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Stop The Paternalism In Indigenous Affairs, Says First Black Female MP

"The best way to get Aboriginal people into the parliament is for the major parties to preselect them."

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Linda Burney made history on Saturday night when she became the first Aboriginal woman to be elected to the lower house of the Australian parliament.

The new member for Barton, in Sydney's south, told BuzzFeed News what her priorities will be in Canberra.


“In terms of priorities, my passion has always been education," the former deputy opposition leader in NSW told BuzzFeed News. She says improving education within Indigenous communities would help close the widening gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous health outcomes and life expectancy.

"There are no silver bullets for these problems, but education is as close to that as we can come and I am hopeful that over the longer term this will be a huge part of the answer," Burney said.

Constitutional recognition of Indigenous people is also high on her list.

The issue of a referendum to amend the constitution to recognise Australia's original inhabitants has become highly divisive among the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community. There is bi-partisan support for a referendum, which will likely be held next year, and Burney told BuzzFeed News that she's committed to ensuring it's successful.

“I’ll also be working as hard as possible to see that the campaign for constitutional recognition is not derailed by the new senate, and I’m confident that it won’t be.”

Burney, who revealed last year that she was a victim of domestic violence, also said she wants “to see even more meaningful change come from the rhetoric we’ve heard in recent years about family violence in our community”.

There was a record number of Indigenous candidates in this election: Burney was one of 17.

Four of them were successful. Burney and the Liberals' Ken Wyatt will sit in the lower house while Pat Dodson and Malarndirri McCarthy look likely to become Labor senators.

Associate professor at Melbourne University Law School and Wiradjuri man Mark McMillan claims the record number of Indigenous candidates this year is because of an increasingly paternalistic view of the community by successive Liberal and Labor governments over the past decade.

"It started with Howard and the intervention and then contributed to by Labor and certainly, Abbott has done even more damage to service delivery of Aboriginal people," McMilllan said.

"I think that was why we had so many blackfellas standing in political parties across the political spectrum, from the National party to the Social Alliance."

Burney agrees that paternalism has become a problem in government.

“Aboriginal people have been rightly concerned about paternalism for a very long time. I’ll be doing all I can to see that solutions are found working with communities and not simply imposed upon them.”


“Governments need to understand that sometimes the best solutions come from inside our communities, not necessarily our parliaments,” Burney said.

Burney says it's time that the major parties pre-selected more Indigenous candidates to increase representation.

“The best way to get Aboriginal people into the parliament is for the major parties to preselect them in winnable seats."

"That is what Labor has done at this election and I will be very proud to sit in a caucus with Pat Dodson and Malarndirri McCarthy, and in the house of representatives with Ken Wyatt.”

Formerly with BuzzFeed News, Allan Clarke is a NITV reporter based in Sydney.

Contact Allan Clarke at arielle.benedek+AC@buzzfeed.com.

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