It’s time to change it up!

On Tuesday evening at KPMG in Melbourne, we held a Q&A style panel event, hosted by Tony Jones, the popular host of ABC’s Q&A program.

The well-attended event was part of KPMG’s National Reconciliation Week celebrations. I was pleased to join six other panellists who included esteemed Indigenous Australians, Mick Gooda, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Social Justice Commissioner, Justin Mohamed, CEO of Reconciliation Australia, Lauren Ganley, GM of Telstra’s Indigenous Directorate, Paul Briggs, OAM, Chairperson Kaiela Institute and Empowered Communities Leader, Goulburn-Murray Region in Victoria, and Josephine Cashman, Member of the Prime Minister’s Indigenous Advisory and Chair of the Safety Sub-Group, together with Alan Tudge MP, Federal Member for Aston and Parliamentary Secretary to the Prime Minister.

The question put to the panellists was: “Are businesses doing enough to support Indigenous Communities?”

Tony Jones led a stimulating discussion for an audience of KPMG attendees live in Melbourne and via video link in KPMG Sydney, Canberra, Adelaide and Brisbane offices. Panellists spoke passionately about reconciliation, and recognition (constitutional reform) encouraging all Australians to do more, at the political level, the community level, and as individuals.

Business has a vital role to play in achieving several key objectives: mutual respect and mutual understanding between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders and non-Indigenous Australians – and equality of opportunity for all. I wish I could say that this was already a reality and not an aspiration. It is not yet – but the heightened awareness from events like Reconciliation Week and the keen interest in the discussion at the Q&A Panel give hope that real change is occurring.

Lauren Ganley captured hearts and minds when she remembered an Australia back in 1967: “In parts of Queensland, whites walked on one side of the road and blacks on the other.” She spoke of the way in which the YES result for the 27 May 1967 referendum to change the Constitution and recognise and treat Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians equally was a powerful symbol to address inequality – and how a ‘Recognise’ referendum 50 years later on 27 May 2017 could also be such a milestone.

Paul Briggs, Chairperson of the Kaeila Institute and Empowered Communities Leader in the Murray Goulbourn Region captured a positive sea change when he spoke about improved job opportunities for Indigenous people in his region. He said that only three or four years ago, young Aboriginal people could not get jobs in local businesses in the Shepparton area. Today, they are increasingly being hired at Woolworths, Target, and Bunnings – addressing a key issue Mr Briggs highlighted: the most worrying factor for Aboriginal people is the lack of a sense of a positive future.

The discussion turned to the power of the brand – how having brands like KPMG and Wesfarmers associated with Indigenous communities is incredibly powerful. It encourages and builds trust in communities and enables smaller organisations to engage with Indigenous people.  One of the most significant realisations in the reconciliation journey has been the need to move away from the welfare state.The answer does not lie in welfare dependency but it building sustainable economic and social prosperity in Indigenous communities. This is not just the responsibility of the government. It is a role for the private sector as well.

At KPMG, our commitment to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders is set out in our Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP). Our RAP outlines our public commitment to embed reconciliation across our business. Our most recent RAP, Recognition, prosperity and empowerment: our journey to Reconciliation, 2013-2015 outlines three areas where we are focusing our energy and resources.

In broad terms, we are focused on supporting economic and social development of Indigenous communities, showing leadership for reconciliation, and recognising and promoting the rights of Indigenous Australia. Through our long-standing involvement with Jawun, we have sent over 180 KPMG people to work, building capacity in Indigenous organisations and businesses across Australia. As Catherine Hunter KPMG’s head Corporate Citizenship noted on the night, this equates to one full time employee working for 21 years.

In addition to these results, we have procured over $1.5m in contracts with Indigenous business since 2010. Beyond Jawun and procurement, in FY14 KPMG also provided around $2.5m honorary (pro-bono work) for Indigenous organisations and small businesses.

With over 5000 KPMG people in Australia, our reconciliation efforts are inspiring a generation of change agents. The support of our people spills over to the discussions our employees have with their friends and families. Our people are moved to contribute and talk about the tremendous professional and personal value they gain from being part of our reconciliation journey.

Mick Gooda spoke about how reconciliation is about our heritage – the heritage of all Australians (both Indigenous and non-Indigenous).

This point was enthusiastically discussed by the panel. If we are going to live in this land, we must understand, embrace and celebrate our heritage – we cannot choose to separate our shared histories. When we talk about racism and inequality of opportunity for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, it is not just about racism in sport, it is about not having the opportunity to celebrate Indigenous history, culture and languages. The reconciliation journey is about getting the 98 percent majority (non-Indigenous Australian’s) to embrace and celebrate Indigenous history and culture.

In 2014, KPMG conducted a social impact assessment on the outcomes our efforts were having on our firm and Indigenous Australians. The results showed a return of $12m in social and economic value on an investment of $5m over 2 years. That is, for every $1 invested, $2.40 was returned in social and economic benefit.

Understanding the impact we can have drives us to do more.

We all want to live in a country that offers equal opportunity to all Australians. I thus urge everyone to take a moment to think about how in 2015 you might enhance your awareness and understanding of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history, culture and language and participate in the journey towards reconciliation.

What can we do as individuals?

Justin Mohamed said that, as a starting point, we can access materials and information, and we can create connections on-line. He recommended taking simple steps such as participating in events like National Reconciliation Week and National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee week. Taking a small step, but a step towards being involved and understanding more – and your engagement will grow from there.

At the close of the Q&A Panel event, Tony Jones asked me how I started my own journey to find out about the relationships between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders, and non-Indigenous Australians.

I have KPMG’s former Chairman, the late Doug Jukes to thank for enlightening me. Discussions with Doug got me thinking about Indigenous issues and I felt I could get involved and make a difference. It’s only in the last decade – only through my participation in Jawun and seeing first-hand the positive impact we can have in working towards a reconciled Australia – that I have learned so much.

So any time is the right time to get involved.

I encourage all Australians to start now, and participate, because it is never too late to join this important journey towards equality of opportunity.

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One thought on “It’s time to change it up!

  1. Marjorie Johnston

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    The KPMG Reconciliation Week Q&A highlighted the way in which some businesses have stepped up to provide employment opportunities. More can be done and I hope everyone gets on board with this. We’re all Australians and should celebrate our unique heritage.

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