A message to all APS staff on the referendum
On Saturday 14 October, Australians were asked to vote in a referendum on whether the constitution should be changed to recognise the First Peoples of Australia by establishing a body called the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice. The referendum did not pass.
The referendum was a significant event, and the vote will be a cause for reflection for many. In this context we would like to talk with you about three matters.
First, we acknowledge the emotional costs of a long and sometimes acrimonious public debate, regardless of any citizen’s personal view on the proposition before the Australian people. You and your colleagues may be experiencing many different emotions. At times the referendum debate has been confronting, and for some distressing. There will be colleagues in the APS, their families or communities, who experienced racism, discrimination and harassment. The impact will be felt far beyond the vote.
We ask that we treat each other with empathy, kindness and respect. Please don’t assume your colleagues want to talk about the referendum but, if they do, please listen with an open heart. If you are struggling or need support please ask for help. Various wellbeing services are available through your Employee Assistance Program. Leave provisions including personal, miscellaneous or cultural leave may also be available. Please contact your people team for information or visit www.apsc.gov.au.
Second, we are keen to acknowledge, and express our thanks for, the manner in which every part of the public service conducted itself during the referendum. Some of you worked directly on the referendum, assisting the essential work of a fair and open national vote. Throughout the process the public service retained its impartiality and that deserves respect. Thank you. Through the referendum campaign the APS has lived and honoured all the APS Values. Such actions create public confidence in the integrity of the APS, by treating the community and each other with appropriate professional standards. We commit to continue upholding these values of impartial advice, service for the Australian people, and an accountable Service which is respectful and ethical.
Finally, the referendum was about changing the constitution. The outcome of the vote does not affect work already underway across the APS to create better outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, including the National Agreement on Closing the Gap and other reforms. These and other initiatives are a priority and must endure. Our work together will continue to highlight the significant contribution of First Nations Peoples to Australian society and values, our economy and environment.
We are committed to an APS in which Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employees thrive in fulfilling careers and culturally safe workplaces. This will be amplified through new initiatives such as the SES100 Indigenous leadership initiative, increasing the number of First Nations employees in the APS to five per cent, and strengthening cultural capability through the Cultural Capability Hub.
Thank you for your ongoing work and support.
Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet
Australian Public Service Commissioner