'As a collective, we can make a difference', says Tom Calma

25 May 2016

The Brotherhood launched its Reconciliation Action Plan at the Fitzroy Town Hall in 2014. Two years later, we speak with the man who gave the keynote address at that seminal event.

‘Individually it can sometimes be difficult to achieve things,’ says Professor Tom Calma, ‘but if you are part of a coalition much more is possible.’

Professor Calma, Co-Chair of Reconciliation Australia and Indigenous Elder, spoke with the Brotherhood about bridging the divide between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians, and the importance of having a plan in place to build respect and harmony.

The Brotherhood of St Laurence echoes Professor Calma’s words, and we grasp the importance of walking the talk when it comes to defeating disadvantage and spreading opportunity for Indigenous Australians.

In 2014, the Brotherhood formally committed itself to reconciliation when we released our RAP – or Reconciliation Action Plan

‘This document is not just one of good intent, but maps out good steps for action,’ said Brotherhood Executive Director Tony Nicholson at the launch of our RAP.  

‘This is a plan that we will build on as we advance down the road of reconciliation, acknowledging the immense contribution of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and their cultures to our past, present and future.’


Watch the video of the launch of our RAP

Professor Calma, then and now, notes the importance for organisations to have their own plan of action.

‘It’s a very big movement now,’ he says.

‘There are close to 700 organisations with RAPs, and there’s a whole lot more that want to establish plans.’

Reconciliation Australia’s latest figures clearly show the positive influence of the RAP movement.

Since the nation-wide program began in 2006, organisations with a RAP have generated 3,900 partnerships with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations and purchased $32.6 million of goods and services from Indigenous-run businesses.

And since releasing our RAP, the Brotherhood has made concrete steps in bringing the plan to life. We have released our Indigenous Employment Strategy, empowering and encouraging managers to increase the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander staff and volunteers.

In the past 12 months, 73 staff members have undertaken cultural awareness training as a means of creating a more understanding and inclusive organisation. The sessions will continue until all staff members have undertaken such training.

This year we’re holding our second National Sorry Day event for staff, where we hear from a prominent Indigenous Australian about the impact of being removed from their family as children.

Plaques have been placed outside or within all Brotherhood sites across Victoria, acknowledging that we work and live on the traditional lands of Aboriginal people.

A protocol has been released to all staff outlining the most appropriate way to organise a Welcome to Country and deliver a respectful Acknowledgement of Country.

Importantly, the Brotherhood is also working on the ground with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities across the country via our HIPPY program. The Home Interaction Program for Parents and Youngsters is run by the Brotherhood and delivered in communities by local organisations. HIPPY prepares four and five-year-olds for school by training parents and carers to become their child’s first teacher. Thanks to funds committed by the Australian Government through the Department of Social Services, HIPPY has expanded to 100 locations across Australia with the last 50 sites being specifically targeted at Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

And finally, as we speak, Christinaray – a 23-year-old contemporary artist – is creating a mural that will sit proudly at our Fitzroy head office as a symbol of our commitment to reconciliation.

The Brotherhood has commissioned Christinaray, an Indigenous woman of the Warumunga people, to complete the artwork. It will be unveiled at a public event during Reconciliation Week 2016. 

However, we know there is still a long way to go.

‘As an anti-poverty organisation,’ says Tony Nicholson, ‘we are sensitive to the historical injustice and stark inequality gaps that remain between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians and other Australians.’

Professor Calma, who is also Chancellor of the University of Canberra, acknowledges the serious challenges that lie ahead but is optimistic about the future.

He refers to a recent Reconciliation Australia survey, showing 77 per cent of RAP employees have ‘high trust’ for their Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander colleagues. This compares with 26 per cent of people in the general community.

The survey also shows that employees of a RAP organisation have far greater pride in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and history.

‘As a collective,’ says Professor Calma, ‘we can make a difference.’ 

The Brotherhood of St Laurence (BSL) acknowledges and understands its obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and recognises that all children and young people have the right to be treated with respect and care, and to be safe from all forms of abuse. BSL has a zero tolerance towards child abuse.
Read the official statement signed by the Executive Director.

The Brotherhood recognises the harm that family violence causes and that freedom from violence is a basic human right.
We will support our staff, volunteers, clients and the community if they experience violence.

Find out more about the work of the Brotherhood
Australian Aboriginal flag, a yellow circle on two horizontal black and red stripes

The Brotherhood of St Laurence acknowledges and recognises the Traditional Owners of the land upon which we live and work, and we pay our respects to their Elders both past and present.

Torres Strait Islander flag, an icon of a traditional headdress on blue, black and green stripes