Backlash as Australia PM pushes Aboriginal star in Senate
SYDNEY (AFP) – Moves to ensure the election of the first Aboriginal woman to Australia’s parliament met with a backlash Wednesday, with one politician saying Olympian Nova Peris would be a “maid” for the government.
Prime Minister Julia Gillard has endorsed the gold medallist as her preferred Labor Party candidate for the federal Senate in the Northern Territory in national elections due this year. If pre-selected, Peris is almost certain to be elected.
Gillard’s decision has ruffled feathers within the Labor Party, which in 2010 was riven by bitter infighting when Gillard deposed then-prime minister Kevin Rudd in a sudden coup.
Labor’s long-serving Northern Territory Senator Trish Crossin, whom Peris will be replacing, said she was shocked that local party members would not be able to choose who would represent them, as they would normally do. And the often outspoken Labor politician Doug Cameron described Gillard’s move as a “pretty brutal exercise of political power”.
Alison Anderson, an indigenous Northern Territory politician with the Country Liberal Party, said Gillard had been shamed into pre-selecting an indigenous candidate and compared the politically inexperienced Peris to a “maid” inside Labor’s house.
“We’re only OK to be on the verandas of the Labor Party… but today they have a maid that will do the sheets and serve the cuppas,” she said Tuesday.
Anderson said Territorians were not familiar with Peris, who won gold in 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.
“I don’t think she quite clearly understands the poverty and disadvantage of the remote Territory,” Anderson said.
Gillard responded by saying she wanted Labor to have an indigenous person serve in its federal caucus.
“I knew it would be controversial,” she told the ABC on Wednesday. “I chose to do it this way because the outcome was important.” Gillard said it was “completely irrelevant” to suggest that Peris’s endorsement was to take revenge on Crossin, a supporter of Rudd. “I came to my decision because I thought it was so important that we as a federal Labor Party embrace amongst our numbers an indigenous Australian, an indigenous woman of incredible merit, and that is Nova Peris,” she said.