Aboriginal Olympic gold medallist Nova Peris is to become Labor’s first indigenous federal MP. She is set to replace veteran senator Trish Crossin as the ALP Northern Territory senator.
Despite weeks of negotiations, Senator Crossin was only informed on Monday night that she would lose her number one position on the ALP senate ticket. Under normal circumstances the state (or territory) branch of the ALP would decide any such change with a vote. In this case Julia Gillard has decided that the ALP National Executive will take over the process, thus effectively disempowering the NT branch. The executive will oversee the preselection and nominations process. If anyone other than Nova Peris is nominated, then the candidates will be voted on by the 21 members of the executive, ensuring Ms Peris’s victory. The executive does not include any representation from the Northern Territory.
Ms Gillard is taking an important step historically, but many people have questioned the process and likened what she has done to Ms Crossin with what she and her supporters did, on a larger scale, to Kevin Rudd.
The former NT Labor Chief Minister Paul Henderson is in support of Ms Peris and her decision to stand, but said that the NT party should have had a say in the preselection. “We have the rules of the party and the rules are that people do have a vote.”
It seems like we get so bogged down by the minutiae of politics and political correctness in this country that, no matter how many discussions we have, or how many votes we take, nothing changes. So I applaud Julia Gillard for saying enough, and for actually doing something with the power we the people have given her. This change has been too long coming and if we wait for an indigenous Australian to naturally rise through the ranks of politics, we will be waiting a very long time.
And I say that not because I believe Aboriginal people are any less capable of becoming good politicians than anyone else living in Australia, but because I think that secretly (and not so secretly) the majority of Australians are a little bit racist. I also think many of us try to hide it by being politically correct to the point of ridiculousness.
But it seems as though what is happening with Nova Peris is a weird form of reverse racism. Ms Peris is an Aboriginal woman, and many people are rightly afraid that saying anything negative about her could get them spotlighted by the media as a racist. Think about it the other way around: if a long-standing Aboriginal senator was unceremoniously dumped and replaced by an untried Caucasian newcomer, racial equality groups would be screaming bloody murder.
The process by which Ms Peris is being fast tracked to the senate is not in consistent with either the long-established pre-selection process or our sense of a ‘fair go’ but, simply because the candidate is Aboriginal, many seem to be uncomfortable criticising Julia Gillard’s action.
What do you think? Is this a great step forward in Australian political history or should Trish Crossin be claiming unfair dismissal on the grounds of (reverse) racism? After all, if she was Aboriginal, it is difficult to image that Ms Crossin would have been asked to step down.