From 27 May to 3 June annually, National Reconciliation Week is observed for all Australians to learn about our shared histories, cultures, and achievements, and to explore how everyone can contribute to achieving reconciliation in Australia. These dates commemorate two significant milestones in the reconciliation journey— the successful 1967 referendum to allow the Commonwealth to make laws for Aboriginal people and include them in the census, and the High Court Mabo decision which recognised the land rights of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, respectively.

During this week many individuals, school, workplaces, community organisations, charities and not-for-profits celebrate reconciliation, working towards strengthening respectful relationships between the wider Australian community, and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

In light of this important time, we bring to your attention an emerging practice in the charities and social sector space. Some organisations are choosing to show their commitment to reconciliation by including an ‘Acknowledgement of Country’ in their governing document – typically by way of a preamble.

What is an Acknowledgement of Country?

According to Reconciliation Australia, an Acknowledgement of Country is cultural protocol which provides an opportunity for anyone to show respect for Traditional Owners or Custodians and the continuing connection of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples to Country and Seas. Whereas a Welcome to Country is delivered by Traditional Owners or Custodians, or Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples who have been given permission from Traditional Owners or Custodians to welcome visitors to their Country.

An Acknowledgement of Country can be offered by any person or on behalf of an organisation, and like a Welcome to Country, is given at the beginning of a meeting, speech, or event. An Acknowledgement can also be expressed on behalf of an organisation in different forms of communications, such as email signature blocks, websites, and on social media.

For more information on National Reconciliation Week or Acknowledgement of Country, you can access the Reconciliation Australia website here.

How can we include an Acknowledgement in our governing document?

While including an Acknowledgement of Country through the form of a preamble or introductory statement in your governing document (e.g. its constitution or rules of association) may only be an initial step in an organisation’s reconciliation journey, it can promote a meaningful, genuine and thoughtful commitment to reconciliation through cementing recognition and respect in an organisation’s psyche.

A preamble is an introductory statement in a constitution, or other legal document, outlining the reasons for, or background to the document. Care should be taken when drafting a preamble and how it may form part of the interpretation of the governing document.

What do we need to be wary of when amending our governing document?

When amending your governing document, as a first step you will need to consult your current governing document in regards to any provisions relating to changing or amending the document which will dictate the timing and process for doing so.

Charities and not-for-profits should also be wary of:

  • any required stakeholder engagement, including members and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community groups;
  • any requirements under the legislation which governs your organisation, such as the Corporations Act 2001 (Cth) (Corporations Act) or associations incorporation / co-operative legislation in the state or territory in which it operates; and
  • notifying the appropriate regulator when changes have been made (e.g. the Australian Securities and Investments Commission, state or territory regulator or the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission (ACNC)).

It is important the process is undertaken correctly to ensure the changes are validly adopted and cannot be contested later down the track.

How can we help?

If you would like any help with amending or updating your governing document, please get in touch with our specialist Charities + Social Sector lawyers.