Twenty-five years ago the Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation was established in Australia to further an effort to achieve a nation that is reconciled, equitable and just. There have been many achievements in the period since, but progress on many fronts has been slow.
The statistics tell us that challenges remain and there is much yet to do. The legacy of past wrongs is lasting. Today, compared to the non-Indigenous population, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders have an average life expectancy that is shorter by around 10 years and are 30% less likely to have completed secondary school. They have an unemployment rate that is five times the non-Indigenous population, and median incomes are more than 40% lower.
BHP and the mining industry are particularly well placed to partner with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in a way that helps to secure a sustainably better future.
The journey so far
We are exceptionally proud that BHP was one of the original eight companies to establish a Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP) in 2007. We’ve worked with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to achieve some very strong outcomes since.
Research and experience tell us that economic empowerment, supporting effective governance, advancing the interests of Indigenous peoples through public engagement as well as social and cultural support to improve the quality of life are important in building pride and partnership. These factors will all contribute to closing the gap for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders.
Corporate Australia has much to gain from partnerships with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. I know the men and women of BHP have learned a great deal about history, culture and connection through their work with Indigenous peoples around the world.
Benefits flow from employment, improved education outcomes for young people and the pride both the Company and local communities feel about the work we do together. This can be a transformative experience.
Our RAP responsibility
Our RAP is a commitment to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, and it’s also good for business.
In our Australian operations, around 4.5% of our workforce identifies as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander. A bright spot is at our Western Australian Iron Ore operation, which has a 7.6% Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
While this is higher than the three per cent Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander in the general population, we have a bigger goal.
At Western Australia Iron Ore, we are working to build a workforce that is 13% Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples by 2020. By this same time we are also working to increase our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people’s population in our total managed workforce to 5.75%.
But we won’t stop there.
The RAP also has objectives relating to building capacity so Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander-owned businesses can grow as we grow.
The RAP will also see us invest in social programs that preserve and support the cultural customs of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. These efforts will keep alive our shared respect for the land and resources that we value.
Our overriding goal is to drive respect for diversity of people and thinking. This will create a stronger workforce, enhance our business and help ensure a better quality of life for everyone.
Looking to the future
We have an opportunity to go from good to great.
Not only do we want to achieve the clear commitments we’ve made in the RAP, I truly hope that we achieve even more.
I hope that our latest RAP will challenge other organisations to reach higher and be even more effective when it comes to their own efforts on reconciliation.
Reconciliation is about recognition. Recognition of past wrongs, recognition of current challenges, recognition of future opportunities.
The relationship between mining and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is critical to constructive dialogue. We should recognise the improvements we have made in the last two decades.
And, together, we will lean into the road that lies ahead of us.
Read our Reconciliation Action Plan 2017 - 2020 (PDF 8 MB)