With his akubra braided with the colours of the Aboriginal flag, Western Australian Senator Pat Dodson is arguably the most recognised Indigenous politician in Australia right now.
Originally, Senator Dodson didn’t have a keen interest in politics, but after years of lobbying and advocating from the outside, he saw the need for a true Indigenous voice in Parliament.
He thought it might not be a bad challenge to undertake.
“[I saw] how hard it is, for what I would have considered pretty fair requests by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, to be picked up and advocated within the formal political structures,” Senator Dodson said.
“There [were] very few real champions for our cause within those structures, at that time.”
After WA Senator Joe Bullock resigned in disagreement with Labor’s stance on same-sex marriage, Bill Shorten offered the vacant position to Senator Dodson.
“I thought about it and thought, ‘Well, I can have a crack at it and see how it goes.’”
Appointed Senator early May 2016, the ‘Father of Reconciliation’ officially entered Australian politics.
Advocating on the daily
What has kept the Senator engaged since then is the challenges that remain for social equity for Indigenous Australians.
“We don’t seem to have got to a position where we’re not having to advocate every day of the week for some kind of need,” Senator Dodson said.
The Senator said there is still a great need for action on Voice to Parliament, agreement making, high incarceration rates of young people, domestic violence situations and other issues.
“We seem to have societies now that are less cohesive than they were when I was growing up, and they have more challenges,” Senator Dodson said.
The Senator for WA said he would really like to see First Nations people further down the road to reconciliation.
As a regional man himself, Senator Dodson is passionate about giving regional residents a voice.
“[I’d like to] get a better focus at the local regional level on the issues that matter to people on a day to day basis: their health, their housing, their education, climate, the future of their youth, which are really bread and butter issues that most families worry about,” Senator Dodson said.
“How can we empower our people at a regional level to have some real impact on the way the funds are utilised and the strategies adopted?”
Living in Broome and constantly flying from his home in WA to the Senate in Canberra, Senator Dodson said this commute shows his dedication to regional Australia.
“Two hours to Jakarta [Indonesia], six hours to Canberra – that shows some of my commitment to the place!”
The Senator said he has always advocated for better services in Northern Australia and greater justice for Indigenous people, particularly with native title inheritances.
“I’ve worked really hard to keep First Nations affairs on not only the Labor agenda, but also the forefront of the Parliament,” Senator Dodson said.
First Aboriginal Indigenous Affairs Minister
Should Labor win the election, there is a high chance Senator Dodson will become the Indigenous Affairs Minister as Bill Shorten has publicly stated his intentions of bringing the Senator into Cabinet.
“I’m very humbled by that prospect but also quite daunted by it because there are high expectations,” Senator Dodson said.
The Senator said he won’t be able to do it on his own and that he is relying on constructive input from Australia’s First Nations people and the Australian public.
One thing Senator Dodson would like to do as Indigenous Affairs Minister is recommit to Regional Assemblies to give regions the capacity to understand how much public money they are receiving and what they can do with it to create better place-based outcomes.
“The remote parts of Australia are unique in many ways,” Senator Dodson said.
“They lack the services that the cities have, but they also have a tremendous amount of richness in terms of their social and cultural value systems. They’ve got much to offer to the nation.”
A proud Yawuru man, Senator Dodson said sometimes his Indigenous heritage doesn’t align with his politics.
“They align to the extent that there should be fairness and justice for everyone, that people should be treated with respect,” Senator Dodson said.
The Senator believes one of the government’s most important functions is to listen to people very carefully.
“Governments really have an important leadership role but also an important role in making sure laws serve people and not just oppress people,” Senator Dodson said.
If Labor claims victory after Saturday’s election, Australia may be seeing a lot more of that akubra braided with Aboriginal colours.
By Hannah Cross