Maori and Aboriginal public service leaders call for change

By on 28/03/2018 | Updated on 24/09/2020
Senior public servants attending the ANZSOG Indigenous Forum in December 2017 (Image courtesy: The Australia and New Zealand School of Government).

The first-ever forum for senior public servants from Maori and Aboriginal communities has drawn up a blueprint for “substantial and lasting change” in the position of indigenous people in the public service.

The landmark forum, which was attended by 65 indigenous senior public servants, was organised by the Australia and New Zealand School of Government (ANZSOG) with funding from the Australian Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (DPMC).

Delegates heard that indigenous Australians make up around 3% of the total population, but constitute 2.7% of the Australian public service and only 1% of its senior executive service, according to an ANZSOG report published last week.

The way forward

They spoke frankly about the challenges of being a minority in the public service, and backed the development of a “solutions-based approach” to implementing change at future forums, the report states. Delegates agreed that the agenda for change should focus on four key areas:

  • Creating career pathways, improving retention, and developing leadership among indigenous public servants;
  • Boosting recognition of indigenous knowledge and leadership values in the public sector;
  • Moving from “narratives of deficit” to those of success when addressing issues affecting indigenous communities;
  • Instilling a better understanding within the public service of indigenous leadership, history and the diversity of communities.

Announcing the forum’s findings, Professor Ken Smith, dean and CEO of ANZSOG, said that public services need to support indigenous people working in the public sector to operate as leaders and members of staff without experiencing a sense of isolation.

Integration and acceptance

“We need public services that empower indigenous people to ‘walk in both worlds’,” he said. “This will deliver long-term benefits but will require a great deal of engagement and learning, and a substantial cultural shift in the mainstream public service.”

Professor Smith said that he hopes the forum will be the first step in creating an active network of senior Aboriginal, Torres Strait Islander and Maori public servants to share knowledge and experience, supporting indigenous leadership across the public sector.

“We can’t talk about improving the public administration of indigenous affairs without thinking about indigenous leadership in the public sector,” he said.

ANZSOG is planning to hold a second indigenous public servant forum in the coming months, and a conference on indigenous affairs for some 350 public sector leaders from Australia and New Zealand later in the year. The Australian DPMC has agreed to fund both events.

About Liz Heron

Liz Heron is a journalist based in London. She worked on daily newspapers for more than 16 years as an education correspondent, section editor and general news reporter. She was Education Editor of the South China Morning Post in Hong Kong and has contributed to a wide range of British media including The Independent, The Guardian and the BBC.

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