Respect – Understanding & acknowledgement

"Here in Australia we're fortunate enough to have one of the richest and oldest continuing cultures in the world. This is something we should all be proud of and celebrate."

– Dr Tom Calma AO, Reconciliation Australia Co-Chair

Why respect is important

Building a modern-day Australia with values of tolerance and respect for all relies on the reconciliation journey, which started with the legacies of Aboriginal people who first lived here and those who have migrated here since British settlers first arrived on Victorian lands in the early 1800s. While this migration resulted in huge disruption and dispossession for Aboriginal people, it also led to the institutions and conventions that underpin our system of government today, and make Australia a country in which many people around the world aspire to live.

We should all be proud of celebrating these legacies alongside Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture which is one of the oldest continuous living cultures in the world – Aboriginal people's presence on these lands goes back at least 50,000 years and possibly closer to 65,000 years.

As a result, there is a rich seam of local knowledge, history and connection with community that is available to local government through engagement and employment of Aboriginal people.

Being able to consider the legacies of the past, both positive and negative, taking action, and finding room to truly understand and acknowledge Aboriginal people as the first Australians are important features of the modern reconciliation movement, and are vital ingredients for a just society.

There are many remarkable stories from Aboriginal people – from the ancient traditions of family kinship and connection to land, to the struggles and hardships endured since European settlement of Victoria from the 1820s onwards. Dispossession of Aboriginal Victorians involved, among other things, relocation to missions and reserves, removal from traditional lands and separation of families. Family break-up through forced removals of Aboriginal children from their families was more prevalent in Victoria through the 19th and 20th centuries than in other parts of Australia.

Throughout these times, many Aboriginal people have shown great leadership and diplomacy and continued working towards reconciliation. The Victorian Government's Aboriginal Honour Roll honours some of these notable people.

Many more stories from south-eastern Australia have been generously shared by people who have had to deal with extraordinary life events – visit the Banjilaka First Peoples Permanent Exhibition to access these. There are also important art and heritage collections from southern Australia on display at the Koorie Heritage Trust.

Despite all of this activism and effort, Aboriginal Victorians living in our midst continue to experience very different life outcomes than the general population, including lower life expectancy, poorer health and less likelihood of sustained employment. Councils can take practical steps to acknowledge the unique place of Indigenous people in our local communities by attracting and retaining Aboriginal staff as part of their workforces.

Statistics at a glance

  • Over 47,000 Aboriginal people live in Victoria, with government projections expecting to rise to over 80,000 people by 2021
  • Only 76 Aboriginal people are known to be employed in a Victorian council workforce of 40,000 employees.

Top three actions councils can do to make a difference

  1. Get to know your local Aboriginal community and learn about their employment needs and aspirations
  2. Have a conversation about racism in the workplace and whether the council workplace is a place an Aboriginal person would feel welcome coming to work
  3. Recognise Aboriginal people and their heritage in the local community, such as flying the Aboriginal flag from council buildings and inserting acknowledgement of traditional owners into official proceedings at council meetings and events.

Examples of council commitments and acknowledgements with Aboriginal communities

MAV documents

Download a print-friendly version of this information: Respect fact sheet (Word - 170KB).

Victorian local government Aboriginal employment framework