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By EWB CEO, Eleanor Loudon

Over the past week, there has been much reflection, sharing, and (online) gathering in support of National Reconciliation Week. This year’s theme #InThisTogether mirrors the Covid-19 pandemic call-to-action, whilst being a pointed reminder of our shared responsibility in creating a more equitable society. Today, World Environment Day, also asks us to “Celebrate BioDiversity” – pin-pointing the need to support all living things on Earth – and acknowledge how we are all connected, and how we all share a responsibility for being #InThisTogether.

EWB Australia is on the eve of launching a new ten-year strategy. It is one that articulates a vision of ‘technology benefiting all’. And when we say “all”, we mean beyond human-kind. It purposely seeks to be far-reaching, to be mindful of all living things – of animals, the land, the water and the sky – as we engineer. This past fortnight has shone a spotlight on the fact that not all in our industry determine these as priorities, as National Sorry Day clashed with the loss of Juukan Gorge, a site of Indigenous cultural significance. It’s an example of where technology is not benefiting all, and where it appears we are not ‘in this together’. It shows just how much a paradigm shift in our sector is at ‘situation critical’.

At EWB our focus is on people who are at risk of being left behind by global development and negatively impacted by challenging global trends.

As the people who create, engage, and maintain technology, engineers and the engineering community have a unique capacity and obligation to help steward changes in a positive direction to address the social and environmental challenges of our time.

We can’t view Reconciliation as an annual event. It needs to be at the forefront of everything that we do, every day. In the way that we talk, in the mindset that we use to approach our work, and in the actions that we take.

More than 90 per cent of Australians support reconciliation but less than 30 per cent of non-Indigenous people know what they can do to improve reconciliation.* 

This week we hosted a webinar that sought to explore the role that we can play – as individuals, as professionals, as a sector – to create a more equitable and reconciled Australia. In practical, tangible terms, how might we do this? 

Preference Indigenous voices

Value the expertise of First Nation’s people in all our projects. Wherever we work in Australia we are on Aboriginal land. Work with, but don’t speak – we need to amplify Indigenous voices.

Challenge racism

Find the courage to be a loud anti-racist. When you hear someone say something racist, reinforcing stereotypes or being dismissive about Aboriginal people and culture — speak up. Critique media reporting for racialised descriptions of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Observe whether their voices are included in the report as voices of authority in issues affecting them. 

Understand the true history 

  • Watch: SBS Australia First Australians
  • Read: Titles on rotation amongst our EWB staff include ‘Dark Emu’ Bruce Pascoe, ‘The Greatest Estate on Earth’ by Bill Gammage and ‘Sand Talk: How Indigenous Thinking Can Save the World’ by Tyson Yunkaporta. Reconciliation Australia also has a list of mind and heart-expanding titles here
  • Connect: Understand the land you live on and work on, and connect with the Traditional Owners of those lands. Join cultural awareness training. Participate in public events being held locally on special days. 
  • Learn: Seek out professional development opportunities and loan your skills through pro-bono engineering opportunities (like our Engineering On Country program).

Help build an inclusive, responsible work culture

  • Include Aboriginal people in all stages of your projects
  • Invite your colleagues to research which nation they are from and always begin meetings with an Acknowledgment to Country
  • Find out if your organisation has a Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP). If they don’t, then be the voice to start its development. No matter what stage of your engineering journey – from a graduate engineer to the most senior position – everyone can assume an equal role in helping the organisation you work for learn, understand and set a baseline for action. Every one of us has a voice, and honest conversations can be safely started with a RAP as the platform.  
  • If your company does have a RAP, review its success, and make sure it’s an action document, not a marketing document. A RAP should hold the company, and the people tasked with implementing the companies activities, to account. If you need to, identify like-minded allies and influencers, and hold upper-management to the truth, spirit and tangible actions that a RAP is intended to document.

It’s been twenty years since the inaugural Reconciliation Week, as well as the first World Environment Day. Twenty years to wind back so many years of disrespect to our first peoples and planet. The task seems enormous. The overwhelm is real. But we are not alone. We need to remember that no single one of us has the answer to these complex issues, but we can all step up to the critical role we all must individually play. For together, being truly #InThisTogether, is the only chance we have of creating a world where we don’t just survive, but where we ALL thrive. 

* Source: ABC