INTERVIEW: SBS Co-Chair Lesley Power & planning for meaningful reconciliation action

CHESS Connect and RAP Team member Nicole Lopes toured SBS HQ in Sydney and sat down with SBS Co-Chair Lesley Power to get her insights on how organisations can craft a collaborative and meaningful Reconciliation Action Plan.

CHESS Connect and RAP Team member Nicole Lopes toured SBS HQ in Sydney and sat down with SBS Co-Chair Lesley Power to get her insights on how organisations can craft a collaborative and meaningful Reconciliation Action Plan.

True to her name Lesley Power was a powerhouse, an engaging and compelling presence sitting in the leafy courtyard of SBS headquarters in Sydney. I was immediately taken with how accessible and generous Lesley was; helping me navigate the rabbit warren of studios, training rooms and offices that is SBS HQ, all the while absorbed in genuine conversation.

Lesley expressed her interest in raising awareness for Mental Health and Disability and supporting First Nation Australians through collaborative action and reconciliation.

We spoke at length on what CHESS Connect is as an organisation and how we’re working towards building a comprehensive Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP) for our own work with First Nation communities.

The following questions were submitted by our RAP group to gain a better perspective on SBS’s focus and learnings from their own Reconciliation Action Plan.

1. What has been the response of First Nation Australians to the SBS RAP?

“The response from First Nations Australians includes First Nation people working within SBS and First Nation people outside of SBS who would audience members. Most of the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who work at SBS are concentrated in NITV ( National Indigenous TV) which is one of SBS’s Free to Air Channels. There are a smaller number of people who work throughout the other parts of SBS. The general approach is positive, NITV supports the RAP, and Tanya Orman, NITV Channel Manager is very supportive. One thing to be aware of is a lot of Indigenous people take the view that actually building reconciliation is not the role for them, it’s a rolefor the main stream community The feedback has been that the initiatives and what is done should be Indigenous lead, not white Australia or mainstream Australia providing what they think are the solutions. For instance saying “I think you need a computer learning course – here are the tools to deliver it” Ensuring that actions in an organisation’s Reconciliation Action Plan are led by Indigenous people is important to ensuring the success of your RAP. That is where working with Reconciliation Australia can be very useful. Not every organisation is as lucky as SBS to have a significant number of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people working within it. Reconciliation Australia is an Indigenous lead organisation and they’ve got their framework and goals and suggestions for Reconciliation Actions.They have a range of plans, different layers of plans, starter plans for organisations just starting on the journey, to more sophisticated plans that aim to achieve positive change throughout all of Australia. A key thing that they will recommend is that you look to and understand your own workplace and act within your own sphere of agency rather than simply trying to replicate things that other people do. They have are some good ideas and standard approaches which will be of great assistance to help you deliver your organisation’s first RAP.; The whole aim of Reconciliation Australia is to help companies take meaningful steps, to have an impact to Close the Gap; most visibly reflected in life expectancy but also in education opportunities, employment opportunities, income gap, the health gap… a whole range of things and taking actions to close that gap. That can also involve promoting understanding within one’s own team members, promoting cultural understanding and addressing the prejudice. Creating an understanding of history and cultural awareness is part of that.”

2. How do you maintain energy and focus on your RAP intentions?

“In terms of maintaining energy and focus, our RAP’s been going since 2008, I think part of it is getting voluntary buy-in from people who want to commit. Within SBS we have a RAP working committee and the changeover of that committee occurs from time to time and as we’ve grown in levels of sophistication the further implementation and delivery is devolved out to people within the divisions. Examples of that are as you’ll see in this fourth RAP (see RAP booklet provided) one of the goals was to deliver an employment strategy by 2018, so that strategy has been delivered but it’s the people and culture division that are now doing the work to deliver it, the next one will pick up the goals that they’ve identified. Your standard management calls on having clearly defined targets, clearly defined goals, someone who’s accountable, a timeframe for delivery – that keeps people accountable. The thing that I found really useful was having regular working meetings, so for much of the life of the RAP we’ve actually had weekly meetings of a core group that have been addressing things time by time. Then as we came into the final stages of delivery in 2018, we had a big delivery of an event with NAIDOC week and then we’ve actually been spending much more time on reflecting and doing workshops, having a fallow time as we’re drawing up the plan and then we’ll keep that momentum going with regular groups. But having representatives from different areas who have carriage and accountability for their particular actions is one of the things that’s worth doing, but also having a group of people who have a fun commitment to pursue and where you’re joined in a common cause… that’s what’s kept our momentum going really well rather than people whose paid position it is to do stuff, that’s how it has worked with us.

3. What does reconciliation mean to your organisation? Have you seen benefits within your organisation after delivering your RAP?

“SBS is a business that’s driven by its charter, which is contained in the piece of legislation, the act of Parliament which sets SBS up, and one key obligation/purpose of SBS is to contribute to meeting the communication needs of Australia’s First People. So reconciliation fits right in to that mandate, so it sort of comes from the purpose of SBS.

In terms of reconciliation itself, it’s very much addressing the gap areas that are identified, recognising that there is disadvantage to First Peoples from Colonialism and taking practical means to address those problems. So if you have a look at our fourth RAP, what reconciliation means in terms of our activities, it’s under three broad headings which are: creating opportunities, creating respect and building relationships. That’s a framework identified by reconciliation Australia, this comes straight from them and how we express that relates to our own activities and spheres of things. So a lot of that focuses on creating respect and cultural awareness, with a view to getting rid of prejudice and bias within our own population, within our own team in SBS. The opportunities are the practical things like employment and one of the most meaningful ways is procurement. There’s an initiative where many Indigenous owned or operated businesses are promoted by an organisation called Supply Nation and you actually commit to procuring goods and services; could be anything from printing paper to catering, to T-Shirts… but there’s things that you can do and that actually feeds money in to the economy which makes a real change.

The benefits are; there’s more growing cultural awareness, there’s much more commitment, within SBS there’s more inclusiveness. I think one of the main benefits is creating meaningful career pathways for Indigenous people within SBS and that’s got its challenges but there’s areas where

that’s worked. Benefits within our organisation… just the enrichment of deeper cultural understanding”.

4. How do you reach audiences in remote locations? Do you have a strategy in place to share content with those who have limited internet access?

“SBS broadcasts and communicates its programs to all Australians, including people in different locations. SBS uses a wide range of technologies to distribute its programs., Our content, reaches remote communities and NITV spends a lot of time travelling to various remote communities where many Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are. This is part of the day to day operations of SBS as it implements its Charter as set out in the SBS Act. This is the work of the whole of SBS, and he Reconciliation Action Plan is just a part of that.. So for instance NITV, which is made by, for and about First Nations Peoples,use part of their budget to travel to places, they produce stories which are distributed throughout Australia and throughout the world and that’s part of the business of NITV. They’re funded to do that. , They report the news from remote places. That doesn’t happen because of the RAP. That happens because of SBS’s Charter and the purpose of the organisation. SBS also puts a lot of effort in to understanding Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities and issues. We have community engagement forums where members from our corporate teams go and engage with audiences throughout Australia. Dot West, who is SBS’s Indigenous board member, The SBS Act provides that at least one of the SBS Board members which are appointed by the Minister must be Indigenous. What is your advice on how we can increase awareness in our community about our RAP? What methods have you implemented to educate your wider community?

“In terms of increasing awareness in our community about our RAP, the suggestions that come from Reconciliation Australia are: marking some of the key calendar dates – so there’s Reconciliation Week which happens in late May, there’s Sorry Day which is the anniversary of the apology to the stolen generations, there’s NAIDOC week as well. So I think aiming to have some event or information sharing that ties in with that is a good idea. It all depends on who your wider community is, if everyone’s physical and they come together for events or if it’s something that’s different… So you might push content or information or cultural awareness out to them, you might celebrate stories, you might have some Indigenous carers or you might have Indigenous clients whose stories you might want to celebrate, understanding the distinct needs that they have, cultural needs. That’s really part of the communication strategy, hanging it on to stuff that’s happening outside anyway and sort-of leveraging them, a lot of communities have events that are happening around reconciliation week and NAIDOC week and you can get more bang for your buck if you leverage off them sometimes. The big step that I would take is to get in contact with Reconciliation Australia, look at their website, get in touch just give them a call, they’re really friendly, they want to help people, and they’re a great organisation, a great group of people.”