The Foundation Act of the University of South Australia describes a function of the University as the provision of ‘such tertiary education programs as the University thinks appropriate to meet the needs’ of the Indigenous peoples, elaborated in a major goal statement: ‘to promote access and equity’ for Indigenous people, and ‘ensure that teaching and research programs identify, respond to and support their needs’. In the beginning of the twenty-first century, this commitment is demonstrated by:
Commenting on the reconciliation process in Australia, Sir William Deane observed, 'As a practical matter, however, it is apparent that recognition of the need for appropriate redress for present disadvantage flowing from past injustice and oppression is a prerequisite of reconciliation'.
Reconciliation is about acknowledging Indigenous Australian culture, and recognising that different groups of Indigenous Australians may have different ideas about what respecting their culture means for them in the tertiary environment. As a first step to reconciliation, we need to consult with Indigenous Australian people to find out what they want; it is then a matter of refocusing our energy as an employer to truly service our Indigenous Australian employees – both as individuals and as members of the local community.
Furthermore, this means Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians working together in a collaborative way in an environment characterised by mutual respect. Addressing Indigenous Australian issues within the University of South Australia is a responsibility for all members of the University community; it is not the sole responsibility of Indigenous Australian people. This is demonstrated in the Foundation Act of the University of South Australia.
The position of Consultant: Indigenous Employment and Development was established as part of the Human Resources Unit review in 2001. The role was designed to facilitate the following core objectives:
Respect means valuing that difference, and valuing means giving the idea credit as an idea. When you respect someone you value their differences and make every effort to understand how and why they are different from you and what this difference means in practical terms. Respect means listening without trying to assimilate or colonise an idea - in the sense of making it like our own. Rather, it means noticing where the idea is the same, or similar and also discerning where it is not. Respect means noticing that difference, and not pretending it is not there.
Respect and endorsement of a different view can be seen as defining power relationships in society. One view of power is that power is plentiful. From this perspective, if we are all empowered, we are all powerful; if one of us is powerless, we are all less empowered. In this paradigm, power is a group activity, not a personal right. And the goal is everyone's empowerment, collectively and collaboratively. When we are able to empower others we are the powerful ones.
Since their first contact with Europeans in the mid 19th century, the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have faced multiple disadvantages in social, economic, cultural, political and educational terms. A range of disadvantages interact in complex ways contribute to the continue marginalisation of people from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander backgrounds and compromise their equitable participation in Australian society. Individually and as an organisation, we have an obligation to just and equitable treatment of Indigenous peoples, to reconciliation and indigenous rights in the workplace and throughout our community. Community ideas should be directed towards aiding all to live together in peace and mutual respect. Compassion tempered with the ability to implement solutions lies at the heart of great movements. Inspired leaders are the people who accept this challenge. So let’s walk together as partners.
Cultural difference has implications for many aspects of the life of individuals, and organisations, in any human society.
Diversity is a vital source of strength to any organization and indeed, to a society. An organisation that is unable to recognise the implications of cultural difference, and take it into account in its policies and its practices, will never generate an employee profile that reflects the diversity within the current Australian society.
Diversity in an organisation may necessitate diversity in the ways people are managed, and the development of policies that allow for differences to be respected and accommodated so that individuals are acknowledged and valued and the integrity of the organisation and its philosophies, aims and objectives are not compromised.