South East Water has valued the ongoing guidance of Traditional Owners and First Nations communities in helping to progress actions within its first ever Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP), documenting achievements and learnings in its 2020-21 Annual Report, tabled in State Parliament on 28 October.

The RAP acts as a framework for practical actions to drive an organisation’s contribution to reconciliation both internally and in the communities in which it operates.

“Reconciliation is an important issue for all Australians and, as an organisation, it’s an area we’re working hard to address at South East Water both internally and in the communities where our customers live, work and play,” says Mikala Hehir, General Manager Customer and Community at South East Water and Executive Sponsor of the organisation’s RAP.

 “As we started our RAP journey, our focus has been on building authentic and ongoing relationships with Traditional Owners and the First Nations communities across our service region – and we thank everyone who has supported and guided us and shared their lived experience and knowledge.”

The annual report documents RAP highlights from the past year including:

  • Engaging with Registered Aboriginal Parties connected to or supplying water to its service area, including Bunurong Land Council Aboriginal Corporation (BLCAC), Wurundjeri Woi Wurrung Cultural Heritage Aboriginal Corporation, the Wadawurrung Traditional Owners Aboriginal Corporation and the Gunaikurnai Land and Waters Aboriginal Corporation, to involve them in “Water for Life”, the new Greater Melbourne Urban Water and System Strategy.
  • Continuing an annual service agreement with BLCAC and quarterly engagement forums to set strategic priorities and involve them in our decision making. 
  • Continuing a metropolitan water industry working group of water corporation representatives that’s focused on sharing learnings re Frist Nations and Traditional Owner engagement.
  • Engaging First Nations community groups to learn about and participate in milestone occasions like National Reconciliation Week, and promoting community events to South East Water employees for significant dates such as National Apology Day, Close the Gap Day, NAIDOC Week, National Sorry Day and Mabo Day.
  • Procuring goods and services from First Nations owned businesses and signing on as a platinum partner of Kinaway Chamber of Commerce.
  • Establishing a RAP Working Group that’s responsible for driving governance, planning and actions to deliver its commitments within the RAP. The group includes four external First Nations members who have educated and guided delivery of its actions to date, including a Bunurong/Trawlwoolway Elder; an Executive Officer from a local First Nations gathering place; a business entrepreneur; and a youth ambassador. It also includes 12 South East Water employees, whose roles span across the organisation.

Ms Hehir says the annual report also tables how the organisation focused internally to continue building a safe and culturally aware organisation.

  • Welcoming three First Nations interns under the Barring Djinang summer internship program for the second year.
  • Welcoming First Nations guest speakers to share their lived experience on topics like racism and the purpose of reconciliation.
  • Engaging employees in cultural awareness and cultural safety training.
  • Sharing stories and progress about the RAP with employees across the organisation.
  • Worked with BLCAC to develop acknowledgement plaques that are now displayed at operating sites, including at its Waters Edge HQ. 

Says Peter Aldenhoven, Executive Officer/Men’s Business, Willum Warrain Aboriginal Association and member of the South East Water RAP Working Group:

“Willum Warrain has been very impressed by the commitment to reconciliation (both practical and symbolic) shown by South East Water’s working group. There is a genuine interest to learn from and build relationships with First Nations’ Peoples, and a desire to affect change in the way they do water business.”

Challenges from the past year include delivering RAP actions during COVID-19 and lockdowns; many events and planned First Nations outreach activities were postponed as a result, where alternatives couldn’t be held or delivered online.

South East Water’s two-year ‘Innovate’ RAP was endorsed by Reconciliation Australia in October 2020. You can read it here.

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