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Nurturing leaders for reconciliation

National Reconciliation Week 2021 will run 27 May to 3 June, and this year's theme is “More Than a Word”. In the lead up to the week, some Australian Water Association members share their reconciliation journey.

Western Australian Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander high school students are being supported to pursue careers in the water industry thanks to a new Water Corporation scholarship program launched earlier this year.

With National Reconciliation Week fast approaching, Water Corporation Head of Water Quality Rachael Miller said nurturing future Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander water leaders is integral to the utility’s actions towards reconciliation and building a more resilient industry.

“Water Corporation strongly believes that we have a lot to learn from the Traditional Owners of our land about managing water in the context of the land and environment we operate in,” Miller said.

“Bringing Aboriginal people into the water industry helps foster stronger collaborative relationships that, in turn, builds on our technical understanding. This assists us in how we can better operate now but also how we can continue to solve water challenges in the future.”

Partnering with the International Water Association Australia (IWAA), Water Corporation offers scholarships to support and empower emerging Indigenous water leaders to attend both intrastate and interstate conferences, as well as receive mentoring from industry professionals.

“We’re encouraging applications from everyone who identifies as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander living or working in Western Australia, who has a strong interest or passion for managing water in Australia,” Miller said.

The application process involves presenting on water-related ideas, including: Indigenous ways of knowing western scientific synergies, the history of water in Indigenous communities, or needs and applications of cultural access to water.

“The scholarship funds travel, accommodation and admission to attend conferences and where possible, present at selected conferences. Each recipient will be supported and mentored by experienced and emerging industry professionals,” Miller said.

“Recipients will be provided with opportunities to learn from experts, share their own knowledge, improve networking skills and enhance the value of their contribution to the sustainable management of water services and, crucially, their connection to Indigenous culture.”

Making progress

The scholarship program is one of the recent initiatives fostered by Water Corporation’s years of implementing and learning from Reconciliation Action Plans (RAP).

The utility is now on its fifth RAP, which aims to achieve positive outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, particularly through employment.

“The 2019-21 RAP aims at addressing the social and economic disadvantage of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in Western Australia and challenges previous targets to help achieve the WA State Government's vision for sustainable outcomes in employment, education, business and procurement opportunities,” Miller said.

“In a nation where Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are three times more likely to be out of work, Water Corporation has pledged to employ a workforce that is representative of the entire Western Australian community.

“With nearly 60% of its Aboriginal employees working outside the metropolitan area, Water Corporation will continue to employ Aboriginal people regionally, enabling them to remain on Country and connected to their communities.

“Water Corporation commits to achieving an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander workforce target of 6% by 2021. The workforce target is beyond our original 2018 target, which we were proud to exceed.”