Reconciliation Action Plan

Our Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP) demonstrates the department's commitment to an inclusive workplace and to celebrating the rich, diverse and resilient cultures of our country.

Innovate Reconciliation Action Plan – May 2023 to May 2025


We acknowledge the Ongoing Custodians of the lands where we work and live.

We celebrate Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander peoples’ unique cultural and spiritual relationship to Country, and their rich contribution to Australia.

We pay respect to Ancestors and Elders past and present. We recognise the important role that education has to play in walking alongside the leaders of the future. The department recognises that by acknowledging our past, we are laying the groundwork for a future that embraces all Australians; a future based on mutual respect and shared responsibility.

Video - Innovate RAP launch (duration 1:12:01)

Innovate RAP Launch 2023

Murat Dizdar

Good afternoon, colleagues. Lovely to have you all with us in the building again. It was only a short time ago that we were all together, and we had the Deputy Premier and Minister for Education and Early Learning here, and we had a gathering. It's lovely to see so many of our folk in the building here at our Paramatta office. So I want to welcome everyone to today's Reconciliation Week event and launch of our Innovate Reconciliation Action Plan. I'm gonna apologise up front if I'm buzzing a little bit. I've just come from Endeavour Sports High School, one of our fantastic schools there in the Sutherland Shire. It's our third school in the state. It's the third school in the country. It's the third school in the entire world to have been given status as an Olympic pathway school. (audience applauds) Yep. And so I was just a ring-in this morning there 'cause I've got no athletic talent (audience laughs) to be able to bring to the fore. But I wanted to represent us organizationally to congratulate that school, James Kozlowski, the principal and their staff for getting that status. Seven sports high schools in the state. The first one was The Hills Sports High School last year. Then Illawarra Sports was the second. Endeavour is the third. It's produced six Olympians, including one who has a Indigenous background, and a fantastic school that's gone from 600 students in 2015 to 1100 today. That doesn't happen accidentally. You get a great school 'cause you got a great leader. James is certainly that, a wonderful staff base. 13 sports associations in the state that have partnered with our sports high schools. Our sports high schools produce gold medals every day, every single day. They might not be on the dais, but they produced outstanding citizens, outstanding human beings. And that's where I've come from and that's why I'm buzzing a little bit. But it's great to be able to connect with you for Reconciliation Week and the launch of our Innovate Reconciliation Action Plan. I'm gonna invite Teressa Roberts. We're very privileged to have her with us today. I want to thank her for making the effort to join us. She's going to give us Welcome to Country. Teressa is a Dharug woman who is a direct descendant of Maria Lock of the Boorooberongal Clan. And Teressa's going to share some of Maria's story with us today. Teressa works with us in the building, in the Department of Education, as a training coordinator in Training Services. And I know my good colleagues, Chloe Read and Mark Barraket, who've been helping me in these last seven weeks get my head around skills pathways and higher ed. Teressa, you'll be proud. I know a lot more about training services than I did seven weeks ago. I know of the vital work that you and our colleagues do across the state thanks to Chloe and Mark. Teressa has been given permission by the Boorooberongal Elders Group to deliver Welcome to Country on their behalf. Please put your hands together and welcome up Teressa. (audience applauding)

Teressa Roberts

Bear with me 'cause I'm a little bit nervous today, but thank you for having me here today. So Warami, that's hello in Dharug Language. (Teressa speaking in Aboriginal language) My name is Teressa, and I'm a proud Dharug woman from the Boorooberongal Clan of the Dharug Nation. I've been blessed with permission today on behalf of my Elders, and I would like to welcome you all here today to the land of the Boorooberongal people of the Dharug Nation. Dharug Clans are from the mountains to the ocean, to St. George's River, to Appin and to back around to the mountains. I acknowledge the Boorooberongal people of the Dharug Nation as the Traditional Owners of the lands where we are blessed to work. I am also our past, oh sorry, I also ask upon my ancestors today, past, present, and future, Traditional Owners and Elders of the nation and continuation of culture, spiritual education and practices of Aboriginal people and guide us here today. I want to share a little bit about my family history of the great Maria Lock. She is my great great grandmother from my mother's side of the Thomas's. She was born in 1805, and she sadly passed away in 1878. Without recognition, she has held some significant value to our community. So she was an Aboriginal landowner born in Richmond Bottoms on the eastern floor plain of the Hawkesbury River. She was the daughter of the Yarramundi Chief of the Richmond Tribes. Her family belonged to the Boorooberongal Clan of the Dharug people. On the 28th of December in 1814, Maria was admitted to the Native Institution for Tuition by William and Elizabeth Shelley. In 1819, the Sydney Gazette reported that an Aboriginal girl of 14 won first prize for the anniversary school exemptions ahead of 20 children from the Native Institution and almost 100 European students. And that girl was Maria, and I'm proud to call her my great-grandmother. The legacy of Maria's education became evident in 1831 when she fought in petition to Governor Darling for her deceased brother's land grant in Blacktown in 1831. She secured 40 acres, and she was also allocated an additional 40 acres in Liverpool. So in Maria, she's a descendant of the Yarramundi, and her father is a Gomeroi in unbroken links and stretching back to 1740s. So on the legacy of Maria's education, I would like to say on this note, I close with this statement. The true essence of reconciliation is more than making friends with Aboriginal people. It is a united Australia that respects the land of the heritage of its Indigenous people and provides justice and equality for all. And I thank you, and I bless you with a great day today. (audience applauds)

Murat Dizdar

Thank you, Teressa, for the work you do with us and for sharing that very powerful story. The importance of truth telling, which is a major theme I want to talk to as part of Reconciliation. Teressa, I want to join you in acknowledging the Burramattagal people of the Dharug Nation. We're on their beautiful homelands here at our Parramatta office. I want to pay my respects to the Elders past and present and also acknowledge the young leaders, the young future leaders of our communities, of our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. In fact, I'm very passionate about the teaching profession as many of you have gathered, and I do want to acknowledge the first teachers of this country, the ongoing teachers, in our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who've been teaching us across tens of thousands of years. It gives me great delight to do two things with all of us today. To, one, launch our department's Innovate Reconciliation Action Plan, and to join a fantastic panel that I'm gonna introduce a bit later to get an opportunity from them to reflect on this year's theme for Reconciliation Week. To be a voice for generations. I ask all of us throughout today's proceedings, but in our ongoing work in public education, to reflect on where we are in the reconciliation journey and how each of us can contribute to advance the cause for reconciliation. We must realise in education that we have a very privileged role to play in contributing to reconciliation across this nation. And I'm delighted and very proud to be able to lead the organisation as we launch our second RAP. And a very important step that we take together in public education on our reconciliation journey. In doing so, in being a voice for generations, I want to acknowledge and honour the past generations, those that have come before us who have fought and unfortunately continue to fight for justice for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. I tweeted early this morning. I don't really comply with the social media policy at times. Andrew Stevenson, my profuse apologies. That's not a blanket allowance for you to go and break policy out there. Please stick to policy. (audience laughs) But I tweeted about 175 years this morning. I'm going to continue to do so throughout this year. We've got a competition running out there for schools to show their history, their celebration, and their success across those 175 years. But the 175 years in celebrating also must make us stop and reflect of some shameful past on our watch. On our watch, access to education, quality education, culturally-responsive education has not always been the case across those 175 years. And in the spirit of truth telling, I want to own up to that on behalf of the organisation. It's unfinished business in my view to not deliver true reconciliation for the generations to come and the generations that we constantly should be proud of serving. I want us in this building to use our sphere of influence. We are the largest public sector provision in the Southern Hemisphere. We should use our might, our collective might, to put forward the voice, the just voice for an equitable Australia. I'm delighted to be able to launch the second Reconciliation Action Plan, our Innovate RAP. And I'm also pleased to introduce Tessa Keenan to you. Tessa Keenan is the General Manager of Narragunnawali Reconciliation in Education Program. She's going to join me in commemorating this launch as well. Committing to our second RAP is a very important step for this organisation. Our first RAP was in 2020. I want to acknowledge my predecessor in Mark Scott who was secretary at the time, who led the way for this organisation. And I remember the executive conversations at the time with Mark that we needed to lead from the front in education around that first RAP. You might think, "What have we been doing since 2020?" We've been consulting, we've been listening, and we've been learning to make sure we're right to go for our second RAP. It's included hearing from many of our Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employees that this building and buildings across the state that we work in need to be better by way of cultural safety. I've sat in some of those sessions. It's hard, very hard for you not to be moved, not to be disturbed, not to feel like we haven't delivered for our people when you hear of their stories with us in the workplace, in education settings, in their truth telling. I am proud to lead the organisation and to know of the work we've done since that first RAP. I'm proud of our partnership agreement with the mighty New South Wales Aboriginal Education Consultative Group. The Walking Together, Working Together Agreement of 2020 to 2030 means a lot to me. It's based on the principles of respect, of commitment, of collaboration and of accountability to improve educational outcomes for Aboriginal learners. I'm proud of my good colleague, Nell Lyons, and her team. They were responsible for updating the anti-racism policy in 2022. I hope you're with us, Nell, 'cause you should be proud of that work. It gives a stronger alignment with our Aboriginal education priorities in recognition of the particular impact that racism has on Aboriginal peoples. Nell was responsible for introducing mandatory training, the anti-racism training, and the Aboriginal cultural education. I think we should put our hands together for Nell and the team. (audience applauds) Nell's driving hard to make sure that we've got anti-racism contact officers in each of our 2,200 public schools. My good colleague, Darryl Curry, I'm very proud of his and his team's work in creating two identified roles to support Aboriginal families in making and navigating what can be the complex complaint system. He has been promoting resources to school leaders on managing complaints from Aboriginal families in a culturally safe way. And I'm very proud of my good colleague, Karen Jones, and her team. They pulled off the first ever mandated school development day across this system at the beginning of this term with a full focus on Aboriginal education. I asked that you put your hands together for Darryl and Karen. (audience applauds) Our first RAP, the Reflect RAP, had a very big corporate focus. I'm proud that our Innovative RAP is going to take us to a whole of organisation focus. Whether you're in training services, whether you're in ed connect, whether you're in finance, whether you're on the front line as a DEL or a PSL, whether you're inside the school gates like I visited at Endeavour Sports High School, this Reflect RAP needs to touch you. It's gotta touch the classroom. It's gotta touch the playground, the office or online. Back to that school development day that I spoke about, a day set aside to increase our collective knowledge inside the school gates around Aboriginal histories and cultures to make sure that 78,000 Aboriginal students are known, valued, and we care deeply for had a profound impact across this system. I'm proud that Adam and Aiden who attend Drummoyne Public School with only one Aboriginal student in that school, to Walgett High School and Primary School, which is 95% Aboriginal students, were all tackling the same endeavour, to increase our knowledge and understanding of how to better serve Aboriginal students, Aboriginal community, Aboriginal families. I've gotta tell you that the sphere of influence I spoke about rests heavily with me. I get up each morning knowing that we've got such a long way to go to lift outcomes for Aboriginal students to where they need to be. I have met many talented, gifted, highly-able Aboriginal young students and people, but I've met many who, on our watch, are relying on us to close enormous gaps. I want you to work with me, and I want you to help me take the burden away from my role so that we can collectively lean in in all our work streams to make a discernible difference. If we're going to be an education system that puffs the chest out and says we've delivered for equity, says that we've delivered for the most in need, then we have to deliver for 78,000 young Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander students in this system. You may well say to me, "Murat, 800,000 is who we've gotta deliver for." But if we don't get it right for 78,000, I know we will not get it right for the remaining 720,000. 'Cause what I've learned in my career in public education is that what is good, what is good practice, what is good pedagogy, what is good levelling the playing field for Aboriginal students is good for every student in this system. I want you to embrace truth telling. I have never been more moved in my career, never been more emotional in my career, never been more privileged in my career than to deliver on behalf of the New South Wales government seven Stolen Generation apologies. Each of these individuals taken from their family between the ages of two and nine, each of them young boys placed into the Kinchella Boys Home. Stolen Generation should never, never again happen on our watch. And to say sorry to them on behalf of the government and on behalf of the Department of Education will live with me forever. You are gonna hear from the inspiring stories from the ground, from Maclean High School, and their deliverables are gonna resonate with what we want to pull off in this version of the RAP. We need to build and strengthen relationships. We have to make it our business to grow our cultural learning. We have to elevate the voices across this department of our good people like Teressa who choose to work with us, who sometimes straddle the complexity of being First Nations people and the invidious positions that we place them to. You have to not walk past racism, you have to call it out. You have to respond no matter who gets it wrong. We have to do better with procurement. We have to do better with recruitment and career development, and they are the focus areas of this RAP. I do wanna underscore our partnership agreement with the New South Wales AECG. It must be about primacy. It must guide how we work. And I want to be clear on this that the onus needs to be on us, not the New South Wales AECG, to do the heavy lifting here. I'm going to champion the work. I'm going to try and deliver with the action and not the words, but I want 140,000 employees with me doing the same thing. And I want to thank our RAP team and our RAP working group. They've been behind the scenes since 2020. They've been the ones who've been consulting, listening on our behalf. They're the ones that have brought us all together with this version of the RAP. And I wanna remind everyone that it's not their job. It's gotta be our collective responsibility, and we have to lean in with them as well. Let me hand over to Tessa. Let me introduce Tessa. She joined Reconciliation Australia in 2015 as part of a team of early learning, primary and secondary teachers who were brought onboard by us to design and develop Narragunnawali reconciliation in schools and early learning. Tessa, I was reading my notes last night, I was looking forward to meeting you, but I love you even more because you're a qualified secondary teacher. There's a couple of jobs out there, Tessa. (audience laughs) You've got a decade of experience in higher education, teaching and research, and you see the role of teachers and educators as vital in the process of reconciliation in Australia. Tessa is the General Manager of Narragunnawali. She leads a team that is passionate about supporting educators. She has a Bachelor of Arts with distinction in sociology and gender studies, a Master of Indigenous Studies from the University of New South Wales, and graduate diploma of Education from the University of Canberra. Only a little bit of study under her belt there. Born and raised on Ngunnawal and Ngambri Country. She currently lives on Gadigal Country. Let me bring Tessa up to the stage to say a few words. (audience applauds) (speakers chattering softly)

Tessa Keenan

Ooh, thank you, Murat. Thank you for that generous welcome and introduction and reminder of all that study that I have done, and will definitely be taking a break for a while. And thank you, Teressa, for that beautiful Welcome to Country and for sharing that very important story of your great-grandmother Maria Lock. And I think that's a story that every student in New South Wales should know. So I acknowledge that today we meet on the land of the Burramattagal of the Dharug Nation. And the Burramattagal have been the sovereign Owners of this land for millennia. I pay my respects to them, to their Elders, past and present and to all other First Nations people that are here today. And it's a pleasure to be here on Dharug Country at the launch of the New South Wales Department of Education's Innovate Reconciliation Action Plan. So my name is Tessa, I'm a non-Indigenous woman. I grew up on Ngunnawal Country in Canberra and now live in actually Wangal land just neighbouring to Gadigal land. I'm also a parent of two young girls, and I'm proud to say that my eldest attends a kindergarten at a New South Wales public school. I'm also privileged to be part of Reconciliation Australia's senior executive team and General Manager of the Narragunnawali Reconciliation in Education Program. It's a program that supports all schools and early learning services across Australia to take action towards reconciliation. And Narragunnawali is a Ngunnawal word from Ngunnawal Country that means "alive, wellbeing, coming together in peace," which is what reconciliation is really all about, and why we are here today. It reminds us that in order to foster a strong sense of wellbeing, coming together and peace, that reconciliation needs to be alive every day of the year. And in saying that, every year from the 27th of May to the 3rd of June, we celebrate National Reconciliation Week across the country from classrooms to community organisations and corporations. And this week is a chance for all Australians to pause and reflect on what reconciliation means to us and our workplaces, and to get involved and commit or recommit to change. Reconciliation is about building and strengthening relationships between non-Indigenous Australia and First Nations peoples. It's about building a better nation, a more united Australia that respects and celebrates more than 65,000 years of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander histories, cultures, stories and achievements. An Australia that acknowledges the truthful history of colonisation, of dispossession and disregard for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. And an Australia that believes in the rights of First Nations peoples to make their own decisions about their own lives and communities and to have a voice. This National Reconciliation Week encourages all of us to be a voice for generations. And this means carrying on the work of those who came before us, and using our power, our words, and our actions to create a better and more just Australia for generations to come. And that is the challenge that lies before each one of us. How will the decisions that you and I make, how will they help move us forward to a generation and that the generations to come will be proud of? And as I'm sure everyone in this room would agree that education has a critical role to play in reconciliation. For people to be reconciled, especially where there has been a terrible history of injustice, we must first understand each other, and there is a good deal to learn or to unlearn. And it cannot be denied that historically the formal education system in Australia has served as a tool of colonisation. And Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples' pedagogies and perspectives have been systematically excluded from mainstream education institutions, policies and framework. And as a result, generations of Australians have grown up with an inadequate understanding of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander cultures and very limited awareness of the true histories of Australia. And I'm particularly pleased to see the department's RAP framed by a commitment to truth telling and an examination of how past policies and practices within New South Wales have impacted on Aboriginal and Torres Islander Peoples and the intergenerational impacts that remain today. And very importantly, the work that follows, the work that will follow this, to drive change within the department to support culturally safe and responsive educational settings for First Nations staff, students and families. In the last decade or so, there have been some important shifts in the education landscape in the direction of a significant and more promising legacy that education institutions can leave for future generations. We've seen all education ministers commit and recommit to reconciliation in both the Melbourne and Mparntwe education declarations and the inclusion of First Nations histories and cultures as a cross curriculum priority in the national curriculum, and the inclusion of reconciliation in the Australian professional standards for teachers and principals. And the more recently renewed early years learning framework with a renewed vision where all Australian children are active and informed members of their communities with knowledge of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander perspectives, which is very significant in the early learning space. And these shifts would not have occurred without the significant advocacy of generations of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander educators and Indigenous education consultative bodies who have been advocating and contributing to education reform in Australia over many decades. And in New South Wales, it's very important to recognise the work of the New South Wales Aboriginal Education Consultative Group, and I acknowledge Leigh Ridgeway here today. The New South Wales AECG has historically turned the tide on the exclusion of Aboriginal people from European education in it's more than 40 years of operation in New South Wales. So this reconciliation week, it is important that we remember the work of those who have come before and to not take for granted the positive shifts that we have seen and to not become complacent. As the largest public education provider in Australia, the New South Wales Department of Education holds a unique position in ensuring that First Nations voices and aspirations are heard for the benefit of current generations of Australians who are in our schools today and who will be in our schools in the future. And I'm excited by many of the commitments that reflect this in the Innovate RAP. The department is part of a RAP network that consists of more than 2,400 organisations that employ over 4 million Australians. And last financial year there was more than 73,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who were employed by an organisation that had a RAP, and RAP organisations procured over $3 billion worth of goods and services from Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander-owned businesses. And if we add schools and early learning services to the mix, there are almost 11,000 schools and early learning services who have registered to develop a RAP on the Narragunnawali platform, and I'm really pleased that you're gonna be hearing from Maclean High School today who were winners of our 2019 Narragunnawali Awards. And they have an incredible story. In New South Wales, there are over 500 public schools registered to develop a Narragunnawali RAP, and almost 4,000 early learning services. But RAPs are more than just the numbers. They're about driving cultural change and equipping people to be a voice in their workplace and within their families and within their communities. And we see that intergenerational learning that happens from children at early learning services who take those learnings home to their parents and their grandparents. So on behalf of Reconciliation Australia, I commend the New South Wales Department of Education on the launch of your Innovate RAP, and we encourage each of you to embrace this journey with open hearts and minds and to grow from the challenges and to build on its successes and to be a voice for generations. Thank you.

Murat Dizdar

Thank you for your support, Tessa, and for sharing those wonderful words with us. I'm gonna share a quick story and then bring Carla up as well. I wanna quickly outline a learning that stayed with me where I got it awfully, awfully wrong. Many of you will remember the great Cindy Berwick who was President of the New South Wales AECG. May she rest in peace. Cindy had a meeting with the secretary in our George Street office, and I was to be part of the meeting. Cindy was wonderful at lots of things, but one of the things she wasn't great at was keeping time to when the meeting might run. She ran on her watch. Secretary was a little bit restless. It was a 12 o'clock meeting, and we're only running 20 minutes late. No Cindy. So I said, "Let me just step out and make a quick call." I rang Cindy, I said, "Cindy, where the hell are you? "Secretary's waiting." She said, "I don't care who's waiting, keep 'em waiting. "I'm on my way, I'm only five minutes away." And so I could appease the room and play peacemaker, I thought I'll grab everyone a coffee. And I said, "Cindy, what coffee do you want as well?" So she told me the coffee. Everyone else told me the coffee in the room. I thought I could buy time. And Cindy said, "Alongside the coffee, "I want white bread toast with butter and jam." Who am I to say no, who am I to say no? And I went down to the coffee shop that I know well, and in my view they've got probably the best raisin bread in New South Wales. So I thought I'd just take it on my watch and get her raisin bread with butter. What a disastrous mistake that was. (audience laughs) She walked in, there's the secretary, myself. Handed across the coffee, opened the packet and said, "That's the problem with you white fellas. "You're always guessing for what I want." She used colourful language. I learned lots of colourful words from Cindy. And said, "What the f'ing did I tell you to get me?" And I said, I was trying to rescue the situation. I said, "Ah." She said, "It was white bread with butter and jam. "And you go and choose what you want." And I said, I tried to keep defending the situation. Mortal mistake, mortal mistake. And said, "It's the best raisin bread in New South Wales. "I really wanted to get you to try it," et cetera. She got up, left the meeting, walked out, and wanted to just hammer home the message to all of us. I don't think it was career ending 'cause I'm still here. (audience laughs) The secretary looked at me, we're all a bit pale. I did ring Cindy about half an hour later thinking she may have calmed down. And she said, "How about that theatrics? "Did you enjoy that?" (audience laughs) But that lesson stayed with me, that we don't guess. We do listen, we take on board, and we respond. And with that I want to call up our relieving principal of Maclean High School who's got a very powerful story there in Carla Taylor. Carla works on beautiful Yaegl Country. She's taught with us in Broken Hill as a history teacher, as a relieving head teacher, and at South Grafton High School as an English head teacher before she made the move to Maclean for us. I'm thrilled that she's still with us as deputy principal and now as relieving principal there. She's got a passion for rural and regional education. We need more like her. Come up and share the story please, Carla, of Maclean High School's journey. (audience applauds)

Carla Taylor

Thank you for having me today. And I just wanted to start by thanking Teressa for that very heartfelt Welcome. I've been asked to share a little bit of our journey towards reconciliation. Our school is Maclean. It's in the Northern rivers of New South Wales. It's situated on the banks literally of the mighty Clarence River on Yaegl land, with the Gumbaynggir and Bundjalung people being our very close neighbours. The reconciliation journey of Maclean High School has been evolving, particularly for the last 16 years. It started with a partnership between the Yaegl Elders, Macquarie University and Maclean High. And we began by running cultural tours for year seven students in 2006. It uses local sites of Aboriginal cultural significance to educate students about Indigenous culture and scientific principles, during excursions, which were led by science teachers and the Elders. This has grown into what we now call the River of Learning. And it started in 2009. It's a cultural immersion program where Yaegl culture and learnings are embedded across the curriculum and feature cultural tours, which allow our students to become ambassadors for our area as they have had the privilege to receive authentic cultural knowledge that is given so generously by the Elders. This intergenerational dialogue over time has created trust, respect, and a greater understanding of Yaegl culture through the generations. Students are able to go out on Country, away from the confines of the classroom and into the Yaegl landscape. And this is where we have found that authentic learning occurs. Through this culture of collaboration across the school and with the wider community, we commit to creating an environment where young people, staff and community members acknowledge, respect, and experience connection to Yaegl culture as the First Australians. The River of Learning concept is unique to our local context, local people, and our physical environment. As a school, we are grateful for the generosity of the Elders in sharing their knowledge and stories with our students because this creates a ripple effect of shared knowledge and value of Yaegl histories and cultures. To see the connections forming between the Elders and our students as stories and learning are shared further solidifies our purpose, that Yaegl people history, culture and futures are not only celebrated but part of who we are as a school community. Our ongoing commitment to Aboriginal cultural education for all students and staff was rewarded as the recipients of the Nanga Mai Award in 2015 and then the Narragunnawali Award in 2019. That helped to reinforce that we were on the right track and gave us the motivation to push further with the advances that we had started to make. Creating a reconciliation action plan was a natural progression for us as a school community to evaluate our cultural practices on a regular basis to ensure that we remain steadfast with our mission statement, that the students who leave our school and join other communities will do so with a knowledge and a lifelong understanding of reconciliation. It is a mutually beneficial process for both the school and the community. And a reconciliation action plan provides the scaffold for engaging with community and making authentic advances towards reconciliation. Putting together a large working group was an extremely valuable process as it created engagement from community, Elders, students, teaching and non-teaching staff. We have learned that to make significant and measurable gains in the advancement of reconciliation and Aboriginal educational outcomes, it takes an unwavering commitment. The work we do through the embedding of Aboriginal perspectives into the curriculum, actively participating in our local AECG, consulting with the Yaegl's Elders group, having a school Aboriginal education committee and engaging with the Yaegl community in an inclusive and genuine way are our non-negotiables. We also must acknowledge that the work will never be complete. We must continually refine, reflect, and adapt, for as our community changes so must we. Much like a river, which is constantly changing with the tides. There have been challenges along the way to overcome as there is no rule book or process to follow. And a one size fits all approach can never work. We have learned to be guided by consultation and engagement with the local community and the AECG. As a school and part of a school community, this work is so important. We mark and celebrate key events, but we also recognise the Yaegl people as the custodian of the land on which our school sits. Through genuine consultation, collaboration and engagement, we have a beautiful relationship with the Yaegl community and Elders who are respected and recognised by our school community. As a school, we are responsible for educating the future. We are also helping to educate the future Elders, which is why this process of genuine partnership is so important. We have a committed school purpose of advancing reconciliation, and we do this so that Yaegl people, history, culture and futures are not only celebrated but part of the fabric that makes up Maclean High School. Our journey as a rural high school might be a small one, but it has had a profound impact and a positive impact on our community. And I thank you for inviting me to share this story. (audience applauds)

Murat Dizdar

Thank you, Carla. If you've got children of your own, don't rush to Maclean High, there is an enrolment policy. You can't just all go there out of area. Don't you want to hear that? Doesn't that warm the heart? Genuine partnership with AECG. I just had visions of community walking in, feeling at home. Students walking in, feeling culturally safe. They've made it their business, business to understand who they're serving. It's such a powerful story, Carla. Colleagues, we're gonna run a short panel. I want to introduce our panel members to you. I'm going to ask them a question, but I'm gonna also take questions from the floor. So I'm putting you on notice. Make sure you've got questions for the panel as well. The first panel member I wanna call up is our good colleague Leigh Ridgeway. Come up, Leigh. Leigh's the Vice President of the New South Wales AECG. He is a Worimi man from Port Stephens who speaks the Gathang language. He's only been involved with the AECG for a mere 28 years. (audience laughs) And has realised the importance of education. If you've ever met Leigh or spoken with Leigh, he's always about making it our business, our collective business, to educate all around Aboriginal children for a better life. You don't become a life member of the AECG easily. And I know he's proud to be so, with that being conferred on him in 2015. He's currently the vice president but acting as president while the president is on leave. Please put your hands together for Leigh. (audience applauds) Can I call up Derek Hennessy? Derek's our Relieving Director, Regional Operations in training services here. Derek's worked in the Voc Ed sector since 2003. Initially a field consultant with the department's Australian Apprenticeship Centre, has been area manager for an Australian apprenticeship centre since 2014, and regional manager with the New South Wales Department of Education here. A structural engineer apprenticeship completed under the belt with Qantas in 1997. Boy could they do with his help. But you're with us, you're with us. You're with us, Derek. Diploma of Management in 2011 and more recently, a graduate certificate in public sector management through Flinders University. Put your hands together for Derek. (audience applauds) Our good colleague, Lliam Finlay. Lliam come up. Lliam's our Executive Director, Early Childhood Strategy and Partnerships with us here at the department. Before that, he was Director, Early Childhood Education Policy for about a year and a half. And it's been wonderful to have Lliam join Gill on the team with a promotion to the executive director role there. Lliam's got vast experience in Australian international context leading policy and programs. He's been with the International and Save the Children Organisation in London 2016 to 2020, and with the United Nations in New York 2014 to 2016. Great government experience. Has been in Canberra in Foreign Affairs and Trade and also Australian Treasury. But we are delighted that he's with us at the Department of Education. Put your hands together for Lliam. (audience applauds) And then let me get Carla back, our relieving principal there at Maclean High School as well. Leigh, I'm gonna kick off with you first if that's okay. Leigh, Leigh, we know how passionate you are around our Aboriginal students and communities. You've seen many a Reconciliation Week event. What does "Be a Voice for Generations" mean to you?

Leigh Ridgeway

Hmm. Being involved with the organisation called Department of Education for 30 years, but yet the AECG for the last 28 years, it made me think about my upbringing of who I am as an Aboriginal person and understand what education can do for you. By me being an Aboriginal person sitting in that classroom with the teacher out the front that's non-Aboriginal person, it's about how we can build that rapport and a relationship. Because if you build that rapport and relationship in relation to reconciling, it's about working with our friends. Like our friends are with us as such in our classrooms, in our playgrounds that we work with, we played all the time with, but we don't know about that reconciling of that process until we are aware of it later on in life. But I put my hand out, and I'll say, I congratulate all the teaching staff in New South Wales, across Australia for the effort that you are doing on trying to give our kids, but yet all kids the education they need to succeed in life. But it comes to a understanding of how we do that. And what I've been grown up with is about cultural practices. But our teaching staff haven't got that at the moment. They're getting it around the Connecting to Country programs that are delivered across to the state. And our corporate staff are getting that as well across the state about understanding the true value of our culture and who we really are. And I think we need to take a bat map in relation to how we can do this better. Because I think, and I was only looking at this, Murat, the other day when I was thinking about my job, what I need to do and how I need to step up and work alongside you and the department with Karen Jones and the rest of the people that are working in this system. I think the world is changing that quick that the society that we live in today and the way that kids act in their classroom, in the playground, we need to change the way we do in our practices, in our teaching. And what I'm saying there is don't always take it them and leave 'em in the classroom. Bring 'em out of the classroom, out in the society to give them the best opportunity of how they can learn. 'Cause my dad didn't get that opportunity. My dad was unfortunately wasn't allowed to go to a normal public school. And these are the true stories that people gotta understand. When my dad and my aunties didn't get that opportunity, well, I say to myself, there is still hope, but the hope is how we can reconcile what happened in the past to make change for the future. And only we as a collective can do that. The AECG, the Department of Education, the TAFE, the early childhood, all practices. We can do this, but we need to walk together and work together to make the change. And I thank all the colleagues here today coming today because it's about sharing, understanding how we can really do things better. Because at the end of the day, I saw a colleague up there that made me click about some things, and I love the work that he's doing. For our kids to succeed in education by going to year 12 and then beyond is a testimony of what the teaching staff and the schools are doing. But it's how we need to do that, how we worked through the process to make it happen. And it's about reconciling how we need to make change. And only we can make this happen because we're in our jobs to help our kids to advance to that next stage of their life and their journey. From preschool with Lliam, through public education, through Sister Girl, through TAFE, and then through university. The world is our oyster, but only we can make the change. And I really think we're in a good place with you, Murat, and I've known you for a long time, brother. And I respect your views, I respect what you say because you've got public education at the helm. And I believe what you're doing, what your staff underneath you are doing, what your colleague here in this forum here are doing, and upstairs, I thank you. From the AECG, I thank you because I feel that our partnership will grow stronger, and we'll have that reconciliation happening for the betterment of our kids. Everything I talk about, I don't talk about myself. I talk about my kids, our community. How we collectives can make the change because it's about the next generation. Beautiful, beautiful Welcome to Country. That was awesome. The testimony of the national reconciliation. Thank you for your words and your wisdom. And Sister Girl Maclean, really. It's a beautiful place and it's showing testimony of that reconcile. How we are working together to make the change. It's about having that conversation with your community, with your kids. Because unfortunately, unfortunately it is this. The person sitting beside you, do you really know who they are as a person? Because that is the fundamental of how we can reconcile as Aboriginal, non-Aboriginal people. I really appreciate the work that we are doing, the AECG, the Department of Education, TAFE, early childhood, early years. We can make the change, but we need to walk and work together with this. And I thank you all for inviting me in today as the Acting President of this organisation and AECG because I'm here for long haul, and we can make the change. So thank you.

Murat Dizdar

Thank you, Leigh. (audience applauds) Carla, can I bring you in? We've been saying that Aboriginal education is everyone's business, but it's sometimes just rolls off the tongue and can be seen as tokenistic. I haven't met a teacher that doesn't want to embrace it, but I've met teachers that shy away from it because they don't want to get it wrong. They don't want to get it wrong in the area of Aboriginal education. How do you support people who are frightened to enter the space at Maclean Valley?

Carla Taylor

I think it's important to acknowledge that schools are part of a wider community and we are there to represent all people, regardless of how many Aboriginal students we have. We work on Aboriginal land. The RAP provides us with a framework for engaging in those conversations and working with Aboriginal community and Elders. It's important to recognise that principals and schools are not the experts on Aboriginal cultural education. Aboriginal Elders are the experts in Aboriginal cultural education. It's our responsibility to connect, engage, and be guided by our Aboriginal community. I think we need to have these conversations more openly, and by having them, it's increasing the cultural safety of our students and our staff. As a school, we're responsible for educating the future generations. Part of this education and work is to develop in all students an appreciation and understanding of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander culture, rights and experiences. By doing this, we create relationships based on trust and respect that are free from racism, and they're fundamental skills that will enable our students to be more accepting and respectful citizens. And I think having that focus puts us in a stronger position in educating our future generations.

Murat Dizdar

Lliam, let me bring you in. I've seen you in meetings, Lliam. You're uncontrollable with your passion for early childhood. We should unleash you on Treasury, I think, given your background there. We should take you with Gill. You'll be unstoppable, the two of you. What do you hope to deliver? What do you think your area, you personally can deliver around reconciliation?

Lliam Findlay

Thanks, Murat. And well, hi colleagues. Before I start, I just wanna acknowledge that I'm standing in for an amazing Aboriginal person and colleague and friend of mine, Kelly Humphrey. She was a bit unwell and couldn't join us today. She's also an amazing communicator, so I'll do my best to meet those high standards. And she's a dear friend. But I just wanted to acknowledge Kelly. She's a wonderful leader in this space, and I was really honoured that she would ask me to stand in for her today. So thank you, Kelly, I'll do my best. Early education is often the first formal experience of education for children outside the home. It's that first place, that first touchpoint. It's where that relationship and life journey with education begins. Unfortunately, education and early education has not always been a safe space for children, and in lots of cases still is not. So we're really focused in the early childhood outcomes part of the department in working hard to change that, and to do that work in partnership, including with the AECG and then Leigh is a member of our Aboriginal committee, that's helping us steer the ship and participate in shared decisions about what we're prioritising and how we're doing that work. And we've got a five-year strategy, it's a co-design strategy, called the First Steps Strategy for Aboriginal Children in Early Childhood. And it's really rooted in building a lifelong connection with education and making these spaces safer. There's a cultural safety framework being developed by our regulator in partnership with Aboriginal organisations and services. There's some amazing work being done to bring Aboriginal language into the early learning space right from the very beginning and then that carries on into the schooling system, and some extraordinary work being done around, which acknowledges the amazing teaching that's done in the home and by community and building on that and bringing that into more formal education spaces. So we're really focused on building that lifelong connection and doing that in partnership, Murat.

Murat Dizdar

Awesome, thanks, Lliam. Derek, let me bring you in, training services. You've had a variety of roles. Not everyone might understand what training services does out there, and we're big on pathways. We want to get meaningful pathways for all our students, particularly life-changing pathways for Aboriginal students who got considerable disadvantage and can break generational disadvantage. What can training services do in the area of reconciliation?

Derek Hennesey

Look, I think, yeah, so for the education people out there, we are part of training services. We support the skill space. Really proud of the work that our team has done today, but there's still a lot more to do. I think it started with the staff. We grew from a team of one through to a team of nine leading now some of our Aboriginal-specific programs. So holistically we have essentially four. We've got Smart and Skilled that supports all learners through their educational pathway in the skill space. So that might be foundation skills, short courses through to advanced diploma-level qualifications, and importantly subsidising that or making it fee-free for our Aboriginal learners. We have a range of other programs that support that through the team. In particular, Baringura. And I know we talk a lot about retention and completion for our Aboriginal students. So through that we have a mentoring support program that supports our apprentices and trainees, whether they're at school, whether they're doing a full qualification or a short course. So that's really supporting that end-to-end or providing that end-to-end support while they're doing their training. We also have the Elsa Dixon program, the Elsa Dixon grants, where we're subsidising or assisting with wage subsidies to bring people, Aboriginal people into the public service and local government. So we've got $10,000 grants for that entry level piece for students at school while they're doing a school-based traineeship through to temporary and more ongoing employment. In the early childhood space and moving through, transitioning from school into employment, we also have opportunity hubs. And talking about your point around connecting and looking at making sure we're consulting properly. We have these good opportunity hubs in certain regions, not everywhere, but we are very conscious of not just parachuting those programs into other areas if it's not the right fit. So the opportunity hubs are really important around creating that mentoring and that safe space for students while they're at school. Providing that career transition really, and just giving them those career opportunities and pathways as they move from school into vocational education in their career.

Murat Dizdar

Thanks, Derek. I'm gonna scan out to the floor if there's, and the mezzanine there, if there's anyone that wants to ask a question of any of our panel members. Might be a general question that you want to throw to the panel. I don't know the department to be shy in coming forward. Anyone out there? Then panel, you're unfortunately stuck with me. So let me ask you another question. We are here again, it's Reconciliation Week again in 2024. Sometimes we scan out, and say, "We'll deliver," and we put it out into the horizon. But one year later, we're here. What's one thing you'd want us to deliver on collectively for us to be able to stand here and say, "Well, in that one year we made one discernible difference." Now, I know what educators are like. You're gonna want to say five to six things. You're only allowed to say one. Leigh, what would that be?

Leigh Ridgeway

One thing. One thing for me? I got my cultural lens on right now, and one thing for me is the history books in the school system. What I'm saying there is we need to take it back one more step to the first people of this place. Understand graphified, understand what that really means as Aboriginal people living on this land, how they live, the cultural values, all those things that come with them. Then to Lieutenant Cook before he come Captain Cook. A lot of things that non-Aboriginal people don't know that he wasn't a captain when he come to Australia. He was a lieutenant. So it's about understanding the true facts of history and the culture. Then from then we come to the now. It's how we can do it even better by understanding the First Nation people of this place to the colonisation, to the now factor of where we are as Aboriginal, non-Aboriginal people working together to make the change. And we can do this, but I think we need to really take it back to that first step. If we take it back to that first step, you will just, you will see those changes happening. And I believe by working through this process, we'll be able to walk together and work together.

Murat Dizdar

Good call out, Leigh.

Leigh Ridgeway

For reconciliation.

Murat Dizdar

Excellent call out. Carla, let me go to you. You're relieving at the moment. I can see from a year now, you'll be substantive. I can see it. What would you want us to deliver on in the area of reconciliation within a year?

Carla Taylor

I think it's, we're slowly making progress. We do need to speed things up. I think we have found the benefits of having a reconciliation action plan immense. I think every school needs to have a RAP. And Aboriginal education needs to be led with local context and local perspectives. We need to acknowledge that the department is an extremely large and complex organisation, and it is necessary that we have centralised decisions and directions, but it does become problematic when we are trying to achieve genuine reconciliation as each Aboriginal nation has its own unique customs, practices and language. The RAP allows us as a school to ensure that we are consulting and collaborating with the local Aboriginal community and the Elders because they are our experts in our local context for Aboriginal cultural education. And I think we're starting to hit that message, but it needs to be a little bit stronger, that our centralised decisions and directions need to be led with a local context that's unique to each school.

Murat Dizdar

Excellent, thanks, Carla. Lliam, be careful what you say. I'm gonna write it down, I'm in the building with you. I'm gonna hold you to it.

Lliam Findlay


Murat Dizdar

What do you want us to deliver on within a year?

Lliam Findlay

Yeah, I encourage you, Murat, to do it. So, look, reconciliation is about all of our responsibilities and what can we all do. Anyone who works in the department or has been through a recruitment process lately, I'm sure you've got the capability framework buzzing in your head, you know all about that one. Wouldn't it be great if we had a cultural capability framework? And the reason I call that out is there's already, good news, Murat. Work has started in the early childhood outcome space to explore that. And Kelly Humphrey I mentioned earlier has been leading some of that work along with colleagues, Sheree Rankmore, Brie Cameron, and also building on some amazing work done by Dr. Karen Martin in this space to actually outline what would cultural capability look like in this context and how can we take those steps to build that from those beginning stages of knowledge and awareness, but then really working on our ways of being and doing and knowing and changing our behaviours. And then doing that every day in our work and being able to sort of honestly self-reflect on that and build that capability. So that's one sort of tangible suggestion for you, Murat. I'd love to see that.

Murat Dizdar

Yeah, awesome. Awesome call out. Have a cultural capability framework that drives all of us and see where we're at. Derek, let me bring you in. One thing we want to deliver on from your angle when we're here next year that we could say we achieved or not.

Derek Hennesey

I think for me that we were prepped with some questions and it was about what the department can do. And I did consult with my colleagues, which was good, and I learned a lot from that. But I think it's up to us really. We're part of the department. It's up to us as individuals to take those actions, and I think that that forms that change in direction. To the question around what can the department do, again, talking to my colleagues, flipping it a little bit, so I will throw it out there. It's probably not as as detailed as others, but we think about Pride week and the colours people wear. And their pitch was maybe a challenge for us next year is to wear the red, black, and yellow as part of this forum and reconciliation week. So that's what I've put forward for training services.

Murat Dizdar

I love it. All of us next year in red, black, and yellow on this commemorative event as well. Colleagues, I've just realised that I did not ask the panel the questions that I was told to ask. (audience laughs) I didn't get to that page, so can you please thank the panel for me? (audience laughs) Put your hands together. (audience applauds) I feel confident I could take any of them to budget estimates with me, particularly as though they were told you'll get asked this, and there I go off script. Occasionally I've been known to go off script. So thank you to the panel in Lliam, in Carla, in Derek and Leigh. I also want you to put your hands together for Teressa and Tessa as well who joined us today. (audience applauds) Colleagues, I'm really proud. I'm gonna give Leigh the last word. I'm very proud that we are officially launched with our innovative RAP, Innovate RAP. (audience applauds) We do have to make it our collective business to understand and wrap our head around what we have committed to. Leigh, come in with the last word.

Leigh Ridgeway

Murat, I think to sum it all up, the one, the people in this room that are Aboriginal, they'll understand where I'm coming from. In our culture, there was no such thing as time, okay? That's a collective. But it's how we do this collectively to build this Reconciliation Action Plan to make it very viable, sustainable for the future of our kids. And it's about, and I'll use that word 'cause I don't like using it, it's gotta take time. We've gotta take the time to get it right. Now, if we do it right and take the time to do it, we'll make success for the next generation coming.

Murat Dizdar

Thank you, Leigh. (audience applauds) Colleagues, you're not allowed to leave. Ignore your line manager. You don't have to go back to your desk here. You must have some of the light refreshments and mingle. I need to declare that I won't be available tonight from 7:45 PM. Do not ring me. I'll be busy putting Dencorub and gaffer tape around my head. And if you're with me, obviously you're behind the New South Wales Blues. Enjoy each other's company, thank you. (audience applauds) (guests chattering)

[end of transcript]

Message from the A/Secretary

Each of us has a role to play in reconciliation – in the classroom, on the playground, at the office or online. I am incredibly proud to introduce the 2023 Innovate Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP) outlining bold, measurable actions to improve outcomes for Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islander students, staff and communities.

Today, the NSW Department of Education is the largest public education provider in Australia. The history of public education in NSW dates back to 1848, and this year we are marking 175 years of public education. But the history of teaching and learning in this country stretches back tens of thousands of years; I acknowledge that learnings, stories and songlines were passed down through Elders and community leaders. I pay my respect to Elders, both past and present, for they are the original teachers.

Without recognising our mistakes, we cannot advance reconciliation. As part of our Innovate RAP, I am proud that we will commence the process of formal truth telling. This important work will support us to look at how our past policies and practices have impacted on Aboriginal and/or Torres Strait Islanders peoples, and the intergenerational impacts that remain today. This work will support us to drive the changes we need to see in the department, to ensure we provide culturally safe workplaces and educational settings. This is critical work that we need to undertake.

The department seeks to advance reconciliation through listening to Aboriginal students, families and communities; recognising and taking steps to address racism in our communities; building strong community partnerships; increasing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander employment; developing cultural knowledge and understanding; raising awareness of the Aboriginal procurement policy; and celebrating NAIDOC and National Reconciliation Week.

Thank you to the team who have contributed to the development of this RAP, including the members of the RAP Working Group who have been working on this project for many years. And thank you to those early childhood education spaces, schools and offices that lead the way in advancing reconciliation. May they be a beacon of best practice, as we work together to improve educational outcomes, wellbeing and equity in education.

Murat Dizdar

Acting Secretary, NSW Department of Education

Message from Reconciliation Australia

Reconciliation Australia commends the NSW Department of Education on the formal endorsement of its Innovate Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP).

Commencing an Innovate RAP is a crucial and rewarding period in an organisation’s reconciliation journey. It is a time to build strong foundations and relationships, ensuring sustainable, thoughtful, and impactful RAP outcomes into the future.

Since 2006, RAPs have provided a framework for organisations to leverage their structures and diverse spheres of influence to support the national reconciliation movement.

This Innovate RAP is both an opportunity and an invitation for the NSW Department of Education to expand its understanding of its core strengths and deepen its relationship with its community, staff, and Stakeholders.

By investigating and understanding the integral role it plays across its sphere of influence, the NSW Department of Education will create dynamic reconciliation outcomes, supported by and aligned with its business objectives.

An Innovate RAP is the time to strengthen and develop the connections that form the lifeblood of all RAP commitments. The RAP program’s framework of relationships, respect, and opportunities emphasises not only the importance of fostering consultation and collaboration with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and communities, but also empowering and enabling staff to contribute to this process, as well.

With close to 3 million people now either working or studying in an organisation with a RAP, the program’s potential for impact is greater than ever. The NSW Department of Education is part of a strong network of more than 2,200 corporate, government, and not for-profit organisations that have taken goodwill and intention, and transformed it into action.

Implementing an Innovate RAP signals the NSW Department of Education’s readiness to develop and strengthen relationships, engage staff and stakeholders in reconciliation, and pilot innovative strategies to ensure effective outcomes.

Getting these steps right will ensure the sustainability of future RAPs and reconciliation initiatives, and provide meaningful impact toward Australia’s reconciliation journey.

Congratulations NSW Department of Education on your Innovate RAP and I look forward to following your ongoing reconciliation journey.

Karen Mundine,

Chief Executive Officer, Reconciliation Australia

Our Reconciliation Action Plan artwork

Image: Our Reconciliation Action Plan artwork represents community, school, friendship and family.

About the artist

The artwork featured throughout our Reconciliation Action Plan represents the themes of community, school, friendship and family.

Suzanna Bulai, a student from Boggabilla Central School, created the artwork. The school sits on Gamilaraay Country, near the Queensland border in the North East of NSW. It is a small yet active school for the community of Boggabilla.

Contact details

For further information or questions about the NSW Department of Education’s RAP, please contact


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