Ten things about reconciliation

Last edited: 28 May 2015

What is meant by the term ‘reconciliation’ in Australia? And why does it matter to companies such as BP? As an introduction to the subject, BP Magazine highlights 10 things about the matter

1. National reconciliation

Reconciliation is about building unity, respect and trust, as well as developing better relationships, between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and non-Indigenous Australians. It aims to raise awareness of Indigenous history and culture, in a bid to improve understanding of how history has shaped life experiences and a cycle of disadvantage. It’s also about changing attitudes and addressing the ‘gap’ or inequality between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians.

The reconciliation movement is said to have begun with the 1967 referendum in which 90% of Australians voted to remove clauses in the country’s constitution which discriminated against Indigenous Australians. As a result, Aboriginal people were to be counted in the census, given citizenship status and voting rights.

In 2000, the non-government, not-for-profit foundation Reconciliation Australia was established to focus on achieving national recognition of the culture, rights and contribution of Aboriginal people.

2. Beyond good intentions

The Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP) programme, introduced nationally in 2006, is about turning good intentions into real actions, providing businesses with the opportunity to formalise their organisation’s contribution to reconciliation by identifying clear actions with realistic targets. Since its launch, more than 350 Australian corporations, governments and community organisations have joined – and BP is among them.

3. BP’s commitment

BP Australia has published two RAPs to date. The first, in 2011, formalised the business’s ongoing commitment to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Vice president for sales and marketing, Mike McGuinness, explains further: “The decision to incorporate a Reconciliation Action Plan into BP’s business process helps address the issues of disadvantage, is morally the right thing to do, meets our responsibility to our stakeholders and makes good business sense.”
"The decision to incorporate a Reconciliation Action Plan into BP’s business process helps address the issues of disadvantage, is morally the right thing to do, meets our responsibility to our stakeholders and makes good business sense."
- Mike McGuinness

4. Focus on four

Launched in 2014, BP’s second RAP outlines detailed actions and targets in four areas where the business believes it can make the most difference: improving cultural awareness, developing supplier diversity, creating pathways to employment, and continuing to supply Opal – a low aromatic fuel designed to reduce petrol sniffing in remote communities.

5. Meeting traditional owners

More than 300 BP staff have participated in day-long cultural awareness and diversity training at offices in Brisbane, Melbourne, Perth and Sydney. These sessions include a visit to a local site of significance with a traditional owner to learn about the ecology and Aboriginal traditions of the area. “This opportunity allows people to gain a completely new perspective of a place they may have visited hundreds of times in the past,” says John Briggs, Indigenous consultant. “By sharing the Indigenous context of the landscape – from the bush tucker to the sacred meaning of a site – it often prompts people to think and reflect.”

Fuels pricing manager Megan King is among the BP staff to attend the sessions. She says: “The training enabled me to walk in the shoes of an Indigenous Australian for the day; I now better understand the differences in our two cultures and how the gap between them has evolved. More importantly, I have a sense of what can be done to help close that gap, as well as a respect and understanding of the complexity and richness of Indigenous Australian culture.”

6. Supply and demand

Regional BP stores now stock the Indigenous Retail Range that includes snack foods by Native Oz Cuisine, an Indigenous-owned food company. “We have learned a great deal from doing business with BP Australia, including procurement expectations, promotions, forecasting, logistics, consumer demand and feedback – and so much more,” says owner, Greg Dimopoulos. “These valuable business lessons have given us the opportunity to continue working hard and ensure our company is in a position of growth.”

Fifty cents from each item sold is donated to the Australian Literacy and Numeracy Foundation, with more than AUS$100,000 already raised to support its Early Language and Literacy programme for Indigenous children.

7. One million dollar milestone

BP’s spend with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island businesses has reached more than $1.6 million.

8. Future jobs

As part of its commitment to building a workforce representative of the communities in which it operates, BP has signed up to the Australian Employment Covenant. This means 300 job opportunities for people of Aboriginal and Torres Strait heritage over the next 10 years. Overall, the aim of BP’s Indigenous Employment Strategy is to increase the proportion of the workforce identifying as Aboriginal or Torres Strait Islander to 2.5%.

9. The Aussie gem: OPAL fuel

After witnessing firsthand the devastating impact of petrol sniffing in Aboriginal communities, a youth worker emailed fuel companies in Australia in 2002 to ask for help. BP responded by developing Opal, a low-aromatic fuel that reduces petrol-sniffing, an activity that has serious, long-lasting health issues and can lead to behavioural and social issues. Recognising this, the Australian Government supports the use of Opal fuel as part of the Petrol Sniffing Strategy.

According to a report by the Australian Senate Standing Committee, Opal has reduced the incidence of petrol sniffing by up to 94% in affected communities. Since its launch ten years ago, the number of communities supplied with this fuel has doubled and production has increased 27-fold.

10. Artists in residence

Aboriginal artist Stan Yarramunua created an original piece in collaboration with employees at BP’s head office. He completed the outline of the artwork, while staff contributed dots to the painting that is now on display in Melbourne.
Telling the story behind the piece, Stan says: “Looking up into the milky way and seeing the turtle, a symbol of love; the goanna, a symbol of journey; the barramundi, a symbol of freedom; and the platypus, a symbol of wisdom – all coming together as one around the family members who are sitting around the waterhole. Men are the hunters with their spears and women are the gatherers with their shields, protecting the sacred water hole. Because without water, we are nothing.”

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