OPINION: PM's right to punt on Peris


Julia Gillard's coup in securing one of Australia's most successful indigenous athletes as a Senate candidate invites predictable criticisms and involves some risk, but is justified by the two words made famous by Gough Whitlam – it's time.

The PM conceded today that Labor's failure to endorse an indigenous candidate for a winnable seat was a blemish on an otherwise proud record in indigenous affairs, from Whitlam's gesture to Vincent Lingiari and Paul Keating's response to the High Court's Mabo decision to Kevin Rudd's apology to the stolen generations.

But to secure Nova Peris as Labor's number one Senate candidate in the Northern Territory, Gillard has been prepared to jettison Trish Crossin, a veteran senator with a strong record of standing up for indigenous Australians.

And by failing to consult Crossin and other Labor figures in the territory before sealing the deal, she has also risked provoking a local backlash against the woman she wants, Nova Peris.

Gillard has also taken a punt on a woman with little political experience and an occasional capacity to court controversy, inviting some to predict that it will all end in tears.

But the simple truth is that the Labor processes that Gillard has been prepared to override have failed indigenous Australia on numerous occasions in the past. Impressive indigenous candidates have put themselves forward, only to be rebuffed by vested interests.

Moreover, what Peris lacks in political experience is more than compensated by a capacity for hard work, dedication and a commitment to address disadvantage and see young Australians, especially those in remote indigenous communities, realise their potential and their dreams.

As Marcia Langton, who describes Peris as ''a truly great contender'' and helped establish her Nova Peris Girls' Academy in Darwin last year, puts it: ''The more Aboriginal people who play an active role in our formal political system, the better off we'll all be.''

Nova Peris and Prime Minister Julia Gillard. Picture: Alex Ellinghausen

Nova Peris and Prime Minister Julia Gillard. Picture: Alex Ellinghausen



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