Outgoing Labor senator Nova Peris has given an emotional defence of her decision to quit politics, declaring: “Until you are an Indigenous person, do not criticise me for the decisions I’ve made”.
Senator Peris announced she would not recontest her Northern Territory Senate seat earlier this week.
The Coalition has criticised the Olympic gold medallist for leaving politics after only a few years and accused her of abandoning her constituents.
Speaking alongside Opposition Leader Bill Shorten on National Sorry Day in Darwin today, she said no-one should “judge” her for making that decision.
“Three years ago I walked into Parliament as the first Aboriginal woman,” Senator Peris said.
“Until you are an Indigenous person, do not criticise me for the decisions I’ve made.”
Senator Peris said she was leaving on her own terms after Coalition claims she had been pushed.
She hit back at criticism of the timing of her announcement during an election campaign and said she “didn’t call the election”.
‘I’m a politician, but also a human’
Senator Peris reflected on the Stolen Generations when speaking about her reasons for leaving.
“This decision I have made has been on family and I have to look after my children,” she said.
“Aboriginal people haven’t had to share true moments with their children and I hold that dear to my heart.”
She also defended herself against suggestions Territorians deserved a better explanation of her reasons for quitting.
“I’m a 45-year-old woman and I’m sure you don’t go around every single day time of your life justifying the things you have to do,” she said.
“I am a politician but I am also a human.”
Senator Peris said there was still a long way to go until Aboriginal people were treated as equals in Australia.
“It’s not easy to wake up every morning and bounce out of bed and pretend life is fantastic, because it isn’t,” she said.
“Aboriginal people have no inherited wealth, they have inherited pain, but we have a vision.”
She said she was confident Mr Shorten would make a brilliant prime minister.
Dodson ‘respects’ Peris’ decision to leave politics
WA Senator and Indigenous leader Pat Dodson said he respected Senator Peris’ decision and that he was grateful to have worked with her.
“She’s made a decision and I respect that and I was most grateful that she was in the Parliament when I came in because I was totally new to it and she seconded her senior staff across to help me,” he said.
Senator Dodson said it would up to the party to decide whether an Indigenous person should take Senator Peris’ spot.
“I think it’s a matter for the NT Labor people to make that decision but I would hope there is,” he said.
“The more Indigenous people we can get into the Parliament the better, doesn’t matter what side they come on, because they’ll have an impact.
“It sends a good message to the Australian public about the leadership capacities, dedication, and interests Aboriginal people can have.”