By Nina Wilkinson
Seeds of Change RAP Artwork © Amy Allerton, Contemporary Aboriginal Artist of the Gamilaroi, Gumbaynggirr and Bundjalung Nations
In the spirit of reconciliation Melior acknowledges the Traditional Custodians of Country throughout Australia and their connections to land, sea and community. We pay our respect to their elders past and present and extend that respect to all Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples today.
Why does reconciliation matter to corporate Australia?
Reconciliation is about strengthening relationships between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and non-Indigenous peoples, for the benefit of all Australians1.
Lower levels of social and economic participation of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have resulted in many disadvantages including high levels of unemployment, poor health outcomes, shorter life expectancy than other Australians and high levels of incarceration.
Companies benefit when the economic ecosystem in which they operate has elevated productivity and prosperity. Increasing economic and social participation for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples will help close the gap in life outcomes as well as foster a more productive Australia.
Based on the most recent measurement in the 2022 Closing the Gap Report there is still a 7-8 year gap in life expectancy between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and non-Indigenous peoples, and tertiary completion rates for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples are 35% versus 50% for non-Indigenous peoples2.
How can listed companies contribute to reconciliation?
Listed companies are pivotal to achieving reconciliation in Australia. We estimate that the ASX 300 employ over 2 million people and conduct significant operations across locations which form the traditional land and seas of various Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.
Reconciliation should be considered in the context of an organisation’s own operations, customers, suppliers, and employees, as well as the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities it serves and interacts with.
There are several ways companies can contribute to reconciliation, including:
- Establishing a Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP).
- Respecting cultural heritage and recognising the unique connections that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples have with land, water, plants, and animals.
- Establishing and fostering local community partnerships.
- Reviewing supply chain and procurement practices to consider greater support for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander suppliers.
- Creating employment pathways and safe cultural workplaces.
- Ensuring the Board has the skills and competencies to navigate social issues.
As part of our Proxy Voting and Stewardship Policy, Melior considers that listed company boards should be comprised of directors who collectively hold core skills necessary for the management of the company business and be comprised of persons with sufficiently diverse perspectives5.
An interim report handed down by the Australian Senate enquiry into the destruction of the Juukan Gorge caves found one of the factors instrumental to the destruction was the “the cultural and institutional structure within Rio Tinto did not adequately prioritise Indigenous heritage.”6
Coinciding with last week’s release of the Taskforce for Nature-Related Financial Disclosures (TNFD) framework, guidance on engagement with Indigenous Peoples, Local Communities and affected stakeholders has also been released. This underscores the importance of ensuring First Nations people are appropriately engaged when considering companies’ approach to climate risk mitigation and nature-related issues.
A growing number of listed companies are establishing RAPs
Melior's contribution to reconciliation
Melior has been on a journey since establishment to identify and evolve how we contribute to reconciliation. Our RAP (developed in conjunction with parent firm Adamantem) has been integral to determining how we as a business can respond to the issue of reconciliation in Australia. Melior is one of a few Fund Managers in Australia to have embarked on a RAP, as we believe in ‘walking the talk’.
Melior commenced with a Reflect RAP which allowed us to lay the foundation for meaningful Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander engagement across our organisations. Key learnings from our Reflect RAP can be found here.
In 2022 we commenced our Innovate RAP to further extend our work. Key progress and deliverables of our RAP journey to date include:
- Developing our guiding principles for future engagement with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
- Updating our ESG Framework, Active Corporate Stewardship and Corporate Impact Goals to integrate Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander considerations.
- Updating employment policies to reduce barriers to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander participation in our workplace.
- Updating procurement policies to increase the use of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander businesses in our procurement activities.
Voice to Parliament
The most immediate opportunity to support reconciliation is the upcoming referendum on the Voice to Parliament.
In 2017, over 250 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander delegates gathered and issued the Uluru Statement from the Heart to the Australian people. It was the product of a series of regional dialogues held across the country and represents the largest consensus of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples on a proposal for substantive recognition in Australian history.
It was a profound moment of unity in the Indigenous community, and a gift to all Australians who want to work together to find a better future, close the gaps in life outcomes, and, in the words of the Uluru Statement, to reach Makarrata, “a coming together after a struggle”.
On Saturday, 14 October 2023, all eligible Australian citizens aged 18 years and over will vote on whether Australia should change its Constitution to recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples as the First Peoples of Australia by establishing a body called the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Voice.
Melior has had an ongoing focus on First Nations issues through advocating for Reconciliation. We consider the Voice to be part of this agenda given the significant role listed companies have to play in educating employees on the upcoming referendum to ensure an educated and fully informed decision is made by all Australians.
Earlier this year we agreed to the referendum related “opt in” commitments under our Reconciliation Action Plan. These commitments include the education of stakeholders and the circulation of campaign resources to customers, clients, and partners.
During 2023 Melior has:
- Discussed the Voice referendum and broader reconciliation with 39 listed companies through more than 21 face-to-face meetings and 26 targeted emails;
- Provided Voice to Parliament Reference Resources and asked several questions to companies including:
- Is the company hosting forums or providing other opportunities for employees to learn more about the rationale for a First Nations Voice to Parliament?
- Is the company encouraging employees to enrol to vote or update their existing enrolment ahead of the referendum?
- Is the company publicly supporting the Yes campaign? If yes, how did (or will) you describe why you are supporting the Yes campaign?
- Reported on our Voice activities and insights to investors;
- Participated in a CEO networking event with Rachel Perkins from the Yes campaign;
- Circulated educational resources and hosted virtual and in-person ‘lunch & learn’ sessions for staff;
- Made a financial contribution to the Yes campaign;
- Utilised assets and public spaces for campaign messaging; and
- Participated in the Voice Education Network to learn from the practices of other organisations with a RAP and share experiences.
“Mirvac’s vision for reconciliation is for a fair and truthful relationship between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and the wider Australian community. We were pleased when Melior initiated a discussion with us on the Voice to Parliament referendum. We are supporters of the Uluru Statement from the Heart, and see our opportunity to develop properties respectfully, and create spaces for dialogues that build cultural competence in Australia. As an employer and an influential neighbour in our asset communities, we are investing in education about the Voice to help ensure that voters feel fully informed when they cast their ballots.”
Sarah Clarke, Group General Manager, Sustainability
1 Reconciliation Australia
2 Commonwealth Closing the Gap Report Annual Report 2022
3 Melior Investment Management Impact Report 2023 & 2022
4 AICD, Social Issues & the board: Voice to Parliament, June 2023
5 Melior Proxy Voting and Stewardship Policy https://meliorim.com.au/wp-content/uploads/2023/05/Proxy-Voting-and-Stewardship-Policy-2023.pdf
This content is for general information only. In preparing and publishing this content, Melior Investment Management Pty Ltd (ACN 629 013 896, authorised representative no. 001274055) does not seek to recommend any particular investment decision or investment strategy and has not taken into account the individual objectives, financial situation or needs of any investor. Investors should consider these matters, and whether they need independent professional financial advice, before making any investment decision.