Why do Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people leave the Australian Public Service?

Old parliament house


Dr Nicholas Biddle, Dr Julie Lahn and Ms Allison Thatcher

Research Report:

The report 'Understanding Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Employee Decisions to Exit the Australian Public Service' can be found here.

Research Context:

This study is exploring the reasons why Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people leave the Australian Public Service. The Commonwealth Government and many individual agencies have committed to targets related to Indigenous employment in the public service. Some agencies have been more successful than others, but all could be doing a better job. The Australian Public Service Commission (APSC) has contracted the Australian National University to speak to a small number of former public servants to get their honest views on their time in the public service, why they left, and what they have done since they left.


There has been a long-term trend of decline in the representation of Indigenous Australians in the APS. At 30 June 2013, 2.3 per cent of the total APS workforce identified as Indigenous, down from 2.8 per cent in 2002. Indigenous employees continue to separate from the APS at a greater rate than their non-Indigenous counterparts. During 2012–13, there were 332 separations of ongoing Indigenous employees, representing an overall separation rate of 9.9 per cent compared with 6.3 per cent for the APS overall. During 2011–12 the overall separation rate for Indigenous employees was nearly double that of the APS rate. Resignation continues to be the most common separation type for Indigenous employees, representing 64.5 per cent of Indigenous employee separations, compared with 46.3 per cent for the broader APS. This was followed by retrenchments, with 17.5 per cent of Indigenous employees separating in this way, compared with 27.9 per cent for the APS overall.

Indigenous employees continue to separate earlier in their careers than do non-Indigenous employees. During 2012–13, 20.5 per cent of Indigenous employees who separated from the APS did so less than one year after engagement, almost four times the rate of non-Indigenous employees (5.9 per cent). This rate increased from 16.5 per cent in 2011–12.

The 2013 APS Employee Census found that Indigenous employees were engaged in APS employment at a slightly higher rate than non-Indigenous employees, suggesting the employment experience for Indigenous Australians is similar to that of other APS employees. Also, despite the difference in separation rates, Indigenous employees are no more likely than non-Indigenous employees to indicate an immediate or short-term intention to leave their agency. The conundrum therefore is that while Indigenous employees are engaged at a similar rate and have no greater intention to leave the APS than their non-Indigenous counterparts, they continue to separate more frequently.

Further Information:

Please contact Julie Lahn via email or on Ph: 02 6125 3166

Project Funding:

Australian Public Service Commission

Ethics Committee Clearance:

The ethical aspects of this research have been approved by the ANU Human Research Ethics Committee. If you have any concerns or complaints about how this research has been conducted, please contact:

Ethics Manager
The ANU Human Research Ethics Committee
The Australian National University
Telephone: +61 2 6125 3427
Email: Human.Ethics.Officer@anu.edu.au

Updated:  21 June 2016/Responsible Officer:  Centre Director/Page Contact:  CASS Marketing & Communications