Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Australians have a history of entrepreneurship and engaging with the mainstream economy but constitutional reform remains unfinished business, according to Stan Grant, multi-award winning current affairs host, author and journalist and special advisor to the Prime Minister on Indigenous constitutional recognition.
Delivering the inaugural Diversity Council Australia Diversity & Inclusion Oration, sponsored by BAE Systems Australia, in Melbourne yesterday Stan spoke of a rapidly expanding Aboriginal middle class that is increasingly university educated, entrepreneurial and contributing extraordinary talent to Australian business and political life.
“Sixty five percent of Aboriginal people are now living lives that are materially and socio-economically like those of other Australians. This is a story our media doesn't always tell. It is a story of how between 1996 and 2006, the Indigenous professional class, university educated, grew by 75%. … In 1991, there were fewer than 4,000 Indigenous university graduates. … By 2001, there were more than 30,000 Aboriginal university graduates. That number is expected to double in the next 20 years,” said Stan.
The rise of a successful Aboriginal professional class, however, overlooks fundamental issues that still need to be addressed, said Stan.
“Seeing this as an issue of closing the gap, a socio-economic story, can obscure the other part of the equation – justice and rights. We could all be millionaires, and our claim to our rightful place in this country as the First Peoples of this country would not be diminished.
“We are the First People of this land. Invaded, dispossessed, segregated, locked out of the dream and suffering still. We have not had a final settlement. Australia, again, 50 years after 1967, is facing the question of recognition, constitutional reform. In states like Victoria, South Australia, treaty processes are underway. And they ask us a simple question, ‘Do we have the leadership and the maturity to resolve these issues of our history?’
“I can stand here as a person who has lived a successful life, a person who lives a privileged life, but a person who belongs to a people whose rightful place in this country still goes unrecognised. Success in individual achievement is our right, but without that final settlement, is it just another form of assimilation? Is just saying that when you graduate from university, when you have good jobs, when you have a mortgage, when your kids are in private school, you're just like the rest of us? But we are not like the rest of you. This is our place. …
“For all of you in the room, this is the only home, truly, we will ever have. By resolving those issues, I can put at peace the bones of my white ancestors and my black ancestors. We can finally put at peace our place, all of us, in Australia. …
“We can lift individual boats, but how do you lift the water? We don't lift the water until we deal with the question, changing the narrative of our lives, empowering people in communities to make decisions about their destiny to give everyone a shot at it,” said Stan.
Tanya Hosch, AFL’s General Manager, Inclusion and Social Policy and former Campaign Director of Recognise, who spoke on the panel at the event said when it comes to diversity & inclusion, business needs to be serious about engaging with diverse talent.
“Diversity is a word that gets thrown around a lot, and we all talk about how great it is to have diversity, it makes good business sense, and makes for a richness that is compelling and we all say we want. But I don't think we start from a position of truth about that. I think that you have to work out, do you have diversity for the sake of saying you've got it? And by that I mean that I am frequently the only black fella around the table, and increasingly, one of the few women in this new world I am occupying. And the thing about that is that I feel like people are pleased that I am there. I think they do feel a sense of pride that they’ve got a black fella around the table. But what is the point of that if their expectation is that I am going to behave and think like everyone else? ...
"The reality is that if you are going to say that you want diversity, if you're going to go to the trouble and expense of recruiting it, then actually engage with it for goodness sake!” said Tanya.
Glen Brennan, Head of Indigenous Finance and Development, National Australia Bank who was also on the panel said it’s time to recognise Indigenous talent and ambition.
“We need to find Indigenous people to be the manager or the State Director of Victoria, for example. We want to climb to the top and be in charge of not just Indigenous programs, but all programs. …We need our young Indigenous staff to have that ambition, and we need the corporates to actually look to embrace that,” said Glen.
Steve Drury, Director - Aerospace, BAE Systems Australia and fellow panellist said his organisation is engaging with Indigenous businesses and communities on a range of fronts.
“Through engagement of our people, Indigenous companies and the communities in which we operate, BAE Systems Australia is striving to improve the employment and development of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. We are building a workplace where people respect and support each other, our customers and our suppliers.
“We believe everyone, including large and small businesses, governments and the communities in which employees and business owners live, need to ensure commitment and action to Reconciliation and supporting success. Business can not only lead and contribute to continuing to drive success in these areas, it can and must lead in changing the narrative,” said Steve.
DCA’s CEO, Lisa Annese added:
“The Oration was a valuable and thought provoking discussion of the need to come to grips with Australia’s past if we are to change our future. We can all play our part to keep the conversation going and work together to create change.”
DCA sincerely thanks BAE Systems Australia for its support in making this event possible.
DCA members can listen to the event recording from the link below.