5. Respectful relationships

In business and in sport, Australians understand that respectful relationships are a prerequisite for success.

The same is true as we work towards building positive and effective partnerships between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and the broader Australian community.

This chapter considers some of the ways in which we can all build respectful relationships to progress reconciliation.

“…the answers, while complex, are now known. And that means… governments, and all of us involved, have no excuses left for failure.”
Hon. Fred Chaney AO, Reconciliation Australia Board Member

Whether you are in the business sector, government or the broader community, the ingredients for working effectively with Indigenous Australians is the same.

Ten top tips

Research has found that any policies for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities should be based on evidence of what works, supported by strong research into how it works and why.

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The numerous reports, studies and research papers published over the years outline clear and repeated principles that can guide successful Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander programs and policies.

Reconciliation Australia has identified ten ingredients for successful Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander policies and programs:

  1. Genuine engagement with communities in talking about, developing and implementing policies.
  2. Active and well-supported Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander led decision-making in program-design.
  3. Grass-roots, bottom-up approaches that knit together local knowledge within a national framework.
  4. Local and region specific programs that are tailored to the needs of particular communities rather than “one size fits all” approaches.
  5. Investment in and support for local Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander leadership.
  6. Long-term investment in strengthening communities at a local level to decide and manage their own lives.
  7. Programs and policy approaches that are geared towards long-term achievements.
  8. Real investment of dollars and people based on need and ongoing support for programs that work.
  9. Regular and independent public evaluation of programs and policies to make sure we learn from mistakes and successes.
  10. Co-operative, cross sector approaches which reduce the burden of duplication and red-tape on community organisations.

Tips and advice

When people of different groups interact, it’s good to have an idea of the protocols that each of them follow.

When people of different groups interact, it’s good to have an idea of the protocols that each of them follow. When Australian business men and women do business in other countries they first learn something of the ‘protocol’ of business people in those countries. And when business men and women from those countries come here, they do the same.

It’s important to note that many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations are run by a small but dedicated team and they often don’t have the resources (financial or staffing) to respond quickly to requests from organisations. When approaching organisations this should be kept in mind. For example of the five state reconciliation councils only three receive state government support, the others rely entirely on the goodwill of volunteers.

Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have their own protocols and they in turn have needed to learn and adjust to non-Indigenous protocols over the years. But it helps enormously if this understanding is two way – you should know something of the protocols that work for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in order to offer good customer service and partnership. This will help make Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander customers and partners feel as comfortable as others do in using your service.

Protocols will vary in different areas. If you are going to be working with people from traditional and remote communities you will need locally based training or advice. However, in most areas there are some general protocols – appropriate behaviours – that are worth remembering.


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