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Australia makes history and elects its first Aboriginal Senator

Ken Wyatt

The land and down under made history last week when Australia elected its first Aboriginal Senator in its 110-year parliamentary history.

Whilst the Aboriginal community celebrates the election of Senator Mr. Ken
Wyatt Aussie racists were bombarding him with hate mail.

Senator Wyatt rose above childhood poverty to become the first indigenous person ever elected to the powerful lower House of Representatives.

The first Aborigine to be elected to the Australian parliament yesterday said he wasnot worried by racist hate campaign that followed his win. Wyatt dismissed the vile messages reporting they were completely swamped by messages congratulations and support.

He received at least 50 hate emails and phone calls from racist voters who
left a series of disgusting messages for the newly elected Senator.

He said: “They don’t perturb me” , Mr. Wyatt, 58, said of the jibes. “Throughout my life I have experienced the sharp edge of some of the racist taunts that have come my way, but when I outweigh these by the hundreds and hundreds of emails and calls I’ve had, they are only minuscule in the bigger picture.”

He added: “I’ve had that all my life, growing up as an Aboriginal in the
’60s, the ’70s and the ’80s,” he told reporters.

“Let’s move on from that – what’s more important is the way in which we
move Australia forward, and the thinking that we have, and the society that
we build on.”

Whilst Mr. Wyatt is the first Aboriginal man elected to the lower House of
Representatives two other indigenous Australians have served as senators in
the upper house of parliament.

He joins Neville Bonner,  who died in 1999, was first appointed to the senate in 1971 to fill a casual vacancy but went on to win four elections in his own right. He joined the Liberal Party in 1967 and held local office in the party. In
1971 he was chosen to fill a Senate vacancy created by the resignation of a Liberal Senator, thus becoming the first Aboriginal person to sit in the Australian Parliament. He was elected in his own right in 1972, 1974, 1975 and 1980.

Neville was followed by Ernie Bridge who was born in Halls Creek . He was a pastoralist and businessman prior to entering politics, and was also a founding member of the Aboriginal Lands Trust in 1972. He served on the Halls Creek council from 1962–1979. He contested the marginal seat of Kimberley for the Labor Party at the 1980 state election and won, defeating incumbent Liberal Alan Ridge becoming the first Aboriginal member of the Western Australia Parliament. He was a backbencher for his first two terms, being re-elected at the 1983 election and 1986 election .

Bridge was then followed by Aden Ridgeway who represented New South Wales in the senate from 1999 to 2005. During 1997-98 Ridgeway served as the state policy convener for the New South Wales Branch of the Democrats. He was subsequently selected in the first position on the Democrats’ Senate ticket at the 1998 election . This led to him becoming only the third Aboriginal member of an Australian parliament. Australia record on increasing the diversity in their Parliament is extremely poor.

This is in part a consequence of the country’s failure to tackle widespread popular and institutional racism nevertheless we congratulate Mr. Wyatt for making history and becoming a powerful voice for Aboriginal affairs in Australian politics.

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