“Ours” not “theirs” is the thinking we need on the journey towards reconciliation

Reconciliation Week begins today. It’s 25 years since the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation (CAR) was established and in February this year, Reconciliation Australia issued a significant and important report, The State of Reconciliation in Australia. The Report shows that, whilst there has been progress, there are some significant challenges remaining to achieve true reconciliation.

A key and positive finding of the Report is that 86 percent of all Australians believe the relationship between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and other Australians is important. Many Australians (64 percent) agree that cultural diversity makes us stronger but some (35 percent) still believe Australia is a racist country.  It is of concern that, according to the Report findings, thirty-three percent – or one-third – of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have experienced verbal racial abuse in the six months prior to the survey; trust between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and non-Indigenous Australians remains low.

The Report makes it clear that the large and unacceptable gaps between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and other Australians that exist across all social, health, education and economic indicators cost us all. It also maps out the ‘next steps’ recommended be taken to achieve Reconciliation Australia’s vision of ‘a just, reconciled and equitable Australia’.

The seven areas with an action ‘example’ as an indicator of what can be done, are:

  • Overcome racism – “whether in the office, on the football field or in a community setting, we all have a responsibility to demonstrate a zero tolerance approach to racism”.
  • Renew focus on closing the gap by all Australian governments – “consider appropriate ways to encourage Government to commit to the ‘Closing the Gap on Indigenous Disadvantage’ framework.”
  • Recognise and respect the cultures and collective rights of First Australians – “increase my understanding of and respect for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and their cultures.”
  • Capitalise on the positive social change generated through the RAP program – “intensify our firm’s commitment to our RAP program.”
  • Improve the governance of government – “urge government to ensure respectful and sustained engagement with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, their representative bodies and community organisations.”
  • Achieve a process to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and unite all Australians – “Engage in community dialogue to discuss the unresolved issues of sovereignty, treaty and agreement-making in order to progress these important matters.”
  • Acknowledge our past through truth, justice and healing – “increase my knowledge and understanding of the wrongs of the past and of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories and cultures.”

KPMG’s own RAP Program is consistent with the recommended approaches in the ‘State of Reconciliation’ Report. In our firm, we recognise that, while some businesses, including our own, have and are taking action to improve the status quo for Indigenous Australians, much more needs to be done. As the Report states so rightly, “As long as prejudice and racism exist, we cannot say we are reconciled”.

We’re not there yet but we are on the journey and KPMG’s RAP and programs like Jawun are two examples of that.

Like the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation, at KPMG, we believe reconciliation is about promoting a true sense of national unity. That means there must be a robust national conversation. You might consider if you haven’t already done so, looking at Reconciliation Australia’s Report and website which offers ideas for how we can all create positive change. You might think and talk about the issues – and even come up with innovative ideas and actions that make a difference. KPMG welcomes this kind of input. It can be provided by contacting our Corporate Citizenship team.

All of us can play an important role in achieving a reconciled, just and equitable Australia. That’s a country I would like to live in and I hope that Reconciliation Week 2016 will help us move much closer to that goal. Let’s think about how true reconciliation is about ‘ours’ not ‘theirs’ and by that I mean ‘our history, our story, our future’.

Peter Nash, Chairman KPMG Australia.
Peter is a Board Member of Reconciliation Australia.

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