What is reconciliation and why do we need it?
Queensland Teachers' Journal, Vol 126 No 6, 3 September 2021, page no.17
For First Nations peoples, Australia’s colonial history is characterised by devastating land dispossession, violence, and racism. Although many significant steps have been taken towards reconciliation, future gains are likely to take just as much, if not more, effort and courage.
At its heart, reconciliation is about strengthening relationships between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and non-Indigenous peoples, for the benefit of all Australians. As Kirstie Parker from Reconciliation Australia stated: “A reconciled Australia is one where the rights of First Australians are not just respected, but championed in all the places that matter …”
For me and many in the QTU, reconciliation is actioned and championed through our reconciliation action plan (RAP). The QTU has officially had a RAP for several years and has actively worked in this space for many more.
At the core of our RAP are the core elements of governance: relationships, respect, and opportunity.
This is defined by the way in which we govern as an organisation and how we are governed. This element is imperative, as we must continually challenge ourselves and the privileges that have been institutionalised in our rules and structures.
This has been actioned by the ongoing development of our Gandu Jarjum First Nations Committee, our Reconciliation Action Team and our ongoing lobbying of our employer, the Queensland Government. It can also be seen in our ongoing structural changes, giving an important voice to our First Nation members.
Furthermore, while it’s great to talk the talk, we also need to walk the walk by creating accountability and transparency. This is an ongoing topic for discussion, but by explicitly including our RAP actions in not only our meeting procedures (which we are already doing), but also within with our budgets and finances, we can show that we are prepared to put money where our mouths are.
These underpin what we do as professionals. We thrive on the strength of connecting and learning. We must use our influence and continually promote reconciliation - a prime example was the theme of our recent State Conference, “Our Meeting Place”.
We need to learn and accept historical events and continue to create admiration for the depth of knowledge, culture, and way of living of our First Australians. We’ve started by adopting and scaling up protocols of acknowledgment and sorry business and embedding them into our ways of working, and there will be many other opportunities to make the link between a First Nations way and QTU ways.
This is the ability to remove barriers to opportunity and engagement. We have done this by:
- identifying the lack of First Nation faces within our Union workforce and implementing strategies to change this situation
- partnering with First Nation companies and including them in tender processes and active business transactions.
We are now looking for further opportunities to use our influence and ability, namely:
- getting more First Nation teachers in classrooms, particularly in areas with high First Nation student enrolments (including my own school!)
- funding and supporting research to highlight the need to teach First Nation students within cultural protocols and methods
- continuing to seek assistance from First Nation groups as we transition to better ways of working.
Why does the QTU need to be part of the solution?
Unionism has been at the forefront of progressive societal changes forever. At times, we’ve been the influential factor ensuring that changes have been made to create fairness, and at times we’ve been the influential factor that has institutionalised unfairness.
Today our core actions remain the same - unions are pivotal to workers’ rights and conditions and are also influential when it comes to creating changes that enhance fairness, whether it’s around domestic and family violence, women’s rights, LGBTIQ+ rights, climate change, or reconciliation and justice for First Nations people.
Reconciliation is everyone’s business, and the QTU is everywhere - we are in every town and community and we can influence a better future.