06 June 2019

In conversation with Karen Mundine, CEO of Reconciliation Australia

Our Head of Pro Bono and Community Impact, Dan Creasey, spoke with Karen Mundine, CEO of Reconciliation Australia.

DC: It’s now 28 years since the establishment of the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation of course now known as Reconciliation Australia and it’s therefore nearly 3 decades since Australia started a conversation about reconciliation. In your view what have been the key achievements over the last 30 years?

KM: Australians now have a good sense of what they can actually do to contribute towards this idea of reconciliation. That is probably the biggest change. There are also little things like welcomes to country and acknowledgement of countries, that didn’t happen when Council first started back in the 1990's.

DC: It was anthropologist W.E.H. Stanner who said back in 1968 that there was a “great Australian silence” about Indigenous history. Fifty years on from that comment do you still think that’s the case?

KM: I think there are still parts of our history that are silent. We only need to look at the Constitution and the silence around the history and rich society that existed in pre-Federation and pre-European times - a society that undertook complex engineering feats and had sophisticated systems of governance. 

DC: What does reconciliation mean to you?

KM: I believe that reconciliation is achieved when, as Aboriginal or Torres Strait persons in this country, we are truly valued in all aspects of this society - when we are at the heart of everything that is this nation. When we are no longer surprised by how many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander politicians we might have in Federal Parliament or by a number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander CEOs of major ASIC 100 companies - that’s when I feel that we will have reached reconciliation.

DC: Reconciliation has sometimes been described as not so much an outcome or a goal as much as it is about relationships and an ongoing journey that we’re all on. From what you’ve said just now it sounds like you share that view?

KM: Absolutely, we always talk about reconciliation being a journey. We’ve tried to describe what the end goal looks like and I think it will be different for many people. Nevertheless I think the more we learn, the more we realise the further that we have to go. I think that’s the important part of reconciliation - that we are constantly learning about each other, and constantly readjusting about how we can do things better.  

DC: And tell me in terms of the Reconciliation Australia what do you see as the key role for your organisation to play in promoting reconciliation across the whole of Australia?

KM: Our role is to be a facilitator. We're trying to create the spaces and the places and the tools to help other Australians. I guess to do the heavy work to be frank. We’re a small group of 30 people and we’re trying to affect millions of people. We can only do that with partners and allies.

DC: Reconciliation Action Plans are obviously one component, or tool, to achieving reconciliation, but what achievements have you seen as a result of this RAP journey?

KM: What we are seeing is increased employment opportunities. There has been this explosion, particularly in the last 8 or so years, in indigenous procurement - support to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander businesses and a growth in those businesses. There has also been an increase in awareness. We know that, within RAP organisations, there are higher levels of trust towards Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island people as colleagues. It’s not surprising when you have a structured programme, or a structured way of engaging, people get on board.

Learn about KWM's Reconciliation and Empowerment initiatives and download our Reconciliation Action Plan.

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