Ms Armstrong was born in Mackay, Queensland, and is a Torres Strait Islander. Her exposure and experience in business started at an early age with her brother (machinery hire), stepfather (picture framing), uncles (crane hire, fishing trawlers, crocodile farms) and grandfather (travelling showman) all entrepreneurs, running their own successful businesses.
On moving to Newcastle in the late 1980s, Leah began working with the Aboriginal community at the Awabakal Newcastle Aboriginal Cooperative before helping to establish Yarnteen— a not for profit company which provides Aboriginal people with training and employment opportunities—which she led for 18 years as Executive Director. In 2009 she joined Social Ventures Australia where she advised on social enterprise development partnerships.
Leah holds several Board positions including Indigenous Business Australia, University of Newcastle, Australian Indigenous Minority Suppliers Council and Jobs Australia Foundation. In August 2010 Leah hiked the Kokoda Track in Papua New Guinea as a mentor in the Jobs Australia Foundation—Indigenous Youth Leadership Program.
Reconciliation Australia recently released the findings of the 2010 Australian Reconciliation Barometer, the national research study that looks at the relationship between Indigenous and other Australians. What are some of the changes (if any) that you have found from when you last reported The Barometer in 2008?
The Australian Reconciliation Barometer is a landmark study which provides a detailed snapshot of the views of Australians about reconciliation and also tracks how Indigenous and other Australians feel about each other.
The Barometer is designed to be repeated every two years and will enable us to track progress in four key areas essential to progressing reconciliation—awareness, attitudes, perceptions and actions.
The 2010 survey found that the majority of Australians were optimistic about the future—87 per cent of all Australians agreed the relationship was important and 48 per cent said it is improving. However, one area where work is needed is around trust. Just 9 per cent of all Australians feet that trust between the two groups was good.
The first Barometer was conducted in 2008 five months after the Apology to the Stolen Generations when there was a strong feeling of optimism within the sample groups.
The 2010 Barometer did reveal a slight drop in some areas but it is important to look at the findings in context. Over the last two years, particularly with the Global Financial Crisis, there has been a general feeling of apprehension and a change in the broader social landscape.
An encouraging finding was the fact that Indigenous respondents are less likely to believe they are disadvantaged or affected by race-based policies of the past. There was a 10 per cent drop from 35 per cent in 2008 to 25 per cent in 2010.
What are some of the key ways that media can be involved in and positively impact reconciliation?
The media has a strong influence over our attitudes to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians. Alarmingly, the Australian Reconciliation Barometer found only 16 per cent of the general community agreed that the media provided a balanced view of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Perceptions of media bias were stronger amongst Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, with only nine per cent agreeing that the media provided a balanced view of Indigenous Australia.
This was an interesting finding from the 2010 poll, given the survey also identified the general community’s attitudes to Indigenous people was more likely to come from secondary sources, such as the media, rather than personal experience.
The creation of the Media Reconciliation Industry Network Group (Media RING) has been a really positive step forward for the industry as a whole. As we all know, the media is very powerful. We all absorb a lot of what comes into our homes and offices via the TV, radio, newspapers and magazines and online and I think this industry is in a unique position to help shape the public’s perceptions of Indigenous Australians.
By sharing some of the ‘good news’, instead of focusing on the headline-grabbing ‘bad news’, the media can help create change in the reconciliation space. The RING Group is certainly taking the lead on this by making positive change within your sphere of influence to help close the gaps that still exist between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians today. I would encourage other media outlets to join the reconciliation movement too.
The discussions and debates around changes to our Constitution and what role we can play in engaging the Australian community will be of great importance over the next two to three years—and I would encourage the media sector to think about how you might get involved in this process. For example, over coming months, the Expert Panel on Constitutional Recognition of Indigenous Australians will be exploring how we recognise Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in the Australian Constitution through their consultation and education work—and this could present a proactive opportunity for the media.
Reconciliation Australia is now in its 11th year, what are the successes over the years that you are particularly proud of?
Reconciliation Australia is the peak national organisation building and promoting reconciliation between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians. In the 11 years since Reconciliation Australia began we have been building an evidence base of best practice in overcoming disadvantage and how we can improve relationships.
Our programs such as Indigenous Governance and Reconciliation Action Plans (RAPs), along with our advocacy and public education work, are about building sustainable frameworks for lasting change in our communities.
Over the last decade we have moved forward in our journey towards reconciliation. But there is still a way to go. What gives me hope as we embark on that journey is the number of people who are joining us.
There are now almost 500 RAPs either launched or in development—in total taking in around 20 percent of the national workforce. And in the next 12 months, I’m looking forward to the RAP program growing and engaging with more workplaces as well as more people in those workplaces.
I’m also looking forward to further developing our Indigenous Governance program that maps and celebrates success in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations—be it community or business enterprises.
Reconciliation is a big job. Everyone has a part to play and no one person or organisation can do it all. But together we can make a real difference in the lives of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and all Australians.
National Reconciliation Week 27 May – 3 June is a time to celebrate and reflect on our shared histories, contributions and achievements. What activities, tools and resources are available from Reconciliation Australia and how would you like people to be involved?
Events like National Reconciliation Week can provide a focus for all Australians to reflect on reconciliation, learn more about Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures—and strengthen the relationships.
National Reconciliation Week is an important annual event, being framed by two key dates in Australia’s history that represent strong symbols for recognition. On 27 May, 1967 more than 90 per cent of Australians voted to give the Australian Government power to make laws for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and recognise them in the census. On 3 June, 1992 the High Court of Australia delivered the Mabo decision, which recognised that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have a special relationship with the land.
In 2011 the theme is ‘Let’s talk recognition’ and we’re delighted to be recognising the valuable contribution entertainment legend Jimmy Little has made to Australia by selecting him as the ‘face’ of National Reconciliation Week. Uncle Jimmy is one of the most recognisable faces in Australia, which makes him such an appropriate choice, and involving him in National Reconciliation Week is our way of recognising his contribution to reconciliation.
This National Reconciliation Week we’re encouraging all Australians to recognise and honour the talents and efforts of First Australians who, like Uncle Jimmy, make significant contributions to our national identity.
National Reconciliation Week is a time for friendship and for understanding. And this year it’s also a time for talking—talking about recognition in particular. You might share a breakfast or a morning tea, join a public talk or watch a film screening, or maybe just have a quiet sit and reflect on how you can play your part in the process.
We have an information section on our website which includes ideas for activities and events. www.reconciliation.org.au/nrw2011
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