Originally published in the National Indigenous Times, March 2007.
By Amy McQuire
NEW SOUTH WALES
THE first Aboriginal person to be elected to the NSW parliament has now earned the title of first Aboriginal minister, after re-elected Premier Morris Iemma unveiled his new look front bench last week.
Member for Canterbury, Linda Burney was sworn in as Minister for Fair Trading, Minister for Youth and Minister for Volunteering on Monday.
Ms Burney comfortably won her seat in the mid-March election and was widely touted as a hot favourite to be rewarded with a ministry.
And although predictions that she would receive a ministry proved true, those that believed she would receive the Aboriginal affairs portfolio were way off base.
The portfolio, which was marred by controversy when former Minister for Aboriginal Affairs Milton Orkopoulos was sacked and charged with 33 sex and drug offences last year, was given to long serving Member for Liverpool Paul Lynch.
Ms Burney has been adamant in the past that her Aboriginality shouldn’t mean the automatic assertion that she would be primarily involved in Indigenous affairs.
“One of the great challenges for Australia, and particularly journalists, is to understand that Aboriginal people have opinions
and knowledge on things other than Aboriginal issues,” Ms Burney told NIT last year.
“Quite often the only time people want comment from me is when it’s an Aboriginal issue.”
It’s a perception forged partly from the fact that Ms Burney has long been one of the state’s most high-profile Aboriginal women.
She was the Director General of the NSW Department of Aboriginal Affairs before entering the political arena and worked on a number of boards and committees such as the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Commission National Social Justice Task Force, SBS and the National Council for Aboriginal Reconciliation.
Burney won pre-selection for the Inner-west Sydney seat of Canterbury, one of the safest in the state for Labor and was elected to office in 2003, becoming the fourth Indigenous woman to take a seat in parliament throughout the country.
She was preceded by Carol Martin and Marion Scrymgour in the Northern Territory in 2001 and Kathryn Hay, who was elected to the Tasmanian House of Assembly in 2002.
Nationally, there are nine Aboriginal people serving in parliaments (see story right).
Last year Burney was elected the ALP’s vice-president and has previously represented Australia at meetings of the United Nations’ working group on Indigenous populations.
Indigenous MPS past and present
* 1971 – Neville Bonner AO (1922 – 1999) was the first Indigenous person to be appointed to Federal Parliament in Australia.
1974 – Hyacinth Tungutalum (Country Liberal Party) from Bathurst Island was elected to the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly.
1974 – Eric Deeral (National Party) became the first Indigenous person to be elected to the Queensland Parliament.
1977 – Neville Perkins (Australian Labor Party) was elected to the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly.
1980 – Ernie Bridge (Australian Labor Party) became the first Indigenous member of the Parliament of Western Australian when he won the seat of Kimberley.
1983 – Wesley Lanhupuy (Australian Labor Party) was elected to the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly .
* 1987 – Stanley Tipiloura (Australian Labor Party), from Bathurst Island, was elected to the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly.
1992 – Maurice Rioli (Australian Labor Party), an AFL legend from Melville Island, was elected to the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly.
1995 – John Ah Kit (Australian Labor Party), from Darwin, was elected to the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly.
* 1998 – Aden Ridgeway was the second Indigenous person elected to the Australian Parliament.
February 2001 – Carol Martin (Australian Labor Party), became the first Indigenous women to be elected to a state parliament.
August 2001 – Matthew Bonson (Darwin), Elliot McAdam (Tennant Creek) and Marion Scrymgour (Melville Island), were elected to the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly.
2002 – Kathryn Hay (Australian Labor Party) was elected to the Tasmanian House of Assembly.
2003 – Linda Burney (Australian Labor Party) became the first Aboriginal person elected to the New South Wales parliament.
2005 – Barbara McCarthy (Territory Labor) was elected to represent the electorate of Arnhem, and Alison Anderson (Territory Labor) was elected to represent the electorate of Macdonnell.
March 2006 – Ben Wyatt (Australian Labor Party) was elected to the West Australian parliament.
September 2006 – Karl Hampton won a bi-election for the NT seat of Stuart.
March 2007 – Member for Canterbury, Linda Burney is appointed as NSW’s first Aboriginal minister.