New Labor senator for the Northern Territory Malarndirri McCarthy used her maiden speech in federal parliament on Wednesday to passionately advocate for Indigenous rights, NT statehood, victims of domestic violence and to lobby against the proposed plebiscite on same-sex marriage.
McCarthy, a Yanyuwa woman from Boroloola, spoke openly about the racism and abuse Aboriginal people face on a daily basis, saying those who identify as LGBT could expect similar treatment if the plebiscite goes ahead.
"I do see strong similarities [between Indigenous people and the LGBT community]. I feel as two minorities of people who are more vulnerable to the hurt and the vilification that others can bring upon us. To have that highlighted in a massive "no" vote campaign would be devastating,"' McCarthy told BuzzFeed News.
McCarthy said the majority of the nation wasn't ready to engage in a respectful debate, citing the lack of empathy for former AFL player Adam Goodes, who was hounded from the game by racist booing and called "sensitive" by several high-profile commentators.
"I only have to look at examples like our own AFL legend Adam Goodes to see how our country couldn’t fathom that someone could be so hurt and vilified. So if we as a nation found that episode confronting and found that episode difficult to deal with, then I am very, very wary that we are anywhere near capable of dealing with [a plebisite]," she said.
McCarthy also spoke about the suicide of her cousin, who struggled to reconcile her sexuality with her Aboriginal culture.
"And then there is my young cousin-sister who struggled with her identity as a lesbian in a strong traditional Aboriginal culture. Her outward spirit was full of fun and laughter, yet inside she was suffocating from the inability to find balance in her cultural world view and that of the expectations of the broader Australian society around her. So one night she left this world, just gave up, at the age of 23," McCarthy said in the speech.
"I firmly believe in marriage equality and the real concerns that many families are feeling in relation to a plebiscite. We, as first nations people are only so aware of the deep-seated racism and offensive language that are still unfortunately very much a part of our life here and that’s the reality I speak from," McCarthy said.
McCarthy delivered her first speech directly after One Nation senator Pauline Hanson. Hanson used her speech to make the claim that "we are in danger of being swamped by Muslims, who bear a culture and ideology that is incompatible with our own."
In contrast, McCarthy pointed out the long and fruitful history connecting Aboriginal people and Muslims prior to Australian colonisation, through relationships with Macassan traders from Indonesia.
"The Macassans traded with the Yanyuwa, as they did with the Yolngu people of north-east Arnhem Land and the Anindilyakwa people of Groote Eylandt and the Nungubuyu people of Numbulwar. All of us are interconnected through kujika, through songline," McCarthy said.
You can watch the speech here -
Allan Clarke is an Indigenous Affairs Reporter for BuzzFeed News and is based in Sydney.
Contact Allan Clarke at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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