Reconciliation Australia has revoked Telstra’s Elevate status in the Reconciliation Action Plan, after the telco admitted to dodgy sales practices in some indigenous communities.
The decision comes following an investigation that started in November 2020, the same month when the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) took the telco to court over the sales practices allegations.
“The business practices uncovered through the ACCC investigation are deeply troubling,” Reconciliation Australia’s statement read.
“Reconciliation Australia expressed to Telstra extreme concern about both the impact of the individual business practices on vulnerable Indigenous consumers and the failure to respond quickly to address the problem.”
Reconciliation Australia regulates the Reconciliation Action Plan (RAP) framework to provide organisations with a structured approach to advance reconciliation. The four types of RAP an organisation can develop are Reflect, Innovate, Stretch and Elevate.
Telstra held ‘Elevate’ status, which is effectively a leadership position to help advance national reconciliation and maintain a “strong strategic relationship” with Reconciliation Australia and actively champion initiatives to empower Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples and create societal change.
The non-profit also said it was disappointed with Telstra’s failure to engage appropriately or effectively with Reconciliation Australia throughout the course of the ACCC investigation.
Reconciliation Australia also alleged that Telstra did not alert them to the complaints covered by the ACCC investigation, and that it was also not notified of the ACCC investigation when it commenced in March 2019.
“Reconciliation Australia takes our relationship with our RAP partners seriously, and we have undertaken a considered, clear and fair process,” the statement read.
“Our investigation concluded that Telstra has not met its own aspirations to be a leader in the reconciliation movement nor the expectations of an Elevate RAP partner.
“As a consequence of our investigation, Reconciliation Australia has revoked Telstra’s Elevate Reconciliation Action Plan.”
Reconciliation Australia however recognised that the telco taking responsibility were “promising first steps” on a long road to rebuilding relationships and restoring trust.
“We are encouraged by the robust long-term commitments and accountability in their proposed settlement with the ACCC. They have also demonstrated a strong commitment to restoring their relationship with Reconciliation Australia and the RAP network,” the announcement read.
“Taking this into account, we have invited Telstra to discuss the development of a new RAP that addresses the concerns raised by the ACCC investigation. This will not be an Elevate RAP.
“We will remain in conversation with them as we do with all RAP partners and hope this is an important turning point in their reconciliation journey.”
Telstra chief executive Andrew Penn responded to Reconciliation Australia’s decision with a LinkedIn post.
“Frankly, I don’t blame them [with the decision]. They expect us to live up to the ambitions of the highest level of the plan and we didn’t,” Penn’s LinkedIn post read.
“We are 100 percent committed to reconciliation and what’s most important now is that we rebuild the trust of the Indigenous community. That means spending time listening and then taking meaningful actions to make change. That is what I am doing, that is what we are doing.”