Patricio De Matteis

Chief Executive Officer, Dentsu ANZ

Yesterday marked the sixth anniversary of the ‘Uluru Statement from the Heart’; today the start of Reconciliation Week, and we’re coming to the close of what has been a historical week in the media landscape.

To watch acclaimed journalist, Stan Grant, pause and reflect on his career after feeling mistreated on the basis of race and cultural heritage should act as a sobering message for us all.

The Uluru Statement from the Heart talks to the powerlessness that many First Nations peoples feel.

Having a voice drowned out by racist blowback underlines how important it is be heard.  To be heard is to be empowered.

Dentsu has come out to show our full support of the ‘Yes Campaign’ as part of The Voice referendum, and many people might be asking why a Japanese multinational media and marketing business is taking such a public stance on a social issue.

The answer is simple: Because we, and I as CEO, believe it’s the right thing to do.

We have such a beautiful country and culture, but there is so much opportunity to do more, and to be better.

At Garma festival last year, we saw that change can happen – after years of fighting for a government to support the Uluru Statement, a commitment was met. This year, those of us attending understand that history will likely be made again.

Garma is a safe space for Indigenous peoples and a privilege for business leaders, like myself, to attend and listen, learn, and connect with Aboriginal culture. Participating in events like these enable us to truly understand the need help drive change, within our organisations, networks, and amongst our stakeholders.

When I was brought into the role of CEO of dentsu ANZ, I was struck by the passion my leaders and our people had within the business to advance and empower First Nation rights. I too have adopted this passion as both a CEO and as someone with a Latin American background where there are plenty of examples of historical wrongs to First Nations peoples.

I am extremely fortunate to be working with our Indigenous social change and communications agency, Cox Inall Ridgeway, to understand the steps needed to be taken to right these wrongs, both individually and as a business.

Our support for The Voice is through both our leadership and through practical steps. We launched The Guide for Australian Businesses to Support the Voice Referendum earlier this month, as an example.

Throughout this process, it has become abundantly clear that changing our nation and giving First Nations people a voice is not the sole purview of politicians, despite what the media might say.

If you read the Uluru Statement from the Heart, it is strongly positioned as an invitation for all Australians to walk together in partnership with First Nations peoples to create a better future for Australia.

This is not just an Indigenous issue; it is not a political issue – this is Australia’s issue.

As businesses, we all have an opportunity to lead and see our brands positioned as true forces for good, but we also have a duty of care to educate our people and our clients, and to ensure we are bringing clarity to the misinformation out there, on both sides.

Publicly supporting the empowerment of First Nations voices is a positive thing; it engages our existing communities and upholds our corporate values as an Australian business.

And so this Reconciliation Week, I am encouraging other corporations to step forward and join us in supporting the Uluru Statement from the Heart.

The commercial benefits of businesses making bold decisions based on their values is clear and well documented – one global report showed that 72 per cent of Gen Z would quit their job if their company was not socially or environmentally responsible; another showed 58 per cent of people buy or advocate for brands based on their beliefs and values.

We saw such strong support from the business community for the Same Sex Marriage bill which drove a favourable outcome. Why has that same community gone quiet on this?

My colleague Tim Powell has a poignant message which resonates deeply with me: “Corporate Australia must think about the inevitable hangover they will feel the next morning if the referendum is lost. That is a whole generation of effort, lost.”

Reconciliation is not a passive process – it requires proactive engagement and a willingness to right the historical wrongs committed in our country.

For those brands and business leaders who have convinced themselves to take a neutral stance or to sit this one out, now is not the time to go silent because to do nothing is a political act in itself.

Having a position on the referendum demonstrates a leader’s dedication to walking hand-in-hand with the First Peoples of this land, on the journey towards healing and understanding.

Embracing the yes campaign sends a powerful message about your commitment to reconciliation.

Saying yes is a commitment to our future.