What is a Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP)? A reconciliation action plan is a tool used to address the current inequality between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and other Australians.
A reconciliation action plan gives community groups, businesses, government departments, educational organisations and other organisations a ‘roadmap’ for closing the disparity gap, as well as evaluating the impact of their action plans over time.
How could that be bad? In theory, RAPs sound like a good idea, however in practice they are often not taken seriously because of the lack of accountability that comes with them.
Rio Tinto was awarded Reconciliation Australia’s highest achievement, the Elevate RAP, before they destroyed the Juukan Gorge cave system. Elevate RAPs recognises organisations that are providing “leadership in reconciliation”.
To Reconciliation Australia’s credit, they revoked their endorsement of Rio Tinto and suspended the company from their RAP program, but it was too little too late. Rio Tinto was recognised as a leader in reconciliation. And, yet, would they have been so bold to blatantly destroy cultural sites without it?
The same could be said for Telstra, one of the leading telecommunications providers in Australia, who was fined $50 million for ripping off Indigenous people. They had been given a Reconciliation Action Plan by Reconciliation Australia, but it seems they didn’t comply.
Telstra’s Reconciliation Action Plan was revoked but it was too little too late, again…
“I’m not interested in RAP’s, I am interested in systematic change. This change starts at the top.” – Shawn Andrews
There are a number of problems with the Reconciliation Action Plans. The major issue with them is that they fail to deliver a real impact to help close the disparity gaps between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and other Australians.
In a recent poll, we have found that the top concerns people have with RAPs are:
The Mornington Peninsula Shire recently said that their Reconciliation Action Plan has led to positive results but no details about the numbers or business figures to back up their claims were provided.
It can be hard to share your goals and progress with the world, but it’s not surprising that a lot of organisations don’t want to share too much information. After all, they’re not hitting most of their reasonable targets.
When I was employed at a large institution that was receiving a lot of government funding, they were reporting their Indigenous employee figures which were lower than expected. The state and national populations for Indigenous people were a lot higher than their employment rate, so they used a local figure instead to make it look better.
“I had a company who had reached ‘elevate’ RAP (the highest level) and they had NO Aboriginal employees and their organisation would not be culturally safe for an Aboriginal employee.” – Roslyn Snyder
Reconciliation Australia supposedly gathers data from the RAP community and some people say RAPs are making a significant contribution to the country. There are also many organisations supporting the national reconciliation movement, but there is little to no data public data about their impact and if RAPs are actually achieving anything.
Many organisations that have RAPs are actually government entities who have been mandated to reach Indigenous employment targets. As such, it can be questioned as to whether or not RAPs have contributed to any success metrics.
PR campaign vs real outcomes
“Public relations campaign” is a term that refers to the process of influencing public opinion while “real outcomes” are the actions taken by a company which will have an tangible impact or result. Some argue that public relations campaigns can have an impact on the outcomes of a company. But many disagree, saying that there is no correlation.
“The RAP plans is a white construct to make a non Indigenous organisations to feel good, tick a box for govt funding, to be seen I.e. they just talk the talk but don’t have to walk the talk.” – Ara (Julga) Harathunian
RAPs give an empty gesture of reconciliation, being little more than an exercise in self-talk. They may see progress in their targets, but without accountability, these are just “goalposts” – rather than starting points – to move us towards achieving true reconciliation.
Remember, these are just goals. Without a real and tangible programme, reconciliation remains a “good intentions” approach to the ultimate goal.
Without real accountability to the communities they intend to improve, and without a genuine commitment to accountability and change, reconciliation will remain a pipe dream. Time will not allow for all to come on board, or for all to accept that reconciliation means nothing more than a “nice to have”.