Being Indigenous in the Australian Public Service

Thursday, 23 March 2017
Dr Julie Lahn

The Australian Public Service has had some success in attracting substantial numbers of Indigenous employees. But significant numbers also regularly exit the bureaucracy. Retaining Indigenous employees is an area of ongoing difficulty for government. The interview-based research presented here conducted with former and current Indigenous civil servants outlines factors they identify as contributing to decisions to leave the bureaucracy. A key finding involves their general sense of being underutilised and undervalued — that forms of experience and understanding as Indigenous people go largely unrecognised within government. This effectively constrains their potential to meaningfully contribute to improving government relations with Indigenous Australians or to enhance the effectiveness of the bureaucracy more broadly. Work as an Indigenous public servant emerges as a space of contestation with the possibilities and limits of statecraft.