In Australia reconciliation holds many benefits for society as a whole. Businesses can play their part by introducing reconciliation action plans into their operations.
According to organisation Reconciliation Australia, reconciliation is about strengthening relationships between the First Nations peoples of Australia and non-Indigenous people, for the benefit of all society.
Reconciliation comes under five key areas: race relations, equality and equity, institutional integrity, unity, and historical acceptance.
“These five dimensions do not exist in isolation, but are interrelated,” Reconciliation Australia said on its website.
“Reconciliation cannot be seen as a single issue or agenda; the contemporary definition of reconciliation must weave all of these threads together.
“For example, greater historical acceptance of the wrongs done to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples can lead to improved race relations, which in turn leads to greater equality and equity,” it explained.
Based on these key areas, reconciliation means maintaining focus on making tangible changes such as: overcoming racism; renewing focus on closing the gap so that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians participate equally and equitably in all areas of life; achieving a process to recognise Australia’s First Peoples in the constitution; and by acknowledging Australia’s past through education and understanding.
Another key action outlined by Reconciliation Australia to address institutional integrity is to “capitalise on the Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP) Program to create a wider range of opportunities for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians.”
This is one of the ways that businesses can ensure they are taking steps towards reconciliation and maintaining accountability within operations.
Reconciliation action plans
RAPs enable businesses to take meaningful action to advance reconciliation, support First Nations self-determination and increase economic equity.
The Reconciliation Action Plan program was first launched 15 years ago. Today is it a network of over 2000 organisations.
The four RAP frameworks specified by Reconciliation Australia are Reflect, Innovate, Stretch and Elevate. Each framework is designed for organisations at different stages in their reconciliation journey.
For businesses that join the RAP program, it is step towards change on an institutional level.
As Reconciliation Australia co-chair, professor Tom Calma AO said in his speech at Reconciliation Australia’s 2022 RAP Conference in June:
“You are not just a network of organisations with RAPs. You are part of a much larger movement driving change at grassroots, local, state, national and corporate levels.”
One example of a company that has shared its RAP is construction company Hanson Australia.
It shared its Innovate Reconciliation Action Plan for November 2021 – November 2023 in line with NAIDOC week running from 3-10 July.
“Commencing an Innovate RAP is a crucial and rewarding period in an organisation’s reconciliation journey,” Reconciliation Australia chief executive officer Karen Mundine said in Hanson’s RAP.
“It is a time to build strong foundations and relationships, ensuring sustainable, thoughtful, and impactful RAP outcomes into the future.
“An Innovate RAP is the time to strengthen and develop the connections that form the lifeblood of all RAP commitments,” she said.
For example, Hanson’s Innovate RAP outlines 15 actions across the four key areas of relationships, respect, opportunities, and governance to be achieved by 2023.
Actions 1 to 4 are related to building relationships and include goals to maintain relationships with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander stakeholders and organisations, and to drive positive race relations through anti-discrimination strategies.
Actions 5 to 8 are related to respect and aim to increase understanding, value and recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures, histories, knowledge, and rights through cultural learning.
This includes demonstrating respect towards First Nations peoples by supporting the protection and preservation of environments of cultural significance.
Actions 9 to 11 aim to create more opportunities for First Nations peoples by increasing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander recruitment, retention, and professional development.
Hanson will also increase community investment and supplier diversity.
Actions 12 to 15 address governance outcomes. Hanson will provide appropriate support for effective implementation of RAP commitments.
The company will also build accountability and transparency through reporting RAP achievements, challenges, and learnings both internally and externally.
To help achieve its goals, Hanson has partnered with BC Consulting – a consultancy focused on helping organisations to understand and become more aware of the tenets and beliefs of First Australian Peoples.
Hanson has already commenced improving outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff through the inclusion of policies such as “sorry leave”.
Likewise, the partnership BC Consulting has helped to ensuring that over 85 per cent of Hanson employees are guided through cultural awareness training.
“BC Consulting also viewed and amended, where required, organisational policies and procedures, particularly in relation to our People and Culture department, which is responsible for recruitment and the well-being of employees,” the RAP said.
Benefits of a RAP
Driving diversity creates numerous business advantages such as talent retention, innovation, and sustainability.
For example, having a RAP in place can help address talent retention as well as helping to open up the talent pool.
By fostering diversity within the workplace, businesses open the floor to a wide variety of talented people that may not have previously considered a career in the field.
Hanson business improvement manger Melissa Petrovski and proud Aboriginal woman from the Bundjalung nation pointed out that increasing diversity helps businesses to deal with different nuances within the market.
“Increasing our diversity would make our workplace more accommodating to other cultures, especially Aboriginal cultures.
“By promoting diversity, we are opening opportunities for Aboriginal people to apply knowing full well that they will feel comfortable,” Petrovski said in Hanson’s RAP.
By drawing on the values outlined in a RAP, such as increasing community investment and supplier diversity, businesses open the door to collaborating with a much more diverse range of businesses.
Doing so can help transform operations as Traditional Owners have the knowledge, skills, and expertise on how to navigate extractive operations in a way that offers continual improvement in environmental and social and governance outcomes.
It is therefore essential that quarry and mine operators, including their suppliers and service providers, understand the importance of working with the Traditional Owners on whose country they operate.
Working with First Nations businesses, including suppliers, contractors and service providers is instrumental when it comes to taking steps towards reconciliation and sustainability.
For example, indigenous contracting business Civil Road & Rail SX5 has taken delivery of a Cat D10T2 dozer for mine rehabilitation services in the Pilbara, WA from WesTrac.
Civil Road & Rail SX5 is part of the broader SX5 Group of companies. It is a partnership between Eastern Guruma group director and senior elder Kenzie Smith and SX5 Group directors Ralph and Cherie Keller.
The SX5 Group highlighted that the act of rehabilitating the land has grown in significance over recent years.
“We’re making things green again, making Country feel better,” SX5 Group director Ralph Keller said.
“In repairing Country, we’re helping repair the trust and relationships with the region’s Traditional Owners.”
“The world needs miners to supply the mineral resources required for a more sustainable future, and that means we need to support sustainable mining initiatives,” WesTrac general manager Cameron Callaway agreed.
“Drawing on the knowledge of Traditional Owners and the expertise of knowledgeable, experienced indigenous organisations such as SX5 is a key aspect of that.”
Finally, working towards RAP goals can help bring a business together and foster a space diversity and inclusivity across the board.
“The RAP program’s framework of relationships, respect, and opportunities emphasises not only the importance of fostering consultation and collaboration with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and communities, but also empowering and enabling staff to contribute to this process, as well,” Mundine pointed out.
For example, “implementing an Innovate RAP signals Hanson Australia’s readiness to develop and strengthen relationships, engage staff and stakeholders in reconciliation, and pilot innovative strategies to ensure effective outcomes,” she said.
Promoting a sense of unity amongst the workforce will help to make everyone feel seen and heard as everyone works towards a common goal.