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Creating a culturally safe workplace

Our commitment to reconciliation and advocacy for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
Left to right: Kathleen Cole (Board Director, NT DAB Chair), Andy Kenyon (Director NT), Ross Pinney (President), Johnathon Munkara (former staff member), Kevin Doolan (Regional Manager, Tiwi), Charles Burkitt (Deputy President), Peter Kantilla (Youth Support Worker), Ian Hamm (Board Director), Kym Pfitzner (CEO) on Tiwi Islands (Wurrumiyanga Community), outside the Art Centre (Tiwi Design).

Australian Red Cross pays its respects to all traditional custodians of this land, the oldest continuing culture in human history. We pay our respects to Elders past, present and emerging, for they hold the memories, the traditions, the culture and hopes of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples across the nation. We pay special acknowledgement to First Nations’ staff, members, volunteers, clients and partners, and your communities. As we walk and work alongside you, we commit to co-creating change in our organisation.

A year on from pledging our deep commitment to playing our role in dismantling the ongoing effects of systemic racism and cultural ignorance, Australian Red Cross acknowledges that while we have taken small steps, giant strides are still before us. And we deepen our commitment to taking them.

Red Cross acknowledges the need for ongoing improvement in ensuring cultural safety and security for all staff, members, volunteers, and the people we work with. We acknowledge that we must do more in our efforts towards true reconciliation, to create safe spaces, to constantly challenge ourselves.

To our National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Leadership Team, thank you for your strength, courage, guidance and determination, and as you continue to walk in the footprints of your ancestors, you offer your hands and hearts in the true spirit of reconciliation.

We share with you examples of the small steps we have taken, humbly acknowledging that this is very much the beginning of a journey:

Creating a culturally safe workplace and our commitment to reconciliation

Our current Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP), Stronger Together (2018-21), is our third and at the Stretch level. There are over 1000 organisations in Australia with RAPs in place, and we are one of 15% with a Stretch or Elevate RAP. An overview of our RAP is included in our FY2020 annual report. In the past year we achieved more than 75% of our current RAP outcomes.

To acknowledge guidance of the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Leadership team, RAP implementation group and our RAP Champions. These key players stay focused and push us to stretch our RAP aspiration to not lose sight of our past; celebrate achievements; staying true to the challenges placed before us to advancing reconciliation. This is now being validated by Arrilla, an Aboriginal-owned consultancy.

Red Cross is deeply committed to organisation-wide cultural training that establishes values in our people strong enough to overcome barriers and ensure the best possible outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and communities with whom Red Cross partners. The Cultural Ladder, a concept which originated from the National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Leadership team, is an internal product driven by a focus of looking, listening and learning from contemporary and traditional influences in a respectful and practical manner. The two levels available to all staff, members and volunteers in our Learning Gateway have recently been given digital credential status, recognising the vital training they represent, and meaning that our people can show their commitment to cultural learning on their resumes.

In Reconciliation Week, earlier this year, there were 372 views of the Cultural Ladder, along with more than 400 participants in “pens down” time, more than 40 separate events held across the country, and 72 people took part in the inaugural Deadly Blak Reads Bookclub.

Red Cross, with strong involvement from the Aboriginal & Torres Strait Island Leadership team, has conducted a further review of our Employee Assistance Program (EAP) service to ensure it is culturally safe for our staff. Converge, who provide the service, now deliver a dedicated service for our First Nations employees, whereby calls are handled by a First Nations support person who can provide appropriate, culturally safe support.

As part of the world’s largest humanitarian movement, Australian Red Cross Is conscious of the power of local action translating into global reach and impact. Over the past year we have been taking active measures to amplify First Nations leadership and knowledge. The ‘How Indigenous communities respond to climate change’ session at the “Climate:Red”- Virtual Climate Summit held by IFRC, was a great example of this, and was picked up and covered by Aljazeera, the international news source.

On international women’s day, this year, a key focus was on First Nations women. ‘Love bomber’ Dr Emma Lee, a Trawlwulwuy woman from Tebrakunna Country, north-east Tasmania, explored leading through change and inclusion. come to those who try something a little bit different to increase rights.” We then had the privilege of yarning with Cliff Cobo from the World Wildlife Fund – on “Healing Country” - in NAIDOC week.  This cross cultivation of our learning helps us to explore deeper understanding.

On the local level we partnered with the University of Sydney and University of Technology Sydney, we are analysing the impact of climate change on First Nations communities’ wellbeing, language, cultures and ecologies.  The results of this work will help us adapt our place-based programs, as well as amplify First Nations’ voices. In a specific piece of work, we are exploring acoustic measurements of the ecological soundscape in regions of Australia sensitive to climate change. The ecological soundscape can provide information related to the social, cultural, and ecological aspects of climate change. In this perspective, we are focusing on the fact that climate change poses a major threat to the health of indigenous communities and their ability to sustain their traditional life, language and cultural heritage.

At Red Cross we are pledging our continuing and increasing support for the Career Trackers internship program. We have provided paid internships for 15 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander university students over the past four years. We have committed additional funding over the FY22 with a target of 10 Summer Program placements, as well as Winter Program placements for interns wishing to return to Red Cross during their mid-year break. 

We have recently appointed Angie Perry-Mansell in the role of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Retention Lead. The position is responsible for developing and implementing retention and career development strategies and approaches aimed at strengthening employment outcomes for our First Nations’ people. This work continues to leverage from historic, as well as more recent, research, co-designed and led by Stanley Law. The next step has been completing a review of published Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Employment and Retention Strategies within Government, whilst showcasing successful initiatives within some not-for-profit organisations and private sector companies. Key learnings and gaps have been identified and will assist in informing new activities. A First Nations’ Community of Practice will be established to help guide the new Strategy, along with the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Leadership Team.                       

We are committed to diversity and through diversity, embedding inclusion is at the core of every aspect of our organisation. This will ensure diversity is embraced, all voices are included, and we are enriched by the experience. To help us achieve this,  we’ve created a new role reporting to the CEO and on our Executive Team for a Diversity and Inclusion Lead. Fiona Davies is due to commence in mid-July. Fiona has close to a decade’s experience in the diversity and inclusion sector, and winner of Australian Human Resources Institute’s 2019 ‘HR Diversity Champion Award’ and inaugural of the Sandra Cormack Practising Certification Scholarship.

Members of the Board and Executive Team visited our placed-based Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander programs in Darwin, Katherine and the Tiwi Islands in May to listen and learn from First Nations’ Elders, staff and community members. Some of the group had the privilege of visiting East Arnhem Land and the Baby Hub in Galiwin’ku, a maternal and baby wellbeing centre. They were profoundly moved by the strength, wisdom and complex kinship system of Yolngu culture, and the beautiful connection between mothers and djammarkuliw (children). The trip continues to light the flame of wanting to know more and further instilling a commitment to act for humanity as we look to do better, to be better.

Red Cross has recently formed new Leadership Team made up of 25 senior leaders from across the organisation, each bringing a diversity of skills and experience and with First Nations representation at its heart. The purpose of the team is to provide strategic advice to the Executive. The team is privileged to include Jenny Brown, Wandi Wandian from Yuin Nation, Lee Prouse, palawa from Lutruwita, and Jacob Walsh, Kamilaroi, whose guidance and wisdom will ensure the voices and needs of First Nations people are always at the centre of what we do.


Red Cross pledges its support for the redress of systemic discrimination and disadvantage that has affected Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples for generations. For genuine systemic change to occur, the National Voice must be permanent and irrevocable. Last month we provided our submission to the Indigenous Voice Co-Design Process, you can read our full submission here. We aspire to walk alongside First Nations’ peoples and to stand together with them in their calls for systemic change.

Also last month, Red Cross joined the National Raise the Age campaign to support raising the age of criminal responsibility from 10 to 14. This is one of our key justice advocacy platforms. Our submission is publicly available on the Raise the Age website. Raising the age of criminal responsibility is particularly important to address the over-representation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander children and young people in contact with the justice system. 

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