Nova Peris is a recently elected senator for Australia’s Northern Territory, representing the opposition Labor Party. Before she entered national politics, Peris made her name as an athlete. At the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, she was a member of Australia’s field hockey team and became the first Aboriginal Australian woman to win a gold medal.
Why is she in the news?
Her win in Australia’s September 7 elections makes Peris the first Aboriginal woman to win a seat in the national Parliament. She is only the fourth Aborigine to sit in the Parliament of Australia, despite advances made in recent years to elect more Aboriginal people to local government. Throughout the campaign, discussions about race were prevalent. Following her decision to join Australian politics, Peris was bombarded with hate mail. Some was so extreme that she notified the police.
In January 2013, Prime Minister Julia Gillard chose Peris to lead the Labor Party’s Senate ticket in the Northern Territory—an almost unbeatable position that essentially ensured her a seat in Parliament. Gillard’s decision was met with sharp criticism within the party. The selection was made without consulting party members in the Northern Territory and meant that 15-year incumbent senator Trish Crossin would not be reelected.
What can we expect from her?
Peris has said she will pursue her interest in health, education, and essential services in remote communities from her new perch. As an Aboriginal woman, she will likely be a champion of indigenous rights in her new role. Aborigines make up less than 3 percent of Australia’s population and are the poorest ethnic group in the country, with higher rates of infant mortality, drug abuse, unemployment, and alcoholism. The election of Peris raises hopes that these issues will feature more prominently in Australia’s national debate.