The Hon Patrick Gorman MP Radio interview – ABC Canberra Drive with Ross Solly

Assistant Minister to the Prime Minister, Assistant Minister for the Public Service

ROSS SOLLY, HOST: Patrick Gorman is the Assistant Minister for the Public Service, and joins us on the line this afternoon. Patrick Gorman, good to have you on the programme.


SOLLY: So how much work have we got to do to make our public service more fit for purpose in terms of representing more of the community?

GORMAN: Well, we do have some work to do. What we know at the moment is that part of our public service don’t look like the community we serve. And this specific piece of work that myself and Minister Gallagher have released today, the cultural and linguistic diversity employment strategy and action plan is about doing that work. So, one of the things we really want to see out of this is lifting up in those senior levels of the public service CALD representation. We say that that’s something that where we’re at now isn’t where we should be. And we can do so much better. So, we’ve set some really high benchmarks to try and get the senior levels of the Public Service to look like the public service at large.

SOLLY: Yeah, because at large, let’s call it, let’s call them the workers, if that’s okay, Patrick Gorman. The representation there is – would you say – about right? But it’s then the next stage to progress to the leadership level where we’re not seeing that transition?

GORMAN: Yeah. And we’ve been seeing that in the data for a number of years now. So, it was clear that we needed to – business as usual wasn’t going to be enough. So, the plan that we’ve released today recognises that, yeah, if I look at a department like Home Affairs, where I was this morning, here in Perth, your listeners might know that there’s about 1200, Home Affairs staff here in Western Australia, doing all sorts of work for the nation, they’ve got about 30% of their workers, as you say, identifying as from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds. But when you get up to the Senior Executive, it’s just around 11%. So, we want to close that discrepancy. And we recognise that by setting some really high benchmarks and saying to the public service when they’re doing that hiring, to make sure their processes are thinking about all the things that our workers bring to the table when they’re applying for those promotions. We think we will see some real change.

SOLLY: So, are you able to put your finger on why we don’t see that progression? Is it because people from diverse backgrounds are dropping out of the public service? Or are they just been overlooked for those positions?

GORMAN: Well, what we did is when, again, the data was clearly showing us that we had a problem, and we needed to find the right policy response. So, we reached out to hundreds and hundreds of employees across the public service. And they’ve the work that we released today is something that myself, Minister Gallagher, the Australian Public Service Commission have worked on. But really, it’s the work of, in particular, cultural and linguistically diverse employees in the public service who’ve told us that at times, they’ve felt levels of discrimination. Or that their experiences and things that they bring to the public service aren’t always properly appreciated. And that sometimes, just simply the way we were running hiring practices, wasn’t giving them the chance to shine. So, we’ve said that we’re going to reform those practices, we’re also going to look to make sure that we have that we have all of Australian Public Service wide standards, to make sure we have some more leadership in this space, to lift up cultural literate literacy amongst public servants. And to expect more leadership from our senior public service leaders. This is a call to action for everyone, whether you be the secretary of a department, or someone who’s a brand-new graduate, we can all do something to make sure that our public service looks more like the Australia for which it serves.

SOLLY: So, I’m just looking at the figures here in the general public service at the coalface. It’s about 25% come from diverse backgrounds, but then it drops to 11% when you get to the senior levels. You’ve set a target of 17%, what does that mean in in bare numbers? What sort of what sort of extra numbers will you need to get?

GORMAN: So, what we want? Excellent question. So, what we want to see – and I hope there’s some public servants listening on their drive home, who will know that this is the direction we are taking – which is that we want to see about one of every four new appointments in the Senior Executive Service, being someone from a culturally and linguistically diverse background. What we know is that if that is for the upcoming appointments that need to be made in coming years, if we start to meet that standard, we will see progression towards meeting that benchmark of 24%, of Senior Executive Service members from those backgrounds. But most importantly, it’s not just what it is for those individuals. It’s not just what it is for the person who gets that promotion or that opportunity to lead in the public service, which is a fantastic opportunity. But it’s also what it says to the public service at large to those workers to say ‘yes, you are reflected in all parts of the public service.’ And equally, it delivers on something that the Australian public needs, which is we need the best talent into the public service. So, this is part of our broader goal of being an employer of choice so that people choose the public service and stay in the public service.

SOLLY: Just on that, on the text line, somebody says, ‘When are we going to have the most qualified person for the job rather than quotas just to get diversity? We’re all human with different skills and I would prefer to see the best people in a job especially being able to communicate with good English,’ says this texter. Is there a danger, was there ever a danger when you start setting targets and demands like this, Patrick Gorman, that people will start feeling that they’re getting to a job because of who they are rather than what they can provide?

GORMAN: Well, if we go back to when it was the Howard Government in 1999 put in place, the current Public Service Act that we operate under, one of the objectives of that Act that’s been there now for 25 years, is to foster an APS workforce that reflects the diversity of the Australian population. We’ve always recognised that we get the best results, and we get the best policy ideas, when we have a broad workforce. That it’s not just a workforce of some, but it’s a workforce of all of us. And when it comes to merit-based promotion, this actually is about backing in merit-based promotion. That’s obviously another really fundamental part of what it is to be a public servant. But this backs it in by recognising that people bring a range of different skills, a range of different experiences, and different abilities, different ways of analysing policy and putting together pieces of work. Again, I was at the Department of Home Affairs this morning, I was speaking about, it’s really clear when you are at the coalface of people doing that really important work, you see that people who have different lived experiences, come from different parts of the world, come with different cultural backgrounds, it actually means that we get a better service for the public. So, this is about backing that in and ultimately recognising that if you look at the data now, it doesn’t make sense why the Senior Executive Service looks like one cohort and the population of the public service at large looks different.

SOLLY: Again, on the text line, somebody else has said ‘promotion should be on best person for the job, not quota.’ Another texter says ‘the public service regenerates itself in its own form. The same poor levels of executive leadership number exists for First Nations people, even in places where the work is entirely about First Nations people, public policy is for the most part shaped by middle class white folks,’ is that an accurate perception, do you think Patrick Gorman?

GORMAN: I note that public policy ultimately is shaped by publicly elected parliamentarians. But the advice that we get, we always want to have a range of different perspectives. Specifically, when it comes to First Nations leadership, it’s another area that Minister Gallagher and Minister Linda Burney have recognised the public service could grab more opportunity out of and so one of the initiatives that started at the end of last year is what we call the ‘SES 100.’ That’s about finding a pool of qualified First Nations leaders who can step into some of those Senior Executive Service roles. Because again, we recognise that in some of these very complex policy areas – and again, we have conversations about where we are being honest, as a government – where certain parts of our policy settings aren’t giving us the results that we need.


GORMAN: This is about finding those ways to get the results that we want. And that involves listening to different perspectives and giving more people an opportunity, that great opportunity to lead in our public service.

SOLLY: So, I just want to read out a couple more texts before I let you go, Patrick Gorman. Somebody says, ‘the last text is spot on, the best person for the job not what gender you are.’ That’s from Mark. Somebody else says ‘regarding diversity in the APS, there’s a low percentage of all people with disabilities who do graduate from uni. And if you don’t have a uni degree, you’re going to be overlooked in the hiring process. The government should look at people’s skills, not just their pieces of paper. Their breadth of life and work experience should count for something, not just their formal qualifications.’ And this texter says, ‘what about economy diversity? Few public schooled SES who are the first in their family to get a uni education. All old boys, girls from wealth’ says this texter. Anyway, it’s out there now, people can talk about it. People can work out what’s the best way forward. I appreciate your time this afternoon. Patrick Gorman. Thank you.

GORMAN: Thank you, Ross.

SOLLY: It’s Patrick Gorman, who is the Assistant Minister for the Public Service.

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