On Saturday 18 May 2019 Australia heads to the polls. In this Federal Election, there are at least twenty-two Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander candidates. While there are reasons to see this as a sign of change, to date there has only been nine Indigenous people elected to the federal Parliament (seven in the Senate and two in the House of Representatives).
Eight candidates are standing for the Senate (upper house) and twelve for the House of Representatives, with representation in every state/territory expect Australian Capital Territory. This election could result in more milestones being achieved but it’s not been an easy pathway. Before ‘firsts’ were celebrated, the fight for citizenship and voting rights had to be won.
Across Australia, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people had their rights to vote given and taken and given again. In 1965, all Indigenous people finally won the right to vote in state elections, with Queensland being the last state to grant this right. A few years previously (1962) Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were allowed to enrol to vote at federal elections, but it was not made compulsory until 1984.
This hard-won right to vote meant a new avenue for Indigenous rights and leadership. Following the 1967 referendum, Neville Bonner joined the Liberal Party and, in 1971, became the first Aboriginal politician. He initially filled a vacancy in the Senate but was elected in subsequent elections. In 1983, Bonner unsuccessfully ran as an independent.
From the 1970s onwards, numerous Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were elected onto state/territory parliaments. However, it was twenty-seven years before another Indigenous person sat in Federal Parliament, when Aden Ridgeway was elected to the Senate as an Australian Democrat in 1998.
In 2010, Ken Wyatt (Liberal Party Australia) was the first Indigenous member of the House of Representatives, and in 2015 he became the first Indigenous senator to be appointed a ministerial position. Linda Burney (Australian Labor Party) was the first elected Indigenous female member of the House of Representatives.
While this record number of Indigenous candidates is possibly a sign of change, getting into Parliament is another matter. Given what appears to be an increase in politicians openly expressing views that are racially-biased, and a steady flow of candidates being disendorsed for unacceptable behaviour, a more balanced Parliament is desperately needed.
In 1965, all Indigenous people finally won the right to vote in state elections, with Queensland being the last state to grant this right. A few years previously (1962) Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people were allowed to enrol to vote at federal elections, but it was not made compulsory until 1984.
In 2019, there are more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people who could soon be following in these trailblazers’ footsteps:
In Victoria, Jana Stewart is the Australian Labour Party’s (ALP) candidate in Kooyong. Jana has been an advocate for children, families and vulnerable groups for the past thirteen years. Jana recently wrote a piece for IndigenousX on why she is standing. Jana is on twitter @JanaforKooyong
There are four Indigenous candidates in New South Wales. ALP Linda Burney MP is contesting her current seat of Barton. Linda has sixteen years of experience in politics, having commenced her political career in the NSW Parliament. Linda’s twitter is @LindaBurneyMP
In the hotly contested seat of Warringah, independent Susan Moylan Coombs is taking on Tony Abbott, who currently has the superfluous role of Special Envoy for Indigenous Affairs. Susan’s twitter is @smoylancoombs
Queensland has the most Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander candidates. The Greens candidate in the ward of Leichhardt is Gary Oliver.
Yodie Batzke is a Senate candidate for Palmer’s United Australia Party.
Greg Wallace hopes to win a seat in the Senate for the Katter Party.
Tania Major, an education and employment consultant, is an ALP senate candidate.
Well-known human and environmental rights activist Wayne Wharton is a Senate candidate, standing as an independent.
The fifth Senate candidate in QLD is Lionel Henaway for Rise Up Australia.
There are four candidates in the Northern Territory.
Senator Malarndirri McCarthy (ALP) will be contesting her seat in the Senate. Prior to being elected, Malarndirri was a member of the Northern Territory Parliament for seven years. Her twitter is @Malarndirri19
Also running for a Senate spot is Crystal Johnson, as an independent. Crystal is a respected Tiwi Islander, Tiwi Shire Council member and advocate.
Running against Jacinta in Lingiari is George Hanna, a newcomer to politics. George is the Greens candidate.
There are three Aboriginal candidates in Western Australia. Johani Mamid, Greens for Durack, is the only candidate currently not in Parliament.
Ken Wyatt MP, member for Hasluck and current Minister for Indigenous Health, is standing for re-election. In 2010, Ken made history as the first Indigenous Member of the House of Representatives. Maybe he’ll soon match Neville Bonner’s twelve-year term. Ken’s twitter is @KenWyattMP
ALP recently announced, if elected, they will appoint Senator Patrick Dodson as Minister for Indigenous Affairs, making him the first Indigenous person to lead this portfolio. Pat Dodson’s twitter is @SenatorDodson
In South Australia, there are two Greens candidates. Candace Champion is the candidate for Grey.
And finally, there is Senator Briggs – nah, just gammin.
While the record number of Indigenous candidates is possibly a sign of change, getting into Parliament is another matter. Given what appears to be an increase in politicians openly expressing views that are racially-biased… a more balanced Parliament is desperately needed.
After 18 May, there might be more Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders representatives in both the Upper and Lower Houses. And some voters might expect them to be more than just representatives of their states/territories. For there is still many milestones to achieve: equity and justice for all Australians, recognition of First Peoples’ sovereignty, reparations and a meaningful voice in decision making.
Whether you support Indigenous rights or not (and you should) there are broader benefits when voting for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander candidates in this Federal Election. Such as a Parliament that better represents all Australians. So do check out the above candidates’ websites. And, together, let’s create some more milestones.
Information on the above candidates was sourced from party websites, except in the case of Crystal Johnson and Greg Wallace, and all have self-identified. If you are an Indigenous candidate and would like to be included in this article, please contact Indigenous X.
Main image: Senator, Neville Bonner on the steps of Parliament, 1971.
Source Koori History Website.
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