“I was born at a time when the Australian Government knew how many sheep there were, but not how many Aboriginal people. I was 10-years-old before the ‘67 referendum fixed that. The first decade of my life was spent as a non-citizen.”
By
Laura Morelli

31 Aug 2016 - 5:49 PM  UPDATED 31 Aug 2016 - 6:32 PM

Wiradjuri woman and Labor MP Linda Burney has delivered her maiden speech to Parliament as the first Indigenous woman elected to the House of Representatives. 

Ms Burney didn't forget her Indigenous heritage, she had a Wiradjuri woman sing a song as part of the speech. 

In her speech, Ms Burney spoke of how parliament was changing to reflect the diversity of Australia. 

“This electorate couldn’t be a more shining example of what our modern Australia looks like. We are a stronger community because of this diversity, we are better for our differences and we are richer for all the broader cultural experiences that it offers to us.”

The former school teacher made history in 2003 after winning a seat in the NSW election, becoming the state's first Indigenous MP, breaking a barrier for her peoples.

Five quick questions with Linda Burney:

1. What is the importance of Indigenous representation in parliament?

Parliament is where the laws are made and the laws reflect the whole community and evidently, that whole community falls into the Indigenous community, which represents me and my peoples. Government has a purpose to serve and to lead. My Aboriginality has made me focus not just on Indigenous issues but on ones which I see affecting the most disenfranchised and ignored groups in our society. 

2. What challenges have you faced in politics?

Many of the same challenges as any woman faces in a job that demands majority of your time and day – a balance between family and friends, your wellbeing and of course your sanity… luckily I’m resilient and experienced. But sometimes when you’re an Aboriginal person it is isolating. I haven’t felt that extensively because I’ve always had support from different groups of people, but you do have the expectations of the Aboriginal community and sometimes you try really hard, but you just can’t meet them.  

3. From two majorly under represented people in Australian Parliament (a) women and (b) Indigenous Australian peoples - what did you find more of a challenge - to be a woman in a very male centric industry? Or having to cope with the previous treatment of Indigenous peoples in Australia?

I’ve never thought of it like that, my experiences have been very positive. I came into parliament 13 years ago with a strong understanding of what was involved. I came in from a high profile anyhow, I worked really hard to get where I was. To be honest, I don’t see the world like that… I wouldn’t categorise it as being difficult.

4. What difference do you hope to make to parliament?

I hope to make a massive difference, especially as an Aboriginal person - I want to be a beacon for young Aboriginal women in particular, and also for men, to show them being involved in parliament is achievable. You can’t whinge about decisions if you don’t participate in the political process. Your vote is important and I want to support my colleagues and do my very best. I want to make a difference in terms of good policy and decisions. I want to make Australia more egalitarian and I want to facilitate a better understanding and appreciation of Aboriginals as part of Australia’s story.

5. What can you do to encourage future generations of Indigenous leaders

What I can do to encourage future generations on Indigenous leaders in the future… Well definitely practice what I preach! But also to make sure that I do everything I can to open up parliament, and my job - if Aboriginal people want to meet with me, take a walk around Parliament House or want to get involved – I’m here to help them. Contact me, come and find me, I want to help you achieve your dreams, just like I achieved. Never let anyone tell you, you are limited.

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