How can the water sector contribute to reconciliation?
The theme of this year’s National Reconciliation Week was ‘In this together’, highlighting the part all Australians play in creating communities that value Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, histories and cultures – including those in the water sector.
Reconciliation Australia, which runs National Reconciliation Week, also works with organisations to develop Reconciliation Action Plans (RAP). These strategic documents include practical actions that drive an organisation’s contribution to reconciliation, both internally and in the communities it serves.
Water and waste management company Veolia developed its first RAP in 2014, and has gone on to produce two more reconciliation documents, the most recent of which was released late last year.
In a presentation at Ozwater’20 Online last month, Veolia’s Hannah Franklin and Nathan Landon discussed the organisation’s reconciliation journey.
“Veolia has always been an active participant in the communities in which we operate, and we believe we have a genuine responsibility to contribute to reconciliation between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and non-Indigenous Australians,” the pair wrote in their Ozwater’20 submission.
“Our vision for reconciliation is a future where all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ cultures, opportunities and connection to Country is recognised as central to contributing to a sustainable Australia.”
Veolia’s RAP framework sets out clear targets in the areas of community, education, employment and business, which extends to the supply chain.
This includes procuring $2 million worth of goods and services from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander businesses per year and achieving 3% Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander workforce participation.
“Veolia gains social and economic benefits from working with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander businesses,” Franklin and Landon wrote.
“Our supply chain is diversified, which drives innovation and positively challenges the way we do business. Increased diversity also supports our contractual obligations driven by ethical procurement state and federal policies, as well as our RAP deliverables.”
With Veolia’s core mission to develop sustainable outcomes for communities, the pair wrote that focusing on reconciliation is not just ethical, but also makes business sense.
“Our business outcomes are to do what Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have been doing for thousands of years – sustainably developing the land and caring for Country,” they wrote.
“Championing and making space for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander knowledge and allowing more marginalised voices into our organisation is not just the right thing to do, it makes business sense as it drives a more resilient, innovative and diverse company and society.
“We are able to partake in reciprocal learning from one of the oldest knowledge systems in the world, which clearly aligns to Veolia’s sustainability and environmental ethos.”
Developing water wisdom
SA Water has also developed a RAP that outlines its commitment to helping close the gap between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal people. This includes practical actions such as proactive engagement with Aboriginal businesses, provision of educational opportunities, employment opportunities, and community engagement initiatives to build relationships and share knowledge.
As part of this, the utility recently developed an engagement program to help it better understand Aboriginal communities' connections to water, and to share this information with the wider community.
The result was a series of video stories, titled Water Wisdom, which celebrate the rich understanding of water management that is central to life for many Aboriginal people.
SA Water Manager Community and Aboriginal Engagement Rachael Siddall and Senior Communications Adviser Ben Fitzgerald discussed this approach on Day 8 of Ozwater’20 Online.
This includes how the utility built trust between its team and the communities featured in the videos, and what it aimed to achieve through these efforts.
“While there is a high level of respect and importance placed on water by all the communities we worked with, their connections to water, the role it plays in their lives, and the ways they understand and manage their local water sources are uniquely individual,” the pair wrote.
“These differences are demonstrated through the Water Wisdom videos and will play a positive role in helping non-Aboriginal Australians broaden and enrich their understanding of Aboriginal people and culture. This is a key ingredient in the journey toward reconciliation.”
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