Relationships – Engagement & connection

"The way forward starts with all of us. Both individually and collectively, we must learn ourselves and understand how racial and cultural majority views, laws and institutions are acting to exclude and deny others. We all must understand our shared history."

– Professor Eleanor Bourke & Dr Diane Sisely, Reconciliation Victoria Local Government Forum Report 2004

Why relationships are important

All organisations which have recruited and retained Aboriginal employees say that having meaningful relationships with the Aboriginal community is vital to success.

Many Victorian councils are already taking practical steps to actively celebrate culture and engage with Aboriginal people, including through initiatives such as NAIDOC and Reconciliation Week celebrations, acknowledgements of traditional owners, flying the Aboriginal flag alongside the Australian flag outside council buildings and undertaking their statutory responsibilities for Aboriginal cultural heritage. However, there continues to be advice from Aboriginal community members that they would like more meaningful relationships with councils.

There may be a variety of reasons limiting better connections between councils and their Aboriginal communities.  As many groups make up the Aboriginal community (such as traditional owner groups, Local Indigenous Networks and Aboriginal people who have moved from other parts of Australia to live in the municipality) councils are not always sure which community members or organisations to approach. In some municipalities there may be no obvious Aboriginal presence. In others, councils face resource pressures on local service delivery expectations from their local communities that limit their capacity to undertake intensive engagement activities. Aboriginal people may also not be aware of the full extent of the services councils provide because they access services from Aboriginal-specific providers. There may be a legacy of mistrust from difficult situations in the past.

Understanding these cultural and historical factors puts everyone in a better position to appreciate the impact of these factors on communities and to work more effectively with Aboriginal people in the future.

Like any good relationship, it is something that is going to take time. There is no reason why councils can’t take the lead in making contact with local Aboriginal communities; don’t wait to be called.

Statistics at a glance

  • Over half (42 out of 79) of councils have specific Indigenous commitments or initiatives as part of their organisational plans
  • Sixty-one councils celebrate Aboriginal culture through events such as NAIDOC Week and Reconciliation Week
  • Thirty-two councils have Reconciliation Action Plans or similar commitments.

Top three actions councils can do to make a difference

  1. Be open and willing to engage with your local Aboriginal community – get to know who they are – ring up the local Aboriginal organisations and visit their offices
  2. Hold information sessions with local Aboriginal communities to provide opportunities for Aboriginal people to better understand what councils do
  3. Formally document, and include in the Council Plan, that the council welcomes engagement with the Aboriginal community.

MAV documents

Download a print-friendly version of this information: Relationships fact sheet (Word - 231KB).

External resources

Victorian local government Aboriginal employment framework