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Program 1.1—component 1.1.1: APS people and organisational performance (part 8)

Workplace equity and diversity

The Commission provides support to the APS Diversity Council and develops and implements policies and programs aimed at addressing workplace equity and diversity. The Commission prides itself on its diverse workforce. A workforce that reflects the Australian community it serves is able to respond more appropriately to its citizens’ needs. A diverse workforce is also better able—through diversity of thought—to develop creative and innovative solutions to complex problems.

Diversity Council

The APS has long been committed to progressing equity and diversity to ensure that the APS workforce is representative of the broader Australian community. Despite this commitment, two groups in particular continue to be significantly under-represented in the APS: Indigenous Australians and people with disability. Representation rates for both groups have been in steady decline since the late 1990s, although the representation rates for Indigenous employees have stabilised since June 2011.

To redress this situation, the Secretaries Board established an APS-wide Diversity Council in February 2012. The council provides visible, strategic leadership on diversity issues, and takes a leadership role in motivating improvements to diversity outcomes, with an initial focus on APS employment outcomes for Indigenous Australians and people with disability. Figure 3 sets out the council’s charter.

Figure 3: Diversity Council charter

The Diversity Council is chaired by Dr Ian Watt AO, Secretary of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, and also includes a number of secretaries and agency heads.

During 2012–13, the Diversity Council met twice. Members agreed on a range of strategies designed to bring visibility to diversity issues, share and promote best practice, and monitor agency performance in improving workforce diversity.

Among other things the council agreed to trial a whole-of-APS entry and exit survey of employees. Better understanding of why people join and leave the APS is expected to help develop better targeted strategies to improve attraction and retention. This is especially important data in respect of Indigenous employees, who still separate from the APS at twice the rate of their non-Indigenous colleagues.

The council also established a reference group to support its activities by identifying areas for improvement in workforce diversity, sharing best practice and advising the council on issues affecting employment outcomes for Indigenous Australians and people with disability. The reference group comprises deputy secretaries from across the APS, as well as two external subject-matter experts—Dr Rhonda Galbally AO and Dr Jackie Huggins AM.

Reasonable adjustment best practice principles

People with disability rely on reasonable adjustments to participate on an equal basis with their colleagues for positions and promotions in the APS.

In September 2012, the Diversity Council endorsed four reasonable adjustment best practice principles:

  1. When employees move between APS agencies, the gaining agency should be given the option to acquire from the losing agency any equipment or adaptive technology purchased by an agency for an individual as a reasonable adjustment. The general policy applicable to Financial Management and Accountability Act 1997 agencies allows the transfer of an asset (with or without payment as negotiated) to another Commonwealth entity.
  2. Agencies should favourably consider moving to a centralised funding model for reasonable adjustments involving equipment or adaptive technology. While practices vary, the current environment of budgetary pressure is likely to persist and re-examining reasonable adjustment funding models may contribute to improved purchasing efficiency for agencies.
  3. Agencies should establish a single (senior) point for reviews of reasonable adjustment requests that have been denied, to ensure consistency and fairness.
  4. Agencies should promote to their managers a stronger awareness of the Department of Education, Employment and Workplace Relations’ Job Access Employment Assistance Fund, and encourage consideration of the fund for appropriate reasonable adjustment requests.

ICT Accessibility Roundtable

In September 2012, the Diversity Council established the ICT Accessibility Roundtable, aiming to create a more accessible APS technology environment and eliminate potential barriers for employees in the workplace. The roundtable has a mandate to explore the challenges associated with assistive technology, encourage good practice, investigate areas of efficiency in public procurement, and identify other areas for improving accessibility.

The roundtable is chaired by the Department of Human Services, with representation from many other public sector agencies.

Workplace diversity programs

The changes in the Commissioner’s Directions 2013 will require each agency head to publish their agency’s workplace diversity program on the agency’s website.

The Commission acknowledges that some agencies—by virtue of their small size and limited capacity—may be unable to develop a comprehensive workplace diversity program. In these circumstances, in the absence of a comprehensive workplace diversity program, small agencies should publish a commitment to workplace diversity that includes fostering a diverse workforce; attracting and recruiting people from diverse backgrounds; and, wherever possible, participating in whole-of-APS recruitment programs. It is expected that measures to foster workplace diversity in these agencies will be progressively strengthened.

The Commission intends to undertake further analysis of agency compliance and practices regarding workplace diversity programs, while identifying and promoting best practice in this area.

Some further amendments were also made to the 2013 Directions through the Commissioner’s Amendment Direction No. 1, effective from 1 July 2013. The amendments provide that each agency head must ensure that measures are put in place to collect certain personal information from each employee of the agency and to provide that information to the Commissioner.

Given the sensitive nature of this data, agency measures must allow employees a ‘choose not to give this information’ option (which can also be reported).

Improved diversity information will assist agencies and the Commission to:

  • better understand the nature of the APS workforce
  • provide more targeted training, advice and support
  • identify and implement initiatives that assist in attracting, recruiting and retaining employees
  • make sure agencies are building and sustaining a diverse workforce now and into the future
  • provide greater focus on improving workplace culture and social inclusion.

The implementation of As One—Australian Public Service Disability Employment Strategy is the focal point for efforts to improve the attraction, recruitment and retention of people with disability in the APS. The strategy includes 19 initiatives, including the RecruitAbility scheme and mental health guidance for managers. Progress under the strategy is reported on the Commission’s website.


On 3 June 2013, the Commission launched a pilot of the RecruitAbility scheme, together with 15 large, medium-sized and small agencies. The scheme progresses applicants with disability to further assessment stages in an APS recruitment process, if they apply under the scheme and meet the minimum requirements for the position. The scheme is expected to run as a pilot until mid-2014.

The 2013 Directions were amended to make the RecruitAbility scheme consistent with the merit provisions found in the PS Act. The scheme was extended to apply to SES positions from 1 July 2013.

Mental health guidance for managers

The Commission and Comcare jointly developed Working together: Promoting mental health and well-being at work, a guide for managers to promote mental health in the workplace and assist employees with mental illness. The guide was developed during 2012–13 and launched on
24 July 2013. It is primarily designed to be used as an online resource by managers seeking clear and concise information in a factsheet format and is available on the Commission’s website.

Indigenous employment

Under the APS Indigenous Employment Strategy 2012–16, the Commission is responsible for providing support to APS agencies to reach the government’s target of 2.7% Indigenous representation in the APS workforce by 2015.

The government has committed $1.8 million over three years for the strategy. This is a significant reduction compared to support provided in previous years. Additional funding will be provided by APS agencies through memorandums of understanding. This will partly replace the budget funding that has lapsed.

The strategy has a focus on employment in regional Australia and on matters relevant to Indigenous employees’ retention and career development.

Pathways into APS employment

In 2012–13, the Commission worked in partnership with more than 40 agencies to provide employment for 117 Indigenous Australians through the APS Indigenous Pathways Program. The program provided entry-level opportunities for Indigenous trainees (64), cadets (24) and graduates (29), with individuals commencing employment from November 2012.

A graduation ceremony was held in November 2012 to acknowledge and celebrate the achievements of 124 Indigenous trainees, cadets and graduates who successfully completed their programs during the year. As part of the event, trainees and cadets were invited to share their personal pathway into the APS, which, for some, was a life-changing opportunity.

The Commission also worked with the departments of Human Services and Immigration and Citizenship to conduct a joint recruitment exercise for 32 positions in the Northern Territory. The process has been reviewed and is being shared among other APS agencies to encourage similar partnerships.

Supporting Indigenous employees

The Commission continued to support Indigenous employees through a range of networking opportunities and provision of advice about workplace issues and strategies.

During the year, the Commission held a series of Indigenous APS employee forums across Australia. The forums are designed to reinvigorate cross-agency networking among Indigenous employees. They also provide an opportunity to consult with Indigenous employees across Australia to guide the development of an APS cultural competence framework and potential strategies to support the retention and career development of Indigenous employees.

The Commission also continued to support alumni network events for new and former graduates, cadets and trainees to support their transition to the APS and to support Indigenous staff networks nationally.

Supporting employers

The Commission continued to support agencies to refine their Indigenous employment strategies and coordinate opportunities for agencies to collaborate and share what works to improve Indigenous employment. Activities include quarterly Indigenous employment forums and regular meetings between Indigenous Liaison Officers and human resource managers responsible for Indigenous employment.

The Commission has developed and is trialling an APS-wide entry and exit survey. The intention is to develop a more systematic, deeper understanding of why people join the APS and why they leave it, and of any differences between different groups, including diversity groups. To date take-up of the survey has been slow.

Boundless Canberra

In 2012–13, staff of the Commission joined forces with various public and private sector organisations to embark on a project to build an all-abilities playground in Canberra’s national capital precinct.

Known as Boundless Canberra, the National Children’s Playground Project is a gift to the city and the nation’s children from the public servants of Canberra as a demonstration of the spirit of service that underpins the APS ethos.

Through the outstanding efforts of Commission employees, who have given their time to fundraise for the project, we have made—and will continue to make—a significant contribution to Boundless Canberra.

Last reviewed: 
11 May 2018