She was the first Indigenous gold medalist and now the Prime Minister has endorsed her to become the first Indigenous woman to serve as an Australian MP.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard yesterday announced she had made a “captain’s pick” by asking Nova Peris to run as the Labor Party’s Northern Territory Senate candidate – the first time Labor has put forward an Indigenous candidate in a safe seat at a Federal election.
“With the support of the people of the Northern Territory I want her to be the first Aboriginal women to sit in the Federal Parliament” Gillard said at a press conference.
Gillard bypassed standard party pre-selection process in nominating Peris, who is not yet a member of the ALP party. The ALP’s current representative, Trish Crossin, was overlooked for the nomination, leading some Labor heavyweights to criticise the move.
The PM says she won’t make a habit of intervening in party pre-selection, but was determined to see an Indigenous Labor MP.
“I’ve been very troubled that we have never been able to count amongst our number an Indigenous Australian.”
“There has never been an Indigenous Australian who has served as a federal Labor representative,” she said.
Peris first came to National attention as an Olympic sporting champion – winning gold with the Hockeyroos in 1996, before switching to athletics to win a gold medal at the 1998 Commonwealth games.
Since retiring from sport, Peris has been an advocate for promoting the health and education of Aboriginal children, heading up the Peris Enterprises charity.
She has also been an international ambassador for the World Health Organisation and National ambassador for Reconciliation Australia.
Peris said she was first approached to stand for Parliament seven or eight years ago but concedes she “wasn’t ready then”. Now, she says, her main goal is to restore Indigenous people’s faith in government.
“I stand here before you all today not only as an Australian but as a proud Aboriginal woman, proud of my heritage and culture. I certainly understand the significance of this opportunity and I’m very honored and humbled,” she said on accepting the nomination yesterday.
She said she was ”a proud Territorian who is extremely passionate about health, education and our youth. I understand the significance and enormity of the challenges that I face and I’m the first person to … say I don’t know everything. I’m here to learn.”
The PM’s intervention has been met with approval by former Labor national secretary Warren Mundine, who says the pick has “righted a wrong” — he left the Labor party last year partly because of its failure to instate an Indigenous candidate in Federal parliament.
“There are 112 years where the Labor Party hasn’t had an indigenous representative I parliament at a national level. Finally it has happened. Many people may criticise, for me it is righting a wrong that has been there for so long” he told ABC television.
However, others have dubbed the move a “political assassination” of Crossin.
Labor left co-convenor Senator Doug Cameron, told ABC radio he was “disappointed” with the PM’s interference in the NT Senate pre selection process.
“If we have a problem in the Northern Territory with indigenous representation we should have been dealing with this six months ago,” he said. “We should be looking at how we attract talented Aboriginal people into the party, how we can make the party relevant to them.”