The ARA’s 2023 CEO Lunch brought together C-suite executives from major Australian retail organisations along with leaders and influencers from the broader community. The key theme for this year’s lunch was the identification and progression of pathways to achieve reconciliation across the Australian retail sector.
Jason Timor, a First Nations thought leader and business consultant shared his views on how to get closer to achieving reconciliation. Here’s a sampling of Jason’s thoughts.
Thank you for joining us today. I am Jason Timor, a proud Badu Weiben Island man.
My business name ‘Stonecrab’ is inspired by the story of a man who takes his new wife to meet his father. They are eating stonecrab but the new wife doesn’t know how to break the shell, pick out the flesh and eat the crab. When her husband laughs at her, his father says “it’s not right to laugh at her for not knowing how to eat the crab – it’s our job to teach her how to eat the stonecrab”.
So today is about learning how to eat stonecrab – learning how to engage with Indigenous Australians.
There is a lot of misinformation about indigenous culture and people. The education system many of us grew up in teaches us about Indigenous affairs from the perspective of the colonisers.
There are a lot of untold stories from indigenous peoples’ perspectives about significant trauma from families witnessing murders, indigenous people being put into slavery, and the generation of young Indigenous kids who were stolen from their parents and communities.
Confronting the cold hard truth
So, the purpose of today is to talk about what it will take to achieve true reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. And why it’s so important that we do.
In Australia, everyone deserves a fair go but not everyone is getting a fair go, even though we are spending billions of dollars.
Whatever we are doing, it’s not working. And the gap actually getting bigger across most social indicators. For example:
- At the moment, life expectancy remains at around the 45 – 50 year-old mark for Indigenous people in many of our communities.
- Currently 50% of Australian suicides in the 15 – 44 year age group are Indigenous people
- Many Indigenous Australians attend 15 – 25 funerals a year. How many funerals did you attend last year?
We have to confront the cold hard truth about our history and the lasting impacts on today’s Indigenous people if we are going to progress on our reconciliation journey. We need to understand why there is so much hurt, pain and mistrust.
I would encourage you to educate yourself first on this history and to speak with indigenous people about their perspectives.
Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable. It’s okay to admit your vulnerability and make mistakes – including leaders – when aiming to improve reconciliation outcomes. Just don’t fake it. Aboriginal people have the most highly tuned bullshit detector in the country.
We also need to normalise how we talk about First Nations people – including our geographic references – as they do in New Zealand. Using the right language about places and people is a simple way to demonstrate respect.
In terms of your internal policies, it’s important understand the cultural sensitivities. In particular, compassionate leave for sorry business. In indigenous cultures, there is quite often more than one mother, because aunty’s are also considered to be mothers. So, there is a chance that a team member of yours needs to take bereavement leave because their ‘mother’ has passed away and may need to take more leave the following year if another ‘mother’ passes away.
For an organisation, it’s about being educated and understanding the cultural context for your indigenous staff, and how they may not neatly fit within existing policies. A well-informed Reconciliation Action Plan can help to bridge the gap.
Developing Reconciliation Action Plans
Establishing a Reconciliation Action Plan is essentially developing a set of commitments and creating a clear vision that articulates why reconciliation is important to your organisation.
Like with any strategic plan, there is accountability and responsibility for delivering on the commitments.
The best place to start is by undertaking a discovery process, diagnosing areas to improve and setting about making positive changes. From the ground up, you can then review policies and procedures that are blocking your journey to reconciliation. It’s a process of continual diagnosing your business, benchmarking against others and implementing improvements.
In Australia, there are fewer than 1,500 organisations with a Reconciliation Action Plan and only 17% of Australians recently interviewed said they have had an interaction with a First Nations person.
Education and authenticity are the most important way to grow and improve. When it comes to reconciliation commitments, leaders must be really staunch about what they stand for as an organisation. There also needs to be a zero tolerance for discrimination in the workplace.
Understanding The Voice
With the upcoming referendum on The Voice to Parliament, it’s important to leave the politics at the door. The Voice is the first commitment to be pursued out of the Uluru Statement from the Heart.
At the moment, each time government changes so do our policies. This needs to change – we need a voice to parliament, enshrined in the constitution, that outlasts each government. There are ideological arguments for yes and no, but I’d ask you to educate yourselves and think about the social indicators remain stubbornly resistant to our interventions.
The Voice is an opportunity to unify Australia.
Systematic exclusion and inequality are deeply embedded in our structures in this county. Having a Voice will directly identify and call out how the system can be improved to achieve our goal of reconciliation.
I will leave you by asking this question. How will we know when we have achieved reconciliation in Australia?
For me, it’s about understanding each other as Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. And understanding it’s okay that – as Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians – we are uniquely different and we all have a positive role to play in reconciliation.
Jason Timor is Director of the Indigenous-owned consultancy StoneCrab and has two decades experience consulting to all levels of government and the corporate sector with previous roles including Deputy CEO of indigenous consultancy Supply Nation, and Manager of Indigenous Partnerships & Reconciliation with Qantas.