“Aboriginal people are no different. To close the gap, to achieve individual and collective goals, they need to believe in their own worth. They need to believe that they can succeed. They need to believe that their hard work will pay off one day. They need to believe that they won’t be ignored.
Adam Goodes has shown us that you can be successful and a proud Indigenous Australia. It is this pride that will be our most powerful tool in closing the gap”
All this has been going on while 150 remote communities in Western Australia face the possibility of closure, thanks to Tony Abbott’s “lifestyle choices” mentality. It’s been a busy year.
So perhaps it’s a good time to have a cold shower, take stock and evaluate where we are, what we’ve achieved and what we aspire to.
It’s important to remember that Aboriginal Australians are out there, living their lives as best they can, while keeping true to themselves and their culture. This can easily be forgotten when we are debating those very lives in the media or parliament.
Estranged in the land of our ancestors, living on the fringes of a rich society – parse your words, but we see only race in the attacks on AFL player Adam Goodes
Once we’ve reminded ourselves that everyday Aboriginal Australians are affected by what’s said in the public debate, we have a better starting point from which to have these conversations.
The Adam Goodes saga was a watershed moment for me. I’ve seen racism in sport. I’ve lived it, and I’m still living it. But the booing of Adam Goodes showed me just how polarising the issue of race can be. It also showed that race and racism isn’t just about skin colour or stereotypes. It’s also about people’s expectations of race. Everyone expects Adam Goodes to be a great footballer, but not everyone expects him to be a great, proud, outspoken or challenging Aboriginal man.
The overreaction to Adam’s proud warrior cry reminded me that not all Australians are fully educated about our country’s history, nor do they fully understand it. He showed us that an Aboriginal man can think for himself. It’s easy to forget these things. Adam made sure we didn’t.
What Adam did most of all was remind me, and I hope the nation, that Aboriginal people can have the best of both worlds. He can achieve at the highest level of his chosen career, while never losing sight that he is a proud Aboriginal man. He can do both.
He showed the young Aboriginal woman living in Arnhem Land that she can go to university; she can become a doctor or a lawyer. You can achieve these things, and once you’ve achieved them, you can speak up. You don’t have to be compliant. It’s OK to be proud. It’s OK to be outspoken. It’s OK to be Aboriginal.
If you don’t believe this, then it’s because much of this comes back to the issue of racism.
Few struggle with racism more than young Aboriginal people, which is one of the reasons constitutional recognition and reform is so much more than symbolic. It will be a hugely important reform that will remove racist and discriminatory clauses from our founding document, that many Australians won’t believe actually still exist. This is a gap that can be closed with a single election, on a single day.
But I want to tell Aboriginal people, particularly young people, that they have so much to be proud of. They have so much to call their own and have achieved so much for themselves and Australia. They need to view themselves in a positive light, and they have every right to.
Aboriginal culture is the oldest surviving culture in the world. It cannot be understated how amazing that is; that the oldest culture in the world is in our backyard and that Aboriginal people can call it theirs. Nobody can take 40,000 years of history away from you. No matter how hard they try to deny that history.
Aboriginal people established the first trade routes with overseas neighbours, thousands of years before the term “free trade agreement” was ever thought of.
Aboriginal Australians have been constantly resilient. Some of the strongest people this country has produced are Aboriginal people who spoke up for what was right, and won. You can be proud of Vincent Lingiari and his brothers and sisters at Wave Hill, who took on one of the biggest cattle producers in the country and won their land back.
You can be proud of of Eddie Mabo, who took on the establishment to claim land rights for his people and won in the high court.
Charles Perkins achieved what no Aboriginal person had done before: he got a university degree. Now hundreds do so every year.
Polly Farmer showed young Aboriginal men that they can play AFL with the best. Michael Long won a Norm Smith Medal. Gavin Wanganeen won a Brownlow Medal. Today, over 70 Aboriginal men are playing in the AFL, just under 10% of the entire league.
It staggers even me that the first Australian cricket team to ever visit England, was an all Aboriginal side.
I became the first Aboriginal person to win an Olympic gold medal. Cathy Freeman won a gold medal. Yvonne Gooloogong won Wimbledon, showing young Aboriginal women that anything was possible. Forty-three Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have represented Australia at the Olympics. Twelve have won medals.
Patty Mills, the son of an Aboriginal mother and Torres Strait father, became an NBA Champion in 2014.
Jessica Mauboy is expressing her culture around the world, while she shares stages with Beyonce and represents Australia in Eurovision. Dr Yunupingu took the message of Yothu Yindu across the globe.
Australia can be proud of the 1,000 Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who fought in the first world war and the 5,000 that fought in the second world war. They were unable to vote, but eligible to die.
One word brought to an end a tenacious 18-year struggle which may herald a rush of successful native title claims across New South Wales
Gough Whitlam who enacted the racial discrimination act. It was Labor that formally apologised to the stolen generations. That’s why I’m a proud Labor woman.
Despite what you read, watch or see, Aboriginal people have a lot to be proud of. If the reaction to Adam Goodes’s dance has shown us anything, it’s that pride can be scary. Pride can upset people. Proud people don’t put up with injustice. Confident people don’t put up with disadvantage. Educated people don’t put up with ignorance.
Aboriginal people are no different. To close the gap, to achieve individual and collective goals, they need to believe in their own worth. They need to believe that they can succeed. They need to believe that their hard work will pay off one day. They need to believe that they won’t be ignored.
We should be doing everything we can to make this happen. I know I will. We can capitalise on the momentum created by the recognition debate and the discussion on race started by Adam Goodes to make sure Aboriginal voices are heard and to ensure the great traditions and achievements of Aboriginal Australia are shared throughout the land.
I hope 2015 will not be a wasted year. I hope 2015 will prove to be the turning point.
NOTHING IS IMPOSSIBLE TO THOSE WHO SEE THE INVISIBLE.
“To Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples this has always been part of our story of struggle, injustice and heartache. But we are here today – I am here today – because of this history. Aboriginal Australians are symbolic of triumph over adversity. We represent knowledge and wisdom held in land and country.”
Senator Nova Peris Canberra 13 Nov 2013
The chair of NACCHO Justinm Mohamed on behalf of the 150 Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services members would like to congratulate Senator Nova Peris the first elected Aboriginal woman to the Federal Parliament.
Here is Nova’s maiden speech
Thank you Mr. President
I acknowledge the traditional owners, the Ngambri and Ngunnawal people on whose country we meet today — I pay my respects to my elders, past and present and to our future leaders.
I am Nova Maree Peris.
I was born in Darwin in the Northern Territory and I retain my strong cultural and spiritual ties to my country, to the Mother Earth.
I am a member of the oldest continuous surviving culture on earth.
I am proud that this hill we meet on here today is culturally significant to the Ngambri people as representing the womb of the ‘Woman’ on this Country.
It is very significant to me being the first Aboriginal woman elected to the Federal Parliament of Australia.
Through my mother, I am a descendant of the Gija people of the East Kimberley and the Yawuru people of the West Kimberley I am also Iwatja from Western Arnhem Land through my father.
Through my life I have come across many people from all walks of life who have inspired me.
Some through their wisdom; and others through their courage and their ability to overcome adversity.
But no one has inspired me more so than my grandmother. Nora Peris was a proud Giga woman – She was torn from her mother’s arms and lived on the Mission of Moola Bulla in the east Kimberley.
“Moola Bulla is a long, sad and painful story” she used to say. This was home to her for 12 years. A river separated her and her traditional Aboriginal mother who was still living on country.
She always said they were so close — yet so far apart. My Nanna’s clothes were made from stitched together hessian bags. When the Second World War hit, the kids were released from the mission and for two years she walked and lived off the harsh Eastern Kimberly land.
These conditions and her will to survive shaped her; and it was there where she met my grandfather Johnny Peris. Johnny Peris was a Yawuru Man, a Beagle Bay mission survivor who was also a proud stockman. They met and had 10 children. Four of their children were taken away and sent to Garden Point Mission on the Tiwi Islands in the Northern Territory.
One of the four children who was taken and is here today is my mother, Joan Peris. She lived on the mission for eight years, she worked every day and never received a cent in pay. Mum became like a sister to many of the other children that were forcibly taken to the Garden Point mission.
Over the years, people have said to me that it’s incredible what I have achieved in sport. I have competed at some of the biggest sporting events on the planet.
Accolades, achievements and celebrations have been a part of my life. But in my heart, I know that part of my life is virtually meaningless compared to the ability to survive shown by my grandparents and my mother.
I cannot even imagine or comprehend how it would have felt to live life during those days.
These stories are part of the truth of Australia’s history.
It is what it is. The past is the past and no matter how hard we try we cannot change that history.
But let’s start to undo the wrongs with what is right and just. I urge all my Parliamentary colleagues to become champions for the recognition of Australia’s first nations people in our constitution.
To Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples this has always been part of our story of struggle, injustice and heartache. But we are here today – I am here today – because of this history. Aboriginal Australians are symbolic of triumph over adversity. We represent knowledge and wisdom held in land and country.
Because in our hearts we know that we do not own Mother Earth, the Earth owns us.
As a child growing up, I dreamt big.
Most people would have looked at an Aboriginal girl from the Territory, where the statistics of alcohol abuse, youth suicide, domestic violence, imprisonment rates and sub-standard education point to every reason why you should not succeed.
But I was determined to be successful.
And yes I am a product of that history, and I continue to live in a society whereby the odds are stacked against Aboriginal people.
I have always been inspired by those around me and my sister Venessa Peris has undertaken an incredible journey of her own.
She has lived an amazing and accomplished life serving Australia. She was a Corporal and served 10 years in the Australian Army. And last month she just completed 10 years with United Nations Peace Keeping Operations.
Venessa served seven years in the Ivory Coast and survived a West African Civil war and at one stage was involved in evacuating more than 4000 people.
She is currently carrying out her duties and resides in Monrovia, Liberia.
I say this to all of my Indigenous brothers and sisters, and to all people – within every one of us, lies the ability to reach deep inside ourselves and draw upon our inherited strength that our ancestors have given us. There lies a spirit that needs to be awakened.
Whilst I am obviously very proud of my Aboriginal heritage I want to make it clear that I do not consider myself an expert when it comes to finding solutions for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people’s particular predicaments.
For too long we’ve all heard too many people say they have the answers for Aboriginal Australians and claim the moral high ground.
If the answers were as easily provided, as the questions are posed – we simply would not have a problem. In fact the answers are difficult and complex; but they do not lie in absolute positions and simplified slogans. Just delivering another Government program will not end the appalling rates of youth suicide in our communities for example. These are uncomfortable issues but they must be confronted.
But I have always been someone who has tried to do things, not just talk about them. I build things up, I don’t tear things down and I have lived by the view that ‘As much is given, much is expected’.
I have always been humbled and honoured to serve. It’s partly why I established the Nova Peris Girls Academy. I wanted to try to make a real difference to young disadvantaged Indigenous women.
Of course I have now ceased active involvement in the Academy but I remain the organisation’s Patron.
Like many before me, for too long, I have watched Aboriginal Australians and our plight be used purely for political purposes.
I have seen some totally unscrupulous people try to use the misery of some our people’s circumstances to promote their own cause and agenda.
Should I see this happen – I will call it for what it is—it’s racism—and I know that’s confronting—but I will not stand by in silence.
How we change things – that remains the challenge—but I know from my heart that nothing can be achieved without total determination and a gut-busting effort.
I have been fortunate enough to achieve at the Olympic levels of sport in hockey and athletics. I have experienced the total joy of winning gold medals for my country.
And I have lived the exciting life of an elite athlete—fussed over and entertained—in more than 50 countries around the world.
But I would swap all of that in a heartbeat – I would forgo any number of gold medals – to see Aboriginal Australians be free, healthy and participating fully in all that our great country has to offer.
It is my dream to see kids from Santa Theresa, from Gunbalanya, from Kalkarindji and the Tiwi Islands all with the same opportunity as the kids from the Eastern Suburbs of Sydney.
That is one of the reasons I am a fierce advocate for Aboriginal people being taught to be able to read and write English. We cannot and should not be denied these basic tools.
Of course we should never be forced to renounce our culture—our beliefs sustain our spirits—they nourish us but at some levels they can restrain us too—that is the collision point that confronts Aboriginal people.
I make the simple point that in spite of difficulties like those I’ve described we are seeing some positive health benefits through the dedication of Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal health professionals.
We can make a difference; whatever our differences. The Northern Territory is currently the only jurisdiction in Australia that is on track to meet the Closing the Gap target on life expectancy.
This improvement comes from people who have sought evidence, and put that evidence into action. They have not acted on any fixed ideology, but out of dedication and commitment.
This evidence based method of approach is in my view, a real road sign for the future and points the way to dealing with so many other areas of Aboriginal life that have seemed so intractable for so long.
This is why I will be seeking to work not only with my colleagues in the Labor Party, in holding the Government to account, but also with the current Government, to ensure we build on successes in primary health care—and to extend those successes into other areas of our lives.
Mr President – Education remains the major foundation for self improvement. And although education is a basic fundamental right of every child in this country, irrespective of their race. The fact remains we must work hard to convince people of the value of education.
I acknowledge I am a Senator elected to represent all Territorians— and I fully intend to discharge this duty to the best of my ability and I will always put our concerns – the concerns of Territorians first and foremost.
I believe it is my duty and the duty of all members elected to the Parliament to answer questions and deal with issues honestly and openly.
One such matter that is a very contentious issue is the location of Australia’s proposed nuclear waste facility. Recently my Larrakia uncle Eric Fejo who is also here today spoke about the previous Government’s decision to locate the proposed nuclear waste facility on Muckaty Station in the Barkly region of the Northern Territory.
He reminded a public forum that during the Apology to the Stolen Generations it was stated that Governments were wrong to make laws and policies that inflict profound grief, suffering and loss on Aboriginal people.
That is what the Muckaty decision is currently doing. It is dividing a community of traditional owners. This policy is inflicting grief.
I strongly urge my fellow parliamentary colleagues to reconsider their support for the current location of this facility.
Of course Australia needs a nuclear waste management facility. But its location must be based on science not politics.
Mr President I do intend to finish my speech on a positive note.
The art of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people is stunning. It is truly a gift to Australian culture. The outfit that I am wearing today is made in the Northern Territory – this beautiful gold silk fabric – featuring dancing brolgas was printed at Injalak Arts in Gunbalunya in Western Arnhem Land. It was made by my Dripstone High School friend Sarina Cowcher in Darwin. I also wore a Gracie Kumbi Merrepen printed design for my official swearing in yesterday.
I am a Territory Girl. I am immensely proud of who I am and where I hail from. It is majestic. The Northern Territory’s very talented musicians, our artists, our sports men and women. Our culture, our iconic and diverse landscape that boasts a number of world heritage listings.
There is certainly is no other place I would rather call home.
I want to thank the members of the Australian Labor Party and particularly those members of the Northern Territory Branch. In particular I thank Party President Matthew Gardiner and Party Secretary Kent Rowe.
I acknowledge all of my friends & family here today, my mother Joan Peris, my aunty Tanya, my bunyi Jimmy Cooper from Minjilang who walked me into the chamber.
Also here today are Aunty Eileen Hoosan and Aunty Pat Anderson. To my Children – Jessica, Destiny and Jack and grandson Issac – we may often find life difficult and challenging – but we always stick together, knowing wherever life’s journey leads us – we will all be true to ourselves.
To my husband Scott, I thank you for you unconditional love and support over the past years. As they say beyond each storm you will find the rainbow. Today is a rainbow. I thank you.
Viva la Vida.
I want to acknowledge Dr Ric Charlesworth, also a former member of Parliament, one of the greatest hockey players in the world, and now coach; he was one of my life mentors.
In the Hockeyroos team we had a mantra that took us to the gold medal.
This was loosely based on John F. Kennedy’s famous space program speech.
“We choose to go to the Olympics. We choose to go to the Olympics in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organise and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win.”
I also want to mention the legendary Muhammad Ali. I was lucky enough to spend a day with him, and after several hours I worked up the to courage to ask him: “What makes millions of people love and admire you so much?” He simply replied: “Never look down upon those who look up to you.”
These are the people who taught and continue to teach me the right values that have enabled me to achieve so much in life.
I also particularly thank former Prime Minister Julia Gillard from the bottom of my heart for her faith in me and for giving me the chance to become involved – my duty now is to work hard and make a real difference.
Mr President – when Dr Martin Luther King spoke of his dream in Washington it inspired millions across the world. I believe everybody has the capacity to dream – we all have the capacity to believe – but very few get the actual opportunity that I have before me now – I urge everybody – particularly young people – to pursue your dreams.
In this next stage of my life I hope to make all those who have had faith in me, every reason to continue to believe in the power of those dreams.
I would just like to close today with a story that has stayed in my heart for many years.
At the 2000 Sydney Olympics there were hundreds of very excited and enthusiastic volunteers. An elderly man was amongst them at the athletics track and he greeted me and wished me well each day that I ran.
One the evening of the semi-finals of the 4x400m he didn’t say anything, he just handed me a piece of paper and said: “Read this just before you enter the stadium”. I put it in my pocket and proceeded to the check-in and then walked with my team-mates, Tamsyn Lewis, Susan Andrews and Jana Pitman.
We were without Cathy Freeman that evening and we had to finish in the top two to reach the Olympic final. We all felt the weight of Australian expectation resting on our shoulders, our adrenaline was pumping and we did our best to stay cool. We walked into the stadium to be greeted by 110,000 screaming sporting enthusiasts.
I reached into my pocket and read the words on the paper.
“NOTHING IS IMPOSSIBLE TO THOSE WHO SEE THE INVISIBLE.”
I did not really know what it meant, and I didn’t have much time to reflect on it. But it seemed to inspire me, those words written by a kind elderly man. The four of us went out that evening and ran the race of our lives. I anchored the team and we broke a 23-year-old Australian record. And we made it into the Olympic final.
I returned to the warm up track where he greeted me with a big hug. And I asked him what does it mean? He simply replied: “It was my ticket to freedom, I thought about it every day that I was held captive” … It turned out he was a former prisoner of war!
This Parliament always has great work to do: to secure our borders, to balance our budget, to strengthen our economy, to the relief of families and for the protection of jobs.
But if we are to do great things, we must begin them well. We must begin them well.
We must acknowledge the extended family of the Australian nation.
We must acknowledge and celebrate the essential unity of the Australian people.
It’s Noel Pearson, a great indigenous leader and a prophet for our times, who has observed that Australia is the product of a British and an indigenous heritage. This Parliament is redolent of our British heritage. But only recently has this Parliament acknowledged our indigenous heritage.
The first Parliament to meet here in this city 86 years ago was opened by the Duke of York. There was one indigenous person present that day. Matilda has already recalled the presence on that day of a local man, Jimmy Clements. And that man on the side of the ceremony was every bit as much a symbol of unity as the representative of the Crown, because Jimmy Clements, although unacknowledged that day, carried with him an Australian flag.
Haven’t we changed over 86 years? Haven’t we come a long way? This city has come a long way. Our country has come a long way. And this Parliament has come a very long way indeed.
We have had indigenous members of this Parliament.
We have in Ken Wyatt, the first indigenous member of the House of Representatives.
In this term of Parliament we have in Nova Peris the first female indigenous member of this Parliament.
Two indigenous members of this Parliament, in this, the 44 h Parliament of our country.
May that number increase. May we one day, not too far off, have an indigenous Prime Minister
Who would have thought that the Northern Territory would have an indigenous Chief Minister?
But if we can have our first female Senator, indigenous Senator, our first indigenous Member of the House of Representatives, if we can have an indigenous Chief Minister of the Northern Territory, we certainly can have an indigenous Prime Minister of this country and we certainly can have in this Parliament, or the next, full recognition of indigenous people in the Constitution of our country.
There is much that I dispute with my predecessor as Prime Minister, Mr Kevin Rudd, but I honour him for the historic apology to indigenous people that took place at the opening of this Parliament in 2008 and I honour him for including this indigenous element in the rituals of our Parliament, which is so fittingly now a part of the opening of a new parliamentary term.
WELCOME TO COUNTRY – RESPONSE (FED)
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten Welcome To Country – Response
Can I thank Matilda for the Welcome to Country and also to everyone here for the sharing the traditional music and dancing of this land with us.
I’d like to begin by acknowledging the traditional owners of the land we are meeting on today, and the long and continuing relationship between Indigenous peoples and their Country.
I would like to pay my respects to Elders both past and present – especially those Elders here with us today.
Can I also acknowledge the Prime Minister, the Leader of the Senate, many of my colleagues from the House and Senators who are joining us on this occasion.
And to welcome everyone else who is here with us today – I know some of you have travelled a long way to join us.
We meet today with hope for the future.
We have that hope because of what we’ve achieved in this place in recent years.
It is here that we stood together and committed to close the gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians – and the gap is closing.
It is here that we committed to formally recognise our first peoples in our founding document – the Constitution – a cause we continue into this Parliament.
It is here that a Prime Minister and a nation said sorry – and started a new relationship with Aboriginal people – one based on respect and reconciliation.
I know that there is much still to do – and it’s with this new spirit of reconciliation that we stand together today and reaffirm our commitment to do more.
Because this work doesn’t end with each Parliament. It transcends parliaments and it transcends politics.
I stand proud to serve in the Parliament of a country where the wonderful, important gesture such as we have seen today is common practice at events from the beginning of a new parliament, or at ANZAC Day services, or at school assemblies.
Together, I am confident we can make sure that the 44th Parliament of Australia can both honour this past, and push forward to ensure that the future will be a bright one for all Australians – Indigenous and non-Indigenous Australians alike.
Once again Matilda, thank you for the Welcome to Country.
The chair of NACCHO Justin Mohamed today congratulated the new senator for the NT Nova Peris who has become the first Aboriginal woman to win a seat in Australia’s Parliament.
Whilst this news had hardly any coverage here in Australia there was extensive coverage internationally
Here are two of those reports
SYDNEY (AFP) – Former Olympian Nova Peris has become the first Aboriginal woman elected to Australia’s national parliament, a welcome achievement for the centre-left Labor Party which lost power in the polls.
Employment and workplace relations minister Bill Shorten, who is considered the frontrunner to become Labor’s next leader, said despite the loss, there had been a range of good candidates elected to serve, including Peris.
“That’s a good accomplishment,” he said Sunday of her election to represent the Northern Territory in the Senate. “And it backs up our accomplishment in terms of jobs for indigenous Australians.”
Olympian Peris won gold in field hockey at the 1996 Atlanta Games before switching to athletics to win gold in the 200m and 4x100m relay at the Commonwealth Games in Kuala Lumpur in 1998.
Her pre-selection ruffled feathers though, with one conservative Aboriginal politician saying Labor had been shamed into pre-selecting an indigenous candidate and compared the politically inexperienced Peris to a “maid” inside Labor’s house.
Others were angered that her pre-selection bumped out Labor’s long-serving Northern Territory Senator Trish Crossin.
In her victory speech on Saturday, Darwin-born-and-raised Peris said that federal politics had the same cruelness of elite sport and admitted she had thought “long and hard” about whether to enter the arena.
“I thought: ‘Can I do it?'” she told supporters on Saturday night.
“Sometimes in life you’ve got to back yourself and I’ve got a bit of a history of backing myself with my sporting career.”
Peris, who identifies with the Kiga People of the East Kimberley, Yawuru People of the West Kimberley (Broome) and Muran People of West Arnhem land in the Northern Territory, is set to be sworn in as a senator at the next sittings in Canberra.
Facing the prospect of becoming the first Aboriginal woman to win a seat in Australia’s Parliament, Nova Peris said Sunday that she was targeted during her campaign by the worst onslaught of racial abuse she had ever endured.
After then-Prime Minister Julia Gillard hand-picked Peris in January to head the center-left Labor Party’s Senate ticket in the Northern Territory _ an almost unbeatable position that virtually assured her place in Australian political history _ she was bombarded with hate letters and emails that were so extreme she passed them to police.
“It’s not a nice feeling to be judged and looked down upon because of the color of your skin,” Peris said Sunday. “I had a string of letters and emails sent to me and they were horrific. And my husband was really, really upset.”
“They were pretty nasty. The worst I’ve ever seen in my life,” she said, declining to go into details.
But the threats did not deter her, and the 1996 Olympic gold medalist hockey player contested the Senate seat in elections Saturday. She appeared comfortably ahead in vote counting Sunday, but was not yet ready to claim victory.
“It’s like waiting for the result of a photo finish,” said Peris, comparing her anxious wait for the count to be finalized to her days as a world-class sprinter.
Aborigines are a minority of only 600,000 in Australia’s population of 23 million. The lack of Aboriginal representation in Parliament is a growing embarrassment for the leaders of major political parties.
No Aborigine had sat in Parliament before Neville Bonner arrived in 1971. The conservative Liberal Party senator, who had little formal education, was the only Aborigine in Parliament for the next 12 years before he was voted out.
In 1999, Aden Ridgeway, a senator from the minor Australian Democrats party, became the second Aborigine in Parliament, lasting for a single six-year term.
Liberal Ken Wyatt next won a seat in the House of Representatives in 2010, although a constituent later wrote to complain that he had not advertised his Aboriginality in the campaign. The constituent said he would not have voted for Wyatt if he had known.
Wyatt was re-elected Saturday to a second three-year term in his Western Australia state electorate, with an increased majority.
Adam Giles became the chief minister of Peris’ home state last year, and became the first Aboriginal head of a government.
Aborigines are the poorest ethnic group in Australia, suffer poor health and lag behind in education. They die years younger than other Australians on average and are far more likely to be imprisoned.
Prime Minister-elect Tony Abbott has promised to work for a week each year as the nation’s leader in an Outback Aboriginal settlement to draw attention to indigenous struggles. He failed last year in a bid to recruit an Aboriginal woman lawmaker from the Northern Territory government to contest a federal seat.
Peris, a 41-year-old who competed in two Olympics _ as a hockey player in 1996 and as a sprinter in 2000 _ said she experienced racism throughout her sporting career. But the racism was worse in Australia than when she traveled internationally to compete.
She said she was pleased, however, that Australia’s major sporting bodies no longer tolerate racism of competitors or spectators.
“Racism is just ignorance,” she said. “Australia certainly has come a long way when you look at the reforms that have happened in the highest levels of sports. There’s no place for racism.”
“We’re talking about human beings, and it’s all about how we contribute to society and what are we doing today to make Australia a better place for the kids,” she said
Labor Senate candidate for the Northern Territory Nova Peris hands out how-to-vote cards at a mobile polling booth on Goulburn Island, east of Darwin, yesterday. Picture: Amos Aikman Source: TheAustralian
ALP Senate candidate Nova Peris has lashed out at indigenous leader Noel Pearson over his support for the “demeaning” Northern Territory intervention, a Howard government policy adapted by Labor.
The indigenous dual Olympian said the NT Emergency Response had “ripped the heart” out of the Territory, and denied Labor’s Stronger Futures legislation including cornerstones of the NTER was the same.
Coalition NT senator and opposition indigenous affairs spokesman Nigel Scullion accused Ms Peris of being out of touch with “strong women” in remote communities, who had spoken out in favour of the intervention, and of trying to rewrite history.
Ms Peris made the comments on the first day of remote mobile polling for the 2013 federal election, in response to questions about Mr Pearson’s view that only a conservative leader could deliver a successful referendum on constitutional recognition of Australia’s first people.
Shown the remarks, revealed in The Australian yesterday, Ms Peris replied that while everyone was entitled to their opinion, Mr Pearson’s “certainly doesn’t fit with the people of the Northern Territory — that was made clear when he supported the intervention”.
“I’m on record saying there were certain issues across the Territory (at the time), but that the way the whole intervention was done, it was just demeaning, and it ripped the heart out of all Australia and out of the Territory,” she said.
“I have no doubt that the intervention has certainly hurt Aboriginal people in the NT.”
Mr Pearson did not respond to requests for comment.
When introduced in the last months of the Howard government, the intervention targeted child and alcohol abuse as well as pornography in 73 remote communities. Welfare payments were quarantined to pay for food, rent and other essentials and the Racial Discrimination Act suspended.
NOTE the spelling of indigenous is Crikey not NACCHO
Making up 2.5% of the Australian population, indigenous people are vastly over-represented when it comes to poverty, life expectancy, health problems, disability, psychological distress and unemployment, according to the ABS.
There is just one indigenous MP, Ken Wyatt, currently serving in the House of Representatives and only three Aborigines have ever been elected to federal parliament.
The current government has committed itself to Closing the Gap, a national intergovernmental program meant to address the disadvantages that indigenous Australians face. Under this program, the state and federal administrations aim to:
halve the gap in mortality rates for indigenous children under five by 2018
ensure access to early childhood education for all indigenous four year olds in remote communities by 2013
halve the gap in reading, writing and numeracy achievements for children by 2018
halve the gap for indigenous students in Year 12 (or equivalent) attainment rates by 2020
halve the gap in employment outcomes between indigenous and other Australians by 2018
The government has sought to directly intervene in the most disadvantaged indigenous communities in the NT, reshaping the policies of John Howard and Mal Brough’s NT intervention through the Stronger Futures in the Northern Territory bills.
The legislation seeks to address alcohol abuse, land reform and food security. Under the oversight of the federal government, penalties for alcohol possession on Aboriginal land will be increased, failure for children to attend school will be discouraged through a decrease in welfare payments, X-rated material will be banned in certain areas and customary law considerations can be excluded in sentencing and bail decisions.
So what have the major parties promised on indigenous affairs?
Labor reiterated its support for the Closing the Gap program in its 2011 national platform, and says it recognises the disadvantage that Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders face in their daily lives. Areas selected for specific attention include literacy, numeracy, employment, infant mortality, life expectancy and education. Labor aims to close the gap by:
overcoming decades of under-investment in services and infrastructure
establishing clear expectations for governments, and holding all governments to account for their progress
supporting personal responsibility as the foundation for healthy, strong families and communities
building strong, respectful and robust relationships between indigenous and non-indigenous Australians, so that we can work in partnership
The platform commits the party to investment in healthcare for Aboriginals and Torres Strait Islanders of every age, along with better access to education, employment and housing.
Labor is in favour of the official acknowledgement of indigenous people in the constitution. It has passed a bipartisan Act of Recognition through Parliament committing to some change, however no referendum will be held on the issue until community support reaches an adequate level.
The ALP has preselected former sprinter Nova Peris for a winnable NT Senate slot, a move Julia Gillard says was explicitly designed to increase the party’s paucity of indigenous representation.
Under its 2010 election policy, the Coalition outlined nine key areas. In March, Opposition Leader Tony Abbott pledged that he would put indigenous affairs at the centre of government by establishing a “Prime Minister of Aboriginal Affairs”.
The Indigenous Affairs portfolio would be relocated to the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet. In its “Our Plan” policy precis released in January, the Coalition said it would “encourage indigenous Australians to get ahead” by:
working with indigenous communities to bring in a new suite of purposeful and innovative strategies
eliminating red tape and streamline programmes to move away from the complex web of overlapping initiatives
directing funding away from bureaucracies and overlapping and competing programmes towards local communities and real action
working with families to ensure all indigenous children attend school every day
supporting the Australian Employment Covenant and its many supporting employers to create more opportunities for indigenous Australians to get ahead and actively engage more indigenous Australians in real jobs
providing $10 million to fund four trial sites to train 1000 indigenous people for guaranteed jobs, working with the Australian Employment Covenant and Generation One
ending training for training’s sake and implement employment or work for the dole programmes
Tony Abbott continuing to spend a week a year in a remote community, to gain a better understanding of people’s needs
The party has also said it would retain former ALP national secretary Tim Gartrell as head of the group campaigning for constitutional recognition. And Abbott said last year he wants “authentic” Aborigines in parliament to join Wyatt.
The Greens’ indigenous affairs policies emphasise the respect and deference owed to the First Australians. Like Labor and the Coalition, the party seeks to obtain constitutional recognition of the role of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples in pre-1788 Australia. Furthermore, it aims to provide equal access to services such as health, education, training, housing, community infrastructure, employment support, and policing. Under their watch, the Greens will:
provide protection and respect for indigenous cultural rights
prioritise programmes to improve indigenous health
establish community initiatives to address issues of family violence, alcohol and substance abuse
incorporate indigenous culture and language into the education system
repeal the Stronger Futures legislation
establish effective heritage protection laws and protection bodies
ensure food security for indigenous populations in regional and remote areas.