Updating Results

Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (PM&C)

  • 1,000 - 50,000 employees

Sapphire Dawson

In the Cabinet Division, I have an entire Department to look after in relation to their submissions, papers, etc that need to go to Cabinet for consideration.

Where did you grow up?

I was born in Sydney, I was placed in my dads care full time when I was about 3 years old with my sister who was 6 months (3 years age gap between us). I was always encouraged to go to university and follow my dreams by my dad and I am lucky that I followed through.

I went to several primary schools –Sydney, Lake Macquarie, Sydney, Scone, and Cessnock – for the first 4 I spent approximately 1-1.5 years at each and then my dad settled in Cessnock from the end of year 4 onwards until I graduated high school in 2010.

My first job was as a School-Based Aboriginal Trainee (SBAT) at the ANZ Bank in Cessnock I worked there from 2008 until 2010 as a Trainee
I fell pregnant in 2011 and had a baby in January of 2012 – Patrick he is currently 6 years old. I didn’t get the ATAR to get into uni in 2010 so I did a bridging course at the University of Newcastle for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people Yapug for a year and a half. I finished the program at the end of 2012. I was accepted into a combined Bachelor of Laws/Bachelor of Business for 2013. I finished the Bachelor of Business in 2015 and enrolled into a Bachelor of Laws/Diploma of Legal Practice in 2015 and finished those two at the end of 2017.

I met my new partner in 2015 and became a step-mother to a six-year-old girl named Lacie. In May 2017, I had a second baby Amari who is currently 18 months old. Bringing my tribe to a total of 5 people.

During University I worked at a not-for-profit for 12 weeks in 2013 summer, in 2014 I accepted a job as an intern at Qantas in their Qantas Loyalty Division, in 2015 I worked in Legal Aid for 3 months in the Criminal Division and also at the University of Newcastle Legal Centre. In 2016 I was apart of the Lucy Mentoring Program and received 1-week work experience at SparkeHelmore Lawyers. I did my final placement for my Practical Legal Training at the Australian Taxation Office for over 3 months.

I also volunteered for the University's pre law program and orientation days. I volunteer as a tutor for Yapug students, high school students, and law school students, I was the University of Newcastle Law Student Associations – Indigenous Student Representative and the secretary for the University of Newcastle Indigenous Student Collective. I was the first Student Intern for the Australian Lawyers for Human Rights (ALHR) for the Indigenous Rights Co-Chair Dr. Amy Maguire.

I am the first person in my entire family (Aboriginal side) to complete year 12 and the first to graduate from University. I have also accepted as a casual academic position in 2018 with ANU. I was selected based on merit to attend a Cultural Study Tour with the University of Newcastle in 2015, we traveled to Canada and North America and visited First Nations Canadian Aboriginal people and First Nations American people. We learned about the similar types of trauma faced by us even though we are extremely far apart. It was my first overseas experience/trip. It really changed my life. It was for 28 days.

In 2018, I was the team leader for the PM&C Children’s Christmas Party held at the Lodge, which received extremely positive feedback on how the event was run. In 2016 & 2018 I received the Scholar of the Year Award from my Aboriginal Corporation in Cessnock of which I am a member. In 2018, I was a panel member on the following:

  • Newcastle University Student Association – Women in Law Panel
  • University of Newcastle Law Student Association – Graduate Government Jobs Panel
  • Australian Breastfeeding Associations – Panel of Indigenous Mothers.

Do you identify with a particular tribe or people?

Yes, Yuin (Aboriginal) and Ngapuhi (Maori).

How did you get to your current job position? For how long have you had it?

I applied through the general stream at PM&C and through the APSC Australian Government Indigenous Graduate Recruitment Program (AGIGRP)?

I have held it for approximately 10 months. I have been through 3 rotations throughout the Department – IAG Legal Services Branch, DPG Office for Women and Governance Group Cabinet Division.

Did you face any obstacles as an Indigenous student?

I faced a significant number of issues – around racism, people thinking I only got into University because I was Aboriginal, that I was there on a “free ride” noting I have a 65K HECS debt currently, that I wasn’t going to complete my degrees due to having children. I struggled with having a differing opinion and people thinking that mine did not matter or explaining to them historical trauma that events such as the stolen generation did not happen “ages ago” it actually happened to peoples parents and grandparents.

I often was looked to for advice regarding welcomes, acknowledgments and it was almost like I had to teach people about Aboriginal people rather than them going out of their own way to learn.

Was your Indigenous heritage ever an advantage?

No. I think in some instances it almost felt like a burden, you feel like people only speak to you because you’re Aboriginal, wanting advice or need some help with an assignment that has a diversity “aspect”.

I have also been asked/told that I am a diversity hire and no one really believes that I got this position off my own back even though I have a diverse range of experiences due to my upbringing, the decisions that I have made and the path that I have taken in my personal and professional lives.

I think though that I am lucky to be an Aboriginal person due to what has occurred in our shared past and the trauma that people have suffered because of this. Aboriginal people have survived and thrived, and I am a testament to that fact.

Applying for your job

How did you choose your specialisation (compared to others)? 

I had applied to the PM&C graduate program – general stream and the Australian Government Indigenous Graduate Recruitment Program.

I received three offers in total. PM&C is the choice that I went with as I really wanted to work in the Indigenous Affairs Group and it was one of my main drivers to select PM&C even though this was the ‘hardest option’

What was your interview process like? 

General Streams

I was asked about teamwork, conflict management and prioritisation in STAR Method (Situation Task Action and Response)


I was asked the same questions – teamwork, conflict management, prioritisation and ability to work under pressure as well as community involvement questions.

Suppose a student was considering your career. What would you advise them to study? Are there any soft skills it would beneficial for them to develop? Should they pursue any sort of work experience?

I would advise them to study a double degree in anything, everyone has a law degree these days and while I think that it’s a very important skill to read and interpret legislation and cases I don’t think its overly important. I think the more important aspects come through community involvement and life experience. Public servants need to be very well rounded and it's weird because I never really knew what this meant when I started university and began to hear it. Being well-rounded shows that you are able to balance differing priorities in your life – work, university, family, sporting commitments, etc as well as having a differing a ray of experiences in each of those settings which would apply to you.

I would say that if you can really step outside of your comfort zone because it really enables you to grow, I have my entire life taken on experiences which I didn’t think I would like or meant that I would be outside my comfort zone and it has made me a more confident person. I don’t think experience necessarily matters for being a public servant as any kind of experience will have applicability to the work of the public service somehow.

  • Example 1: hospitality – stakeholder/customer/client engagement
  • Example 2: retail worker – managing deadlines, managing customers, stocktakes, etc

Your work

What does your employer do?

  • Provides a supervisory/advisory role to the whole of government.
  • Provides advice on Women and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander issues.
  • Shadows other Departments.

What are your areas of responsibility?

Currently, in the Cabinet Division, I have an entire Department to look after in relation to their submissions, papers, etc that need to go to Cabinet for consideration.

Can you describe a typical workday? What was the last thing you worked on?

A typical day is checking my “high” and “low” emails, ensuring that my forecasting (upcoming) Cabinet items are all correct and looking at Agendas for the meetings.

The last thing I worked on was the PM&C Children’s Christmas Party – it was held at the lodge, we had a Santa deliver children presents on his fire truck and we had a jumping castle and some games for the children to play while their parents enjoyed some relaxing time in the lodge gardens. Over 450 people registered to attend and the tickets sold out within 3 days.

What sort of person succeeds in your career?

Someone who is open to opportunities and new experiences.

What are the career prospects with your job? 

You could basically go anywhere in the Public Service. It is quite easy to transition through to another department if you found another job available that you think you would enjoy.

Could someone with a different background do your job?

Literally, anyone could be a public servant. All you need is the drive to apply and start.

Some people think you need a degree, but a lot of people in the public service started in an entry-level job – IAP, Career Starters, IAGDP, AGIGRP, etc. Once you are in you also have the ability to apply for study assistance in a range of different disciplines which suit the needs and work/life balance of everyone.

A word to the wise...

How important is it for Indigenous youths to stay connected with their communities?

I think it is important to remain and stay connected with your communities, however, I acknowledge that a lot of youth do not have this connection to their country or their community due to living on someone else's country. This shouldn’t stop you from getting involved though and learning about the stories, language, and peoples of the land of which you are on. There are many Aboriginal corporations who will help and provide anyone with information all you have to do is search for it.

Which three pieces of advice would you give to Indigenous students nearing graduation? They don’t necessarily have to be related to your role or even be career-focused.

  • Make sure you are mentally well and if you aren't taking some time off and try not to burn out.
  • If the work you are doing does not make you happy you can always change what you’re doing – you are not restricted to remaining in the one position for your entire life.
  • Take all the opportunities available as you might learn something new from it.