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Address by The Hon Gary Gray, AO MP

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Speech Address by The Hon Gary Gray, AO MP Special Minister of State, and Special Minister of State for Public Service and Integrity

The Hon Gary Gray, AO MP Special Minister of State; and Special Minister of State for Public Service and Integrity

Good morning.

Before I begin I would like to thank Aunty Josie Agius for her wonderfully warm welcome to Kaurna country and pay my respects to elders both past and present.

I would also like to acknowledge all First Australians whose cultures we celebrate as among the oldest continuing cultures in human history.

I am very pleased to be back here again at the National Indigenous APS Employees Conference. I am passionate about Indigenous employment - it is an area I have had an association with for many years.

I look forward to sharing some thoughts with you, but more importantly, I look forward to taking some learning away from you.

I’m not sure if any of you have been to all of them, but for those who haven’t, this is the fourth conference.

I think the mere fact that this conference has been run for the past four years, with over 40 agencies supporting it, is a reflection of how important Indigenous employment is.

However, we know that more effort and better strategies are needed to improve outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people which is why the Australian Government has set targets for Closing the Gap on Indigenous disadvantage and is investing an unprecedented $5.75 billion over three years to help achieve them.

As we are well aware, decades of underinvestment by previous Governments mean there has been limited success in ensuring Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have the same opportunities as the average Australian.

You may have seen during the year that the Steering Committee for the Review of Government Services released their report on Overcoming Indigenous Disadvantage: Key Indicators 2011.

The report tracks the progress of government initiatives and programs in addressing Indigenous disadvantage against the six targets set by the Council of Australian Governments in the areas of:

life expectancy •

young child mortality •

early childhood education •

reading, writing and numeracy •

Year 12 attainment, and •

employment. •

This is an important report, and one that helps the government to assess where the focus of our efforts should be.

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In some respects, the results are not surprising and as the report demonstrates, there have long been major gaps between policy intent and policy execution.

The reality is there are Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities that continue to experience life in this country in a vastly different manner to the opportunities, experiences and expectations available to the general Australian population.

The Government’s response must be sustained and long term to address these disadvantages effectively. We cannot expect to reverse generations of disadvantage and marginalisation without a dedicated effort that is carried forward over the years to come.

This is why we developed the ‘Closing the Gap’ framework. Closing the gap is a national goal, which requires the Australian Government to work in partnership with the state and territory governments, businesses, not for profit organisations, Indigenous people and the wider community.

The Government recognises that ending the disadvantage caused by decades of underinvestment will take time.

The funding that has been invested to date is significant, and is beginning to change the lives of Indigenous people by delivering improved services, better houses and healthier communities.

So that;

Between 2004-05 and 2008, the employment to population ratio increased for Indigenous people from 50.7 per cent to 53.8 per cent for people aged 15-64 years (although it is still below that for non-Indigenous people, at 76.0 per cent); and


Between 1994 and 2008, for Indigenous people aged 15-64 years, labour force participation increased from 54.5 per cent to 64.5 per cent, while unemployment decreased from 31.0 per cent to 16.6 per cent.


You can see some real progress there but we know to close the employment gap, an extra 100,000 Indigenous Australians need to be in employment by 2018.

What we have done in the past few years is build a solid foundation. And working together, there are many opportunities to achieve more success.

The ground work for making a difference has been laid through the establishment of the Closing the Gap targets, which for the first time, commits all governments to a clear framework for action and provides for greater transparency through regular reporting.

Under this framework, the sizable Government investment will yield better results. The investments as expected, continue to be large and will importantly require service providers to deliver or face tougher consequences. Some of the significant investments include:

$5.5 billion under the National Partnership Agreement on Remote Indigenous Housing over ten years until 30 June 2018. •

$1.57 billion under the National Partnership Agreement on Closing the Gap in Indigenous Health Outcomes over four years until 30 June 2013. •

$564.4 million under the National Partnership Agreement on Indigenous Early Childhood Development over six years until 30 June 2014. •

$228.9 million under the National Partnership Agreement on Indigenous Economic Participation over five years until 30 June 2013. •

$291.2 million under the National Partnership Agreement on Remote Service Delivery over six years until 30 June 2014. •

The Government is working with Indigenous people to support personal responsibility as the foundation for healthy, functional families and communities.

Closing the Gap requires a genuine partnership with Indigenous Australians at all levels.

There are some great examples of positive change coming out of the private and public employment sector and it’s important we keep building on what works.

In the private sector, employers like Westpac have placed a large emphasis on engaging local Indigenous community and supporting them with mentoring, financial literacy and work preparation.

What is also inspiring, and an idea to we must look at in the public sector, is how some employers think differently about recruitment. Pre-employment is focussing on:

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training to be job ready more broadly, or role ready within the organisation •

longer selection periods •

site visits to potential employers, to see what the job involves, and •

providing support during online application processes. 1 •

These approaches require us to work differently, and out from our offices, but they set a strong foundation for improved results. Other initiatives working towards reducing the employment gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people include:

over 80 300 placements into employment for Indigenous Australians through Job Services Australia in the two years up to June 2011. Last financial year, Job Services Australia providers recorded more than 44,400 placements for Indigenous job seekers—a 23% increase on the previous 12 months.


The Indigenous Employment Program exceeded its 2010-11 target by 14%, with 31,000 commencements in jobs and training. •

The Australian Indigenous Minority Supplier Council (AIMSC) has linked 114 corporate and government members and 93 Indigenous businesses. This has so far generated over $21.7 million in contracts and about $6.4 million in transactions between AIMSC members and Indigenous business. It’s pleasing to see that already over 20 Commonwealth agencies have joined the initiative.


While closing the gap in Indigenous employment outcomes are still some way off, these results are very encouraging.

Employers are getting serious about opening up opportunities for Indigenous employment, and the wide reaching benefits that can follow.

These actions also address a broader issue which will face our nation—workforce capability. Australia needs to take stock, and look at where our future workforce is coming from.

An Access Economics report estimated that only 125,000 people will enter the workforce in the 2020s decade, compared to 170,000 a year when the report was first released in 2001.2

That’s less people entering the workforce over a ten year period, than the number of people entering the workforce in one year.

We know that as a nation we face a real challenge to address the impact of our ageing population on the size of our workforce.

What is interesting, and why we must deliver on our targets, is that the Indigenous population is growing at a faster rate than the non-Indigenous population and has a very different age profile.

About 56% of Indigenous Australians are under 25 years of age, compared with about 33% of the rest of the population.3

If we can harness this group through a strong focus on education, training, and school to work transitions, we will ensure that the growing number of young working-age Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people will be a valuable source of labour for Australia’s workforce.

There have been some great initiatives delivered to improve the number of indigenous Australians working in the Australian Public Service, including:

The Pathways Program has delivered over 660 jobs for trainees, cadets and graduates since 2005. •

Last year the Indigenous Australian Government Diploma Program provided employment to a further 71 Indigenous APS employees. •

Some agencies have implemented location based recruitment strategies to fill workforce gaps. •

Attraction, recruitment and retention are the key strategies for agencies to meet their targets. We know that private sector organisations are working hard to establish their reputation as an employer of choice for Indigenous people.

Looking at a large employer like Rio Tinto, they improved Indigenous employment from less than half a percent in the 1990s, to 8% in 2010.

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While some of their approaches are industry specific, the broader principles of their approach are wholistic and focused on delivering long term outcomes. Their approach:

Acknowledges the role of their business, and how it relates and impacts upon Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. •

Values the impact of Indigenous employment on their business outcomes and workforce capability, and how this improves community outcomes. •

Understands the local demography—where they can source employees. •

Works to build the pool of job-ready candidates. •

Taps into potential employees at various career starting points—high school students, university cadets, and graduates. •

Provides ongoing learning and support through assistance, mentoring and career development. •

Similarly the public sector must make itself an employer of choice not only for Indigenous people who want to work in Indigenous specific roles, but Indigenous people who want to work in any number of roles available across the sector.

The public service must be as innovative as the private sector in supporting Indigenous employment, and still deliver the ‘best person for the job’.

I trust that Commonwealth agencies are looking at approaches which can deliver greater long term gains in Indigenous employment, and in doing so, increase representation across the sector.

While a lot of change in Indigenous employment will be in the hands of agencies, you will also play an important role.

This year’s conference will give you the opportunity to look at where you are in your career, and develop an understanding of where you would like to be, and how to get there.

While your own personal career management will bring rewards to you personally, it will also lead to greater benefits.

Whether you intend to be or not, you are role models for Indigenous people in the community who aspire to a career in the APS. Your skills, expertise, professionalism and career pathways send a message that the APS can provide rewarding and fulfilling careers.

But you also make our workplaces richer, and our services better. You, along with other Indigenous employees in the APS help contribute to the cultural change that we need, not only to improve Indigenous employment, but to be more effective in our design and delivery of the services and support that Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander people in this country need.


1 Access Economics 2001, Population Ageing and the Tax Base, August, found at

2 ABS, 2006 Census data

3 Examples sourced from success stories reported on

Last Updated: 29 September, 2011

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