Fabulous Five heading for Canberra to fight the fight

Linda Burney
Bill Shorten and Linda Burney. Photo: AAP.

It’s been an extraordinary election for Indigenous Australia, with five MPs set to take seats in the new parliament, regardless of who forms government.

Australian National University political expert Jill Sheppard says the proportion of MPs bound for Canberra is almost representative of the general population — and good news for Indigenous Australians.

“It looks like the Parliament has certainly made some steps towards better representing the Indigenous population whether that actually translates into more responsive or more representative Indigenous policy will be the next test for whichever party forms government,” she says.

Among the successful are WA Labor Senator Pat Dodson, NT Labor Senate candidate Malarndirri McCarthy and Tasmania’s Jacqui Lambie, who identifies as being Indigenous, in the Senate.

In Queensland, the Liberal National Party’s Joanna Lindgren, the great niece of Neville Bonner, the first Indigenous federal MP, is settling in for a long wait to find out if she has held onto her Senate spot.

A result could be as long as four weeks away.

In the House of Representatives, WA Liberal MP Ken Wyatt — Australia’s first Indigenous frontbencher in the Turnbull government — retained the seat of Hasluck, despite a four percent swing against him.

Mr Wyatt told the NIT this week he believed the Coalition would be able to form a majority government.

“I hope to remain the Assistant Minister for Health and Aged Care and continue the work I started in this space,” he says.

“On a national scale, with regards to Indigenous issues, I will continue to work towards Constitutional recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples. I also want to focus on incarceration rates of Indigenous people.”

Former deputy NSW State Labor leader Linda Burney claimed the seat of Barton over the sitting Liberal MP Nickolas Varvaris, with a four percent swing, and entered the history books as the first Indigenous woman elected to the House of Representatives.

Dr Sheppard said Ms Burney’s win is set to have wider implications.

“I had the reaction to Linda Burney that I feel like she’s been around forever because she was in New South Wales, but this is actually a really big thing,” Dr Sheppard says.

“What we know about other countries and other areas where women and ethnic and racial and Indigenous minorities have broken through these barriers, is that they do tend to bring others along with them.

“It does take a bit of time, but for young Indigenous women this would hopefully be a momentous achievement in terms of what they might aspire to do.”

Ms Burney — whose victory has received international media attention — this week wasted no time hitting the streets of her new electorate to thank voters.

“I must admit I underestimated in a fairly humble way how happy it was going to make people and how important it was for people and I’m just overwhelmed by literally thousands and thousands of messages and tweets and re-tweets and emails and phone calls,” she told NIT.

Meanwhile, Senator-elect Jacqui Lambie says Indigenous voices in federal parliament are important.

“History and international studies show us that there is a real and strong connection between the level of Indigenous representation in a country’s parliament — and the gap between Indigenous and non Indigenous mortality rates and levels of social advantage,” she says.

But this election also saw a plethora of unsuccessful candidates too.

Among those were WA Nationals Senate hopeful Kado Muir; Geoffrey Winter, the Liberal Party candidate for the seat of Sydney; WA’s Carol Martin who contested the seat of Durack for the ALP; and Tammy Solonec, a human rights lawyer who stood for the WA seat of Swan for Labor.

Despite picking up a five percent swing to Labor, Barry Winmar, didn’t manage to wrest the WA seat of Canning from the Liberal Party, while Kerrynne Liddle, who held the last spot on the South Australian Liberal Senate ticket also looks set to miss out.

Other unsuccessful candidates were activist and writer Ken Canning, who headed the Socialist Alliance Senate ticket in NSW; fellow Social Alliance Senate hopeful Sharlene Leroy-Dyer; Australian Progressives Senate candidate for NSW Ash Rose; Australian Christians Queensland Senate hopeful Shea Taylor; and Michael Newie, an Independent candidate for the House of Representatives seat of Leichardt in Queensland.

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