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Demographic profile of the Indigenous APS workforce

This chapter provides a snapshot of the Indigenous APS workforce at 30 June 2009.10 Key information includes:

  • the number of Indigenous staff in the APS
  • their age profile and gender
  • their classification
  • the main agencies in which they worked, as well as their geographic location
  • their qualification
  • engagements and separations.

Numbers in the APS

As at 30 June 2009, there were 3,176 ongoing Indigenous employees in the APS. Although the actual number of Indigenous staff has increased slightly since 2008, the number of APS employees increased overall, and so Indigenous representation remained steady for the 2008–09 financial year at 2.1 %.

It should be noted that the APS Employment Database (APSED) information on the diversity status of APS employees is provided by individual agencies, and that providing information to their agency regarding their Indigenous heritage is voluntary for APS employees. Therefore, APSED tends to under-represent the actual number of employees in this group.

Age profile

The median age of Indigenous employees rose from 32 years to 37 years over the decade to 2005. At 30 June 2009, it was 38 years. An age profile comparison for June 2009 between Indigenous employees and the general APS population reveals that the majority of Indigenous employees are younger than the general APS population which had a median age of 42 years.11


The proportion of Indigenous women in the APS is higher than the proportion of women in the general APS population (68% compared with 58%). The proportion of Indigenous women in the APS is up by 3% from the 2005 Indigenous Census.

Indigenous women are more concentrated in lower classifications, as are women in the APS generally. This is similar to the findings from the 2005 Indigenous Census.


As Table 1 shows, there has been considerable fluctuation of Indigenous representation within classifications since 1995. At 30 June 2009, over half (52.5%) of ongoing Indigenous staff were employed at the APS 1–4 classifications compared with just over a third (36.6%) of staff APS-wide.

The proportion of ongoing Indigenous employees at the APS 5–6 and EL classifications has steadily increased to 45%; some 3% of these classifications are Indigenous. However, a mere 0.6% of SES staff are Indigenous—at 30 June 2009, only 16 SES officers were Indigenous, five of whom are over the age of 50, and another four are in the 45–49 age bracket.

Over a quarter (26.8%) of Indigenous employees are at the middle management classifications (APS 6–EL2) compared with almost half (46.5%) of the general APS population.

Table 1: Representation of ongoing Indigenous APS employees by classification, 1995, 2008 & 2009
  1995 2008 2009
  No. % of class’n who are Indigenous % of Indigenous employees No. % of class’n who are Indigenous % of Indigenous employees No. % of class’n who are Indigenous % of Indigenous employees
Source: APSED
APS 1–2 1179 3.9 35.1 354 5.9 11.2 353 6.3 11.1
APS 3–4 1348 3.3 40.2 1346 2.7 42.8 1313 2.7 41.3
APS 5–6 608 1.7 18.1 977 1.9 31.0 1015 2.0 32.0
EL 127 0.6 3.8 374 1.0 11.9 415 1.1 13.1
SES 15 0.8 0.4 16 0.6 0.5 16 0.6 0.5
Trainee 52 15.8 1.5 52 13.1 1.7 42 17.1 1.3
Grad APS 27 3.0 0.8 29 2.4 0.9 22 2.0 0.7
Total 3357 2.6 100.0 3148 2.1 100.0 3176 2.1 100.0


Indigenous employees are concentrated in a small number of APS agencies, and more than half of all ongoing Indigenous staff were employed in just three agencies: Centrelink (31.7%); Aboriginal Hostels Limited (9.7%); and the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations (9.6%).

Twenty-eight agencies reported that none of their employees were Indigenous.

The APS agencies with the highest level of Indigenous representation at 30 June 2009 were:

  • Aboriginal Hostels Limited (84.2% or 308 employees)
  • Torres Strait Regional Authority (64.9% or 24 employees)
  • Australian Institute of Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander Studies (20.9% or 9 employees)
  • National Native Title Tribunal (9.7% or 19 employees)
  • Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs (9.3% or 291 employees).

Of those agencies with more than 1,000 ongoing employees at 30 June 2009, six had representation that was higher than the APS Indigenous average representation of 2.1%.

Those agencies were:

  • Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs (9.3%)
  • Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations (5.3%)
  • Department of Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts (4.2%)
  • Centrelink (3.8%)
  • Department of Health and Ageing (2.4%)
  • Medicare (2.2%).

The largest increases in Indigenous employment during 2008–09 were in Centrelink (50), the Department of Environment, Water, Heritage and the Arts and the Department of Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs (13 employees each), and Medicare (10). The largest decreases were in the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations (32), the Department of Health and Ageing (13) and the Australian Customs and Border Protection Service (12).

The geographic location of Indigenous employees varies within the APS. It should be noted that although the greatest proportion of ongoing APS employees is located in the ACT, Indigenous representation in the ACT as such is only 1.4%, compared with the broader APS representation of 37.4%. Indigenous representation is highest in the Northern Territory at 18.3% of APS ongoing employment.

Table 2: Geographic location of employees in the APS
Source: APSED
Indigenous representation in State/Territory (ongoing) 1.4% 1.9% 0.9% 4.3% 1.6% 2.8% 2.9% 18.3% 1.0% 2.1%
APS representation in State/Territory (ongoing) 37.4% 19.1% 16.2% 11.3% 6.0% 5.1% 2.5% 1.6% 0.8% 100.0%

Graduate qualifications

The proportion of Indigenous employees with graduate qualifications or better remains much lower than for APS employees generally—27.5% compared with 53.8%. This is a slight increase when compared with the results as at 30 June 2005 (27.3% for Indigenous employees compared with 51% for the general APS population). This slight increase reflects the broader change in the APS to a graduate workforce.

However, over the last ten years, the rate of Indigenous engagements with graduate qualifications has slowly but steadily declined as shown in the table below. It should be noted that:

  • 2006 was a peak year for employment of Indigenous employees with graduate qualfications
  • the data for 2009 will improve over time as updates are provided to APSED and is expected to increase the percentage to around 22%.
Table 3: Engagements of staff with graduate qualifications
  2000 % 2001 % 2002 % 2003 % 2004 % 2005 % 2006 % 2007 % 2008 % 2009 %
Source: APSED
Indigenous ongoing engagements 30.4 26.1 28.1 28.3 26.7 26.4 28.8 27.4 25.9 17.1
Total ongoing engagements 62.2 54.1 58.1 58.5 66.3 66.6 59.1 61.5 61.9 68.1

Engagements and separations

Rates of Indigenous engagements at 3.1% and separations at 3.6% are considerably higher than the actual representation rate of 2.1%. This has been the case since 2000. Indigenous rates of separation have also been higher than their engagement rate every year, with the exception of one year (2002).

Three quarters (75.3%) of Indigenous employees who left the APS during 2008–09 resigned compared with 62% for the general APS population. Indigenous employees are also twice as likely to be terminated from their employment compared with the general APS population (4.5% compared with 2.2%). Almost a third (32.4%) of separations for the general APS population left the APS due to retrenchment or age retirement, compared with 17.5% of Indigenous separations for this category.

Indigenous employees continue to have a significantly shorter length of service before leaving the APS than non-Indigenous staff. Almost half (48.5%) of the Indigenous employees who separated from the APS during 2008–09 had fewer than five years of service, compared with 38.6% of non-Indigenous employees.

Key chapter findings

Despite the positive impact of the APS Employment and Capability Strategy for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Employees (the Strategy) since 2005, the APSED data shows clearly that representation of Indigenous employees has not increased across the APS during 2008–09.

The growth in Indigenous employees at the APS5–6 and EL classifications is a positive. It is of considerable concern, however, that representation at the SES classification continues to be extremely low, and agencies need to engage in succession planning, including implementing strategies for developing and mentoring talented Indigenous EL2s to increase the current SES cohort.

The dwindling number of Indigenous graduates in the APS is also a matter for concern. The APS is competing against other Commonwealth agencies as well as state, territory and local government public sectors and the private sector for a very small number of Indigenous graduates. However, there are other factors that impact on the engagement and retention levels of Indigenous graduates, some of which are explored in the ensuing chapters. More research into how to attract, recruit and retain this group of employees may be warranted.

There are no clear-cut explanations for the continuing trend of high separation rates of Indigenous APS staff, though the 2009 Census findings provide an insight into some possible causes.

10 The data is taken from the State of the Service Report 2008–09, pp. 22–29, as well as the APS Employment Database (APSED).

11 Australian Public Service Commission 2009, State of the Service Report 2008–09, Commonwealth of Australia, Canberra, p. 13.

Last reviewed: 
7 June 2018