Where to from here on reconciliation?

Reconciliation Week and the reconciliation movement has been going for quite a while now. It really started with two landmark events in the 1990s.

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Number one was the Mabo decision of the High Court which basically said, “Aboriginal people were here first”, “native title exists”, and “Aboriginal connection exists”. On top of that, a few years later, the Bringing Them Home report of 1997, which was about the stealing of children, added to the momentum.

"This Reconciliation Week is different to every other. Now more than ever, we are clear on where we stand and what needs to be done to move forward.

Those two things made Australia ask itself, ‘where are we going from here?’. And from that, the reconciliation movement started.

Now more than ever – National Reconciliation Week 27 May – 3 June 2024

At ANZ, our vision for reconciliation is a unified Australia around a shared history, celebrating and honouring the unique contributions of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. In conjunction with our Reconciliation Action Plan, we have a Reconciliation Network, led by employees passionate about reconciliation, providing a voice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and their allies.

As I see it, every reconciliation week that followed was pretty much thematically the same. The theme was – we are moving in a direction and we are generally agreed as a nation where we're making progress. However, we never really tested that, we never asked “how far have we got?”, “what substance does it have?”.

Well, this got tested last year on the October 14 Voice to Parliament Referendum which was defeated. How far we had come as a nation was put to the test. And the answer came back: “we perhaps haven't got as far as we thought we had”.

Reconciliation and footy

I was at the MCG for the footy the other night for the “Dreamtime at the ‘G" game and my team Richmond lost by two goals. The Tigers were so much better than the week before and I can tell you that's a good outcome for us.

I remember looking around the ground, there were 80,000 people there and it was pretty full. It make me think “if this is a random sample of the Australian population – one third said ‘yes’ and two thirds said ‘no’.” I looked around from where I was sitting and roughly a third of the spectators stretched to where the Shane Warne Stand starts.

As I was looking around Uncle Colin Hunter was doing the Welcome to Country and there were the Djirri Djirri Dancers and people were clapping and it was all very nice.

The thing that popped into my mind was “is reconciliation conditional?”. To be blunt about it, is it “we like it when you dance. Your Welcomes to Country give gravitas to our events”. But, two thirds of us here say “you should not be able to speak, that you don't have any voice in the decisions we make about you. And yet we think your dancing is excellent. It entertains us.”

I have to admit, I contemplated that for more than half the game and I had a different feeling about being at the AFL Indigenous round than I ever had before.

Where to from here?

This Reconciliation Week is different to every other. Now more than ever, we are clear on where we stand and what needs to be done to move forward.

October 14 was difficult, but in one sense it was okay. It's okay in that it lifted the fog of illusion and delusion about where we are as a country. It was brutal, but it did that. It let me know personally “this is where we're really at and that's okay”.

Because now I know where the boundaries are. But it does raise the question, where do we go from here? Because we know where we're not going.

And that's where we thought we were going for the 20 odd years of Reconciliation Week up to that point. Now the question is, where do we go from this point?

It’s the economy

How do Aboriginal people get lifted to a point of equity with everyone else? What does equity even look like and how do we not end up at the bottom anymore?

The referendum taught us the limitations of a rights-based approach, the justice-based approach. As James Carville, one of the key strategists in Bill Clinton's 1992 campaign said, “it's the economy, stupid”. I think this is key in how we advance.

People say, what do you mean by the economy?

It's a very basic tenet of a free-market system – if you've got money, you go places, you get stuff done, people will listen.

For me, the focus going forward is probably a more specific one. It's about economics. And I don't mean running a few jobs programs and hiring a few graduates. That's microeconomic stuff and while it is important, it isn’t everything.

Let me be clear – if you don't have a whole bunch of microeconomic stuff, you don't have a macroeconomic approach. The problem is, we have never really thought of Aboriginal people through the macroeconomic lens.

The future for us is the economy, participating in the economy across its full breadth and depth – as business owners, as entrepreneurs.

Being empowered in the economy is critically important because it does a couple of things. First and foremost, it is getting away from a simple social policy approach.

While important, social policy can put you in the camp of deficit. It can put you in the camp of what you don't have or what you are not. That's how social policy works — shorter life expectancy, poorer health outcomes, lower education figures and so on.

Economics though is built on a positive thinking and I think this will help reshape how Aboriginal Australia is perceived. Because I've always believed and always will believe we are great people — we are people of great capacity and great capability.

What we haven't had is the opportunity to bring that to life in its fullest life. That hasn't come through social policy, but it might come through the economy.

I think there is a role for the banking sector in this regard. And the question for ANZ and all the other banks and financial institutions is, what can we do as a sector to help uplift Aboriginal people in the economy?

What can we do as a sector to help contribute to the nation in which we live by uplifting this group of people? Answering these questions is crucial to empowering change.

Ian Hamm is a Yorta Yorta man from Shepparton in Central Victoria with extensive government and community sector experience, particularly at executive and governance levels. He is the chair and board member for the First Nations Foundation.

The views and opinions expressed in this communication are those of the author and may not necessarily state or reflect those of ANZ.

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