ELECTION SPECIAL: Jana Stewart’s proving stereotypes about Aboriginal women wrong

Kooyong candidate Jana Stewart with three-year-old son Jude. Photo supplied by Jana Stewart campaign.

Jana Stewart never saw government and politics as a system beneficial to Indigenous Australians.

That is, until she saw strides being taken toward Treaty in Victoria.

“[That was] the thing that pushed me across the line to get involved in politics,” Ms Stewart said.

Ms Stewart had the opportunity last year to be an adviser for Victorian Aboriginal Affairs Minister Natalie Hutchins who was involved with the Treaty process.

“I got to see first-hand what good progressive governance can do for everybody,” Ms Stewart said.

Running for the seat of Kooyong, current Treasurer Josh Frydenberg’s seat, Ms Stewart said she is passionate about having a Parliament that represents all of Australia’s people.

“Australian people are made up of all kinds of different cultures, genders, and I think Labor is doing a really great job at making sure that diversity is reflected in its Parliament,” Ms Stewart said.

The eldest of six kids and a clinical family therapist, Ms Stewart brings a unique perspective to the political sphere.

“I’m not your typical politician,” Ms Stewart said.

“I don’t know what Aboriginal politician is actually. We’re all kind of not of the same mould, just by virtue of being black.”

Campaigning in Kooyong
Ms Stewart said her interactions with people while campaigning in Kooyong carry an added significance.

“Whether I like it or not, people will judge a whole community of Aboriginal women based on their interaction with me,” Ms Stewart said.

“There’s like this extra weight to everything that I do. It’s not just me trying to win this seat, people are judging Aboriginal women based on everything that I do.”

Ms Stewart said one thing she has heard ‘loud and clear’ in Kooyong is the desire for strong advocacy on climate change.

Towing the party line, Ms Stewart said while the Coalition cannot agree internally whether climate change is real, the Labor party is united in acknowledging its existence.

“We are in a climate emergency,” Ms Stewart said.

Ms Stewart said she has also previously voiced she wants more Indigenous Australians engaged in this space.

“[Indigenous Australians] are in a unique position and offer a unique perspective about what needs to happen and how it needs to happen,” Ms Stewart said.

According to Ms Stewart, Labor has a ‘suite of policies’ ready to combat climate change should they win the federal election.

Not another statistic
“I’m someone who grew up in a home with family violence, which is the experience of lots of Aboriginal children unfortunately,” Ms Stewart said.

Ms Stewart attended at least a dozen different schools before she started high school. Out of the 20-30 Indigenous students at her school, she was the only one to complete year 12.

The Kooyong candidate credits a strong message of education within her family that supported her to complete her studies.

During her high school experience, at age 15 or 16, Ms Stewart was in class listening to statistics about Indigenous Australians.

“When [my teacher] was talking about these statistics, it’s like they were supposed to determine who I was going to be,” Ms Stewart said.

“These statistics were telling me that I was most likely going to be unemployed, there was a pretty high chance I was going to end up in prison, I wasn’t going to go to university, I wasn’t going to finish year 12.”

“I was never going to buy my first home, and because my mum was in a violent relationship, I was most likely going to end up in a violent relationship too.”

“And it’s not like all of that mattered too much because I was going to die 20 years younger than my peers, so I had a shorter life to live that misery,” Ms Stewart said.

“I remember sitting in that classroom and thinking, ‘These statistics don’t define who I am … this is not my experience, my family, my community, my culture.’”

For Ms Stewart, that moment was a turning point.

“I kind of made a really deliberate decision in my life to continue to demonstrate that those stereotypes about Aboriginal people, and particularly Aboriginal women, are wrong,” Ms Stewart said.

Power in the pen
Ms Stewart attributes her passion for education to her great grandmother Alice Kelly.

“[She] was a fierce advocate for Aboriginal people and land rights in New South Wales,” Ms Stewart said.

“She was our matriarch.”

Alice Kelly was a custodian of Lake Mungo and, as defined by granddaughter Vicki Clark OAM, the keeper of culture, law and language.

“She had these incredible values around education. And she would say to us grandkids and great-grandkids, ‘There is power in the pen, you must learn the white man’s way to be able to fight for your people,’” Ms Stewart said.

Ms Stewart said a statement like this was particularly courageous for her great grandmother to say, as at the time Indigenous students were being removed from schools just for being Indigenous.

The candidate said supporting families is the key to keeping children in school, particularly when there is violence at home.

“The more that we do to protect women and children before violence happens, the better. Then what we do in our response is also incredibly critical,” Ms Stewart said.

“I believe that every child should have access to the best quality education, no matter how much your parents earn, no matter where you live.”

Referring to the old saying, ‘It takes a village to raise a child’ Ms Stewart said the more we strengthen families to keep them together, the better off we will be as a community.

Governing with courage
As a Mutthi Mutthi and Wamba Wamba woman, Ms Stewart said her heritage keeps her grounded in whatever she sets out to do.

“I think about how my policy affects people on the ground,” Ms Stewart said.

“We should be engaging the people who we make policies about, in influencing and shaping those policies. That’s something that I keep at the forefront of my mind.”

Ms Stewart said the government needs to be more than words to deliver real action.

“I personally think the government should be there to make sure that everyone has the best opportunity to succeed,” Ms Stewart said.

The candidate also added government should continue to be courageous in the decisions they make.

When asked why voters should elect her, Ms Stewart turned on the political charm.

“Because I think it’s time for a new voice in Kooyong,” Ms Stewart said.

The candidate said the electorate needs a representative who follows through on their promises and who has the same empathy for the country’s most vulnerable as those in Kooyong do.

“I’m someone who’s genuine, someone who has integrity and honesty,” Ms Stewart said, adding there has not been much honesty or integrity in the current government.

“I think I’m a breath of fresh air for people,” Ms Stewart said.

By Hannah Cross

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