Industry – not government – at forefront of improving relationships with Indigenous peoples

Photo by Ellen Forsyth CC 2.0.

EDITORIAL: When a significant number of Australia’s Indigenous leadership make the effort to attend a speech by a captain of industry it can go two ways.

A giant let down or a rousing call to arms for action and unity.

Andrew McKenzie, the CEO of BHP, proved up to the task of a rousing call.

There would have been many in the audience wishing that he was the Prime Minister, such was his statesman-like speech given without fear or favour for what is decent and right.

After a glowing appraisal and acknowledgement of Indigenous history and culture, he launched straight into it by announcing that while BHP did not have a perfect track record, it was doing all it could to gain the trust and respect of Indigenous Australians.

Part of this process was that BHP viewed the Uluru Statement as a gift and something that should be embraced and that BHP would be doing all it could to push for Constitutional Recognition of Indigenous peoples and parliamentary representation.

The fact that a CEO of one of the world’s largest resource companies is prepared to join in the struggle as opposed to the current Federal Government which has done all it can to bury the Uluru Statement, is a snapshot of where Indigenous peoples find themselves placed currently in Australian society.

In the main, it’s industry that has been at the forefront of improving relationships with Indigenous peoples, rather than government.

McKenzie called for Australians to have honest conversations and be courageous in order to succeed in a referendum and do what was right to correct historical and present injustices.

It was one of those rare times, when in an event attended by a large and diverse range of people, that the audience listened attentively from the start to the finish of his speech.

BHP supporting the Uluru Statement will not be the overall catalyst for change and recognition, however its significance cannot be underestimated. The fact that a behemoth of industry has thrown its significant weight and influence behind the cause can only be viewed as a positive.

We now wait with anticipation as to whether other companies have the courage to join the struggle. Andrew McKenzie won many friends today, let’s hope he and BHP get the praise they deserve.

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