The department supports the Australian Government’s prioritisation of accelerated effort and increased action to improve education outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. Across all areas of the department, we strive to identify ways our education policies and programmes can be strengthened to ensure Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are accessing and succeeding in high-quality education and research.
Given the fundamental importance of education to improving economic and social wellbeing, the department has the opportunity to make a significant difference to the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and communities. All Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and students are impacted by national education policies and programmes. Most funding for their education comes through ‘mainstream’ or non–Indigenous specific rather than Indigenous-specific programmes. For example around 80 per cent of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students are enrolled in schools in metropolitan and provincial locations and almost half attend a school where there are fewer than 10 Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander students.
The department promotes a culture where Indigenous business is everyone’s business―across its work practices, values and business. All employees are supported to build their cultural capability so they can confidently develop and implement policies and programmes that will lead to rewarding and empowering outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
Commemorating days of significance
The Department of Education commemorates Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander days of significance each year to recognise and learn about the significant contribution of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and their cultures to Australia’s rich history. During National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee ( NAIDOC) Week 2013 the department hosted several events across the country and encouraged all employees to participate. The events included a flag-raising ceremony, film screenings, a tour to learn about the Yirrkala bark petition and a trivia night to raise funds for an Indigenous charity.
National Reconciliation Week 2014 was a time for the department to reflect on developing its first Reconciliation Action Plan ( RAP) and to discuss the role each employee plays in supporting and engaging with the culture of ‘Indigenous business is everyone’s business’.
To mark National Reconciliation Week 2014 the department launched its Reconciliation Tree initiative, with the aim of illustrating the department’s and employees’ commitment to reconciliation.
Panels of the Reconciliation Tree were sent to state, territory and regional offices to ensure all employees had the opportunity to sign a leaf. There are over 500 signed leaves on the tree—a constant reminder that the department’s employees are proud to support reconciliation and Indigenous business. The tree will be displayed in the department’s national office building and feature on the front cover of the new RAP.
Reconciliation Action Plan
The department’s Reconciliation Action Plan ( RAP) is being developed following thorough consultation with employees and external stakeholders and is expected to be launched in September 2014. The RAP will comprise actions and targets that create individual and organisational accountability to ensure reconciliation is reflected in our everyday business practices.
The RAP will support the department to build a culture of respect, understanding and strong relationships between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and non-Indigenous Australians. It will challenge the department to create real and lasting opportunities and improve outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children, young people and adults through all areas of our work.
The development and implementation of the RAP is governed by the RAP Working Group, which was established in March 2014 and is made up of senior executive staff from across each business area of the department.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander recruitment and retention
The department is committed to improving the recruitment, retention and career development of our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employees.
The proportion of our workforce who identify as being of Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander origin is 2.87 per cent. While this is above the Council of Australian Governments’ target (2.7 per cent), we are exploring strategies to continue to grow our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander workforce.
Following the Machinery of Government changes, the department surveyed all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employees to gauge their thoughts on what has worked in the past and improvements that could be made for the future. The results informed the Secretary’s endorsement of a focus on four key priorities:
- establishment of an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Employee Committee
- review of the Identified Positions Policy
- enhancement of the Cultural Capability Development Framework
- development of an Indigenous Recruitment and Career Development Strategy.
The department held a two-day workshop in June 2014 to bring all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employees together to strengthen and consolidate their network. Trends and opportunities were identified to strengthen workforce planning and discuss emerging priorities. Information gathered from the workshop will be used to inform work on the abovementioned priorities.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Employee Committee
The department’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Employee Committee has two important roles: providing support to members of the network of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employees, and offering strategic advice to the department on workplace and workforce matters affecting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employees including recruitment, retention and career development strategies. The committee provides leadership and advice to the department on how best to target limited resources to areas that will help the department remain an employer of choice and continue a culture of ‘Indigenous business is everyone’s business’.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Employee Workshop
The department’s inaugural Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Employee Workshop was held on 12 and 13 June 2014 in Canberra. The themes of the workshop were:
Inspire: to engage our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employees with inspiring leaders and other inspiring Indigenous Australians
Aspire: to gauge and develop the aspirations of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employees, for themselves personally and for the department
Achieve: to identify the actions that individuals and the department could take to assist Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employees to achieve their goals and aspirations.
The workshop was preceded, on 11 June, by an opportunity for all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employees to shadow a member of the SES for a day.
Feedback from everyone involved was very positive. Many found the experience valuable and insightful; one participant called it ‘one of the most rewarding experiences of my career’.