1. There have only been two Indigenous Senators in 109 years of Federal Parliament and there have never been any Indigenous politicians in the House of Representatives.
Neville Bonner was the first Aboriginal person to sit in Federal Parliament as a Senator for Queensland from 1971 until 1983. He was a member of the Liberal Party. Aden Ridgeway was the second Aboriginal person to sit in Federal Parliament as a Senator for New South Wales from 1999 until 2005 and was a member of the Australian Democrats. Outside of Federal Parliament, there have been a number of Indigenous representatives at a state and local government level, such as Neville Perkins, Linda Burney, Marion Scrymgour and Ben Wyatt—to name a few.
2. The three main parties have all put forward Indigenous candidates for the 2010 Federal Election.
The Labor Party, The Liberal Party of Australia and The Australian Greens have all put forward Indigenous candidates for the 2010 Federal Election. There are also many Indigenous candidates running for other parties and as independents. In Hasluck, a marginal Labor seat in Western Australia, there are three Indigenous candidates contesting the electorate: Ken Wyatt for the Liberal Party, Glenice Smith for the Australian Greens and Dot Henry as an Independent. In many other electorates around the country Indigenous candidates are running for parties across the political spectrum. Some of those running in this Federal election are:
3. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander candidates represent the interests of all people, not just the issues affecting Indigenous people.
Because I am an Aboriginal doesn’t mean that I am going to Canberra to represent the Aboriginal people wholly and solely. I am a Queenslander and I will be representing Queensland, and my loyalties will be to the people of Queensland.
Neville Bonner, First Aboriginal Senator.
Issues affecting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have deep significance for Australia as a nation, and it is important to have strong advocates and leaders in Federal Parliament to address these issues. However, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people share the same hospitals, schools and workplaces as other Australians and as both voters and candidates they will draw on these shared experiences when helping to shape Australia’s government.
In addition, for Indigenous candidates, being Indigenous is only one of many valuable life experiences that they can offer as leaders. For example, Ken Wyatt, Liberal candidate for Hasluck, has a strong background in both health and education. Glenice Smith, Greens candidate from Hasluck, has more than 15 years experience in the crime prevention and social justice sectors. Sharon Firebrace, Socialist Alliance candidate for the Victorian Senate, has a strong business background as one of the founding directors of the Australian Council of Businesswomen.
4. Having Indigenous people in parliament can help to achieve reconciliation and close the gap.
Reconciliation and closing the gap are about creating a shared future for all Australians, where Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are given the same respect and have the same opportunities to live a good and healthy life as other Australians. A shared future calls for genuine inclusion of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in all aspects of Australian life, including parliamentary representation. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people bring a unique and valuable contribution to parliaments and political debates. As elected officials they work side by side with other Australians to shape our future together.
5. Indigenous politicians can bring important experience and expertise to bear on government decisions and policies which affect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
As a general rule, government decisions are most effective where they are made in consultation with the people who will be affected by these decisions. Every year, hundreds of decisions and policies affecting Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people are made by the Federal Government. Indigenous politicians can bring important experience and expertise to bear on government decisions and policies which affect Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. For example, Greens candidate Warren H Williams points out that, ‘I’m smack, bang, right in the middle of everything the government brought in like the intervention…all the stuff in Australian news is happening in my neighbourhood.’