Reconciliation in Australia

The long journey towards Reconciliation  

Reconciliation holds special meaning in the Australian nation: the journey towards reconciliation with the First Nations people. European settlement of Australia devastated the Indigenous populations.  Despite significant steps forward in recent decades, there is no formal Treaty or constitutional acknowledgment of the first Australians.  All social and economic indicators suggest that Aboriginal peoples are the most disadvantaged Australians.

Significant national steps 

27 May 1967.  Referendum saw over 90 per cent of Australians vote to give the Commonwealth the power to make laws for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples and recognise them in the national census. 

3 June 1992.  The High Court of Australia delivered its landmark Mabo decision which overturned the notion of ‘terra nullius’ (empty land) and legally recognised Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples’ connection to their country, a connection that existed prior to colonisation and continues today. This recognition paved the way for the Native Title system.  This date is recognised as Mabo Day and falls on the last day of National Reconciliation Week.

1997.  The Human Rights and Equal Opportunities Commission produced a report “Bringing Them Home” to acknowledge the Stolen Generations, children forcibly removed from their Aboriginal families during the process of colonisation.

2000.  Thousands of people including Good Shepherd Sisters and staff walked together across the Sydney Harbour Bridge to demand an apology for the Stolen Generation. 

13 February 2008.  Prime Minister Kevin Rudd apologised to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. A significant turning point in Australia’s history. To see this speech, click here:

Today’s challenge.  Recognition in the Australian Constitution of the place of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.   For more information and to show your support for Recognise, click here:

Good Shepherd journey towards Reconciliation 

2000.  The Good Shepherd Sisters released a ‘Statement towards Reconciliation’ to affirm their acknowledgment of custodianship of the land by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Island peoples.

2010.  Good Shepherd undertook the project “Ways of Knowing:  Voices of Reconciliation” documenting our involvement with Indigenous populations in Australia and New Zealand since 1951.

2013.  Good Shepherd Australia New Zealand launched its first Reconciliation Action Plan. 

2018.  Good Shepherd Commitment to Reconciliation is endorsed.

Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP)

The Reconciliation Action Plan programme was an initiative of Reconciliation Australia and launched in 2006.  Organisations develop business plans that document what they will do within their sphere of influence to contribute to reconciliation in Australia.

These RAPs outline practical actions the organisation will take to build strong relationships and enhanced respect between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and other Australians. A RAP also sets out the organisation’s aspirational plans to drive greater equality by pursuing sustainable opportunities.

Good Shepherd Australia New Zealand recognises that its work towards reconciliation requires a strengthened commitment, which includes fostering relationships that deepen respect and trust between the wider Australian community and First Nations People.  Its Reconciliation Action Plan will be refreshed and relaunched in 2017.

National Reconciliation Week

This is an important annual celebration to honour, recognise and reflect upon our shared histories, and on the contributions and achievements of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples. 

Good Shepherd encourages and normalises participation by all staff and mission partners in National Reconciliation Week and other Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander cultural and community events to foster greater respect and understanding.

Motivation and core values

Reconciliation with the First Nations of Australia aligns closely with our Good Shepherd values. We have a human rights approach to our work - in the services we provide, in the partnerships we enter into and in our advocacy for social change.

We are committed to social justice and dignity for all and believe that we can achieve neither of these unless we have reconciliation between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and other Australians.

Our vision for reconciliation is a world where Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples enjoy citizenship, human rights and the fullness of life equally with all other people of Australia.

For the Good Shepherd network, reconciliation means building strong, respectful and equal relationships with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander individuals and communities, eliminating economic and social inequity and recognising the full contribution that Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples can make to the Australian nation.

What outcomes are achieved?

Good Shepherd has committed to:

  • Stand united as we face, name and remove barriers that cause inequality and injustice.

  • Strengthen relationships, demonstrate respect and undertake mutually beneficial opportunities with  Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander stakeholders.

  • ‘Turn good intentions into action that works’.

  • Strive to create opportunities and promote reconciliation with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

  • Play our role in our sphere of influence to close the 11 year life expectancy gap between Aboriginal people and other Australians.

  • Continue to strive for dignity, justice, compassion, respect and reconciliation with Aboriginal Torres Strait islander people and all people.

  • Being welcoming, understanding and meeting the needs of Aboriginal clients.

  • Work with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander stakeholders to test and trial ways we can build stronger relationships.

  • Report annually on our own progress.

  • Raise awareness and provide ways for staff to engage with Reconciliation events and activities such as National Reconciliation Week. 

How is the programme evaluated? 

The Reconciliation Action Plan has measurable outcomes that we need to report on to Reconciliation Australia on an annual basis.  We have set ourselves targets and actions that we need to be held accountable for. 

How does it contribute to UN Sustainable Development Goals? 

Promoting reconciliation contributes to several Sustainable Development Goals by helping to promote reconciliation with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, to name and remove barriers that cause inequality and injustice and to help close the 11 year life expectancy gap between Aboriginal people and other Australians.

SDG 1: No Poverty

SDG 2: Zero Hunger

SDG 3: Good Health & Well being

SDG 5: Gender Equality

SDG 10: Reduced Inequalities


As we prepare for our future at Good Shepherd and explore new organisational design, we need to ensure that our targets as set out in the Reconciliation Action Plan are achievable and that we have an ongoing commitment to sharing this responsibility across the network.

What would make the project more effective?

A key strategy for building commitment is the utilisation of existing network communication arrangements. In addition, each agency has encouraged the development of ‘RAP Champions’ using existing internal processes and structures and putting the RAP in the context of the work of the Good Shepherd agencies.

We will continue to use existing structures more effectively in order to build momentum towards Reconciliation.