By Rachel Borchardt
A new “whole of government” reconciliation action plan launched by Queensland’s Bligh Government represents a potential breakthrough that will show the way for other government agencies and provide leadership opportunities for indigenous people.
The three-year plan, to run from July 2009 to June 2012, has been developed in consultation with the Queensland Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Advisory Council, state government agencies and representatives from Reconciliation Queensland Incorporated and Reconciliation Australia.
In an interview with GovernmentNews, Reconciliation Australia chief executive Paul O’Callaghan said he was impressed with the Queensland initiative.
“It is the first government to have done this right across the public sector which involves so many different agencies,” he said.
“We’ve had quite a lot of federal and state agencies across a number of areas doing that individually, but the great thing about the Queensland one is that there’s going to be a growing impact with the commitment within all of the public sector agencies as staff and managers within the organisations are directly involved in particular actions.”
To ensure such programs have even more impact, O’Callaghan encouraged local government to follow the Bligh Government’s lead and create their own RAPs.
“They really do have outreach into the whole community,” he said.
First rolled out in 2006, the RAP program is designed to encourage organisations to engage in a national effort to close the 17-year gap in life expectancy between indigenous and other Australians.
More than 130 organisations, including companies such as BHP Billiton, Qantas and National Australia Bank, have signed up to RAPs.
Queensland Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Partnerships Minister Desley Boyle launched the state’s RAP in June, describing it as the first of its kind in Australia.
The Queensland plan is designed to build on commitments in the State Government’s Closing the Gap Report 2007-08 and will target reconciliation in four key areas: relationships, respect, opportunities and accountability.
In an effort to counter suggestions of “tokenism” that have beset other indigenous assistance programs, the Bligh Government has set targets against which its outcomes will be measured. For instance, it wants a 20 per cent increase in the number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people registered to serve on boards and other government bodies.
Peter Jackson, a co-chair of Queensland Reconciliation, explained that organisations could only use the RAP term for 12 months before it was subject to review from Reconciliation Australia as a quality assurance measure.
“It is great the Queensland Government has taken this up … I have no doubt that they will (follow through) for the three years of the plan.”
Jackson said while other indigenous programs were fostering more leaders from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander backgrounds, RAPs such as the Bligh Government initiative would further help.
“I think this gives a particular focus to ensure that there are no blockages to obstruct indigenous people to realising their full potential and becoming general participants within their community and then being given every opportunity to become leaders within organisations where they have the talent to do so.”
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