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Speech by the Hon Alexander Downer, MP, Minister for Foreign Affairs
At the launch of the new DFAT Indigenous Cadetship Program
Canberra, 17 July 2001
Thank you, Secretary; distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen.
I'm very pleased to be here today to launch the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade's Indigenous Cadetship Program.
Promoting Indigenous peoples and cultures is a very important element in the Government's foreign and trade policies, and a key function for the Department.
This work takes many forms. One is public diplomacy - underlining to people overseas the very valuable contribution that Australia's Indigenous peoples make through their involvement in the arts, business, industry and professional fields. The Department also promotes the interests of Indigenous Australians in international negotiations, for instance by contributing to the development of international instruments that clarify the rights, needs and interests of the world's Indigenous peoples.
But one of the most significant ways in which the Department can ensure that Indigenous peoples have an impact on Australian foreign and trade policy is by giving them the opportunity to contribute directly as members of DFAT's staff.
DFAT's efforts to date
DFAT currently employs 25 Indigenous Australians, who make up 1.3% of its total Australia-based numbers. Most of these joined the Department as Graduate Trainees.
Graduate Trainees are the main feeder group for diplomatic positions overseas, and also contribute a great deal to foreign and trade policy work in Canberra.
Since 1993, DFAT has recruited 17 Indigenous Graduate Trainees. Of these, 12 still work in the Department. Six of these are either serving, or have served, overseas in important diplomatic roles, and three are preparing for overseas postings. Two have participated in the Bougainville Peace Monitoring Group.
Another important way in which the Department can give Indigenous Australians valuable employment opportunities is through cadetships.
DFAT has participated in the Commonwealth Government's National Indigenous Cadetship Project since 1994. Indigenous cadets are undergraduates studying at tertiary institutions. Sponsoring agencies give them work experience during the long vacation as well as generous financial assistance. When they graduate, cadets are guaranteed an APS3 position in their sponsoring agency, and are well-placed to apply for positions as Graduate Trainees.
So far, the Department's role in this Project has been fairly passive - participating in the national scheme and relying on its leadership, but without making the most of the opportunities it affords.
Partly as a result of this, the Department's record in recruiting and retaining Indigenous cadets has not been as strong as it could be. Of the nine cadets DFAT has sponsored since 1993, only three still work here.
A tailored cadetship program
The Secretary, Ashton Calvert, took up this issue late last year in a meeting with members of the Department's Indigenous Employee Network, as part of a broader discussion on how to improve the recruitment and retention of Indigenous staff.
One of the ideas to emerge from that meeting, which I am very pleased to announce and launch here today, is a new cadetship program targeted specifically at Indigenous students interested in careers with DFAT.
There are two reasons for a specific approach:
- First, we need to encourage Indigenous students to consider a career in DFAT. One reason why relatively few apply to be Graduate Trainees is probably sheer lack of awareness of the opportunities available here. We need to raise DFAT's profile, and make sure Indigenous students know we are interested in them.
- Second, we want DFAT's program to be attractive to those most inclined to work here.
The new 'DFAT Indigenous Cadetship Program' has been developed in close consultation with a range of stakeholders, including the Department of Employment, Workplace Relations and Small Business and the Indigenous Employee Network.
One of the program's key elements is a national promotional campaign to attract a larger pool of candidates from a wide range of studies. Members of the Indigenous Employee Network have designed an eye-catching brochure and poster, which you see displayed here, to market the program through Indigenous tertiary networks and media outlets.
The Department will take on two to three cadets each year, who will still apply through DEWRSB. Successful candidates will receive generous salary rates and allowances and payment of HECS on units they successfully complete. On completion of the cadetships, DFAT will offer graduates ongoing positions and further structured career development opportunities.
The value of each cadetship is approximately $30,000 per annum. DFAT will contribute $16,000 of this, and the rest will come from DEWRSB.
Roni Ellis Indigenous Study Award and DFAT Indigenous Internship
I am also announcing today two other initiatives that will complement the cadetship program by providing further incentives for Indigenous students - an Indigenous Study Award and an Indigenous Internship Program.
The study award will be dedicated to the memory of an Indigenous DFAT employee, Ms Roni Ellis, who tragically died of leukaemia at the age of 53 in February last year.
We are honoured to have Roni's daughter, Nicole, her son-in-law Darrin, and granddaughter Alexandra here with us today.
Roni joined the then Cultural Relations Branch as an Executive Officer in 1991. She managed the promotion of our cultural image abroad through the medium of Aboriginal arts and culture, including art exhibitions, dance and music tours, film festivals and international exchange programs. She also provided advice and training - both in Canberra and at missions abroad - on issues affecting affect Indigenous Australians.
In DFAT, Roni made a unique contribution to building understanding of Aboriginal ways, culture, values and the history of Australia. She did this among her friends and colleagues in Australia, and among the representatives from many other countries who she met while serving at our UNESCO mission in Paris.
Our High Commissioner in Suva, Susan Boyd said at Roni's funeral, 'Roni had a great talent in being able to open up understanding, without making you feel bad about your ignorance of matters Aboriginal.'
All those who knew Roni remember her as a woman of great dignity, with tremendous warmth, humanity and sense of humour. This Award will serve as a memorial for her, and an incentive for Indigenous students to follow her example in fighting the odds to achieve their goals. We hope of course that recipients of the Roni Ellis Study Award will also become DFAT cadets, and, ultimately, Graduate Trainees in the Department.
The Study Award, worth $1,000, will be awarded annually to an Indigenous student studying the Foundation Program - a tertiary accreditation program at the Ngunnawal Centre of the University of Canberra. This Program assists students who have come late to tertiary studies, or who need to improve their qualifications before embarking on a degree.
I am also very glad to announce today that DFAT will be pursuing an Indigenous Internship, in consultation with the Jabal Centre, the Australian National University's Indigenous support unit. The Internship will be offered to Indigenous students during their final year of study. Interns will work with DFAT staff on a research project, which will accrue course credits for their degrees.
Like the cadetship, the internship will offer participants an inside view of the Department and its work, encouraging them to consider a long-term career in DFAT.
The initiatives I have announced today reflect our Government's commitment to addressing the employment and education disadvantages experienced by Indigenous Australians. They also reflect my own genuine interest in seeing more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people - people like Roni Ellis - become actively involved in foreign and trade policy, advocating Australia's interests, and representing their cultures and Australia's diversity overseas.
I am confident that as a result of these initiatives, more Indigenous students will opt for a career in DFAT - where they can serve as role models for all Australians and represent their country with pride.
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