Speech by Dr Tom Calma Co-Chair Reconciliation Australia

(Acknowledge senior Salvation Army attendees and other VIPs)

Ladies and Gentlemen, friends and fellow members of the more than 250 Aboriginal nations across Australia, good morning to you.

As is customary for my people I would like to start by acknowledging the owners of this land we are on this morning, the Ngunnawal/Ngambri peoples, and I honour them for surviving the colonisation of their country and congratulate them for maintaining their identity and connection to their country against all the odds.

Like other Aboriginal peoples of this country the Ngunnawal/Ngambri people showed enormous tenacity in maintaining their cultural identity and in their refusal to become assimilated.
This tenacity continues until today and must be an important consideration for organisations like the Salvation Army and others whose brief is to assist the hurt and disadvantaged in modern Australia. I’ll come back to the importance of Aboriginal tenacity later.

The Salvation Army is an iconic organisation, the blue and maroon uniforms are familiar to all Australians and the stories of Salvos helping out people in crisis or during disasters are legendary.
(I’m a Darwin boy myself and remember fondly the wonderful care given to the traumatised people of my home town after the awful destruction of Cyclone Tracy back in 1974)
So it is no exaggeration to say that nearly all Australians have a soft spot for the Salvos.

This near universal respect for the Salvation Army provides great opportunities and great responsibilities for the Army in the context of working here in Australia with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

The Salvos are in a particularly strong position to advance the interests of Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander peoples and the national movement towards reconciliation.
I am very pleased to note that the Salvos website contains a Statement of Reconciliation which reflects a profound commitment to social justice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and pledges the organisation to listening to, acknowledging and working together for “the achievement of reconciliation of our peoples.”

I am delighted that the Salvos Statement really mirrors the language and intent of the organisation that I co-chair; Reconciliation Australia.
Reconciliation Australia lists these three main elements to building reconciliation and an inclusive society;

  • Building stronger relationships
  • Building national pride; and
  • Building national prosperity.

Like the Salvation Army Reconciliation Australia’s objectives are about inclusion, equality, partnerships and respect.

One of the ways we work towards these objectives is through what we call Reconciliation Action Plans or RAPs.

Through this RAP program organisations develop business plans that document what they will do within their sphere of influence to contribute to reconciliation in Australia.

These RAPs outline practical actions the organisation will take to build strong relationships and enhanced respect between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and other Australians.

A RAP also sets out the organisation’s aspirational plans to drive greater equality by pursuing sustainable opportunities.

Put simply, our RAP Program is about working with organisations across Australia to turn their good intentions into real actions.

And we know that RAPS do translate into real actions that bring Australia closer to the objectives of both the Salvation Army and my own organisation.

Recent research demonstrates that fact conclusively.

Every two years we release Reconciliation Barometer and RAP Impact Measurement reports which show that the attitudes of people who work or study in RAP organisations have higher levels of knowledge of Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander culture and a significantly higher level of pride in Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander culture.

But RAPs do more than just change attitudes they also provide essential practical benefits to achieving the sort of tangible improvements referred to in the Salvos admirable reconciliation statement.
Our RAP Impact Measurement Report indicates that of the 25,044 jobs committed in current RAPs- 18,972 jobs have been filled.

$14.7 million for education scholarships for Aboriginal and Torres Strait islander students have come from RAPs and RAPs have resulted in over $58 million worth of business for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander owned businesses.

We currently have close to 400 RAPs with around 18 per cent, or more than 70 of these, being community sector organisations including Australian Red Cross, Mission Australia, Smith Family, World Vision and Life without Barriers.

With another 70 community sector organisations currently developing RAPs this is the fastest growing part of the RAP program.

I put this down to increasing awareness of the value of RAPs in improving effectiveness of service delivery to Indigenous people. It has largely been driven by word of mouth and we look forward to working with the Salvation Army to build on your successful work with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and families and, perhaps, consider developing your own RAP.

I am convinced that a partnership between RA and the Salvation Army would benefit both organisations’ efforts and I know we would welcome an opportunity to start talking about how this might be achieved.
While Reconciliation Australia welcomes our partnerships with Governments and the corporate sector I strongly believe that it is in the community sector that RAPs are likely to make the quickest impact on the ground because organisations like the Salvation Army already work every day with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in poverty and disadvantage and a RAP helps to formalise the building of equal and mutually respectful relationships.

In my view this is critical to overturning the destructive nature of the dependent and passive relationships which so often characterise the interaction between my people and welfare and community organisations.
This point takes me back to the point I made earlier about the tenacity of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people over the past 220 odd years.

I believe that in this tenacity lies the key to ending the disadvantage and impoverishment of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and we are starting to see real signs of this with the real development of an Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander business sector; with the success of hundreds of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander entrepreneurs in tourism, mining, pastoralism and the creative industries.

The Salvation Army’s special place in the hearts of Australians and its work in the prisons, amongst the homeless and addicted and in the most impoverished communities in Australia means that it has a critical role in achieving justice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and healing and reconciliation for this nation.

The Salvation Army in true partnership with effective Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health and economic development organisations and the growing body
of educated, skilled and entrepreneurial Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander individuals can make a huge difference.

But to realise its dreams and visions the Salvos, like us all, need money and resources and that’s precisely what we are here for today; to encourage the Australian public to support the dreams and visions of all the good people in the Salvation Army.

The Red Shield Appeal is probably the most recognised and widely supported fund raising efforts in this country and I am honoured to be invited to launch the appeal this morning.
Go out there, encourage your friends and families to join our efforts and dig deep for this year’s Red Shield Appeal when the Salvos knock on your door.

Thank you very much.

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