists and actually go to the merit list first, before you advertise.
I did have a second question, if that’s okay?
It sort of goes to when you’re educating the SES and things like that. But how do you, I guess, ensure that you don’t create tokenisation or just tick and flicking to …
… get that Priority Reform 3 and people just going ‘oh yeah, this person’s Indigenous, we’ll hire them’.
Yes, yeah. So, I actually think, people still have to meet the selection criteria. I think the selection criteria often is underdone in terms of valuing people’s experience that they bring as well as an Aboriginal person. So that actually has to be weighted in there. So, that actually is an important skill and experience that people bring to that role and so that has to be in the selection criteria. So people still have to meet that. So it’s not about just appointing people.
And it’s not a tick and flick. On Priority Reform 3, as I mentioned, we’re doing a maturity framework that we’re going to apply across the public sector and there’s lots of elements to that. In fact, we’re getting – we’ve got six research papers being done on Priority Reform 3 as well, that will be used right across the sector and states and territories as well. So, we’re doing a lot of work to build the capability and what does that look like and then, as I said, I’ll be reporting to the Secretaries Board a couple of times a year against that as well.
And it is going a lot deeper. It’s like people’s RAPs. What I find with RAPs often – and including ours because it was pretty much finished when I got to NIAA – a lot of actions, like you know, 130 actions, we’re going to do all these things. But it’s not about, you know, it’s breadth rather than depth and I’d actually want less actions but done in a deeper more meaningful way.
And I think we can all do better in that space. If we’re going to have a RAP, then make sure it’s got a meaningful outcome and a much deeper outcome.
Thank you, that was really, really good.
I’ll take a question. And I’ll get the tech guys …
Hi, Kerry Nelson.
Sorry, before you ask the question, I’ll just get the tech guys to check. I’m not getting questions through, so …
Sorry, go ahead.
Kerry Nelson, freelancer. Could you tell us a little bit more about this maturity framework?
So, at the moment I can’t tell you much more about it except that we’re, because we’re working with some other departments to develop that up. So at the moment we’re, I suppose, starting that work. And I think DSS put their hand up to work with us in the first instance. So it’s a whole of portfolio look at, okay, what are the barriers and what are the enablers for them to meet Priority Reform 3. But it’s a fairly, you know, immature piece of maturity framework at the moment. So we are doing that piece of work, but it’s going to take us, I think, about six months.
Jody, I want to ask you to reflect on the idea of courage. Particularly for those of that lead organisations. When I went to my … when I first got promoted to the SES and went to my first orientation, the secretary of the department I was in at the time briefed us, you know, welcomed us in and then – it’s indelibly in my mind – that she then went onto say: ‘you may have heard that this government is very risk-averse?’ She said: ‘that’s absolutely not true, they’re risk intolerant’.
So, as a brand-new SES officer being sort of inculcated into a ‘do not make any mistakes, whatever you do’ tends to generate conservatism. I wonder if you think, if you might reflect on the role of courage in trying new things and doing things in perhaps a different or non-standard way, be it from changing a job description to risking on people who you might bring in.
And how important that, you think that might be?
Yeah, yeah. Look I suppose we get called on every day to show a bit of courage and it is part of the role. Because, you know, whether you’re challenging someone’s point of view on something, or whether you’re trialling a new program it’s going to take, you know, some courage to do those things. And you’ve just – I suppose in terms of trialling a new program, I think, one strategy is just to do a little bit of something.
You don’t have to go holus-bolus, whole of Australia, whole of one state or something like that. You can try something and then refine it. So that you’re not – you’re sort of limiting that risk. But you still have to take those risks because we just keep doing the same things, we’re actually not going to get anywhere. And I think particularly around the Closing the Gap, that would be the challenge as that we actually need to do things differently. If we’re going to change those targets, and improve on those, those outcomes, we just – we’re going to have to do things differently.
And I think things like – oh, a really good example, when I was in with Red Cross we had a lot of focus on justice. Right. And so, we were promoting justice re-investment and in fact having justice re-investments supporting that at a couple of locations. But also putting out statements around justice in this country and the way it’s done and that it needs to have a changed approach in Australia to the way that we treat people in the justice system more broadly. And that does take some courage to do that.
And we had a guy from Ireland come out and he’s the head of Corrections over there. And the Minister and himself decided that they had to do something about the overcrowding in Irish prisons. It was sitting at about 123 per cent. And so they decided to de-incarcerate people. So anyone that had a sentence of less than a certain amount, for certain types of crime, could be actually de-incarcerated. And they had a target of a 1000 people to release from prison. And I did say to him, how did that go with the … with the shock jocks on the, you know, radio station. And he said: ‘yeah, they gave them a very hard time, but the Minister just stood by it and said “this is what we're doing”’.
And you've just got to take some chances and get on and do things. But, you know, and I think in every role we’ve got, you’ve got to actually just push those boundaries a bit, otherwise we won't be getting anywhere near our target. So I look at our incarceration target, I think it’s number 10 or 11 in the Closing the Gap. It’s off track, you know, we probably won’t meet that target, surprisingly. Or unsurprisingly.
It looks like we’re on track on the youth in detention one, though. And a few others are on track. But it’s just – we’re going to have to do different things. Which might mean we stop locking up people. That we actually try some different things. I mean, there has been, you know, the Koori Courts and those sorts of things were new things, but now they’re just accepted. And we have, we’re going to do a bit more of that. We’re going to have to, you know, instead of building the new fancy prison, let’s put it into community and work with community on how we resolve some of these issues.
Terrific. We’ve got time for a couple of more questions. I’ve got one here, which I think you’ve touched on, but I’ll ask it anyway. ‘I work in a remote area and want to stay here. Does this mean my career is limited and that I can’t become a senior manager?’
Mm-mm. That’s probably up to your agency. But – or department – and that’s why I’m saying is we actually need to break some of those barriers and say ‘of course you should be able to stay where you are and do the job that you want to do’. But it still is up to the department to examine the feasibility of that, and I’d be encouraging them to do that. And there might be good reasons why it won’t work, but there’s probably good reasons why it will work as well.
Terrific. I’m going to take one more question from the room, if there is one? Otherwise, I have an online question.
So, you talked a lot about Closing the Gap. Unsurprisingly, it’s the framework particularly that NIAA operates in, but the whole of government. Can First Nations public servants make a contribution there or is that – I think it maybe should that be a priority for non-Indigenous staff? That’s the balance of where does – I think the question’s about where does responsibility fall?
Yeah. So, the responsibility is actually on the department head, right, to deliver against those targets that they have, as well as the priority reform. How they actually might want to deliver on that is going to be up to them. But I have a couple of points on that.
One is, there is always going to be Indigenous-specific programs that need to be delivered by Indigenous people, and they will contribute at Closing the Gap. But there’s a broader mainstream delivery. So whether it’s hospitals, whether it’s education – all of that is mainstream, is really important to Closing the Gap as well. And they actually have to change the way they’re doing their work, and a lot of that is led by non-Indigenous people. They’ve got a huge amount of work to be done there, they can’t expect that the small bucket of money over here for Indigenous-specific programs is going to resolve Closing the Gap or meet the Closing the Gap targets. It’s actually the whole system.
And, so that’s the sort of – I think – one of the challenges is to make sure the whole system is working for Indigenous people, not just the Indigenous-specific programs.
Terrific. Well, that brings us to the end of the today’s event. Jody – a wonderful address and wonderful responses to the questions. Would you join me in thanking Jodie Broun?
And they don’t let us out without notes, so I just have to check that I have covered everything that I need to cover off on this. So, can I thank those of you who have joined us in the room, for this year’s Russ Taylor Oration and also those of you who have joined us online and contributed through the questions that have been asked.
Can I thank my team here, Nicole, and your folks who have put together this event. Tracey from my office, who keeps texting me to say that my buttons are stretching. I don’t know that there’s a lot that I can do about that in the short term. My posture, it’s my posture that is the problem.
Thank you once again and here endeth the Russ Taylor Oration for 2022.
Whilst the Australian Public Service is doing better at recruiting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff, we are not doing a great job of retaining them. The 2021–22 State of the Service Report shows that the median length of service of an Indigenous employee is only four years, compared to 13 years for non-Indigenous employees.
National Indigenous Australians Agency CEO, Jody Broun, will unpack the reasons behind this and the potential actions we can take to improve peoples’ experience in the public service through a First Nations-focused APS career value proposition.
Jody Broun is an Yinjibarndi woman from Western Australia who has maintained strong connections to Country, community and culture throughout her life.
In February 2022 she became Chief Executive Officer of the National Indigenous Australians Agency.
Jody is passionate about social justice, community led co-design, and making a difference by changing the way government does business with First Nations communities and stakeholders. She has delivered community and state-wide policy and programs, developed and contributed to national policy reforms, and negotiated national and state government agreements. She has a breadth of experience across housing, health, education, justice, land and culture.
Over the past 30 years Jody has held various senior positions in the government and not-for-profit sectors. Prior to NIAA, she was Group Deputy Secretary Aboriginal Strategy and Outcomes in the NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment where she led work on projects such as Our Place on Country – Aboriginal Outcomes Strategy 2020-23.
In earlier roles, Jody was Chief Executive of the NSW Aboriginal Housing Office; Executive Director Aboriginal Housing and Infrastructure in WA; Director of Equal Opportunity in Public Employment in WA; Director-General at the Department of Aboriginal Affairs in NSW; and Co-Chair of the National Congress of Australia’s First People and Director of NSW and ACT for Australian Red Cross.
About the Russell Taylor Oration
The Russell Taylor Oration celebrates the achievements and contributions of senior Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leaders in the public service. Established in celebration of the service of former AIATSIS CEO Russell Taylor AM, the oration aims to inspire the next wave of leaders.
Mr Taylor retired as the CEO of AIATSIS in December 2016 and was at the time one of the most senior Indigenous Commonwealth Public Servants. He spent over 20 years in various public sector Senior Executive Service positions.
The Oration acknowledges Russell’s leadership legacy, his service and dedication to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and the Australian nation, and his contribution to the Commonwealth Australian Public Service.