Labor candidate Linda Burney made history on Saturday night by becoming the first Indigenous woman ever to win a place in the House of Representatives.
She took the southern Sydney seat of Barton with a 4% swing against the Liberal Party’s sitting member, Nickolas Varvaris.
However, Burney is far from feeling complacent, telling Women’s Agenda she is filled with as much energy and conviction as she demonstrated on election night.
“My first priority and first responsibility is to represent the people of Barton,” she said. “It’s an amazing place, full of people from all over the world … People need to be listened to. There’s no downside of having love as a basis of how you operate as a member of parliament.”
Having previously served in the NSW Parliament, Burney said her new position will enable her to now advocate for the constitutional recognition of Indigenous Australians at a national level. While she hopes to see a referendum take place as soon as possible, her main objective is to see it successful in “removing the race powers within the constitution,” which currently allow the Federal Parliament to create special laws for people of any race. Burney deems this “completely inappropriate,” dangerous and will fight tirelessly to see the clause abolished for good.
Indeed, social justice unarguably shapes Burney’s discourse and motivates her every move. When asked about the biggest issue facing Indigenous women right now, Burney’s answer is sadly categorical.
“The main issue facing Aboriginal women is around violence, there’s no two ways about that,” she said.
“The rate of homicide and hospitalisation for Aboriginal women and incarceration is just completely unacceptable. What underpins that, is the power of decent education good health outcomes, good childcare so, those intrinsic things—a safe place to go, a culturally safe place to go for Aboriginal women.” Citing the justice system, Burney also acknowledges that, “Underneath that issue of safety sits a whole range of other issues that need to be addressed to make someone feel safe.”
She admits that neither major party would claim to have done enough in this area, but that this had been a result of the scale and complexity of the situation. Burney sees a long term approach in “empowering people through education.”
As a powerful female leader fighting for women’s rights and inspiring numerous others, I ask Burney about the women who have inspired her the most, in life and career. She tells me she finds the question difficult because the women who inspire her are not those who’re on the 7pm news every night.
“They’re women who have worked in the communities, who have given their lives and certainly not been remunerated,” she said. “The aunties out in the communities, who just do their best to keep communities going, to keep cultures going, to preserve language and keep kids safe.”
On a political level, Burney lists Joan Kirner, Carmel Tebbutt, Jenny Macklin and current shadow deputy leader, Tanya Plibersek as women she admires, and adds there are many more.
As our conversation comes to an end, I ask Burney what advice she has for ambitious young women considering a career in politics. She urges women to recognise the myriad of opportunities in politics that sit outside a career in parliament and raises the importance of great female representation across the board.
“Don’t be intimidated. Look carefully before you step in, but we need you … Step in please.”