Federal election 2016: The indigenous women giving me cause to hope

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Celeste Liddle

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Election 2016: Senate preferences explained

Just how will the new Senate voting rules affect the make up of the upper house after the election?

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As far as elections go; and I say this as a long-time political nerd who generally treats elections like other people treat football grand finals; this election has been dull. Usually, at this stage of an election cycle I am ordering my Senate voting preferences, sorting out places to watch the count and scanning the last minute pork-barrelling.

This time around I'm hard pressed to muster any enthusiasm. As the two major parties have continued to bleed into each other, becoming harder to differentiate than ever before, I'm headed towards my most apathetic vote ever. A need to try and subvert the new Senate voting rules is barely enough to draw me to the booths.

Yet despite this, there is one silver lining. This election a record number of Indigenous candidates are standing and of these 13 people, eight are women. Should six of these candidates be successful in getting elected, Australia will hit population parity rates in Parliament for Indigenous people for the first time ever. Considering that it took until just last election for the first Aboriginal woman ever to enter Parliament, eight Aboriginal women contesting seats this election is a welcome advance. Aboriginal men's voices have often been preferenced by the mainstream over the voices of Aboriginal women due to the patriarchy, and this dynamic looks set to be challenged in Parliament House.

Linda Burney will be contesting the federal seat of Barton in the next federal election and if successful will be the ...

Linda Burney will be contesting the federal seat of Barton in the next federal election and if successful will be the first indigenous female MP. Photo: Nick Moir

It's no secret that I am particularly interested to see how the female candidates on the progressive side of politics fare. Former NSW Deputy Premier Linda Burney is running for Labor in the seat of Barton looks to be certain to get her seat. Likewise, former NT politician and NITV journalist Malarndirri McCarthy, who is Labor's number one Senate pick this election, is very likely to be successful in gaining a seat.

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Facing a tougher battle in the seat of Swan is human rights lawyer and Labor candidate Tammy Solonec. Should Solonec be successful this election, she will bring with her a strong background in social justice; ranging from her work as the Indigenous People's Rights Manager with Amnesty International, as well as serving as a Director of the National Congress of Australia's First Peoples. Her inclusion in the House of Representatives would be a welcome one.

Other candidates on the progressive side facing tougher battles include WA state parliamentary veteran Carol Martin in the massive seat of Durack and Indigenous academic and union representative Sharlene Leroy-Dyer for Socialist Alliance in the NSW Senate.

Of the conservative candidates, I will be watching to see how SA Senate pick for the Liberal Party Kerrynne Liddle does. If the name rings a bell, it should: we are cousins. While Liddle is unlikely to gain a seat due to being the sixth name on the ticket, favourable articles outlining her credentials and highlighting how the new senate voting rules could be used to assist in getting her elected might make things interesting.

Liberal Party Senator Joanna Lindgren is running again, as is Senator Jacqui Lambie of the Jacqui Lambie Network. At the very least, the Senate will contain two Aboriginal women with potential for three more. Considering that prior to Nova Peris there had only been two Aboriginal men in the Senate in Neville Bonner and Aden Ridgeway, this is a welcome advance.

Despite any misgivings I might have about the current political system and the state of play, it is an exciting thought that Parliament House could get a little more representative following this election. My entire life watching politics has been tainted by seeing non-Indigenous politicians make a bunch of decisions about Indigenous people without any consultation. It has mainly been to our detriment.

While it is a big ask of any Indigenous politician to they carry the torch and successfully influence the state of play, there will at least be more Indigenous people at the table and involved in the discussions. Provided they are not merely expected to toe party lines, this greater representation can only be a good thing.

For decades, Australian political parties have been lax in ensuring that the candidates they preselect represent the diversity of this country. When it comes to Indigenous representation, this has been a gaping chasm. This has probably been a major contributing factor to the low Indigenous voter turnout at elections, for how can Indigenous people identify with a system which does not represent them? The prospect of going from one sitting representative at the previous election to potentially hitting a number reflective of the national Indigenous population is therefore quite a remarkable feat.

In a parliament that lacks both the voices of women and the voices of Indigenous people, an increase in the number of Indigenous women on the floor would be cause to celebrate. Our political system has been stale, male and pale for too long and it's time the representatives reflected the people they represent.