Page 302 - Week 01 - Thursday, 17 February 2011

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Putting these principles into practice in our daily working lives can help create a positive work culture, one that allows all of us to contribute and to perform to our full potential. A genuine and wholehearted commitment to these values by everyone who is part of our service will, over time, enable us to build a more diverse and even more skilled workforce in which every worker knows that he or she is valued for the knowledge, ability, background and experience they bring to the job.

The ACT public service is made up of Canberrans from a diverse range of backgrounds, life experiences, educational achievements and professional aspirations. But it is a diversity that is valuable. A workforce that gives voice to different viewpoints in a spirit of respect and that understands different life experiences is one that can more effectively serve its community. If our public service resembles the make-up of our community, surely we are better placed not only to anticipate the needs of that community but also to meet those needs.

In many ways, the ACT public service is already representative of the broader ACT community, but we do know that certain groups are under-represented in our ranks. The workforce analysis undertaken during the development of this framework bears that out and it bears out the need for specific employment strategies for two main groups, Canberrans with disabilities and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Canberrans.

As we have already acknowledged in this Assembly, people with disabilities represent about 16 per cent of the Australian working age population yet constitute only 1.6 per cent of the ACT public service. While the past year has seen a small increase in employment numbers for people with a disability, we must do more. It is likely that our own measure of the number of existing employees with a disability is on the low side because it only counts those who self-identify as living with a disability, yet that ought not give us any comfort. It is highly likely that some choose not to disclose a disability, and for some that choice is made because from past experience they know that to reveal a disability is to become vulnerable, to potentially expose oneself to discrimination or to bullying or to ridicule.

Much as we might like to imagine that reactions like these could not exist in a 21st century workplace, we know better. It is one of the key reasons we need a respect, equity and diversity framework. We want to eliminate not just the discrimination but also the fear of it, once and for all.

One of the actions we commit to as part of this framework is a diversity census. This will give us a clearer idea of the make-up of our workforce and help reduce the incidence of under-reporting. We are not seeking this information for its own sake. We hope that by giving employees the confidence to disclose their differences, to assert their circumstances, we can ensure that our employment practices meet their individual needs. That is something to which I am committed. Employment opportunities in our own public service for Canberrans with disabilities must and will increase. Work is well underway to develop an ACT public service employment strategy for people with disabilities, which is a viable action under the respect, equity and diversity framework.

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