Australian businesses to play key role in the reconciliation process  

[by Kris Ashpole]


Kris Ashpole. Image: supplied

The global Black Lives Matter movement has been a wakeup call for many Australians to see how our country’s own colonial history continues to affect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples today. There is a strong call to action for Australian business to step up and play a greater role in addressing these issues to champion equal opportunities for all.

I work in the Australian healthcare industry and believe that our sector has the opportunity to play a very meaningful role in the reconciliation process. There has been great progress over the last few years, but we could be doing more. 

The main goal for people working in our industry is to create better health outcomes by providing access to medicines and leaving no-one behind.

The reality is that the ‘Closing the Gap’ targets agreed between the Australian government and peak Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander organisations are not all being reached. The target of closing the gap in life expectancy (by 2031) is not on track. The target to halve the gap in child mortality rates (by 2018) has seen progress in maternal and child health, although improvements in mortality rates have not been strong enough.

Reconciliation Action Plans (RAPs) are a good place for businesses to start making meaningful contributions to closing the gap.

From my experience at Johnson & Johnson, I know it is extremely important to ask yourself ‘why’ before you think about engaging in a RAP. Why is it important to implement these programs? What does it mean for the organisation? What contribution do we think we can make?

For the pharmaceutical industry, we have the ability to directly impact and improve health outcomes for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. While knowing the answer is the first step, businesses need to move beyond that point and put in the work to drive real change.

The Pharma Australia Inclusion Group (PAIG) has made reconciliation a key priority. They recently ran an educational workshop on the unique challenges faced by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and shared of examples from companies at different stages of the RAP journey.  

Here are some insights I was able to share from my company’s experience.

Firstly, you must immerse yourself as much as you can – in the history and contemporary issues facing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and how these impact outcomes today.

The organisation then needs to take a deep look inward to acknowledge your starting point. Understanding where the business is at now will shed light on the gaps that exist. This reflective process will help shape the RAP and set benchmarks for ongoing measurement and evaluation.

You must look across all aspects of the business to see where you might focus your efforts – from your warehouse, customer service, facilities, marketing, you name it.


This could be:

  • Supporting organisations who are working in this area and visiting them to learn how they are helping Aboriginal communities. For us, this provided an opportunity for our leaders to hear from Elders about their issues, needs and how we could help.

  • Creating CSR/ philanthropy programs that contribute to the Closing the Gap targets and the needs of Aboriginal communities.

  • Creating initiatives that aim to improve access to medicines.

  • Creating education and pathways for Aboriginal people to become health workers.


My biggest tip in approaching the development of RAPs is that in order for reconciliation to be successful, it must highlight Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples’ voices.

I also keep this quote from Karen Mundine, CEO Reconciliation Australia, top of mind.  

“Reconciliation is hard work — it’s a long, winding and corrugated road, not a broad, paved highway. Determination and effort at all levels of government and in all sections of the community will be essential to make reconciliation a reality.”

It is my hope that industries can work together to make reconciliation the norm and champion equal opportunity for all.

Kris is the Global Community Impact Leader of Australia and New Zealand, Johnson & Johnson - Family of Companies. She leads the implementation of Johnson & Johnson’s Reconciliation Action Plan.


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