A unique perspective: Reflecting on the tenth anniversary of the National Apology

Shelley Reys AO gives us a front row seat on the day the nation said "sorry".

Shelley_02 copy.jpg

Shelley Reys AO is an Aboriginal woman of the Djirribul people and the CEO of Arrilla, a majority Indigenous-owned consulting and training company. When the term ‘reconciliation’ was formally introduced to Australia, she was formally involved and has had a continuing prescence across 27 years, including roles such as the inaugural Co-Chair of Reconciliation Australia and parliament’s apology to The Stolen Generations. In this edition, Shelley gives us some perspective on Australia’s social investment and a front row seat on the day the nation said “sorry”.

It was 13 February 2008 on a crisp Canberra morning and I was as nervous as a starter in The Melbourne Cup.

I was a board Director of Reconciliation Australia at the time, the national, peak body charged with the responsibility of driving a reconciled nation and the organisation designated to lead a public dialogue about Parliament’s apology to The Stolen Generations. Somehow, I’d become the board’s representative voice and given’s RA’s unique role, rightly or wrongly, I also felt like a representative voice for the thousands of Indigenous peoples who had been forcibly removed from their families, lost continuity in culture and country and, in many cases, experienced untold levels of physical and sexual abuse.

As I dressed for the day, I felt the weight of everyone’s expectations and wondered if I could meet them. I steadied myself by reflecting on all that had come to pass, leading up to that day.

Seventeen years earlier, The Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation was formed under a Keating government, designed to introduce the concept of ‘reconciliation’ to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and the wider Australian community for the first time. Countless individuals across several generations had already been working for a reconciled nation but this was the first, formal process any government had initiated. I was a naïve 24 year-old with wide eyes and lots to learn, yet, I was engaged to “sell” the concept of reconciliation and in doing so, to build ‘a people’s movement’ of grassroots action across New South Wales.

We began by hosting community workshops, bringing together Indigenous and non-Indigenous people in local towns and regions to explore what reconciliation meant, what a reconciled nation might look like and how we could achieve it, collectively.

The response was overwhelmingly negative. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were grieving for missing family members, many unemployed, unwell and/or living in impoverished circumstances. They were astonished that I should suggest that they’d be interested in reconciling with those who represented their loss. Non-Indigenous people were equally surprised; they had little or no knowledge of Australia’s history where it related to Indigenous Australians and, therefore, why they might experience grief, pain and loss, let alone have any insight into the facts behind the disadvantaged status of Indigenous peoples.

Indeed, for non-Indigenous people, there was an enormous disconnect between wanting to reconcile and not knowing why. This formed the bulk of the frustration amongst Indigenous people and there was a view that they needed to learn or as one elder put it: “If only non-Aboriginal people were willing to sit in the dust with us and listen to our stories”.

It was then clear that reconciliation would only be possible with education. In particular, if we educated the wider community about the historical and cultural facts that had led the nation to this difficult place and, therefore, the need for reconciliation to begin with.

From that time forward, there were hundreds of community workshops, key sector meetings, public events and speaking roles across ten years. My colleagues and I raised awareness and encouraged the sharing of stories across the nation.

At the end of the Council’s term, ten years later, we staged ‘The Walk for Reconciliation’ across the Sydney Harbour Bridge (a symbolic act that was matched in other states and towns) designed to symbolize the progress we’d made. Over 250,000 Australians took to the streets, said to have been Australia’s largest public demonstration to date with the largest gathering of leaders since Federation in 1901. Australians had begun a journey of listening and learning.

To carry on the Council’s work, Reconciliation Australia was launched and I was its first Co-Chair. I remained of the view that raising awareness about our shared history stood at the centre of our success and that while there were considerable advances, we still had much to learn. Eight years into our term, Prime Minister Kevin Rudd approached us about his concept of making a formal apology and asked us to lead a public dialogue in order to gain widespread support. He was determined that this should be the first sitting day of Parliament, hence, giving us only three months to educate Australia.

The team was tenacious and by the time “apology day” arrived, Reconciliation Australia had inspired a meaningful public dialogue. It was one of the few occasions where mainstream, popular media had taken an interest and while it wasn’t always helpful, a national conversation was being had.

Back to that crisp Canberra morning and I was still a bundle of nerves. Australians began gathering in schools, town halls, sporting fields, community centres, workplaces and family sitting rooms across urban, rural and isolated locations. I stood in the upper gallery of the House of Representatives in Canberra’s Parliament House looking down over the proceedings.

Among those gathered were elders who would witness the apology first hand. As Rudd’s speech began, I watched them gently reach out for one another’s hands. As it continued, hands turned into arms that gently wrapped around each other’s shoulders, and as the words “I’m sorry” finally rang out, the elders locked in strong, quivering embraces. The exchanges between them were so deeply personal that at times, I looked away. It felt like my eyes were an intrusion.

It was like an enormous breath; an exhale of emotion.

To many non-Indigenous Australians, it was a unifying and proud moment in which we looked at ourselves in the mirror and liked what we saw. To thousands of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people it was a moment of immeasurable relief to hear, for the very first time, that the representative of their perpetrator was sorry. 

On the tenth anniversary of the apology, we have much to celebrate. While Rudd’s leadership and Reconciliation Australia’s galvanizing role were critical, there was no greater effort than that of the Australian people. Courageous elders who told their stories in local towns so others could learn as well as brave non-Indigenous people who were willing “to sit in the dust” with them to hear their stories.

To that end, Parliament’s apology to The Stolen Generations wasn’t a single, stand-alone event. It was – at minimum - a seventeen year journey of difficult, heartfelt, honest conversations involving millions of Australians. A people’s movement at its best. 

Today, there’s been patches of progress that tell me that we’re on the right track. Such as the increased levels of employment and participation in secondary and higher education, refreshed commitment to increase economic development and entrepreneurship through the government’s Indigenous Procurement Policy and over 1000 Reconciliation Action Plans designed to deliver tangible results across all sectors. However, as the ‘close the gap’ report is likely to demonstrate, we have a significant task before us in order to change the life opportunity profile for our Indigenous brothers and sisters.

Standing at its core is the continued knowledge gap amongst the broader population about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, culture and history. Many people feel unsure and unsafe in the Indigenous space. They’re afraid of saying the wrong thing, using the wrong word, sounding racist and feel so afraid of making a mistake that they begin to walk on eggshells.

And so I’m committed to remove the eggshells. I’ve dedicated 24 years to helping Australian workers to be effective in the Indigenous space or to work on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander related projects with greater skill and confidence. Indigenous cultural competency work stands at the core of what I do, both face-to-face and through digital technology. My vision is to create a culturally competent Australia, one workplace at a time.

I’m deeply committed to changing the relationship between us and I have great faith that most Australians are willing to join me.  The people’s movement is a robust one and if the last 27 years are anything to go by, Australians have what it takes to fill the knowledge and confidence gap before the next anniversary.

Stay up to date with what's happening at International Towers


Feeding diversity, sustainability, and community

Interview: Ian McKenzie, KPMG Head Chef

Since the beginning of time and the earliest of civilisations, food has brought people together. The preparation and sharing of meals – whether it be around a tribal campfire in the remote outback or a boardroom table in the heart of the city - provides a profound opportunity for people to bond and connect, share stories, debate ideas and to defuse differences.

Food service is also an opportunity to embrace wellbeing, celebrate diversity and champion sustainability, and few know this better than professional services firm KPMG. With commercial kitchen facilities at Barangaroo that would rival those of any international five-star hotel, the organisation takes meal preparation and food service very seriously indeed.

“As an organisation, we believe KPMG is a reflection of the general community itself,” says Ransdale Dinger, National Client Experience Team Leader, KPMG. “We are an international company, which means our people are incredibly diverse, as are our clients. However, we feel some things are universal – great hospitality and service, celebration of community, and the provision of nourishment, and our goal is to use thesethings to bring all people together.”

With a team of approximately 2,500 in Sydney, and just over 7,000 nationally, the KPMG community is a mirror of modern Australia, and the organisation relishes its role as a responsible corporate citizen in every aspect of its operations. One of those is in the preparation and service of meals to its teams and clients. On any given week, the kitchens within its Barangaroo office at International Towers, Tower Three, prepare an average of 500 fine-dining lunches and dinners, cater to hundreds more for breakfasts and casual meals, bake thousands of muffins, and deliver an endless supply of fruit and beverages.

“The sheer volume of food we prepare each week means we have a genuine opportunity to make a difference to not only our own community at KPMG, but the greater community too,” says Ian McKenzie, Head Chef. “We work very closely with our community of farmers and growers, not only so that we can source the very best, seasonal produce, but also to minimise waste and food miles. We adhere to a paddock-to-plate and nose-to-tail ethos, which helps us to deliver an experience that is as sustainable as possible, and that is also very much focussed on the health and nutrition of everyone we serve.”

Currently, around 80 per cent of all waste from the KPMG kitchens is recycled or repurposed. An achievement like this doesn’t happen by accident. By taking control of the supply process – for instance, sourcing sustainably grown, whole fish and preparing them in-house, using the bones to make stocks for soups and other dishes, Ian and his team have been able to dramatically reduce the amount of food waste, as well as the organisation’s environmental footprint. A Waste Management Induction process, hosted by Lendlease and International Towers management, also provided valuable insights into how the industry-leading, recycling and repurposing facilities within the Towers work, enabling all involved with food preparation at KPMG to work together toward a common mission, and introduce processes to ensure they were working as sustainably as possible. This includes a highly disciplined approach to recycling, as well as other initiatives, such as supporting National Recycling Week, promoting multiple-use coffee cups, and working with organisations such as food rescue charity OzHarvest to distribute surplus meals.

Ian, who has cooked for CEOs, dignitaries and royalty all over the world (he was once the chef on the Royal Yacht and cooked for Lady Diana), also understands his unique position to influence the wellbeing of the community he serves. “The way people eat has changed, and continues to evolve,” he says. “People are much more conscious of the role of diet in their overall health, so we try to support that – and even drive that – through our kitchen. For example, we’ve replaced many of the biscuits we used to bake as team snacks with fresh fruit and nuts; we’re serving less carbohydrates, making cold-pressed juices and we recently established a close relationship with Bell & Brio from within our Barangaroo community to make our bread, using pure ingredients and amazing, whole grains. We even adopted a cow from the dairy in the Camden Valley that supplies our milk. The milk is bottled at the farm and delivered straight to us and, on a clear day, we can even see the dairy farm from our office at International Towers. It doesn’t get more local than that.”

Community responsibility at KPMG isn’t confined to the dining table. Outside the kitchens, the organisation has a robust program of events and initiatives, and uses every opportunity to engage with its own community to support a range of causes, from distributing white ribbons to its service teams in support of ‘White Ribbon Day’; purple neck ties for ‘Wear It Purple Day’; and hoodies in support of NAIDOC Week, to even decorating the coffees they serve with icons relating to national causes and community initiatives to raise awareness and start conversations.

“It’s all about experience,” says Ransdale. “If we can improve the life of a single person through our actions, then everything we do is worthwhile. If we can improve the lives of all in our community and beyond, then we have achieved something incredibly special.”

Disrupting the market

Interview: Rosie Kennedy, CEO, OnMarket

OnMarket is a unique, crowdfunding and venture advisory business that is helping democratise finance for investors and bring new, early-stage funding to startups and small, scalable businesses. The company recently completed its 100th IPO and introduced the world’s first App for crowdfunding IPOs, and was one of the first to receive the new crowd-sourced funding licenses in January 2018.

We spoke to Rosie Kennedy about how her traditional finance background led her to help build the OnMarket business.

As a professional, and now an entrepreneur, you have a wonderful mix of experience across traditional finance, financial governance and disruptive fintech. What are the highlights?

I began my career in the money market, then ran the government bond trading desk for what is now UBS.

My next major role was heading up business development at ASX, where my focus was on trying to allow retail investors to invest in fixed interest securities, or debt securities, because Australian investors are traditionally very equity-focused.

I went on to work at ASIC in the area that supervises exchanges. I also helped simplify the prospectus regime for debt issuers – again hoping to free up the debt market so retail investors had an opportunity to participate.

Then you met your co-founder at OnMarket, Ben Bucknell, who was trying to do something very similar in the equity market?

Yes. My passion came from being intimately involved in the bond market, and seeing the importance of diversification of portfolios. It was clearly apparent that retail investors were not being given the same opportunities to diversify their portfolios as institutions. Ben had the same vision in the equity market.

Initially we licensed our intellectual property to ASX, to build ASX BookBuild. This system was built within ASX’strading platform and was a tech-driven solution to improve the pricing on equity issuance by listed companies and improve participation for investors.

As this was a B2B model, we really needed some firms in the big end of town to grasp the opportunities arising out of digital disruption in financial markets. But remember, when we were launching ASX BookBuild, it was before the word ‘fintech’ was in common usage. The reality was that there were a lot of powerful, vested interests in the existing process, and it was not easy to get support for an innovative new approach.

Ironically, that lack of support drove us to develop OnMarket, which is a B2C service on desktop and in the App Store. It’s simple, and a far cry from what we were originally doing, but it seems to solve a real problem for investors (by giving them access to discounted IPOs) and companies (by providing a cost effective way of reaching investors).

What companies do you think stand out in the crowd-financing area?

We’ve had a few firsts. We closed Australia’s first equity crowdfunding offer, Revvies, in March 2018. And we’ve completed the largest crowdfunding deal in the world in terms of the number of investors. The company is called DC Power. They got 15,000 investors, and previously the largest number of investors globally was about 6,200.

One of our more interesting offers is The Cup eXchange (TCX) – which is a sustainable, coffee cup business which is solving the disposable cup conundrum. This offer opened in November 2018, and the minimum raise was covered in the first seven days.

It’s a subscription model where consumers are given two cups and they exchange those cups via scanning. Each cup has an identifier, and they scan the cups for credits. Once the coffee is finished, you pop the cup back to that particular café, or to another participating café.

That cup can be used by any participating café, and it never finds its way to landfill because if the coffee cup is ever damaged – which is unlikely because it’s made in a durable way that is very sturdy – it’s crushed down and made into another one.

It’s on trial in Sydney and Barangaroo, and in Melbourne as well. And they are the first-to-market with this product – there is no reason it can’t go global.

Does a crowdfunding raise also help with marketing and awareness of a business?

Definitely. The smaller companies can also use this process to engage their whole stakeholder chain – from employees, to the suppliers and the customers who really embrace the product and engage with the whole process – it’s a nice way of tying all the stakeholders in. For example, we completed a successful crowdraising for PT Blink – a technology company that is revolutionising the construction process. The key benefit for that group was getting referrals from customers. People saw their story whether they invested or not. As a result, large building companies got in touch with PT Blink to use the product.

You expanded your business to Tower Two at International Towers in 2018. You were previously based in Bligh St in Sydney’s CBD, what was behind the move?

We were looking to scale our business – and the tenant model at International Towers was beautifully configured for that kind of progressive growth.

Also, OnMarket is very much in the innovation business and the incredible strength of the innovation community at International Towers was a big attraction for us. We were drawn to the powerful community of enterprise and growth companies and the partnership approach International Towers takes with its tenants.

I think it’s a great benefit that we’re able to work together in such a collaborative environment, especially on our floor. As an example, with The Cup eXchange I spoke to fellow tenant partners, the Green Building Council Australia about relevant contacts in the sustainability area. They connected me with a terrific person at one of the large accounting firms, who has since put us in touch with a facilities manager, and as a result they’re about to sign a large partnership deal.

...which in an enterprise world is very fast-tracked?

Unbelievably. That all happened in 3.5 weeks. That’s a classic example of the working environment, but also of the collaborative nature of the people here. It’s certainly early days, but the camaraderie we’ve already experienced is fantastic.