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Public servant shares wide-ranging impacts of discrimination

At the 2015 Mabo Oration, Dr Dawn Casey discussed the discrimination her family faced when seeking a government payment in the 1970s and her own experiences of discrimination throughout her career in the Australian Public Service.

By far my most difficult learning experience was to do with my father ... it did ... confirm my unconscious resolve that government policies and systems needed to change.

Dr Dawn Casey, 2015, p 12
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About the artefact

Experiences of discrimination in all aspects of life were and continue to be common for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Prominent Tagalaka woman and long-term public servant, Dr Dawn Casey, described her experiences with social services as well as discrimination in her work life in a speech at the 2015 Mabo Oration.  

Casey recounted the time she tried to help her father get Old-age Pension in the mid-1970s. She described it as a ‘most difficult learning experience’. Like many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, Casey’s father didn’t have a birth certificate. Because of this, it was hard to prove that he was old enough to be eligible for the pension. Casey said this experience left her with an ‘unconscious resolve that government policies and systems needed to change’ (Casey 2015:12).  

Casey talked about how she went on to experience discrimination herself throughout her long career in the Australian Public Service.  

Despite her excellence, Casey was often told she didn’t have the required education to continue her role. ‘Recruitment practices and policies severely limited employment and promotion opportunities for women and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people,’ she said. 

Casey sought out further education to continue to progress, however, she felt discrimination against her only escalated, regardless of whether she was told she was doing a ‘good job’. Even as Director of the National Museum of Australia, she was ultimately told her contract would not be extended because the government was looking for someone with a PhD. Casey would go on to receive 3 honourary doctorate degrees. 

Casey’s speech holds examples of the long-lasting and wide-ranging impacts of the marginalisation of Aboriginal people in Australian society.

Source details

This transcript is of Casey’s speech at the 2015 Mabo Oration, a biennial event that pays tribute to Eddie Mabo and the Mabo decision. The Mabo Oration is organised by the Queensland Human Rights Commission in partnership with the Queensland Performing Arts Centre. 

Casey’s full oration from 2015 is available on the Queensland Human Rights Commission website. 

Dr Dawn Casey is currently Deputy CEO at the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO).


Permission to reproduce her speech here was granted by Dr Dawn Casey PSM.  


Casey D (10 August 2015) ‘The Mabo High Court judgment: Was it the agent for change and recognition?’ [conference presentation], Mabo Oration, Queensland.

NACCHO Media (8 March 2017) ‘Dr Dawn Casey’ [photograph], NACCHO Communique, accessed 24 May 2023.