Council passes motion to build a city with Aboriginal focus


By Katie Johnson

The City of Melbourne (CoM) has unanimously passed a motion to implement a new Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP) from 2021.

The comprehensive three-year plan outlines strategies to increase awareness of indigenous issues, commemorate the Stolen Generation, and employ more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people at the council.

Lord Mayor Sally Capp said that the plan would bring Melbourne one step closer to being “a city with an Aboriginal focus”.

“We are absolutely committed to our reconciliation journey here at the City of Melbourne because at its heart reconciliation is about strengthening relationships between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal peoples,” the Lord Mayor said.

“We know that at the CoM we can do better and this plan starts us on that journey.”

The key goals of the plan are to personally engage CoM staff in reconciliation strategies, develop relationships with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander stakeholders and drive reconciliation through council activities, services and programs.

Some of these activities will include events to acknowledge National Sorry Day on May 26 and a public National Reconciliation Week Oration with a high-profile speaker every year in July.

Director of Aboriginal Melbourne and author of the plan, Hans Bokelund, said that educational events were the key to bringing cultures together.

“We were the first local government to endorse a reconciliation action plan back in 2006, so this is part of our journey to live up to the motto of City of Melbourne and gather strength as we go,” Mr Bokelund said.

The CoM’s reconciliation plan is different from others around the country because of its commitment to “truth-telling”.

This involves a series of public talks to enable a greater understanding of Aboriginal people’s experiences and their present realities.

Cr Olivia Ball said that truth-telling activities were vital to educate the wider public about Australia’s history and would provide an opportunity for Aboriginal people to share their heritage and culture with the broader community.

“Truth-telling can be difficult to do and difficult to hear,” Cr Olivia Ball said.

“But for reconciliation to succeed we need to understand and acknowledge the past and the consequences for the present and work together to end racism and racial inequality in this country.”

Docklands resident and Cr Jamal Hakim also commended the truth-telling activities as an important step in reconnecting to the cultures of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

“Everything in Australia starts and ends with us being able to reconcile our past so we can create a better future,” Cr Hakim said.

Another major focus of the plan is to increase the percentage of Aboriginal staff employed at CoM.

Currently there are only 12 people who identify as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander out of 1400 CoM staff, despite the council setting up a separate Aboriginal Melbourne branch in 2019 to improve this.

The RAP will also involve establishing a Local Aboriginal Secondment Program for four CoM employees to be seconded for a period of at least six weeks to Traditional Owner Groups to better educate council members.

Cr Rohan Leppert said that the plan would serve as an example for the whole city and encourage the community to be active participants in the reconciliation process.

“It’s not the easiest document to implement but we’re looking to lead by example and make CoM a leader for Aboriginal employment and extend that out to the whole of Melbourne to make it a better place for its first peoples,” he said.

The council will report the progress of the plan to Reconciliation Australia in September each year.

The Lord Mayor said that a major sign of success would be when “Aboriginal people feel that their ambitions can be realised.”

“Our ambitions as a city, a community and an organisation must have Aboriginal Melbourne and Aboriginal considerations at its heart,” Cr Capp said.

“We can do better, we must do better, and we will.”

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