From the Commissioner - It's time to be brave

News story
From 27 May to the 3 June is National Reconciliation Week. A time for all Australians to learn about our shared histories, cultures, and achievements. 
John pic with Aboriginal painting in the background

The 2022 theme is Be Brave. Make Change and after nearly 30 years of marking Reconciliation Week in Australia it is well and truly time to make change, for everybody.
On 26 May this year, the Equal Opportunity Commission marked Sorry Day by hosting a viewing of Incarceration Nation, a film that depicts how race discrimination and systemic race discrimination in Australia has negatively impacted on First Nations Peoples for generations.
Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities are still underrepresented on boards and executive positions, and overrepresented in prisons.
In the Australian Human Rights Commission’s report Leading for Change: A Blueprint for Cultural Diversity in Leadership (2016) it states that in ASX200 companies, over 75% of CEOs are of Anglo-Celtic heritage, 18% have European heritage, 5% are from a non-European background and no CEOs whatsoever have Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander heritage.
Similar findings were also reflected in examinations of federal and state parliaments and ministries of governments, in senior public service roles and in the leadership of universities; however more recently there have been Aboriginal people in Federal and WA Parliaments and several who have had ministerial positions.
Some government agencies have a high level of Aboriginal employment, but few Aboriginal employees are promoted or appointed to executive positions.
In Australian prisons Aboriginal people represent 30 percent of those incarcerated, despite being three percent of the population, and they are more likely to be reincarcerated than non-Aboriginal prisoners.
So, if we wish to ‘make change’ on these statistics, we are going to have to ‘be brave’ and address the causes.
Race discrimination has been unlawful in Australia since 1976, when the Racial Discrimination Act 1975 came into force.  If an Aboriginal person is treated less favourably than a non-Aboriginal person at work, in goods and services, education, access to places and vehicles, clubs and accommodation because they are Aboriginal, then they should be encouraged to speak out against this unlawful act.
The Equal Opportunity Commission handles formal discrimination complaints in Western Australia and the Australian Human Rights Commission handles formal discrimination complaints throughout Australia.
However, reconciliation implies it should not be left to the victim of discrimination to speak out, and although a formal complaint to the Equal Opportunity Commission must be made by an aggrieved person, observers should be encouraged to also speak out against discrimination – to be brave to make change.
The same goes with systemic discrimination. Those who develop and approve policies and procedures need to pay careful consideration to the barriers that create an overrepresentation of Aboriginal prisoners and an underrepresentation of Aboriginal CEOs – they also need to be brave to make change, to make substantive equality happen.
Some of the key drivers of the high levels of Aboriginal incarceration are lack of housing, employment, education, and health services.
These services are not always appropriate for Aboriginal communities in isolated areas, and that may be suffering inter-generational trauma due to previous government policies and practices.
All agencies should ask themselves whether they are achieving equality of outcomes for Aboriginal people through the services they provide. If not, then that should be addressed through a Reconciliation Action Plan.
A juvenile prisoner costs around $500,000 per year to keep in detention. 
Surely if appropriate resources were allocated to improving essential services for Aboriginal people, we would see these costs diminish and we would be a lot closer to the positive change this country needs. Governments also need to be brave.
This Reconciliation Week I would like us all to be a lot braver to make meaningful change happen.

Page reviewed 2 June 2022