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2012 Indigenous Census: Overview

The State of the Service Report (SOSR) has been produced annually since 1998, first by the Public Service and Merit Protection Commission (until 2002) and thereafter by its successor organisation the Australian Public Service Commission (APSC). The first two SOSRs were compiled pursuant to Regulation 12 of the Public Service Regulations and since 2000 as a requirement of Section 44 of the Public Service Act 1999. From the outset, the State of the Service Series of reports comprised the SOSR itself and two companion publications, the Workplace Diversity Report (incorporated into the SOSR in 2003) and the APS Statistical Bulletin (still published separately). An agency survey was introduced in 2002 and an employee survey in 2003. Beginning in 2007, the APSC provided agency-specific reports of the employee survey results to heads of agencies with at least 400 employees (and from 2012, at least 200 employees). A separate SOSR agency benchmarking report was also distributed to agencies with 400 or more employees (and from 2012, 200 or more employees). The report contained each agency’s results benchmarked not only against the APS average, but also against those of the United Kingdom and United States public services and, where available, the private sector.

The scope and methodology of the SOSR changed as a result of the recommendations of Ahead of the Game: Blueprint for the Reform of Australian Government Administration (2010) (the APS Reform Blueprint). This gave the APSC a central role in assessing how effectively the APS is implementing the reform program. Using the SOSR, it has done this through greater data dissemination (as previously) and via new approaches to data gathering. One of these new approaches has been to change the sampling methodology of the State of the Service employee survey from a stratified random sample to a census. Under the census methodology, every employee in the Australian Public Service is invited to fill out the survey. Introduced in 2012, the employee census invited 159,917 employees to have their say; 87,214 took up the offer.

One of the key outcomes of introducing the employee census is that it provides the opportunity to address workforce issues at the APS and agency level in much greater detail than had been possible before. Each State of the Service series paper focusses on a specific APS workforce issue and allows examination of the issue in much greater specificity and depth than is possible in the SOSR. The current report examines the experiences and attitudes of Indigenous employees in the workplace to ensure that the APS is meeting its commitment to provide a workplace free from discrimination and to identify where this can be improved.

Key findings

Overall, 87,214 employees took part in the 2012 employee census which was a response rate of 55%.

Of these, 2130 employees were Indigenous1. The number of Indigenous respondents to the 2012 employee census allows this segment of the APS workforce to be examined on the same issues and in the same depth as the previous 2005 and 2009 Indigenous APS employees’ census reports. This report sets out the findings for the Indigenous segment of the workforce under the same themes used in the SOSR 2011–12: Leadership and culture; Human capital management; and Organisational effectiveness.

As Figure 1 shows, the majority of Indigenous employees are located outside Canberra and so for this report the APS workforce is described in three segments: Indigenous employees based in Canberra (ACT-based), Indigenous employees based outside Canberra in the states and the Northern Territory (non-ACT), and non-Indigenous employees.

Figure 1: Indigenous representation in the state and territory APS workforces (source: APSED)

Leadership and culture

Engagement. Indigenous employees are just as engaged as their non-Indigenous colleagues, even when broken down into ACT-based and non-ACT groups. Results also show that key job satisfaction measures were also comparable with results from the 2009 Indigenous census.

Leadership. Indigenous employees hold their supervisors and SES leaders in high regard although there were some differences between groups with non-ACT based Indigenous employees more likely to be satisfied with their supervisors’ management of underperforming staff than non-Indigenous employees. However, both ACT and non-ACT Indigenous employees were more likely to agree that their Senior Executive Service (SES) leaders were personally active in improving workplace diversity. While satisfaction with SES capabilities was comparatively low (less than 50% satisfied) for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous employees this was due to high proportions of employees giving neutral rather than negative ratings.

Culture, values and conduct. Over 78% of employees believe their colleagues and agencies behave in accordance with the APS Values which is a favourable result. Nevertheless, one in five Indigenous employees reported having been bullied or harassed in the previous 12 months. This makes them approximately 25% more likely to report this than non-Indigenous employees, a finding which has been consistent over the last three years. On a more positive note, over 60% of Indigenous employees believe their agency is committed to creating a diverse workforce. Two-thirds of APS agencies either currently offer cultural awareness training or have a program in development to support this.

Human capital management

Demographics. Indigenous employees tend to be younger than their non-Indigenous colleagues. ACT-based Indigenous employees tend to be younger again than non-ACT based employees. In keeping with their age, Indigenous employees tend to have spent less time in the APS. However, the proportion of Indigenous employees with more than 20 years employment has been steadily increasing over the last decade.

Health and wellbeing. Wellbeing scores are comparable between the three segments, which is a positive result. Furthermore, the majority of Indigenous employees are satisfied with their work-life balance and access to flexible working arrangements. There are no salient differences in the number of hours worked between Indigenous and non-Indigenous employees.

Learning and development. Fifty two per cent of Indigenous employees were satisfied with their overall access to learning and development opportunities. Over half of all Indigenous employees had spent at least three days in formal training over the last 12 months, which is comparable to non-Indigenous employees. However, Indigenous employees were more likely to be satisfied with their access to secondments than non-Indigenous employees, but this was only a small group, accounting for approximately one in four Indigenous employees.

Performance management. Once differences in classification profiles have been accounted for, there are no differences in the proportion of employees with performance management responsibilities. The majority of Indigenous supervisors have confidence in their ability to carry out their performance management responsibilities.

Approximately three-quarters of employees had received formal performance feedback in the previous 12 months. More than 70% of respondents indicated that it helped them to improve their performance.

Where ACT-based Indigenous employees took issue with their feedback, they felt it was inaccurate and taken too lightly by their supervisor. The most commonly cited problem by other employees was that it did not clearly identify ways of improving performance.

Recruitment and retention. The opportunity to be of service to the community is a more important attractor for Indigenous employees than their non-Indigenous colleagues. This is even more important for the non-ACT Indigenous workforce. Conversely, a lack of career opportunities in the current agency was the most frequently reported factor encouraging employees to leave their current position. This was less important for ACT-based Indigenous employees, who tended to report poor leadership as a factor. One in four Indigenous employees intends to leave their agency either as soon as possible or in the next 12 months, which is comparable with the non-Indigenous segment. However, ACT-based Indigenous employees are less likely to intend to stay for at least three years.

Over the last three years, the proportion of separations made up by retrenchments has been increasing for Indigenous employees. This has been more pronounced in the ACT than in the non-ACT Indigenous workforce. A similar pattern is not visible for their non-Indigenous colleagues.

Indigenous employees have had consistently higher separation rates between 2002 and 2012, and this is consistent between both ACT and non-ACT employees. The reason for this remains unclear. However, higher separation rates are likely to be influenced by a combination of factors including employee attitudes and experiences as well as external factors, such as the local labour market and organisation requirements.

Organisational effectiveness

Innovation. The vast majority of employees (over 85%) offer suggestions to improve their workplaces. There are no salient differences between the three segments of the APS workforce. The most commonly perceived barrier to innovation is budget, which is consistent for both Indigenous and non-Indigenous employees. However, non-ACT based Indigenous employees are more likely to see political uncertainty as a concern.

Change management. Only a minority of employees felt change was handled well in their agency. While non-ACT Indigenous employees were more positive in this regard, only 49% agreed. ACT-based and non-Indigenous employees were comparable on 35% and 32% respectively. Furthermore, ACT-based Indigenous employees were more likely to report being affected by workplace change than their non-Indigenous colleagues (73% compared with 61%). The most commonly reported change was a change in staffing numbers. This was similar between the three segments.

Social media and teleworking. ACT-based Indigenous employees are more likely to have access to some or all social media tools than their non-ACT based colleagues. Between 27% and 30% of employees with access to social media use it to work with government stakeholders. Between 18% and 24% use it to work with non-government stakeholders. There were no salient differences between the three segments.

Next steps

The State of the Service: Indigenous Workforce Report 2011–12 marks a significant development in APSC-APS agency collaboration on gathering comprehensive statistical data to support high-order analysis of public sector trends. However, it is not a formal evaluation of the APS Indigenous Employment Strategy. Nor does it reveal why the Indigenous segment of the workforce has historically had higher separation rates. Addressing these issues requires broader work examining the context in which Indigenous employees operate, rather than focussing solely on attitudes and experiences.

1 For the purpose of this report Indigenous employees are those who identify as Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander.

Last reviewed: 
29 March 2018