Naomi Flutter’s long journey of reconciliation

15 June 2021

It was 2014 and at the age of 44, for the first time in my life, I was working alongside an Aboriginal Australian. Discovery began.

"It was 2014 and at the age of 44, for the first time in my life, I was working alongside an Aboriginal Australian. Discovery began." 

Naomi Flutter made this admission during her heartfelt and moving address for the University's 2021 flagship event to honour National Reconciliation Week (NRW) in the Kambri Cinema on Friday 28 May. This was the first time a non-Indigenous Australian delivered our annual NRW lecture, as part of the University's new approach to reconciliation endorsed by our campus Elders.    

Naomi, who is Pro-Chancellor on the ANU Council, joined Wesfarmers as Executive General Manager, Corporate Affairs, in August 2018. Before Wesfarmers, Naomi worked for Deutsche Bank for 20 years in public sector mergers and acquisitions, equity capital markets and business management. 

She holds honours degrees in Economic History and Law from ANU and a Masters of Public Policy from Harvard University's John F Kennedy School of Government. 

Naomi took the audience on the journey of reconciliation she has been on, breaking it down into four chapters: silence, respect, discovery and hope. 

"I know Australia can be much better than we are," she said. 

The "silence" she spoke of referred to distinguished ANU academic Bill Stanner's Boyer Lectures in 1968.  

"Today, those lectures are known for a phrase he coined - 'the great Australian silence'," Naomi told the audience. 

"His lectures seek to explain the absence from the then contemporary narrative of Australia's vast, or quoting Sir Keith Hancock, another distinguished ANU academic, Australia's 'ever-present' Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander history." 

On the topic of respect, Naomi described her experiences working as a young lawyer working for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in a refugee camp in a remote village of Kenya. Her time with "remarkable people facing extraordinary adversity" helped her to develop a "strong sense of shared humanity". 

Fastforward to Naomi as a 44-year-old banker, she began her discovery of the quest to reconcile with Australia's First Nations people. 

"I was at my desk in Sydney, busily banking, when my phone rang. 'Hello Naomi - it's Gareth Evans'," Naomi said.  

"And if it hadn't been his unmistakable voice, I'd have guessed it was a prank! Because Gareth wasn't someone I was expecting a call from, completely out of the blue. And nor was I expecting the invitation to join the ANU Council." 

The ANU has gifted her much learning - for a second time - ever since that day, Naomi said.  

"The extraordinary, intellectual Pat Dodson and I sat on Council together for around 18 months, until he became a Senator for Western Australia," she said.  

"When that happened, Peter Yu, also a West Australian, joined our Council. To Pat and Peter, I owe a particular debt of gratitude." 

Naomi then proceeded to explain why there was reason to hope. She and other leaders at Wesfarmers have presided over a "steady drumbeat of change" in the workplace. 

"For us, a key focus must be employment," Naomi said. 

"Over about seven years - from 2011 to 2018 - we went from having a few hundred to more than 6,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander team members. This made Wesfarmers the largest employer of Aboriginal people in the country," she said.  

"And in doing so, one of the amazing things we discovered was that this made our businesses better, and stronger."  

Hope is not a strategy and much more change is needed, Naomi concluded.  

"There are three things that I think are most important for people like me - and many of you: (1) become informed, (2) take responsibility and (3) act with urgency," she said. 

"Together, led by and alongside Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Australians, we give meaning to this year's NRW tagline: making reconciliation much, much, much more than just a word."