In an historic month for Victoria, Yorta Yorta woman Sheena Watt has become the Victorian Labor Party’s first female Aboriginal Member of Parliament.
Watt steps into Jenny Mikakos’ former seat, as the representative for northern Melbourne.
Born and raised in Melbourne’s northern suburbs, Watt is a homegrown hero with strong roots in community.
“I lived in Melbourne, we moved around a lot. Like many people we had an insecure housing situation … Mum and Dad were doing it tough,” said Watt.
“My Dad was sick he had a disability, one that came about overnight. It was one that placed my Mum, my sister and I as carers.
“Not only caring for my Dad, I also cared for nannas and other Elders in my family. It was actually quite a profound experience. I learnt a lot about me, my own family and our family values and cultural values through that experience.”
Watt’s early life established her passion for public health.
“I felt like living in the very vulnerable situation that we were, just how important it is to have a strong public health system that really supports everybody that needs it, when they need it and where they need it,” she said.
Watt has an extensive background in the public health sector working with and sitting on Boards for various health organisations including the Victorian Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (VACCHO) and the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (NACCHO).
“Health is an incredibly personal experience for people and it really does shape families and communities in different ways. For me, I took that experience and decided to make the health system better for the next generation,” Watt said.
Stepping away from the health sector, Watt intends to use her experience and knowledge to raise the voices of community in Parliament.
“I really love Aboriginal community control … I believe in strong, civil society, I believe in strong organisations that are connected to and accountable to Aboriginal community.”
“The Parliament is the latest integration of that commitment to the community and why being accountable to the community is the best way to get strong community outcomes for the people that need it the most.”
Inspired by those who have come before, Watt recognises the role of her Elders in the path she’s taken.
“I want to acknowledge the many generations of people before me that have stood up to make strong, proud and thriving Aboriginal Community Controlled Organisations,” she said.
“I want to pay my respects to those Elders and leaders that took the time to mentor me, those who trusted me and who believed in me.”
And in turn, Watt hopes to provide opportunities to ones that follow her.
“My previous job was in Aboriginal youth employment and I spent the last few years and even started my career working with young people and helping them navigate the world of work,” she said.
“I am hoping to reflect on that work … to unlock employment opportunities for Aboriginal young people and continue reminding all of us that have a part to play in building the future for young Victorians that inclusion is not optional.”
Watt steps into a role with the backing of a party she’s been a part of for many years.
“I’ve been involved with the Labor Party for a long time, I’ve been a union member for my entire working life,” she said.
“I have really seen the value of strong Labor governments, particularly in Victoria when I think about the bold and ambitious work that the Andrews Labor Government has embarked on when it comes to Aboriginal issues.”
“I’m now part of a Government that not only believes in self-determination but has really applied the principles of self-determination into policy, service delivery and true partnership with First Victorians and I am hoping to be a part of continuing that strong push for self-determination and also Treaty here in Victoria.”
From a young girl growing up in the northern suburbs to representing her home in Parliament, Watt remains humbled knowing it is the community she loves that helped her along the way.
“I must say, I wasn’t someone who ever worked towards a career in Parliament. I focused on giving back to my community that gave so much to me and my family when we really needed it.”
By Rachael Knowles