Indigenous people have been overlooked by the parliamentary process for too long, according to incoming Labor Senator Pat Dodson.
“A lot of decisions are made that we’re not part of in parliamentary precincts,” said the Yawura leader.
“Indigenous people have to step up to the plate and take opportunities when they’re offered to them, and let our voices be heard in the chamber or in the senate.”
Mr Dodson’s announcement comes days after NSW Labor MP Linda Burney revealed her hopes to become the first Indigenous woman elected to the House of Representatives.
In his new role, Mr Dodson said he was determined to improve quality of life for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people – particularly those living remotely.
“I have a keen interest in regional Australia and northern Australia,” he said.
“I think there are matters that pertain to Aboriginal people's that we’ve got to fix: Constitutional recognition, agreement making, but also the service provision and quality of life for people in remote regions.”
The reconciliation advocate acknowledged that certain aspects of Indigenous affairs were in a state of crisis.
“We can’t have any pride in the fact that we have over-representation in the prisons, that too many children are taken into protective custody, that there are a lot of services underfunded to meet the needs,” he said.
'If we lose, I’ll still make my contribution in this house.'
Asked whether he was concerned that his values may be compromised by party positions, Mr Dodson said he had “no intention of trading tribalism in Indigenous affairs for tribalism amongst whitefellas in parliament”.
“The way you deal with it is like anything else – you enter the debate, you put your case and you argue it, and you make it clear what your position is,” he said.
“At the end of the day, you’re bound by what the consensus is that comes forward and you’re obviously obliged to support that position.
“I think the question of independence, freedom to debate, discuss – I’ve had no impression from the Labor people that that’s something that they want to extinguish in terms of my style and contribution.”
Mr Dodson said he was optimistic about making change, regardless of this year’s election results.
“Being in opposition doesn’t necessarily mean you’re neutered,” he said.
“If we win, we win.
“If we lose, I’ll still make my contribution in this house.”
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