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May 8, 2021

Lismore’s road map for reconciliation

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L to R: Lismore GM Gary Murphy, Community services coordinator Annie McWilliam, mayor Jenny Dowell and Road construction leading hand Leon Bolt at yesterday’s launch.

Dominic Feain

Lismore City Council launched its Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP) yesterday in a moving ceremony, outlining a practical road map to breakdown the disadvantage gap in the area.

Lismore is the first council on the northern rivers to implement such a plan, which GM Gary Murphy said was ‘pragmatic and practical reconciliation in action’ that signalled the council’s intent – underpinned by plans for a workforce representative of the local Aboriginal population by 2017.

‘We’ve got 12 employees at the moment that we intend to raise to 24, which would be 6 per cent of the workforce reflecting the demographics of the Goonellabah area in which we work,’ he said.

‘We’ve heard time and time again, talking with the Aboriginal community, the importance that a job has, not just for that particular individual in terms of self-esteem and so forth but also from the point of view of the family and the people dependent on them. There’s a lot of pride that goes with that.

‘It’s a very tangible step and something that we can practically do.

‘The key thing in the document is an action plan: it’s not just a warm-and-fuzzy MOU [memorandum of understanding] type document with a lot of vacuous promises that you put up on the wall. Matching our workforce with the demographics of the area is a concrete step which is measurable and we believe achievable.’

Aboriginal staff member, Dave Edwards, said the plan provided opportunities for Gooris, particularly local Bundjalung people, to aim for a job with council and stay on country.

‘Being on country allows you to maintain your cultural connections to your mob and country,’ he said.

‘Not being from here, I know how important it is.

‘[The plan is] more than just a bunch of words, there are clear goals to increase employment opportunities. I think it shows genuine vision from the top, from the mayor and general manager.

‘Listening to the general manager talk about his own experiences growing up in South Africa under apartheid and seeing his emotion made it clear he has genuine belief in action. It shows this management really wants to do something real.’

The plan was developed in conjunction with Aboriginal stakeholders and has been endorsed by Reconciliation Australia.

Community services coordinator Annie McWilliam said the council will also deliver Aboriginal cultural awareness training for all staff; facilitate National Reconciliation Week and NAIDOC Week events in partnership with the Aboriginal community; and develop a diversity policy to ensure Aboriginal businesses were considered in procurement processes.

‘The RAP will ensure every council employee is imparted with a knowledge and appreciation of Aboriginal culture,’ she said.

‘This understanding, combined with concrete practical actions like changing our Aboriginal employment strategy, is reconciliation that is not just symbolic but promotes long-lasting attitudinal, behavioural and institutional change,’ Ms McWilliam said.

Lismore mayor Jenny Dowell said it was an issue very close to her heart and one of the best things council had ever done.

‘And it’s so significant for our Aboriginal workers and Aboriginal community.

‘People in the audience said they’d never believed that this day would come when they thought back on some of the things council and others have done many years ago and the attitudes that have been on display from a decade or more ago,’ she said.

‘It was a proud day but only just the start – we’ve got a plan, it’s an action plan and every year we’ll be reporting on how we measure up.’

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